The Road from Nayarit, through Puerto Vallarta, to Lake Chapala and a Great, Big House for 60% Less Than a Tiny Hotel Room

Jet Metier and Chuck Bolotin in Jocotepec home and garden – Best Places In The World To Retire – International LivingWhen doing a road trip anywhere, and especially in Mexico, the ability to improvise and adapt are traits that come in handy.  Case I point: unfortunately, our much-anticipated plans to visit Puerto Vallarta fell through, so we would have to content ourselves with a “drive through.”

In the lavish and lovely garden area in the front of what had been our Lo de Marcos home for eight days of various parts serenity, adventure, discovery and enjoyment in the greater Nayarit beach area, we packed our van so tightly you couldn’t add a toothpick. We then manually swung open the tall, black gates from our beach house to the road, drove a few feet, closed the gates behind us, and after five minutes of rumbling along the cobblestone streets of Lo de Marcos with our very heavy and very full van, made a right onto the smooth highway to head south towards Puerto Vallarta, slightly more than an hour away.

Lo de Marcos through Puerto Vallarta to Jocotepec map – Best Places In The World To Retire – International LivingFor several miles, the road was quite familiar and rural, with just the one lane in each direction, as we passed by the little beach towns of Nayarit we had visited before, but this time without turning in.  Around Sayulita, instead of making a right and heading towards the beach, we continued more inland, and more directly south.

About a half an hour later, we could glimpse the Pacific again in the distance around Bucerías, where we were now traveling on one of two lanes going in our direction, and with a median as well.  Some impressive buildings began to appear along the road and especially in the near distance, along the shore, amongst the rest of what we had come to know as more standard issue construction in this part of the world.
As we approached Nuevo Vallarta, north of Puerto Vallarta, the scale and feeling transitioned at an accelerated pace.  Even from the main road, everything became bigger and neater and newer.  It reminded my wife Jet and me of Irvine, California, which, if you Nuevo Vallarta Road – Best Places In The World To Retire – International Livinghaven’t seen it, is a huge master planned area carved out of Southern California.  Everything was more substantial and corporate.  Gone were the little shops we were so accustomed to seeing further north in Nayarit.
Even the Alamo car rental was huge.  The Home Depot was huge.  The Mega supermarket / super center looked large enough to be its own mid-sized city and to have its own zip code.  The roads were clean and orderly.  The lanes were wide, with a generous shoulder off to each side, and adorned with beautiful palm trees, all appropriately placed and manicured.  We drove for what seemed like ten miles before seeing our first piece of trash. The car dealerships were massive, new, very shiny, very clean, and very welcoming.  For our part, we were a bit out of place.  After all, we had less than an hour before emerged from a little town where we had eaten street tacos for 8 pesos each.  I almost felt like we should get our van washed.
Road heading towards Puerto Vallarta – Best Places In The World To Retire – International LivingTechnically, Nuevo Vallarta is in the state of Nayarit, so as we continued on to Puerto Vallarta proper, we crossed into Jalisco. Massive hotels appeared, as did an international airport and a marina. To paraphrase Dorothy, from The Wizard of Oz, we certainly weren’t in Lo de Marcos any more.
Unfortunately, we couldn’t stay in Puerto Vallarta even long enough to get out of the van, because we had to be at our vacation rental in Jocotepec, a little more than five hours driving away, before nightfall.  So after some interesting driving experiences (i.e., everyone making a left from the right lane) and a very short, drive by tour of part of the beautiful central area, we reluctantly bid farewell to the shining, bustling city we had not the time to explore as it deserved, and pointed our van roughly east, up into the mountains, to the Central Mexican Highlands.
Climatologists tell us that, all other things being equal, the temperature will drop as your elevation increases.  This sets up a very Road leading north, out of Puerto Vallarta – Best Places In The World To Retire – International Livinghappy possibility for areas closer to the equator, where, at sea level, it can be quite hot, especially in what we would consider the summer months.  For example, in mid-July (which is when we were traveling), the Mexican state of Jalisco contains both sea level Puerto Vallarta (average daytime high, 93 degrees Fahrenheit), and, at about 5,000 feet, the Lake Chapala area, with its average daytime high of 81 degrees.
We were eager to experience this drop in summer temperature ourselves, so eastward, on Highway 544 we went. For most of the way, we were treated to very lightly populated farmland interspersed with jungle, amongst large, verdant valleys and high mountains.  The traffic was light. With a one hour stop for lunch, roughly five hours later, we were within an hour drive of our destination for the day, the mostly Mexican town of Jocotepec, at the west end of Lake Chapala.
Driving from sea level in Mexico to the Highlands in July is almost like cheating nature, wherein you know some special trick or technique to go from being at over 90 degrees, to a much cooler place.  Perhaps it was just us, but the difference in these Mexican Heading east, towards Lake Chapala, from Puerto Vallarta – Best Places In The World To Retire – International Livingmountains, at about the same elevation as Denver, Colorado, seemed to be a lot more than 12 degrees cooler.  As we approached closer to Lake Chapala, it started to rain lightly.  Jet very happily pulled out the sweatshirt she had been saving for the occasion.
Lake Chapala is the largest lake in Mexico; about 50 miles from west to east, and for the areas with which expats are most familiar, about 5 – 7 miles from north to south.   The center of expat activity is the village of Ajijic, on the northwest shore of the lake, about 11 miles east of our first home rental in Jocotepec.  While there are several notable concentrations of expats dotting the area, in general, the farther from Ajijic, the lesser the proportion of expats.   “Lakeside” is the name most often used to encompass all the towns from about Jocotepec on the west, to the actual town of Chapala, on the east, about 45 minutes to an hour away, depending on traffic.
Entering Jocotepec – Best Places In The World To Retire – International LivingOur objective was to experience several versions of life at Lakeside, which is why we began with Jocotepec, the least expat dense area around.  We directed our large, white van down the main road in Jocotepec on what became a very narrow, cobblestone street.  Jocotepec looked to be a working town, with not much of what one would expect in a more touristic place.  Incongruously, there was what looked to be a brand new Santander bank, in glistening marble and white.  Shops were right on the street, just like in Lo de Marcos, but unlike Lo de Marcos, Jocotepec had multiples more people and traffic.  Many of the streets were by necessity one-way, for the simple fact that the road wasn’t wide enough to accommodate parked cars as well as two-way traffic.
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After somehow finding ourselves in the most improbable part of town—what looked like several modern homes owned by foreigners—we found our way, up a one way street towards the mountains just to the east of another one way street going the other way that we would take us back down to the village.  At the last moment, we made a quick left and then a right, where we stopped the car, got out, and confronted two huge, metal, darkly painted gates took in the overall scene.
Dogs looking into a yard in Jocotepec – Best Places In The World To Retire – International LivingAcross the dirt road, three vastly different-looking dogs very slowly approached us, as the two families that lived in the two houses across the street watched us, somewhat expressionless.  The family closest to us included three or four young children, who, with their parents, sat on the steps to what looked like an opening without a door.  One of the children sat in her play car.  Just up the hill was a middle-aged couple, who, although certainly poor by US standards, were obviously much better off financially than their neighbors.  With a hearty “Buenos tardes,” from Jet and me, everyone smiled cautiously and returned our wave and greeting.  Of course, we had no idea what their experiences were with the previous renters or the owner or managers of the house, or what our new neighbors expected from us.
Into one of these gates to our rental home was a door cut out for people.  We rang the bell.  Almost immediately, the door for people opened.  Inside, was a small woman who introduced herself as Gabby, the housekeeper.  Gabby welcomed us to what would be our home for 10 days.  We got back into the car while Gabby walked back through the door and opened the gates to House in Jocotepec with mountains in the background – Best Places In The World To Retire – International Livingreveal what was inside.
Just like in Lo de Marcos, what we saw next was a very pleasant surprise.  Other than the gates, a wall made of rocks and concrete that was probably on average 10 feet high and about half a foot or more thick surrounded the entire perimeter of the property.  The grounds looked to be about half an acre, with huge trees.  We drove slowly on the driveway / small road that ran from the gate almost to the other edge of the property.  The house was perched to the left, on the high ground, so far back in the property that the rear wall of the house was in many places the same as the back wall of the property.  In front of the house, to our right and left as we drove in, was our own very large, very private garden, which, as we came to a stop, was now bisected by our car, which was under a tree.  Gabby shut and locked the gate.
We got out of the car and walked up the steps to the home itself, and stood on one of the many patios and looked south, away from the house.  There, through the enormous trees, was the lake, and on the other side of the lake, we could clearly make out Dogs running at a house garden in Jocotepec – Best Places In The World To Retire – International Livingwhat we were told later was the volcanic-looking mountain called Garcia.  As we turned around, behind us to the north were incredibly green and towering mountains, so steep they looked to be almost straight up.  The house itself looked to be around 3,000 square feet.  Our two dogs were obviously thrilled, as they got to work exploring the enclosed yard.  So were we. We would be able to enjoy all this for about 40% of the average price of just a tiny hotel room in the US.  You can see a video tour of the garden by Jet Metier here.
Next, I’ll tell you about life in the mostly Mexican town of Jocotepec, just adjacent to the famous expat destination of Ajijic.

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