Ajijic is the “most expensive” place in the area. However, by US standards, it is not expensive in the least. You can have a good dinner with wine for 500 pesos (US $28) for two people. If you want the whole wine bottle, then it will probably be around 700 pesos ($39) for two people. I’ve been to New York and Chicago. The same food would cost you around $150 in New York. Chapala and Ajijic have different rates because we think of Ajijic as the epicenter of everything. The farther from Ajijic you go, the rates get cheaper.
The quality of the food here in Chapala and Ajijic is excellent. Mexico is the producer of many goods that you get in different countries. We export quality produce like fruits and vegetables that are native to Mexico like avocados. Pineapples are not from here but we surely export pineapples. The same with mangoes. These are not indigenous to Mexico but we grow them successfully. Avocadoes and tomatoes are indigenous and we export them as well.
You could find lots of restaurants even 5 miles away from Ajijic. As you go 5 miles out towards Chapala, for example, towards Jocotepec, a dinner with wine would cost you around 250 pesos ($14). The price also differs depending on the restaurant and the location. If you go to San Juan Cosala, in an area called Piedra Barrenada, you wouldn’t have a high end dinner there but you would have a very nice dinner in a more relaxed environment and it would very cheap but very good. On the other hand, in the same area, there are restaurants like La Sima Del Copal or the Chac-Lan restaurant inside the Coxala Hotel, which is a high-end hotel in the Racquet Club, and those restaurants are more expensive than the ones in Ajijic.
Prices and other aspects of life in the Ajijic – Chapala region are based on season. There is a very visible “high season,” which is when everybody comes. There are restaurants that have been here for a long time and have enough prestige that people keep coming back. We also have Mexican clientele who continue to come during the “low season.” Low season is typically when all the expats, the snowbirds, leave and we are left with the Mexican community to continue supporting the businesses.
There are businesses that survive all year round and there are businesses that are very successful during the high season but unfortunately cannot survive the low season. So based on that, the cost of restaurants pretty much depends on the kind of restaurant they are, the kinds of prestige they have, and what kind of service they have been offering for a long time. If they want to preserve the people who come to their restaurants, they do not raise their prices too much. In my experience, those are the restaurants that survive. So that’s why you would see these fancy restaurants just appearing and charging you more money and then they start to struggle really badly and then they disappear. Sometimes they have to readjust and lower their prices in order to continue having clients throughout the year.
As an example, there is a higher end, beautiful restaurant here called Peacock Garden, complete with interior garden and wandering peacocks with white linen tablecloths that recently had a special full on chicken parmigiana dinner for 90 pesos (around $4.75). Another example is La Nueva Posada, which is a very fancy restaurant and the prices there for dinner are very affordable. An entrée in La Nueva Posada would cost 80 to 100 pesos ($4.50 to $5.50) per person. This restaurant is on the Lake Chapala so you have a beautiful view and incredibly beautiful surroundings in a garden. It is a high end place. If you would go to a place like that in the US and eat the same meal, there is no way in the world that per person you would get by with less than $30.
When I was in California, I was in the circus. When we went out and get a meal for $10, we would get one but in a drive-thru. In contrast, if you wanted to, you could go to a roadside vendor and you could get a full on meal in Ajijic and Chapala for 50 pesos ($3). That would be three or four tacos or half a chicken. We love those meals! Mexicans live off of those meals. These are the common daily meals here that we intentionally go to even if we have choices of more expensive restaurants. People say, “I feel like having a street chicken today.” People do that not because they don’t have money but because it is so tasty. Even the expats do the same thing.
( La Sima Del Copal restaurant on the hill, Lake Chapala, Mexico, pictured.)