Jalisco is a special place. The cultural heritage that this state has shared with the world is impressive. Whether it’s mariachis in Japan, Australians growing agaves, or cowboys training thoroughbreds in the United States, people are inspired by the culture that comes from these parts. The Pueblos Magicos in Jalisco are some of the best places in the state to experience that culture.
Table of Contents
- San Sebastian del Oeste
- Lagos de Moreno
- Talpa de Allende
- Ajijic (Brand New!!)
A lot of what Mexico is known for internationally originates in the State of Jalisco. The agave is a huge driver of economic activity because of the tequila boom. However, the pointy plant has a mythological history going back to pre-Hispanic times. In Tequila, it is all about the blue agave. However, in the hills above San Sebastian del Oeste and Tapalpa there is a wider variety of wild agaves used to make raicilla and other distilled spirits.
The Spanish arrived in the mid-16th century, introducing horses and other livestock to the region. They established huge ranches in the countryside. Just about every corner of Jalisco has a strong equestrian culture including rodeos, racing, trail riding, horse dancing, and even bullfighting. There are real cowboys on working ranches in the State of Jalisco. It is no surprise that ranchers in the United States looked to Jalisco when they need to find expert horse trainers.
The premise of the Pueblo Mágico program is to promote tourism to off-the-beaten-path destinations of cultural significance and a well-developed hospitality industry. The beaches will always be marvelous but sometimes a cultural experience will be more rewarding in the long run.
Over the last few years, my family and I have started to alternate our vacation days between the beach and new Pueblos Mágicos. Sometimes we take the long way to the beach to spend an afternoon in a new town along the way. Thus far, every Pueblo Mágico that we have visited has been well worth the trip and talked about for months afterward.
You have the opportunity to learn more about the history, culture, culinary arts, festivals, and biodiversity of one of the world’s premier tourist destinations. I surf and I love the beach but somehow, the cultural activities leave a lasting impression on your Instagram feed.
For me, one of the most important parts of visiting the Pueblos Mágicos in Jalisco has been the food. The food in the agricultural and ranching communities is different from what you will find in the city. There are specialty ingredients and families that have been making food in a certain way for generations. After the harvest, there are huge celebrations with lots of unique, locally prepared ingredients. I always like asking people I meet in a new pueblo what they grow in these parts. It will give you a clue into what you should order to eat.
I highly recommend that when you plan that trip to Puerto Vallarta, you take San Sebastián del Oeste into account. Or, when you visit Guadalajara, you spend a day visiting the agave fields around Tequila. You won’t regret it. There are currently 122 Pueblos Mágicos across Mexico and we want to see them all.
Tapalpa was the first town in the State of Jalisco to be designated as a Pueblo Mágico in 2002. The town is a favorite vacation destination for the wealthy folks from Guadalajara who enjoy cabins in the forest and riding horses. It is situated at an altitude of 8,000 feet above sea level in an alpine forest near waterfalls and a plethora of outdoor activities.
The name Tapalpa comes from the Otomí language and means “land of colors” and I think it has to do with the sunsets.
There are a number of traditional foods that you need to try while you are here. Starting with the dairy production, leche bronca is raw cow’s milk that is often drunk in the stables, fresh from the cow, and accompanied by a shot of cane liquor. The high proof spirit is lit on fire in the clay cup and the milk is squirted directly from the udder into the cocktail. If you grew up drinking milk from a supermarket, the fresh, unpasteurized sort will be a unique surprise.
Cajeta quemada is a goat’s milk caramel candy that is rich and delicious. You use the wooden packaging as a spoon to scrape the cajeta out of the box.
Borrego al pastor is a roasted lamb dish that people travel to Tapalpa to enjoy. The goat birria is another favorite. In the plaza, there are tamales made with chard (green leafy vegetables) that are unique to this area. And lastly, most importantly, make sure to try the corn on the cob in the plaza. They are kind of red and purple in color and taste so much better than the corn on the cob that I grew up with at the Del Mar Fair.
Tequila can refer to a couple of different things. There is the distilled spirit made with a specific class of the agave plant and grown within an official appellation. There is a volcano that created a massive deposit of obsidian and soils favorable for the agave plant. Lastly, is the municipality and Pueblo Magico of Tequila with a collection of boutique travel experiences.
Santiago de Tequila was founded by Spanish missionaries in 1530 but there were Chichimecas, Otomíes, Toltecs, and Teuchitecos in the area for thousands of years beforehand. On the opposite side of the Tequila Volcano is Jalisco’s most important archeological site, the Guachimontones. At its height, the area reached a population of 40,000 due to chinampa agricultural practices and a thriving industry making obsidian tools like knives and arrowheads.
The agave plant has a long and important chapter in the local folklore. It was call the marvelous tree because of all of the ways it was used. The cooked agave is delicious but the plant was also used for sewing materials, clothing, and building materials, among others. Today, the agave fields go on as far as the eye can see and were designated an UNESCO world heritage site. Your Instagram will get a boost after visiting the area.
The most famous way to access Tequila is to take the Jose Cuervo train in from Guadalajara. The tequila company has spent a lot of money to develop a unique touristic product. Everything Jose Cuervo does, the train ride, the distillery, the ranch, the hotel, and even the concert venue was built to restore a golden era. It is a beautiful interpretation of the history of the region. The rooftop bar and pool at the Hotel Solar de las Animas is a hidden treat with its views of the church and plaza.
La Cata Tequila Bar will give you a chance to try some new tequilas that you have probably not seen before. There are a lot of small, artisanal brands of tequila that do not have distribution in the United States. Some of these brands are eschewing modern technology and embracing ancestral techniques with the hopes of replicating the tequilas of an earlier generation. Tequila is currently living in a golden age with lots of great brands hitting the market.
I recommend visiting more than one distillery while in town. You want to see a big one and a small one to get the full experience.
Skip the strawberry margarita and order a cantarito. There are carts all over the place and you get to keep the clay cup. Also, remember, tequila isn’t meant to be shot but to be kissed (sipped). As the local publicity goes, avoid excess if you want to last all day.
Lastly, there is a beautiful waterfall hike that meanders through the agave fields and is accessible in less than one hour from downtown Tequila.
Mazamitla is a quaint town in the Sierra del Tigre mountain range. It is on the far side of Lake Chapala right next to the Michoacan state line. Perched in the mountains at 8,000 feet above sea level, there is a nice collection of oak and pine trees that make the outdoor activities enjoyable.
During the week, the town is pretty quiet but the weekends see floods of Tapatios roll in looking to party. There are lots of cabins that can host large families or a big group of friends. Make sure to pack a jacket because it gets cold at night.
There are a number of four wheeling tracks through the forest and the locals rent ATVs. Make sure to check out the Salto del Tigre waterfall and the suspension bridge just out side of town.
If you are a fan of Cotija style cheese, you will love Mazamitla. The town of Cotija is very close by and the whole region is famous for making cheese. My favorite cheese in Guadalajara’s Mercado de Abastos comes from Concepción de Buenos Aires, just five minutes away.
Driving into Mazamitla you will first pass San Luis Soyatlán where you can pick up a customary vampiro cocktail to get the party started. They also grow a lot of berries in these parts that you can purchase in the form of jellies and preserves.
4. San Sebastian del Oeste
There is an element of mysticism in San Sebastian del Oeste that I attribute to the fog. This 17th-century mining town sits in the mountains that look down on Puerto Vallarta and the Banderas Bay.
San Sebastian del Oeste is my favorite Pueblo Magico in Jalisco because the fog and the forest let me imagine that I am a character in Juan Rulfo or a Gabriel Garcia Marques novel. Something fantastic is hidden around every corner. It feels like the ghosts of centuries past return to tell stories about good times and bad.
The fog is no joke. It reminds me of San Francisco or even Hawaii’s Pineapple Express. As the tropical on-shore flow is funneled into the bay and up the mountains it is met by the cooler alpine temperatures. That temperature differential creates an atmospheric river and a pretty cool show at sunset. The fog rolls in and the fog rolls out just about every day.
The best place to take in the view is at a look out point on the southside of town. It is a strenuous walk but there are plenty of places to rent ATVs or even a horse if you prefer. La Bufa lookout point is 8,500 feet above sea level and on a clear day you can see all the way down to the Pacific Ocean.
The town is only 1.5 hours from the Marina in Puerto Vallarta but you will spend at least 4 hours driving in from Guadalajara. I know most people prefer to take the freeway from Guadalajara to Puerto Vallarta but at some point in your life, you should take the old highway. The driving is slower but the scenery is magical
5. Lagos de Moreno
Lagos de Moreno is the most underrated Pueblo Magico in Jalisco. The historic core and barroque style church are very enjoyable but the haciendas really make the experience memorable.
Hacienda Sepulveda was founded in 1684 and is still a working ranch. The massive property conserves the essence of old-time hacienda life. You may want to binge-watch Downton Abbey the week before you arrive to get you in that historical mindset.
Ranching has been an important part of life in Los Altos de Jalisco since the 16th century. There are a lot of animals on a working ranch and experienced equestrians can tour the old haciendas on horseback. Amateurs can take lessons or just take a horse-drawn carriage ride around the property.
Exploring the spectacular haciendas is the most interesting activity in Lagos de Moreno. The downtown area is very enjoyable but Hacienda Sepulveda is a real treasure. I know it may be hard to tear yourself away from the beach to drive up to Los Altos but it is 100% worth it. My only disappointment was waiting so long to visit this lovely town.
The Pueblo Magico of Mascota is known as the ’emerald of the sierra,’ because as you drop into the valley all you can see is green. In the rainy season, there is every shade of green imaginable. This part of Jalisco is an agricultural hub and you will pass the cornfields as you are arriving. In addition to the corn, the region produces a good deal of coffee. Cafe Napoles had a nice selection of locally grown and roasted coffees.
A few blocks outside of downtown Mascota is the Templo Inconcluso de La Preciosa Sangre. A small seminary takes care of the grounds of a church that was started in the porfiriato (administration of Porfirio Díaz) but never finished after the revolution broke out. The exterior walls, pillars, and even some arches rise up but the walls were never finished and there is no roof. Mature trees, well-maintained grass, and iguanas pass through the doorways with no doors. The unfinished church is a beautiful park that holds services from time to time.
Up the hill, a short way from the town is an eco-resort called Sierra Lago. The place is a popular wedding and party venue with large, lakefront chalets. I have not personally stayed here but I have friends who have. They all say that the place is expensive but well worth the money. Plus, the kids have all the space in the world to run around.
I highly recommend taking the old road from Guadalajara to Puerto Vallarta sometime. It may take a little longer but there is only because you will want to get out of the car and explore the three pueblos magicos along the way.
7. Talpa de Allende
The pueblo magico of Talpa de Allende is famous around these parts for the pilgrimage that takes place around holy week and Easter. There are pilgrims year round but in the weeks leading up to Holy week there will be tens of thousands of the faithful walking along the highway and through the trails to visit the Virgen of Talpa. The most common route is to hike from Ameca to Talpa but the faithful come walking from every direction. Depending on the route they decide to take, the pilgrims could walk for one day or for ten. There are large campsites set up and a community that comes back for generations.
The story goes that Tarascan Indians from the State of Michoacan made the image of the virgin of Talpa (Ntra. Señora del Rosario de Talpa) in the 16th century and brought her to Talpa de Allende. The virgin is credited with many miracles and the faithful started making the pilgrimage to Talpa de Allende to see the virgin in 1644.
Every year around Easter my father-in-law mentions the hike. He has friends in Colima that hike the jungle route from Tomatlan to Talpa. Pull that route up on Google Maps. There is a freeway under construction but currently, there is very little infrastructure.
The area from Talpa de Allende to the coast is the most biodiverse part of Jalisco. There are a lot of animals and a number of endangered species. This is the only part of Mexico with old-growth maple forest much like you would imagine in Canada, not Puerto Vallarta.
Much like Mascota and San Sebastian del Oeste, there is a lot of coffee grown in the area. I always enjoy buying locally grown coffee and asking about the local roasters. A few years ago, a grower from Jalisco won the Cup of Excellence grower’s challenge and brought a significant amount of attention to the region.
Tlaquepaque earned the designation of pueblo magico in 2018. The name Tlaquepaque comes from Nahuatl and refers to the local clay that has been turned into pottery for centuries. Today, there are fewer workshops and more high-end galleries. Even though this municipality is within the Guadalajara Metro Zone (Zona Metropolitana Guadalajara ZMG) it maintains the charm of the Pueblos Magicos in Jalisco.
Many people get the false impression that Tlaquepaque is just a neighborhood of Guadalajara because there is no break in the urbanization. It is hard to tell where Zapopan, Guadalajara, and Tlaquepaque begin and end, but they are independent cities with different political leanings.
The most enjoyable way to take in Tlaquepaque is to walk down Calle Independencia which is a pedestrian street and closed to vehicle traffic. You will see the big letters, the most famous galleries, the ceramic museum, great restaurants, and finish at the Parián.
The Parián de Tlaquepaque is a 19th century building with a bunch of restaurants around the exterior and a kiosk in the center for folkloric music and dance. It is kind of like a public market but with more comfortable seating. There are constant mariachi shows and some classic bars. Take a lap around the Parián, look at the menus, and grab a seat for the show.
The two most important galleries in Tlaquepaque are by Sergio Bustamante and Rodo Padilla. Their style is easily identifiable and you will see their work around different parts of Jalisco. Taking a picture with the gordito playing the guitar in front of Rodo Padilla’s shop is a must while you are here.
A lot of the galleries are pricey. Many of the gift shops have folkloric art from all across the country. You can find Oaxacan style black clay, Talavera from Puebla, and Tlaxcala but at substantial markups. I would recommend looking for Jalisco style pottery in the Casa del Artesano Tlaquepaque or some less expensive pieces on the top floor of the Benito Juarez Market. In the market, you can score a great birria on the first floor and a killer deal on some plates on the third.
There is a ton of great food in Tlaquepaque. From street food to bar food and high end restaurants, you will need some time to take it all in. I love El Abajeño (the person from the lowlands of Jalisco) for the lamb. They have really good grilled meats, a beautiful patio, and mariachi music all day long.
Casa Luna is a boutique and restaurant. Real San Pedro has a lot of exotic meats like wild boar and alligator. El Patio has, well, a beautiful patio. Casa Fuerte and Tlaquepasta both come highly recommended but I haven’t been personally.
9. Ajijic (New)
As of December 1st, 2020 Ajijic was named as a pueblo magico in Jalisco. More information to come but we are really excited to see this addition to the list and that the new pueblo magico is so close to Guadalajara. Congratulations Ajijic!
Some Final Thoughts on the Pueblos Magicos in Jalisco
I may be partial, but I really love it around here. The Pueblos Magicos in Jalisco are a real treasure. I am going to continue the Pueblo Magico research in the next state over in Michoacan. Angangeo is a moutain hamlet that is considered the enrance to the butterfly reserve. Santa Clara del Cobre is high on my list just like Patzcuaro. There is so much to learn and so little time. I wonder if I will be able to visit all 122 pueblos. I sure hope so!