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Ajijic vs. San Miguel de Allende, Mexico

Should you move to Mexico? And where should you move to? Ajijic or San Miguel de Allende? Decisions, decisions! Both destinations are astounding in their expat significance. If you could make only one choice to move to another country, how would you decide? Climate? Affordability? Safety? Is your apprehension about visiting Mexico going to keep you from exploring these popular towns for relocation? Mexico is deemed by many to be an unsafe destination. But are those fears justified? Set aside your misconceptions and look at Ajijic and San Miguel de Allende as possible future homes.



Sunset over Lake Chapala on the Ajijic Malecon

Sunset over Lake Chapala on the Ajijic Malecon

It is estimated more than half of the population in Ajijic are immigrants during the winter. Ajijic has the largest concentration of American expats in the world. Some say this is good, and some say this is bad… too many gringos.

I admit being leery of coming to a town with so many expats. But you know what? Those expats offer a community you may not find and assimilate into in areas with less immigration. Especially the first time moving away, you will crave talking with people from your home country as you can relate to them. A few days after arrival, we knew Ajijic was right for us because we were not fluent in Spanish and English is widely spoken here. We had come from spending two months in the country between the towns of Tenancingo and Malinalco, where there were zero gringos. Which was okay, but it did get isolating. Ajijic welcomed us with open arms.

San Miguel de Allende

Church of the Immaculate Conception

Church of the Immaculate Conception

Another popular expat destination, approximately 10 percent of the population is expats. English was not spoken as widely as it is in Ajijic, which is okay. When in another country, you should not assume everyone speaks English. It’s a nice bonus, though, when you are learning the language to communicate with your native tongue sometimes.

San Miguel has a larger population of around 72,000, making the concentration of expats less noticeable than in Ajijic. The closest airport to San Miguel is 41.5 miles (67 km) away in Querétaro, making it a little harder to access than Ajijic. Guadalajara’s airport is 24 miles (38 km) or about a 30–45-minute taxi ride from Ajijic. There is a proposal for San Miguel to receive an airport, which could be a game-changer by increasing immigration.

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WINNER for expat friendliness: Ajijic, solely based on the easier access compared to San Miguel de Allende. It is a bonus being close to an airport to be able to get back to Canada or the United States easily.


Mexico is an incredibly affordable destination in which to live; however, not all locations are created equal. Different cities vary greatly in affordability based on tourism and expat migration. The value of the Mexican peso (MXN) to 1 USD = 17.10 as of February 28, 2024. Since moving to Mexico almost two years ago, we’ve seen the Mexican peso strengthen. It used to be 1 USD = 20 MXN.


I live in a subdivision outside Ajijic. From what other expats and travellers alike say, Ajijic is one of the more expensive destinations they’ve experienced in Mexico. What seems to put Ajijic on the higher end are housing costs. Rents and sale prices have increased since we moved here. Our condo, located in a highly desired neighbourhood near Ajijic, is one of the more expensive due to the central location, wide streets, quiet surroundings, and large houses with gorgeous yards, making this area one of the most sought-after.

Homes to Rent in Ajijic

Rent for our two-bedroom, two-bath condo includes a mirador and outside patio. We have a saltwater pool about 20 feet from our front door. The unit came fully furnished and equipped including linens, cutlery, and local art. Parking, high-speed internet, water, daily garbage pickup, and a gardener are also part of the package. The damage? USD$995/month, an increase over the last 12-month lease of USD$950/month. Will the rent increase at the end of this one-year lease? Likely. The supply and demand market calls for it.

Rents in Ajijic are all over the map. It depends on your needs, where you want to be located, and what amenities are included. You can also find units as low as USD$500/month with pretty much everything included. A good argument as to why you need to come and see for yourself, so you know what is right for you. Once you arrive, you become privy to local groups and on-the-ground intel for various rental home options.

Homes to Buy in Ajijic

The median price to buy a home in Ajijic is USD$307,000. Again, you can find homes in the millions and homes under $100k. The purpose here is to give you an idea of what to expect. This article is not exhaustive on purchasing a home in Ajijic or San Miguel de Allende.


Empanadas at the Wednesday Market

Empanadas at the Wednesday Market

Food is incredibly affordable in Ajijic, especially when you shop at the local street markets. Today at the Wednesday market, we purchased cherry tomatoes, bananas, onions, cauliflower, cabbage, limes, zucchini, carrots, potatoes, lettuce, arugula, sprouts, fresh cheese, chicken breasts, 18 eggs, four empanadas, and capirotada (traditional bread pudding for Lent) plus cream sauce for MXN$930 (USD$54.39). You will go home with as much as two people can carry and take care of groceries for a week. Produce would have been less, but buying the pre-packaged lettuce and arugula comes at a higher cost. Anything not part of a typical Mexican diet will cost more.

What did $54 buy you at the grocery store the last time you went?

Eating out for two at a mid-range restaurant will typically cost MXN$500 or less, roughly USD$29.24. The total includes a beer, a glass of wine, and the food. Usually, free tacos and salsa or bread are delivered to the table with a smile. Of course, you can eat for less, and you can eat for more. On average, expect USD$30 for two diners.


Entertainment is also affordable.We attended a local ballet with friends for MXN$100 per person (USD$5.85). The local bus can drive you from one end of Lake Chapala to the other for peanuts, not literally, but USD$1.00 will get you to where you want to go. Yes, one dollar. For two people. From one end of Mexico’s biggest lake to the other.

Electricity is necessary to mention here. Our power bills average MXN$230 bi-monthly, without using air conditioning. Imagine paying USD$13.45 FOR TWO MONTHS OF ELECTRICITY. I pinch myself when the bill is due.

Much can be said about prices, but we need to get to San Miguel de Allende and other factors. In short, you can live an average lifestyle with no frills in Ajijic for USD$2,500/month. Of course, the cost of living is all relative.

San Miguel de Allende

We had always heard San Miguel de Allende was a bigger, more expensive version of Ajijic. This is true, in some sense, as San Miguel is more expensive, but it is quite a bit different personality-wise than Ajijic.

But let’s stick with the cost of living first, shall we?

Homes to Rent in San Miguel de Allende

On average, you can expect a two-bedroom, two-bathroom apartment near the centre of San Miguel to be USD$1,600/month. Remember, these are often fully furnished and include everything.

Homes to Buy in San Miguel de Allende

The median price to buy a home in San Miguel de Allende will set you back USD$429,000. There are more homes on the market in San Miguel—this would make sense based on the size of the communities.


Expect to pay MXN$100 more for a meal in San Miguel de Allende. There are more high-end restaurants, and the mid-level restaurants are more expensive. You can find affordable, cute little breakfast places with similar pricing to Ajijic.

Our Favourite Breakfast Restaurant, La Sacristia on Canal Street, Excellent Americanos

Our Favourite Breakfast Restaurant, La Sacristia on Canal Street, Excellent Americanos

There are free art galleries galore and museums to visit in San Miguel. There are also ones requiring admission, which is not expensive. For example, the toy museum was MXN$80 (USD$4.68) per person, and we spent a few hours in the venue of handmade traditional Mexican toys from yesteryear.

WINNER for Affordability: Ajijic


Mainstream media and Western governments pound fear into the public by labelling Mexico as a dangerous destination. In the last two years of living in Mexico, we have never felt in danger in the country. Anywhere. Of course, it is wise to avoid some areas so educate yourself before you go.

We walked the streets freely in Ajijic and San Miguel de Allende.

Safety Stats Comparing Ajijic to San Miguel de Allende

Image from Numbeo.com.

WINNER in safety: Ajijic


Ajijic has rustic, rough, narrow cobblestone streets. The sidewalks are rather treacherous, and you must pay attention when walking—you never know what you will step off or into. However, the towns along Lake Chapala are quite flat with few hills to climb. There is an abundance of taxis, buses, cars, and some golf carts, too. The streets are crowded, and parking can be a challenge if you drive.

Independence Day Parade in Ajijic

Independence Day Parade in Ajijic

San Miguel’s streets are busy, too, but not to the extent of Ajijic. The streets are much wider and cleaner. The sidewalks are more even, but the stone can be slippery, especially while walking up or downhill.  A big bonus about San Miguel is all the streets are blocked off from traffic within the first block of the main square. No vehicles make walking the square a dream with less noise and fresher air. There is also an abundance of cheap taxis and buses to get you around if you are on foot.

Canal Street, San Miguel de Allende

Canal Street, San Miguel de Allende

WINNER for Infrastructure/Transportation: San Miguel de Allende


Both towns have temperate weather for those who prefer a cooler climate to the scorching coasts. The cooler weather is due to the higher altitude of both towns.

Images from weatherspark.com.

WINNER for weather: Tie. It depends if you like it a little cooler or hotter. Do note: the Lake Chapala region is noted as having the second-best climate in the world.


Mexican people are friendly and polite. Wherever you go, people are smiling. After what you have read so far, is it a surprise people here are genuinely happy and content?

Taking a morning walk down the streets in Ajijic is sure to brighten your day. Everyone greets you with a robust “Buenas dias!” and a smile. Even people across the street will wave and extend a good morning greeting. Smiles and greetings are infectious.

Restaurant workers are happy and attentive but not overly so. They don’t hover, and you must ask them to bring the check when you are ready to leave, or you will sit there for a long time. After all, you are supposed to be enjoying yourself.

When our driver took us from Ajijic to the bus station in Tonala (in Guadalajara) for our trip to San Miguel, he said he had been to San Miguel once. The people, he found, were not as friendly.

“I’ll say, ‘Hello, good morning!’ and no one answers back.”

Our experience was similar, but most people did answer when we greeted them on the street. San Miguel is a high-end town. It has an air of wealth to it Ajijic does not possess.

Our experiences in both towns were positive, pleasant, and welcoming.

WINNER for hospitality: Ajijic



Ajijic is a Pueblos Mágicos in the state of Jalisco. The “Magical Towns Program” is an initiative led by Mexico’s Secretariat of Tourism, with support from other federal agencies, to promote a series of towns around the country offering cultural richness, historical relevance, cuisine, arts and crafts, and genuine hospitality. The intention is to increase tourism to more vicinities, particularly to smaller towns in rural areas. Ajijic meets the criteria, although they had to persevere to be accepted into the program and finally achieved recognition in 2020.

Founded in 1531, Ajijic has 16th-century churches and is one of the oldest villages in central Mexico. The town has attracted writers and artists since the late 1800s. The current population is just over 11,000. The surrounding area of Lake Chapala is home to around 150,000 people.

Ajijic is a festive village with many holidays, unique events, and parades about once a month. Hundreds are attracted each September to the unmanned Hot Air Balloon event (Regatta de Globos), where local groups enter their homemade tissue paper balloons, some as big as 200 cubic feet. The aromas of tacos fill the air as locals set up tents to shield themselves from the sun and shelter their families while serving up comfort food and enjoying the spectacle. Cheers erupt each time a massive balloon floats off into the sky.

Mexican Independence Day celebrations with fervour last all week before September 16th. Holy Week is also a special event with a play beginning on Palm Sunday and set in stages during the week around town with the washing of the feet near the lake on Maundy Thursday and a procession up the hill to the Garden of Gethsemane scene. The event continues in the main plaza with a trial and Jesus being taken away for punishment. The play begins the next day on Good Friday, with Pontius Pilate, Herod, the scourging, and a procession through the cobblestone streets of the town with thousands of people following Jesus and the thieves carrying their crosses. The Roman guards lead the procession to the crucifixion scene. The event is epic and incredibly well done.

Other places of interest are the small islands in Lake Chapala where you can rent a boat and take an afternoon excursion. Scorpion Island is a quirky place to have a margarita and relax. Presidio Island (aka Mezcala Island) harbours ruins of an old prison and fortress where a standoff occurred during the Mexican and Spanish war for independence.

View of the Village of Mezcal from the Ruins on Presidio Island

View of the Village of Mezcala from the Ruins on Presidio Island

San Miguel de Allende

San Miguel de Allende was recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2008. As you walk the streets, it feels more like being in Spain than Mexico. Colonial architecture is more prevalent than in Ajijic. San Miguel boasts ten historical churches near the centre of town. There are numerous museums, fine arts institutes, craft markets, and beautiful parks with lovely walking paths.

Historic Museum on Canal Street

Historic Museum on Canal Street

The Fabrica la Aurora (Aurora’s Factory) has been refurbished on the north end of town and hosts a variety of local art galleries, furniture, and clothing. You can spend an entire day here if you like. Admission is free.

Parque Benito Juárez is a shady place to relax and meander through with benches and well-maintained pathways. There is a butterfly and hummingbird garden where you can sit and enjoy the whimsical stealth birds and butterflies.

La Parroquia de San Miguel Arcángel is in the Jardin Principal (main garden). The parish church of San Miguel is iconic to the town and is one of the most photographed churches in Mexico.

Parish Church of San Miguel

Parish Church of San Miguel

Built in the 17th century, the church is a magnificent feat of neo-gothic architecture. The pink sandstone façade is even prettier in person. The main garden out front of the church is the perfect place to relax, have a snack, admire the church, and listen to mariachi bands in the evening.

WINNER for Tourist Attractions and Historical Sites: San Miguel de Allende


Overall Winner in Ajijic vs. San Miguel de Allende, Mexico

Ajijc and San Miguel de Allende are fabulous, but the winner of this showdown is Ajijic. The deciding factor for you may come down to lifestyle. Ajijic has a laid-back hippie vibe, whereas San Miguel de Allende is more upscale. Neither town had a big strike against it. The beauty of these two vastly different towns is both welcoming and provides a freedom lifestyle you will not find in Canada or the United States.


Hot Air Balloon Event (Regatta de Globos) in Ajijic

Hot Air Balloon Event (Regatta de Globos) in Ajijic

Let your adventure begin by reading Charlotte’s deeply personal expat adventures in our premiere content magazine, Escape Artist Insiders.

All photos provided by Charlotte Tweed unless otherwise stated.

Charlotte TweedCharlotte Tweed is an adventurous soul with a goal to take you on a journey where you don’t just visit—you live it. Graduating with a Travel and Tourism Honours diploma, Charlotte began her expat journey on June 15, 2021. After travelling through multiple countries, Charlotte now calls Mexico home. Reading, writing, and researching the best expat destinations in the world are how she fills her days. As a published author, her mission is to transform your life with expat travel—one destination, one adventure, one story at a time.

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