Q&A with a Reader
You know Chapala well (I have your guide to that). And you know Panajachel well. You live there. So which one is better. Which one do you like best?
Thanks for taking the time to write, and thank you for your interest in our books.
In answer to your question, which place, Chapala, Mexico or Panajachel, Guatemala do we like best, our answers are this: It’s hard to choose, and it depends.
Chapala (and the surrounding area) has an extensive network of Expats with lots of activities and lots of members. There are tennis courts and volleyball courts, dozens and dozens of restaurants to choose from, a couple of theaters for those interested in acting, they have a movie theater, and there are several towns dotted around the lake each of which has a different flavor. Medical care is available, and if you have something specific or special, then there is access to Guadalajara for specialty doctors. There is an American Legion, bridge clubs, animal rescue… all sorts of things in which to become involved.
Weather is good. Crime, for the most part is low also, although there are the home invasions on occasion. Generally, the drug traffic doesn’t affect Chapala and definitely not the Expat population.
It is a well-established location for retirement offering fresh food, entertainment, medical options, and ease of travel. Public transport is abundant and affordable. You can live there without a car easily. We have for years.
Chapala is also a good place to travel from to get to other places in Mexico. It’s 3 hours to the beach, a few hours to the Mexican Highlands, and with Guadalajara international airport, you can fly to the States to visit family or fly to other locations around the world.
Panajachel is more quirky. The town is filled with local Maya in their colorful garb, lots of bold murals and unique storefronts and the town is much smaller than Chapala. Fresh food is abundant, there is a good selection of restaurants, cafes, and bars with live music for entertainment. The town is completely walkable and there is mass transport (tuk-tuks) available to get to anywhere you want to go.
The natural beauty is stunning and weather is good. Lake Atitlan is the largest lake in Central America and is surrounded by 3 volcanoes which gives great contrast. Many people say that the lake is the main reason they live there, that and the variety that the local population offers. There are lots and lots of volunteer opportunities.
One can spend the day going to another town across the lake, spend the night, or go for lunch and come back the same day. Each of these dozen towns offer something different and they are a nice break from the Panajachel routine.
The number of Expats is smaller here in the Lake Atitlan area, but Pana is an hour and a half from the Colonial city of Antigua which has more expats. Antigua is a bit more upscale and picturesque in its own right. There are wine bars, cafes, and restaurants to choose from.
Medical care is available in Panajachel, more is available in Antigua, and you can find anything you need in the capitol city of Guatemala City.
All this being said, the winding mountainous roads of Guatemala makes Lake Atitlan a little more of a challenge to get to, so the amount of tourists (there are plenty of backpackers) are less. We get groups from time to time who come in from Antigua. While Panajachel is growing up, she is surely taking her time.
Both places are good choices to live for an extended amount of time. One can get 180 days on a tourist visa upon arrival in Mexico and 90 days upon arrival in Guatemala. The 90 day visa is good for a 4 country block – Guatemala, Nicaragua, Honduras and El Salvador. So to do a visa run in Guatemala, one needs to do it more often and to go out of this 4 country block. One can live in the Lake Chapala area and get by speaking English. There is more Spanish spoken at Lake Atitlan and in Antigua.
If you like an off-beat, small town feel with exotic locals and amazing natural beauty, Panajachel might appeal more to you. If you would like a longer time between visa runs, an already established pathway for the newcomer and a huge country to explore, then perhaps Chapala, Mexico would attract you more.
Personally, we enjoy them both for what each offers, and have not yet chosen to settle down in either one just yet.
Hope this answers your question!
All the best,