1521-22, Franciscan evangelists, sent from
Spain by Catholic King Ferdinand and Queen
Isabella to Christianize the natives, baptized
Chief Chapalac, and named him "Martin of
Chapala," master of the people, owner of the
land. In exchange, the Taltica Indian chief
destroyed his god, Iztlacateotl.
In 1538, Franciscan Fray Miguel Bolonia
founded the city of Chapala. He built a
hermitage on Chapala's highest hill, Cerro San
Miguel, where he lived until his death. He
built another hermitage on the island of
Mezcala, where native children were given
In 1548, a church was built of adobe and
grass, and named San Francisco after the order
of the padres. A hospital was constructed,
adjoining the church.
By 1550, Chapala had a population of 825
married persons and 349 children. About this
time, a scholar from Spain, studying Indian
cultures of the Chapala shores, found that
each lakeside community seemed to have its own
language. Probably, the lack of transportation
(the rough dugout fishing canoes were not
capable of crossing the lake) had prevented a
common language from developing.
On September 10, 1864, Chapala became a
municipality by decree of the Jalisco State
Chapala is located on the north shore of Lake
Chapala, 26 km. (16 mi.) east of the Lake's
western end, and 42 km. (25 mi.) south of
Guadalajara. It is the oldest, most populated,
and the most easterly of a string of villages
- Chapala, San Antonio Tlayacapan, Ajijic, San
Juan Cosala and Jocopetec - known locally as
Its altitude is 1530 meters (5020 feet). Its
average temperature is 19.9 degrees C (68
Chapala's population has increased rapidly in
the last few years. Today it has about 40,000
inhabitants, of which some 500 are Canadians
and Americans. Many of the expats live in
Vista del Lago, a suburb five minutes away,
with one of the area's largest golf courses.
Chapala has two old hotels
with colorful history. The Nido Hotel, founded
in the early 1910s, once housed vacationing
elite from all parts of Jalisco. The Villa
Monte Carlo, built on a small bluff
overlooking the Lake, was once a summertime
retreat for former president Porfirio Diaz.
Chapala has several banks, several travel
bureaus, an investment company, and the oldest
real estate firm in the entire area. Downtown
is where almost all economic transactions are
made, with people coming from all the villages
to do business.
It is also the main seat of government for
several Lakeside villages. Inside the
township's colonial building are housed almost
all of the agencies and departments that
administer the legal, civic and ecological
life of the area.
Chapala boasts several medical clinics, some
featuring the latest and most modern
diagnostic equipment. The Red Cross clinic and
ambulance service operates 24 hours a day, 365
days a year, for medical emergencies.
Moreover, Lakeside has a few outstanding
retirement homes, with round-the-clock medical
For sports enthusiasts, Chapala has a yacht
club, several good tennis courts, a few
beautifully maintained soccer fields and a
bullring, as well as fully-equipped health
clubs. In recent years, the citizens of Mexico
have become much more health conscious, and
the town of Chapala reflects this new trend.
Near the lakeshore sits a quaint quay that
sports several of the best seafood restaurants
in all of Mexico.
The new and the old are harmoniously
integrated in Chapala, and it is not unusual
to find a modern facility nestled in between
two stately residences whose histories go back
several hundred years. The past is well
preserved, and hints of village history can be
found around nearly every corner.
One example is the former home of the
novelist, D.H. Lawrence, who resided here in
the early 20s, during the time he was writing
one of his most celebrated novels, The Plumed
Serpent. Today, the house is one of the best
bed and breakfast establishments in Mexico.
Another impressive residence (the three-story
red house seen at the top of this article) is
the former home of the Braniff family. Built
around the turn of the century by the scion of
the family who later would establish one of
the largest airlines in the United States, it
is today a fashionable restaurant.