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We just finished up an 8-night stay in Ajijic, Mexico. It’s a small town in the Lake Chapala area in the state of Jalisco.
Ajijic, Mexico is a place I heard brought up several times during our 2 years and 8 months of living in Boquete, Panama. Some folks were enamored by the town of Ajijic and some folks weren’t.
Regardless, the town was brought up enough in conversation that we decided why not check it out on our move back to the U.S.?
So, that’s exactly what we did.
We stayed in an Airbnb in Ajijic last week for eight nights. We also really enjoyed our time there.
So the question is, which would be a better place to live… Boquete, Panama or Ajijijc, Mexico?
Before we start though, be aware of two things:
- I love Boquete. Living there for over 2 ½ years really made it home. I’ll try to stay unbiased, but comparing a place you live in versus one you simply visited has the potential to be skewed somewhat.
- Just to reiterate, we only spent 8 nights in Ajijic, Mexico. Yes, that’s a fair amount of time to check out a place, but it’s not long enough to truly know all the intricacies. Besides that, a week is just one slice of a year – we may have come here during a good week or a bad week. In other words, all I can go on is the time slot while we were there.
There’s a lot to unpack in this comparison, so I thought the simplest way to break this down would be to just tell you about some of the different aspects I observed during our stay in Ajijic, Mexico. Along the way, I’ll tell you how that compares to Boquete, Panama.
Weather in Ajijic, Mexico vs Boquete, Panama
The first thing that jumped out at us is how hot Ajijic is! Most of our week presented us with a high of around 88 °F (31 °C). That was way too hot to walk around in. We ended up going out in the mornings until lunch and then returning to our place until the evenings. Regardless, it was still hot all day and all night.
The other downside is that there was really no breeze to cool things down. That would have helped tremendously.
That’s something we never had a problem with while in Boquete. It’s almost always pleasant to walk around in Boquete. And the nights are nice and cool for sleeping. Plus, there’s always a breeze going – sometimes there’s too much of a breeze going!
But here’s the difference – while Boquete tends to have a very consistent temperature year-round, Ajijic does not. Take a look at these comparisons:
Here it is in Celsius for all my non-U.S. readers:
Anyone who knows me laughs at my small zone of comfort in temperature and this wasn’t it. But that just comes down to being in Ajijic, Mexico at the wrong time of year. It appears that April and May aren’t the right times of year for me to be there!
Another difference is the humidity. Boquete is essentially in a rain forest and except for a few dry months (mid-December to mid-April), it rains almost every single day for a couple of hours. The average rainfall in Boquete is 150 inches (3810 mm).
That’s not the case in Ajijic. We’re looking at an average of just 29.4 inches (747 mm) of rain per year. That’s a significant difference.
Packing an umbrella to walk around in Ajijic wasn’t something we needed to do. It was extremely dry and we spent a lot of time blowing our noses while here (allergies maybe?).
Boquete can be so humid that if you’re not careful, things like clothing can get moldy quickly. Ajijic, on the other hand, was very dry during our stay and that meant that static electricity was prominent in our place. Our clothes and even the bedspread were some great sources of fun to shock each other.
So the weather overall wasn’t my favorite, but again, it’s tough since we were only there for a single random week during the year. I think I’d be very happy with the weather in Ajijic, Mexico for about 10 months out of the year. In Boquete, I usually enjoy about 11 months out of the year as the rain in November at the peak of the rainy season can be a little much.
On another note, sunrise to sunset in Boquete is usually from 6-6:30 am until 6-6:30 pm all year round. If you’re from other places of the world, like Ohio (where I’m from), you might think that sunset at 6:30 pm is horribly early. But that’s because you’re only thinking of summer hours when the sunsets are later in the evening. Think of the winters in Ohio where the sunsets are before 5 pm!
Ajijic, Mexico has a little more range than Boquete. The sunrises tend to be between 7 and 7:30 am throughout the year and the sunsets are between 6:30 and 8:30 pm. While we were there, the sunset was around 8:15 pm. That’s a nice little bonus to enjoy some more daylight each day!
Boquete, Panama is something that’s going to be hard to beat with its scenic views. The lush greenery with the beautiful flowers and palm trees, the magnificent mountains, and the volcano all help make for an incredible vista.
So I didn’t expect too much when I booked our trip to Ajijic, Mexico.
Luckily, I was wrong… sort of.
There are mountain ranges as a nice backdrop in Ajijic, but I will say that they weren’t as amazing to look at because of the time of year we got here. They were all brown due to lack of water…
So when we first saw this while taking our taxi from the airport, I gave Boquete a mental +1. I would bet that’s not the case most of the year though and I’d love to see Ajijic during times of the year when it’s a little more green.
But then, we made our way to Lake Chapala the boardwalk (Malecón de Ajijic)… and my entire perspective changed. Wow!
This lake is a photographer’s dream, especially during the sunsets!
The infrastructure and businesses
Both Boquete and Ajijic are a win for walkability in my book. That said, that doesn’t mean that they’re like some walkable places in the U.S. where everything seems so well-laid-out. Both places are older and you’ll see older buildings, half-built buildings, and other not-so-pretty sites.
Personally, I think that gives places like this a little charm but maybe that’s just me.
I do think that Ajijic is more modern than Boquete in this area. There are still older buildings but not as many that just sit there unfinished. Additionally, I was pleasantly surprised to see that there’s a walkway/bike path that takes you all along the main road in Ajijic. In Boquete, you’re lucky if there’s a sidewalk wherever you’re walking (especially one that’s not broken or torn up).
On the flip side of things, many of the roads in Ajijic are made of cobblestone. They’re pretty to look at but they’re horrible to drive on and just as horrible to walk on.
Both cities have a solid bus system in place. If you want to get somewhere for cheap, there’s likely a bus that’ll be able to take you there. In Boquete, you could take a bus to David (about 45-60 minutes away) for $1.75. In Ajijic, you can take a bus to Chapala (about a 15-minute drive) for what amounts to about $1.35. The better deal per mile/kilometer is going to be in Boquete but either one shouldn’t break the bank.
But when it comes to taxis, there’s no doubt that Boquete comes out ahead. You can always find a line of taxis near the town square and stragglers throughout the city. In Ajijic, they’re hard to come by, which can mean a little more planning if you’re there without a car. Uber tends to be scarce in both areas as well.
I couldn’t find the actual size of Ajijic, Mexico to compare it to Boquete, Panama, but I will say that Ajijic feels bigger. I’m not sure if that’s necessarily good or bad, but you might lose a little bit of that small-town feel in Ajijic.
Additionally, there are more business names you’d recognize in Ajijic. Walmart is just a 10-minute drive away and you can even find a Costco just outside of Guadalajara. Boquete, on the other hand, has stores such as Conway (similar to Target), PriceSmart (similar to Costco), and DoIt Center (similar to Home Depot) that can be found about 45 minutes away in David.
On another note, we never had a single power outage while in Ajijic. I’m guessing that Mexico has a much better power grid than Panama, but we were used to short outages at least a few times a week in Boquete so this was a welcome change.
Restaurants and groceries
When we first got to Ajijic, we walked to Walmart (and took a cab back) to get some groceries. We left out fruit and vegetables from that trip because we wanted to get those from the local stands here to support them (plus they’re usually fresher).
Seeing the prices at Walmart for groceries surprised us for some reason. Groceries tend to be on the more expensive side in Boquete (except for fruit and veggies) so seeing the much lower prices in Ajijic made us raise an eyebrow.
Later we went to another local grocery store here called Supermercado El Torito. With it being a smaller store, we expected significantly higher prices. They weren’t. The prices were very inexpensive and still much cheaper than Boquete.
Although we bought some groceries for our 8-night stay in Ajijic, we really wanted to try out the restaurants. And dine out we did! We went to lunch or dinner about once a day, which is extremely unusual for us.
But two things stood out for us:
1) The restaurants in Ajijic, Mexico are amazing. We didn’t have a bad meal while visiting. That’s not to put down Boquete – Boquete has some very good restaurants and both towns have a ton of different ones to choose from. I’ve heard that Boquete has around 75-85 restaurants and that Ajijic has over 100. But I have to say that if you put them both side-by-side, Ajijic wins on leaving us the most satisfied with delicious meals.
2) Restaurant prices in Boquete are reasonable and much less than what you’d pay in the U.S. The prices of restaurants in Ajijijc though make Boquete seem over-priced. We were astonished every time we’d get our bill and see that the price was usually around $30 for meals for three plus a couple of beers or mixed drinks each for me and Lisa (Faith’s cutting back).
Here are some of the restaurants we enjoyed and the prices we paid (converted to USD) with 20% tips for the three of us for meals which usually included a couple of alcoholic drinks:
- Hot Rod Burrito Grill – $23.32
- Bonanza Restaurante & Bar – $41
- Al Meraj Pak Indian Cuisine Chapala y Ajijic – $34.86
- Pranzo – $36.35
- Restaurante El Sombrero Ajijic – $40
- Scallion Ajijic Bistro – $28.03
- Restaurant Isla Cozumel (ok, this is in Chapala but I’m still counting it!) – $37.92
Ajijic, Mexico has stolen my heart when it comes to food and the prices of it!
Just like Boquete, Ajijic has fresh fruit and veggie stands all over where you can get them for next-to-nothing. In Boquete, there’s also the Mercado Público where you can find tons more of these stands from so many different vendors in one place.
Additionally, farmer’s markets are another choice for getting them. In Boquete, there’s the Tuesday Market, which has split off into two markets right by each other.
Funny enough, Ajijic also has a market on Tuesdays called Lake Chapala Farmers Market in West Ajijic at Salón La Huerta. We took a bus there to scope it out and it was very similar in size to what the two in Boquete combined would be.
But then, we found out there’s also Market Day in Ajijic on Wednesdays. We thought the one on Tuesday was the big one and this would just be something small… we were wrong.
Market Day on Wednesdays in Ajijic is huge… massive. I mean, this thing went on forever with stand after stand. It was truly incredible and you can find anything you’re after here from food to souvenirs to clothes to electronics. Really cool.
Money, money, money…
Boquete, Panama is easier for those from the U.S. since they use the U.S. dollar. Nothing to think about – easy peasy.
In Ajijic, Mexico though, you’re working in Pesos. I’m sure this becomes second nature over time, but we did find ourselves needing to think through the math routinely to determine “what it’s really costing us.” Luckily, right now, the conversion isn’t too difficult. 20 pesos roughly equals $1.
So the way I started figuring things out was by taking the price in pesos, moving the decimal point one place to the left, and then dividing by two. That was a quick formula I could do in my head to give myself a good idea of what it costs in USD.
So if something costs 128 pesos, move the decimal to the left one place, which would make it 12.8. Then take 12.8 and divide by two to get 6.4. So if something costs 128 pesos, that’s about $6.40. It’s not exact depending on what the conversion rate is, but it did the job while we were there.
Regardless, like Boquete, a lot of places do accept credit cards. That helps make life much easier, especially if you have a credit card with no foreign transaction fees. We’re currently using the Southwest Airlines Rapid Rewards Priority Card from my list of Recommended Credit Cards. We should reach the spend through needed to get the Southwest Companion Pass within the next month… travel rewards have treated us well with a lot of free travel!
ATMs aren’t as prevalent throughout Ajijic as in Boquete, but they do have them so you can withdraw cash (in Pesos) as needed.
Can I drink the water in Ajijic, Mexico or Boquete, Panama?
The water in Boquete, Panama is generally safe to drink depending on the area you’re in. We drank from the tap most of the time we were there and never had a problem.
As I’m sure you know, that’s not the case in Mexico. You need to be more conscious of that in Ajijic. Getting water delivered is the norm and not too much of a hassle. What I struggled with was brushing my teeth and rinsing my toothbrush with a cup of water. My mind really, really wanted to run my toothbrush under the faucet… and I did end up doing that once. As with a lot of different things, I’m sure brushing your teeth with purified water becomes a normal habit over time.
You also want to wash fruits and vegetables with a special disinfectant solution. We found a small bottle for sale for next-to-nothing in a fruit stand near the town square but I’m sure you can get it at any grocery store.
Bugs and dogs
Bugs might be a type-of-the-year thing in Ajijic so I can only comment on our short time there. Mosquitos seem to be around right now and Lisa had several bites throughout our visit, even with bug spray. Faith and I must not be as allergic to them because we didn’t have any of that.
The more blatant bugs though were flies. Trying to eat outside was annoying at a couple of places so we started to spend more time dining in the restaurants rather than on the patios.
We didn’t see many flies or mosquitos in Boquete but that’s likely because it’s much cooler there. The no-see-ums are the ones we “enjoyed” the most in Boquete. They’re so tiny (about the size of a pencil tip) but their bite leaves you itching for a week or more!
Pro Tip: A lot of people swear by Avon’s Skin So Soft so try it and see if that works for you. That doesn’t seem to work for me. The only thing I’ve found that’s effective for me is REPEL Plant-Based Lemon Eucalyptus Insect Repellent. As a bonus, it’s also DEET-free.
And for some reason, this little Bug Bite Thing Suction Tool has been wonderful for helping with existing bug bites. I would never have thought it would work, but we use it all the time now and it’s cheap. It works great for the no-see-um bites but it’s supposed to work well for mosquito bites or stinging insects as well. You definitely want this.
One of the most fascinating things to me is the stray dogs walking around Boquete. There are a lot of them and they don’t usually even pay attention to you. They walk by like they’re on a mission and have to be somewhere or they’ll just be laying around somewhere squeezing in a nap.
Well, it’s funny to see that it’s very similar with dogs just walking around doing their thing in Ajijic as well. The difference is that it seems like there are a lot more of them in Ajijic.
Maybe that’s because it’s somewhat under control in Boquete with the existence of the non-profit spay and neuter clinic, Amigos de Animales. The volunteer organization handles hundreds of animals each month for free or for a very small fee. Maybe Ajijic needs something similar if they don’t have something like that.
Is it safe in these places?
Let’s start with some general numbers. I like to turn to Numbeo for a quick ballpark on comparing locations. It’s not the end-all-be-all, but it still can be extremely useful.
Numbeo’s Crime Comparison Between Ajijic and Boquete shows some interesting information. But just for a frame of reference, I’m going to throw Cleveland, Ohio in there as well (where I’m from). Here are a few of the numbers:
|Crime Index (↓):||34.13||36.94||63.66|
|Safety Scale (↑):||65.87||63.06||36.34|
|Vandalism and theft (↓):||50.00||53.43||67.21|
|Violent crimes (↓):||35.80||32.79||69.49|
|People using or dealing drugs (↓):||34.76||26.47||72.88|
|Corruption and bribery (↓):||62.20||65.62||65.95|
|↑ Higher is better|
|↓ Lower is better|
Check out Numbeo’s Crime Comparison Between Ajijic and Boquete for more detail and statistics.
Not too much surprises me here. We never felt unsafe in our time living in Boquete (even walking home at night). but we were always aware of petty theft and corruption. And violent crimes are not the norm to hear about in Boquete.
I expected it to be similar in Ajijic and it does look to be the case (based on this information).
I think the only thing that surprised me was seeing Cleveland having a higher number on the corruption and bribery side of things. It would be silly to think it doesn’t happen there but I didn’t expect it to be higher than places that aren’t as well-developed.
Outside of the numbers themselves, I can easily say that I absolutely feel safer in communities like Boquete or Ajijic than I ever would in more urban areas or bigger cities, particularly in the U.S.
Fun things to do
This post is already crazy long so I’m not going to break down everything to do in Boquete or Ajijic.
However, let’s start with some quick info on Boquete. If you’re looking for something fun to do, there are a lot of choices available. I wrote a post recently called 41 Fun Activities We Did in Panama that should help get you started.
I’m still trying to get a feel for Ajijic, Mexico. I don’t think you’re going to find crazy zip-lining through the cloud forest or great hikes through the jungle, But, biking is big throughout the town, hiking up the mountains is a thing (though hopefully not when it’s as hot as it was for us!), horseback riding is available, and other fun activities like kayaking on Chapala Lake.
One of the biggest draws though is the Malecón, which is a boardwalk along Lake Chapala. It’s beautiful and it’s great to walk along, shop at some of the stands, get some food, people watch, or just chill.
In addition, the neighboring town of Chapala is a little bigger and has more stores and restaurants to add to the mix. This town has its own Malecón (boardwalk) along Lake Chapala that’s wider with some different views and other fun stands and restaurants. Plus, there are boats that can take you out to Isla de los Alacranes (Scorpion Island).
So I think both places have some cool things to do but there’ll be some differences between what’s offered.
So where’s the best place to live – Ajijic, Mexico or Boquete, Panama? I think that’s going to be a matter of personal preference. I loved our time in Boquete and would love to move back there someday but I truly found a lot to like about Ajijic as well.
With Ajijic being easier to get to from Ohio than Boquete, that’s something that intrigues me. I also think it’s simpler to become a resident in Mexico than it is in Panama (especially for not being in line with the traditional retirement age). The lower costs are also very appealing. Maybe Ajijic is a place for us to consider for full or part-time living down the line!
If Panama’s on your radar as a possible place to retire to, check out Retire in Panama Tours. It’s a first-rate way to see different parts of the country, learn about the pros and the cons of living here, meet other ex-pats living here, and gain a lot of the right resources to make the transition easier (immigration attorneys, for example).
Oscar, Rod, and Megan are great people, too. They have the knowledge to guide you through Panama, answer your questions, and ensure that Panama’s the right place for you. Check out Retire in Panama Tours for more info!
I don’t know who’s who in Mexico, so I don’t want to refer you to any tour groups since I don’t know who’s reputable there. But I’m sure you can find something similar for Ajijic and the Lake Chapala area.
What do you think? Which place seems more up your alley?
Plan well, take action, and live your best life!
Thanks for reading!!