Lake Chapala: One of the Most Important Expat Communities in Mexico

Gazebo at LCS

Lake Chapala is Mexico’s largest freshwater lake. It lies in the municipalities of Chapala, Jocotepec, Poncitlán, and Jamay, in the State of Jalisco, and in Venustiano Carranza and Cojumatlán de Régules, in the State of Michoacán.

The lake also contains two small islands, Isla de los Alacranes (the larger of the two), Isla Mezcala, and a third very small island next to Isla Mezcala called La Isla Menor.

The lake is a critical habitat for several species of migratory birds, such as the American White Pelican, and home to thousands of indigenous plants and animals.The Audubonistas de Laguna de Chapala holds an annual Audubon Society sponsored Christmas Bird Count. In 2006, some 117 species were identified and, in 2007, the count was 125. By January, 2011, some 173 species were recorded.

For more than 5 decades, and due to the prevailing nice weather and attractive scenery, a substantial colony of retirees, mostly from the United States and Canada had moved to the lake suroundings.

There are numerous towns and cities along the coast of Lake Chapala, including Chapala, Jalisco, Ajijic, Jalisco, San Antonio Tlayacapan, Jalisco, Jocotepec, Jalisco, San Juan Cosala, Jalisco, Mezcala de la Asunción, Jalisco, Tizapan El Alto, La Palma, Michoacán and Ocotlán, Jalisco.


As there are many popular areas in Mexico for the expat community, Lake Chapala gets more than its fair share of attention. The area itself dates back to the 1930s and is full of colonial architecture and has a relatively “art & culture based expat community”.


The Lake Chapala Society in Ajijic, Mexico is a non-profit organization dedicated to promoting the mutual exchange of knowledge, expertise, culture, heritage, language and talents, thereby contributing to the social enrichment of its members as well as the lakeside Mexican community.

Annually, we have almost 3,000 members and associates from nations around the world. For almost 60 years, we have been helping newcomers and old-timers, both full and part-time, to have a more enjoyable and stress-free life here at Lakeside.


In addition to providing social, recreational and educational opportunities for expatriates, the Society also assists the local Mexican community through education in computer technology, English, art, and academic programs, as well as offering an ongoing student aid program and Spanish language library.



The Lake Chapala Society, A.C. (LCS) was founded in Chapala, Jalisco in January, 1955 by twenty-one English-speaking residents as a cultural, social and benevolent society. Although its membership was then extremely small, LCS established an English Language Library that was open weekdays from 10 to Noon, and it began giving English classes for Mexicans.

In 1983, the Society had to move out of the small accommodations it had used until that time and rented the front portion of Neill James’ property at Calle 16 Septiembre #16-A in Ajijic on a five-year lease. Shortly thereafter, Helen Horder made representations to the U.S. Library of Congress to establish a Talking Books Library at the LCS, a program that still exists. The Talking Books Library provides a wide assortment of fiction and nonfiction books for visually impaired members.

The U.S. Library of Congress provides these taped books and the special machines to play them free of charge. The Society is the only civilian organization outside the U.S.A. to be honored with such an arrangement. The items are available to U.S. citizens. However, for members from other countries, there are books available on regular cassette tapes that can be played on any standard cassette tape player.

In 1988, the Society’s officers began negotiations with Neill James to have her will her properties at 16 Septiembre #16A to the Society. Mrs. James did so on the basis of an agreement that the Society would care for her in the remaining years of her life. Although a long-time member and supporter of the Society, she was not the founder of it as some members now tend to believe.

A pioneer in the Ajijic foreign colony, Ms. James founded the Biblioteca Publica de Ajijic more than 50 years ago, providing books, materials, guidance and financial support that opened horizons to several generations of local youngsters.


At the time, Ms. James would supply art materials to interested, talented children. She would sell their works to foreigners, giving them all of the proceeds. Christmas cards were sold for a peso and a painting for 50 pesos. More importantly, Ms. James obtained a number of scholarships for local Mexican youths to study art at the Instituto San Miguel de Allende. As a result, several of them have become outstanding artists. Read more about Neill James.

Enjoying Mole !!!
Enjoying Mole !!!

After a twelve-year struggle, the Society was finally granted Asociacion Civil status in 1989. That meant that it was then recognized as a legal, charitable organization under Mexican law.

In 1991, the Society was responsible for two important developments. First, it established a student aid fund for Mexican students at every level in the educational stream from the primary grades through university. The program has been ably supervised by Coralie White ever since, and a large number of Mexican children and young adults have been able to obtain educations that otherwise might not have been available to them. Second, the Society established a Video Library through the efforts of David Stokes and Robyn Jupe.

Since about 1995, membership at the Society has grown greatly as large numbers of American and Canadian expatriates have settled in the Chapala Lakeside area and particularly in Ajijic and nearby villages. Thus, along with this increased membership, significant developments have been able to occur at the Society. These have been true particularly during the last three LCS presidential administrations.

During Vierl Bunnell’s administration (1998-1999), Ed Wilkes bequested his property at 18 Galeana, Ajijic, to the Society upon his death. Under the determined urgings of Coralie White, Maxine Marion and Carol Mardell, the Wilkes residence became the Wilkes Education Center for Mexicans. It was modified into a Spanish Library of 1,500 volumes that had grown out of Neill James’ Biblioteca Publica. It has four classrooms, a kitchen, covered patio and support areas. It was dedicated in March 1999. Today it serves as a major link between the expatriate and Mexican communities.

Under Mary Alice Sargent (2000-2001), Gilbert Silverman, a retired American physician, began to increase medical services on the LCS grounds dramatically. In addition, Alex Jupe and his wife, Nora Smith, started a Life-Long Learning program. Also during that time, the LCS Board oversaw the building of an attractive gazebo in the back portion of the LCS grounds amidst a great deal of controversy. Today the gazebo is proving to be an attractive and highly useful addition to the LCS grounds, serving as a focus for not only LCS meetings but cultural and fund-raising events open to the community.



The 2002-2003 administration, under the presidency of Jim Penton, accomplished much based on the programs started under Mary Alice Sargent. Important constitutional changes have been implemented. The English Language Library has been reorganized and expanded under the able leadership of Larry Reeves and Ann Heath so that it is now taking on the characteristics of an American or Canadian small-town library. Equally significantly, the medical program has expanded greatly with a number of physicians and health-care workers offering numerous services on the LCS grounds at specified times. Finally, the Life-Long Learning program has developed significantly. As a result, a number of university-level lectures and seminars are now regularly offered throughout the year. Outstanding among these are the Neill James Lectures, as well as a number of lecture courses given by LCS members such as Jim Penton and Suzanne Forrest.

The 2004-2007 administration), under the leadership of Charlie Smith, worked to enhance the infrastructure of the society with updates in the way business is conducted, improvements to the grounds and buildings, and centralizing the services to members and the community.

The current administration with Nancy Creevan and Board at the helm is continuing this infrastructure enhancement, calling in some of the best advisers in the area for consultations. Scheduled General Meetings determine (by voting) which actions will be taken for the betterment of the Society.

Yoga class at LCS grounds
Yoga class at LCS grounds

As the Lake Chapala Society continues to grow, it serves as one of the most important organizations for expatriate retirees in the Lakeside area and in all of Mexico. Its many services, only some of which are described here, make life much easier and more pleasant for those expatriates and their Mexican neighbors.