The city of Guadalajara has its own unique charm and loads of places to discover while tourism is pretty low. Because it´s one of the destinations not everyone visits, you won´t have a hard time avoiding the masses to discover a very authentic modern Mexico.
It was my home for nearly five months so I saw A LOT in and around there and although it´s going to be hard to keep it short, I´ll try to include only the very best spots in this post.
Guadalajara is the capital of Jalisco, place of origin of both Mariachi and Tequila, two symbols that are decisive for the internationally perceived image of Mexico. The so-called “tapatios”, people from Guadalajara, will proudly and frequently tell you that and it´s one of the reasons why I definitely recommend you to go there.
Because Guadalajara is composed of six different towns that merged when they grew, it has several “historical centers” to visit. While they are today considered parts of Guadalajara, they are officially still autonomous cities.
Tlaquepaque is an artistic, colorful town that was surrounded by Guadalajara when it grew, so that now it seems more like a part of the city. It is one of Guadalajara´s “must sees” and there are some things you should not miss when you´re there!
I´d recommend to plan your visit for half a day or a day, although you could stroll around there a lot longer as well. Read more about what to see and do in Tlaquepaque here.
Historical center of Guadalajara
This is the part of the city, in which you´ll find many colonial buildings and where you can learn about the history. You shouldn´t miss the picturesque cathedral (you anyway cannot really miss it to be honest), the “Rotonda de los Jaliscienses ilustres”, a round arch to honor important people from Jalisco, and the residence!
As well definitely recommendable is the market “San Juan de Dios”. You can get everything there, and I mean EVERYTHING! It´s really cheap and one of the biggest markets in whole America. Just go there, try some real Mexican food and get lost. If you love markets like I do, this will be your heaven.
It´s important to mention though that the center of Guadalajara is not the nicest area. Enjoy the buildings and the market during the day (I highly recommend taking a free walking tour there!), but avoid it during the night. It can get quite dangerous then.
If your searching for an evening program, “Chapu”, short for Chapultepec, is the place to go. Chapultepec is actually the name of the area around the street of the same name. It´s crowded and safe, even at nighttime. There are loads of bars, restaurants and clubs. Among them don´t miss to try tacos at “Tomate” (see below), have a drink in “Bananas” and stroll through Chapu´s street market or dance Salsa there!
As well I would recommend taking your accommodation there, as it´s close to the center and safe at night.
Barranca de Huentitán
Guadalajara is built right next to a pretty big canon and although it´s said that Mexicans are not the sportiest nation (which is true btw.) you´ll find some pretty fit Mexicans in la Barranca de Huentitan. It´s the sports ground for people who want to escape the city. You have to start early, as it gets too hot later and the whole round takes about 3h. First you go down via a normal way and then you climb up via railroads. That´s actually pretty challenging, but you´re rewarded by amazing views! An activity for the sportsman among you.
Lago Chapala is the biggest lake in Mexico and as it is really warm there and you cannot see the other end of the lake, for me it felt more like the ocean (maybe as well because most lakes in Austria are really small). Lago Chapala is one of the most popular leisure time go-to places close to Guadalajara and because there are several things to do around the lake, I wrote a whole post about it here.
Three beautiful, untouched waterfalls about 30min to the North from Guadalajara.
This is a real “off the beaten track” – destination and although you can take an Uber there you won’t get one back because there’s no reception and (obviously) no Ubers. You can either hitchhike, find a local who goes with you or pay a taxi or Uber (just ask your driver – in Mexico everythings possible with money) to come back. There are no signs but if you follow the paths from where you’re dropped, you’ll be fine. And you’ll be rewarded!
Probably the most famous destination among all is the place where Tequila comes from, is produced and exported in huge amounts. There are only five states in Mexico that are allowed to call their liquor “Tequila”: Jalisco, Guanajuato, Michoacán, Nayarit and Tamaulipas. Among them Jalisco is the biggest exporter and many internationally known brands come from there.
If you´re from Europe, you´ll very probably associate Tequila with the brand “Sierra”. This bad-tasting drink, usually rather consumed for getting drunk fast than for pleasure, in my opinion is the reason why Tequila is hated by so many. Most Mexicans don´t even know “Sierra” and if they do, they explain you that it´s the worst of the worse.
If you´re in Mexico and you get the chance to try real Tequila, try it even if you don´t like “Sierra”. Most probably it will change your mind.
Tequila itself is a cute little town that has many factories offering tours, among them the oldest and most famous one “Jose Cuervo”. The tour is nice, but pretty pricy. I´d rather recommend for example “Hacienda Orendaín”. For only 150 Pesos (~7.50€) they include transportation to the close-by factory, explain you the production process (like on every tour) and give you a free tasting.
Don´t miss out on visiting a Cantina, like for example “Jarritos La Puerta de Agave”, after that! The tasting is just the first step. To make it a real Tequila experience, get you a “Cantaritos”, a cocktail made of tequila, lime, orange, grapefruit and squirt, and dance the night away over some mexican “Banda“.
There are different options to get to Tequila:
- Several tourism companies go from Guadalajara to Tequila everyday and all hostels offer tours there. Prices range from 40-100€ depending on what´s included.
- You could rent a car (meaning one of you cannot drink) or charter a taxi or Uber for a day. If you´re a group of 3 or 4, this is probably the best option.
- You can go there by public bus, which is definitely the cheapest option, although it might be a little more complicated. I got around in Guadalajara with the convenient app “Moovit“, where you just put in your destination and it gives you several options how to get there.
- The probably most touristy and most expensive option is the Tequila train that includes a train ride through the Tequila plantations, entrance to a factory, guides, samples and in some cases food and Mariachi music. The oldest and most famous one is the “Jose Cuervo Express“. The tours cost around 100€ and although I only heard positive things about them, I personally think it´s not worth the money.