Friday, June 14, 2024

Wasting away again in Ajijic

“It’s in the tropics somewhere between the Port of Indecision and Southwest of Disorder, but no parallels of latitude or longitude mark the spot exactly. You don’t have to be a navigator to get there. Palm trees provide the camouflage…”

Singer Jimmy Buffett

Scores of Jimmy Buffett fans, I’m told, embrace life at “a new latitude,” the promise of their spiritual guru, a 76 year-old billionaire who continues to tour, write books, and inspire millions of baby boomers longing for life’s perfect sunset. Buffett’s multiple businesses include a real estate collection of lifestyle communities for 55 and over, open in Florida, South Carolina, Texas, and coming soon to Mexico.

In 2024,, Latitude Margaritaville International is set to open on the northwest shore of Lake Chapala. This new Buffett venture will soon offer “Parrot Heads” (Buffet’s followers) a new roost in Jalisco state, adjacent to the village of Ajijic, whose fame with foreigners dates to the 1940s. 

A new twist on the overseas living experience is now upon us. What could possibly go wrong? Are Lake Chapala and the rest of Mexico ready to welcome Margaritaville to the homeland of margaritas?

Lake Chapala’s one attempt at a United States-style senior care model (formerly marketed as “La Pueblita”) went into receivership in 2022, the victim of the pandemic and a marketing pitch that never caught on. Latitude Margaritaville International and its partner Levy Holding will take over the ill-fated, 200-unit facility of unfinished condos and casitas.

A rendering of Latitude Margaritaville International, set to open in Lake Chapala, Jalisco by early 2024. (

“With the success and demand for Margaritaville-branded residential communities in the U.S., we’re always looking for licensing opportunities and destinations that are compelling and dynamic. Lake Chapala was exactly that,” according to Jim Wiseman, president of development at Margaritaville, the parent company of the Latitude Margaritaville real estate collection. “As a popular destination for expats, and with its diverse offerings and incredible climate, the area brings together elements of both active and laid-back lifestyles, and a dedication to community – all a major part of the way of life at Latitude Margaritaville International.”

The project will open for sales this summer, with move-ins happening in the spring of 2024, according to the Margaritaville website. Pastel-hued renderings also give us some clues about how the company will recruit “Parrot Heads” to Lake Chapala. An updated artist’s rendition of the existing pool area features giant macaws, a “Salty Rim Bar & Grill” logo, and Jimmy Buffett-inspired slogans and affirmations scrawled on walls and awnings. 

That’s all fine. Who wants another abandoned real estate eyesore?

But bringing the Margaritaville brand to Lake Chapala – the birthplace of overseas living in Mexico (a heritage we lakesiders proudly embrace) – has some of us wondering how this will all go down. Buffet’s Margaritaville is the first corporate brand to parachute into the lakeside senior living landscape, and it will certainly impact the surrounding area. Will it further accelerate our community’s transformation from a lakeside village to something else? It’s very likely.

Ajijic, Jalisco
View of Lake Chapala and Ajijic at sunset. (Somniphobiac/Creative Commons)

It wouldn’t be fair to lay blame at Margaritaville’s door for Ajijic’s growing challenges: rickety roads, crumbling sidewalks, traffic snarls, water shortages, the rising cost of living, and lost village identity. 

That blame could be placed on local authorities for abandoning any attempt at urban planning or growth impact abatement. Also responsible are foreign-born “invaders” who come here with U.S. lifestyles, affluence, and attitudes that foster what are essentially two community circles, the Mexicans and the outsiders; sometimes polarized, sometimes united.

Will the Margaritaville brand bring new residents with global views and attitudes congruent with making Mexico a better place to live? Will Margaritaville’s “55 and better” communities start popping up across Mexico? 

Or, will it be just another gated community, this time bringing a Floridian vibe to the more muted, rural Lake Chapala area?

I’m hoping the model finds its footing, creates some good-paying jobs, raises living standards for our Mexican neighbors, and helps Mexico attract the inevitably growing share of Americans who can’t afford to retire up north.

I don’t personally know any “Parrot Heads”. They could all be civic-minded, progressive, and giving. They could help make the places they live in more prosperous. Or, will Mexico’s quest to attract foreign capital create another island of exclusivity that’s disassociated from the community’s needs – especially in a town like Ajijic, struggling to define its future?

If nothing else, it’s a homecoming of sorts for the drink that inspires followers to embrace “life on the other side.” I’m keeping an eye out for my “lost shaker of salt.” And hoping for the best. 

Writer Greg Custer ( has worked in Mexico tourism for over 40 years. He’s lived lakeside in Ajijic since 2015 and helps Americans explore Mexico for living opportunities.

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