Lake Chapala, Mexico

Lake Locations:

Mexico - Northern Pacific -

Also known as:  Lago de Chapala

Lake Chapala, Mexico’s largest freshwater lake, is renowned for its mild weather, picturesque villages and incredible sunsets. Located on a large plateau in the Sierra Madre mountain range and 25 miles south of the city of Guadalajara, it is a popular vacation destination for citizens of Mexico as well as international travelers.

Mostly located in the state of Jalisco but also extending into Michoacan, Lake Chapala is approximately 48 miles long by 10 miles wide with a surface area of 274,781 acres. Rio Lerma is the primary river flowing into the lake, and Rio Santiago flows out of the lake to the Pacific Ocean. Located about 5,000 feet above sea level, water levels fluctuate about four feet annually.

Lake Chapala’s popularity began in the early 1900s when Mexican President Porfirio Diaz visited the area and fell in love with its beauty. He had an estate built, the Villa Montecarlo, which today serves as one of the lake’s country clubs. A large number of American and Canadian retirees have made Lake Chapala their home. The cost of living in and around the Lake Chapala region is known for its affordability. The area’s three main cities – Chapala, Ajijic and Jocotepec – are located on the lake’s northern shore. Hotels and vacation rentals can be found in various towns throughout the area.

Lake Chapala is a favorite stop for many migrating birds, including the famous White Pelican. In addition, the ecosystem of the lake supports thousands of indigenous plants and animals. Unfortunately, pollution from industrial and agricultural sources has adversely affected the lake. Despite the lake’s size, the lake is very shallow (34 feet at its deepest point) and is susceptible to infestations of sea weed and water hyacinth. Additionally, Guadalajara’s great demand for fresh water has taken its toll and added to the lake’s ecological concerns. Fortunately, several grassroots groups and international entities, including the scientific community, have initiated several conservation programs, which aim to protect the environment of Lake Chapala. The lake received Ramsar Protection Status on February 4, 2009.

Although swimming is not recommended in Lake Chapala, water-sports can still be enjoyed. Whitefish (Chirostoma), tilapia, carp, mojarra, and catfish are among the edible fish found in the lake. Boating and sailing are also popular.

Lake Chapala is the home to two islands: Mezcala Island and Scorpion Island. Mezcala Island, or Isla Presidio, is a national monument that boasts magnificent ruins of an old fort where Mexican forces fought the Spaniards from 1812 to 1816. Scorpion Island, or Isla Alacranes, has several restaurants that serve mouthwatering local dishes. Both islands are ideal sites for bird watching. You can easily charter or rent a boat to take you to these islands.

Another major Lake Chapala landmark to explore is the historic church of Chapala, the Iglesia de San Francisco. Built in 1528, the church is located two blocks south of the main plaza in Chapala. On the main street, Avenida Madero, there are plenty of restaurants, cafes and shops to enjoy. Weekends provide more shopping opportunities when local craftspeople set up booths with items to sell, including local handicrafts, musical instruments, ceramics, and leather goods.

Near the craft market is the Christiana Park known for its children’s playgrounds, tennis courts, sports fields and swimming pool. Golfers will want to visit the nearby Chapala Country Club with its excellent nine-hole golf course.

The most popular city on Lake Chapala is Ajijic, a charming, old-world town of 15,000 people. Hillside villas, traditional dwellings and cobbled-stoned streets will make you feel like you’ve gone back in time. You will also find modern restaurants, a golf course and many organized lakeside activities.

Its perfect climate, beautiful scenery and abundance of water related sports and activities make Lake Chapala the perfect place to visit and explore or retire to and call home.

Things to do at Lake Chapala

  • Vacation Rentals
  • Fishing
  • Boating
  • Sailing
  • Swimming
  • Swimming Pool
  • Golf
  • Tennis
  • Birding
  • Ruins
  • Playground
  • Shopping

Fish species found at Lake Chapala

  • Carp
  • Catfish
  • Mojarra
  • Tilapia
  • Whitefish

Lake Chapala Photo Gallery

Lake Chapala Statistics & Helpful Links

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Lake Type: Natural Freshwater Lake, Not Dammed

Surface Area: 274,781 acres

Shoreline Length: 133 miles

Normal Elevation (Full Pond): 5,000 feet

Average Depth: 15 feet

Maximum Depth: 34 feet

Water Volume: 6,404,634 acre-feet

Water Residence Time: 10.2 years

Drainage Area: 20,270 sq. miles

Trophic State: Mesotrophic

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Trophic State | LakeLubbers

Trophic State measures the level of algae and nutrients in a lake.

An oligotrophic lake is very clear (blue in color) and does not support much plant or fish life. A hyper-oligotrophic lake is the clearest of all lakes, and is nearly devoid of plants and fish.

A mesotrophic lake is slightly green and supports a moderate degree of plant and fish life. A lake's most desired trophic state is generally this mid-point - the mesotrophic state.

A eutrophic lake is somewhat murky and supports a large amount of plant and fish life. A hypereutrophic lake is clouded with algae, plant life, and fish life. A eutrophic or hyper-eutrophic lake can be difficult to navigate by boat - and is often an unpleasant place to swim.

The use of phosphorus-rich and nitrogen-rich fertilizer on lawns and golf courses surrounding a lake can cause it to become eutrophic or hypereutrophic.


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Catchment or Drainage Area | LakeLubbers

This is the surrounding area that drains into a lake, including land, rivers and their tributaries. This is also known as the lake's "catchment basin".

Small lakes at the highest peaks of mountains have small drainage areas. The world's oceans have the largest drainage areas.


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Lake-Area Population | LakeLubbers

This is the estimated number of people who live in a house with a view of a lake, plus those who self-describe the lake as their home, for example: "I live at Smith Mountain Lake."


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Water Residence Time | LakeLubbers

This is the estimated time that it takes for an amount of water equal to the entire volume of a lake to flow out of - or evaporate from - the lake.

Residence Time can be as short as a few days for fast-flowing small lakes, and can exceed 100 years for slow-flowing large lakes.


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Completion Year | LakeLubbers

This is the year that a reservoir was first filled to the reservoir's normal elevation - or the year that a natural lake was first dammed. A large reservoir can take more than a year to fill after its dam is first closed.

The Grand Anicut in southern India is generally considered the world's oldest dam that still operates. Grand Anicut was constructed in the second century BC. It now impounds an irrigation network that includes roughly one million acres.

You can find many of the the world's newest reservoirs on LakeLubbers. Many of the world's oldest reservoirs appear on the last page of that list.


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Water Volume | LakeLubbers

This is the estimated volume of water that a lake contains -- measured at the lake's normal elevation. By this measure, the world's largest freshwater lake is Siberia's Lake Baikal.

You can find many of the the world's largest lakes (by water volume) on LakeLubbers.

Water Volume can be measured in acre-feet, in cubic miles, or in cubic kilometers. One acre-foot is the amount of water needed to cover one acre (43,560 square feet) to a depth of one foot. One cubic mile equals 3,379,200 acre-feet. One cubic kilometer equals 810,713 acre-feet.

1 acre-foot is equal to 325,851 US gallons. Siberia's Lake Baikal contains about 6,276,367,740,000,000 gallons of freshwater - nearly 1 million gallons for every living person on earth.

The other - and more widely used - measure of a lake's size is the lake's surface acreage. By that measure, the world's largest freshwater lake is North America's Lake Superior.


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Maximum Depth | LakeLubbers

This is the estimated greatest depth of the water in a lake -- measured at the lake's normal elevation. The world's deepest lake is Siberia's Lake Baikal; that lake's maximum depth is estimated at 5,314 feet.

You can find many of the the world's deepest lakes on LakeLubbers. If you select the last page of that list, you will find the (maximum depth of) the shallowest lakes in our database.


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Average Depth | LakeLubbers

This is the estimated average depth of the water in a lake -- measured at the lake's normal elevation. If the water volume and surface area of a lake are known, an estimate of the lake's average depth can be calculated:

Water volume ÷ Surface Area = Average Depth

Example: 1,000,000 acre-feet ÷ 20,000 acres = 50 feet average depth


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Maximum Elevation | LakeLubbers

This is a lake's highest water level, measured by the lake's surface distance above sea level, that can occur during flooding. A lake's highest possible maximum elevation is usually the top of the lake's dam or spillway.

At lakes that include residential development, government regulations usually forbid the construction of homes below a lake's maximum elevation.


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Minimum Elevation | LakeLubbers

This is a lake's lowest water level, measured by the lake's surface distance above sea level, that can be reasonably expected to occur. Low lake levels can occur due to deliberate seasonal draw downs for irrigation or impending snow melt, reduced water inflows, drought and evaporation, residential or commercial water demands, and hydropower generation.

Some lakes' minimum and maximum elevations are virtually the same. Lakes that generate hydropower may vary by several feet - according to power demand. Lakes whose primary purpose is to prevent flooding can seasonally vary by 100 feet or more.

When some lakes reach their minimum elevation, their boat ramps may not be long enough to permit boat access - and boats docked on shallow parts of the lake may end up on dry ground. In those cases, kayakers and shore-based anglers may be among the few happy recreational users of the lake.


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Normal Elevation | LakeLubbers

This is a lake's normal water level, measured by the lake's surface distance above sea level. For a reservoir, this water level is also known as "full pond" or "full pool".

You can find many of the world's highest-elevated lakes on LakeLubbers. Lakes with the lowest elevations (known by LakeLubbers) are shown on the final page of that list.


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Shoreline Length | LakeLubbers

This is the length of the exterior shoreline around a lake - measured at the lake's normal elevation. The shoreline length can be considerably shorter or longer when lake water levels are lower or higher than normal.

A lake with many coves has a much longer shoreline than a lake of similar surface area that is nearly circular in shape.

When known, the shoreline miles that we report in our statistics include only the lake's exterior shoreline, and exclude the shorelines of islands located within a lake's boundaries. In lakes with many islands, those islands' combined shorelines may exceed a lake's exterior shoreline.

You can find many of the world's longest-shoreline lakes on Lakelubbers.


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Surface Area | LakeLubbers

This is the area (acreage, square kilometers, etc.) of the top surface area of a lake - measured at a lake's normal elevation. The surface area can be considerably smaller or larger when lake levels are lower or higher than normal. North America's Lake Superior is the world's largest freshwater lake by this measure.

The other measure of a lake's size is the lake's water volume. By that measure, the world's largest freshwater lake is Lake Baikal in Siberia.

You can find many of the world's largest lakes (acres) on Lakelubbers. There is no widely-accepted minimum surface area that defines a lake. What Lakelubbers describes as a lake, you might call a pond. The smallest lake that Lakelubbers currently includes is Hawaii's 2-acre Lake Waiau.


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Water Level Control | LakeLubbers

This is the organization that controls water releases or outflows from the lake or reservoir. In the USA, this is often the US Army Corps of Engineers, a power company, a municipal water system, an irrigation district, or a paper manufacturing company. In the case of private or gated lakes, a homeowners' association may be the lake's controlling authority.

Many lakes cross borders, including North America's Great Lakes. The control of such lakes and their coveted freshwater may be amicably shared - or hotly disputed.

"Water wars" continue at many lakes as growing populations and crop irrigation needs compete for the freshwater that lakes contain.


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Lake Type | LakeLubbers

There are 3 basic types of lakes that are currently included on LakeLubbers. 2 types may be dammed or not dammed, producing 5 classifications.

- A Reservoir is a man-made freshwater lake that is usually created by damming rivers.

- A Natural Freshwater Lake occurs naturally - often by glacial activity - and has a salinity of less than 30 parts per thousand. It may be dammed to produce electricity or for other reasons.

- A Natural Saltwater Lake occurs naturally and has a salinity of more than 30 parts per thousand (ppt). It may be dammed.

"Brackish" water may be categorized as freshwater or saltwater, depending on its salt content (salinity). Oligohaline water has less than 15 ppt of salt. Mesohaline water has 15-29 ppt. Polyhaline has 30-335 ppt.


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