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The Mature Traveler

Jalisco Draws Retirees and Tourists

September 07, 1986|HANK KOVELL | Kovell is a veteran journalist in seniors' interests.

Many mature travelers select our southern neighbor, Mexico, as a vacation destination because it is nearby and because the U.S. dollar is quite strong in relation to the Mexican peso, making prices for products and services very economical.

For these same reasons, many Americans have also considered Mexico as a place to retire.

One popular area for both the tourist and the retiree is the state of Jalisco in which lies the state capital and Mexico's second largest city, Guadalajara.

Just 2 1/2 hours flying time from Los Angeles, Guadalajara at an altitude of 5,000 feet has a moderate climate, with average daily temperatures in the 70s.

In recent years the city's population has soared to almost 5 million, while vehicular traffic chokes major arteries as dilapidated trucks and rickety buses belch clouds of black smoke. Prevailing winds, however, keep the blue skies above the sprawling city free of air pollution.

The city boasts verdant parks while streets and private yards are aflame with multicolored roses, purple jacaranda, hibiscus, vermilion tulip trees and other semitropical growth.

Guadalajara offers the tourist a wide selection of sightseeing opportunities, beginning with the city center where the twin-towered 17th-Century cathedral is the focal point of a central complex of historic buildings, museums, plazas and sculptures.

Village Setting

The nearby communities of Tlaquepaque and Tonala are quaint suburbs where ceramics, glassware, papier-mache, stoneware, jewelry and woven products are fabricated and sold in a village setting.

Thirty miles from Guadalajara lies Mexico's largest inland body of water, Lake Chapala, which is 50 miles long. Along its shores are the town of Chapala, the artist's colony of Ajijic and the villages of Jocopetec and Chula Vista, the latter two being favorites of American retirees. The weather is even better here, and along the lakeshore and in the villages are picturesque restaurants, small low-rise hotels and refurbished buildings that house boutiques and gift shops.

More than 20,000 Americans and 6,000 Canadian citizens have chosen Jalisco state as a place to retire, but there is no single section where foreigners live in any tightly knit quarter apart from the Mexican population. Some of the expatriates are scattered throughout a residential neighborhood called Chapalita, while others live in towns and villages away from the city, including those that border Lake Chapala.

Aside from the temperate year-round weather the big draw for retirees is the moderate cost of living. Small unfurnished apartments or homes may rent for $100 to $150 a month, but those are usually not in the best sections of the city.

A two- or three-bedroom house or apartment in a good neighborhood rents for about $250 to $300 a month.

For short-term visits there are apartment hotels with kitchens, called suites, the best of which rent for $500 a month, with some very good ones renting for much less.

Cost of Dining Out

Restaurant costs are best illustrated by the Monday Special offered at the Posada Ajijic, a charming hotel at the edge of Lake Chapala. Dinner includes fresh fruit cocktail, sirloin steak, fried onions, mashed potatoes, garlic bread and chocolate cake for dessert for about $3.40, tax included. A glass of wine is an additional 15 cents. The lovely old inn has large airy guest rooms with private baths for $9 a day for two people.

Imports Expensive

If you've heard stories about hiring a live-in housekeeper for less than $100 a month, you heard correctly. But some things cost more in Mexico than they do in the United States, such as imported liquor and cigarettes.

Most Americans keep their money in dollar accounts in U.S. banks and convert to pesos only in amounts needed for day to day expenses. The Mexican peso is still unstable and the rate changes almost daily.

There are more than 80 English language organizations in the Guadalajara area including a bridge club, an American Legion post, an American Society (all-purpose, with 3,000 members), a library, major fraternal organizations and service clubs, language schools, five golf courses, tennis clubs, drama clubs, churches, musical societies and many more.

To get a firsthand look at retirement possibilities, a trip to Guadalajara to check it out is essential. Western Airlines and Mexicana both have daily nonstop flights from Los Angeles.

Choice of Hotels

The choice of hotels might be the elegant five-star Exelaris Hyatt Regency (complete with indoor ice-skating rink), which is across the street from the Plaza del Sol shopping center, said to be Latin America's largest. Rates at the Hyatt begin at $63 double up to $83 for a deluxe room.

Or in the downtown area near all the historic sights is the 100-year-old (but remodeled) Hotel Calinda Roma, a quality inn that offers good value in comfort for a meager $30 a day for two. Your travel agent will assemble a package for you with plenty of extras at minimum cost and fuss.

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