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Lake Chapala, Mexico’s largest freshwater lake, offers tranquil water, mountain views, charming towns, birdwatching and island tours, just a hour drive from Guadalajara.

The town of Chapala makes a perfect jumping off point to get to know the area. Take in the views from the boardwalk and peruse the open-air stalls for everything from locally made hats and clothing to toys, trinkets, and food. Enjoy a leisurely meal and then drive along the lake.

Ajijic’s cobblestone streets and romantic atmosphere make exploring the town’s galleries, quaint shops, and colonial-style buildings a perfect afternoon or evening activity. Both Chapala and Ajijic have large communities of expats and it is easy to see why—especially since both towns have kept their quintessentially Mexican character.

Boat tours to Isla de los Alacranes (Scorpion Island) and Isla de Mezcala (Mezcala Island) are available from the town of Mezcala de La Asunción. Bird watchers will not be disappointed, as more than 100 species, including migrating birds like the white pelican, can be spotted on the lake over the course of the year. Those with an interest in Mexican history will want to visit the ruins on Mezcala Island, where the Coca Indians maintained their independence from the Spanish from 1812 to 1816. Both islands also feature restaurants that dish up specialties such as charales: tiny, crunchy dried fish eaten with salt, lime, and chili.

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