An Insiders Guide To Finding Cool Experiences in Guadalajara, Mexico
Guadalajara, Guadalajara! Guadalajara, Guadalajara!
Tienes el alma de provinciana Hueles a limpio, a rosa temprana
A verde jara fresca del rio Son mil palomas tu caserio
Guadalajara, Guadalajara Sabes a pura tierra mojada
Guadalajara City Guide
Intro | Neighborhoods | Eat |Nightlife | Sleep | Transportation| FAQ
Things to do in Guadalajara
Museums | Murals | Churches| Sports | Parks | Markets | Events
Things to do in Tlaquepaque
Tours | Lugares Cercanos | 4 Day Itinerary
An Introduction to Guadalajara
Guadalajara is known as a huge Pueblo, or as the song goes, it has the soul of the provinces. No matter that Guadalajara is Mexico’s second City there is little comparison with the sheer size and cultural diversity of places like Mexico City (CDMX) or Los Angeles. The State of Jalisco and the capital Guadalajara, have always been known as a hub of traditional Mexican culture. Tequila, folkloric rodeo and mariachi music help to define what Mexico is known for across the globe.
Today Guadalajara is a destination on its own. Balancing one of the best economies in Latin America with a spectacular quality of life. The government has worked hard to bring home talented individuals, and spur growth in the technology sector.
The world-class universities (specifically the medical schools) bring students from across the continent to study, and the tech scene is bringing engineers from across the globe to build a little Silicon Valley. As the community becomes more diverse so has the culinary arts scene. Not only can you find Korean barbecue, sushi, and regional Indian cuisine, but you can also find an astonishing collection of Mezcal from Oaxaca, wine from Baja California and regional dishes from all over Mexico.
A Brief History of Guadalajara
Guadalajara was founded at its current location in 1542 by the merciless Nuño Beltrán de Guzmán, a one-time political rival of Hernán Cortes. The original settlers moved around from what are today Nochistlán, Tonalá, and Tlacotán to finally put down roots at a defensible location with a reliable source of water.
The name Guadalajara was chosen for Guzmán’s hometown in Spain. Interestingly, the name Guadalajara comes from the Arabic-Andalacian phrase wadi al hijaraI which translates to river that flows between stones, valley of stones or valley of fortresses. Even if the city was named after the town in Spain it is a perfect fit because of the San Juan River carved a massive canyon called the Barranca de Huentitan. The river was paved over by the Calzada de la Independencia street but the area still floods like crazy during the rainy season.
In the late 16th century Pope Paulo III seated the bishopric of Nueva Galicia in Guadalajara and the royal audience soon followed. Nueva Galicia quickly grew into a wealthy and influential region of New Spain because of the silver mines and Asian trade routes.
The wealth of the colonial period can be seen in the ornate churches that have survived centuries through independence, revolutions, and religious war. Downtown Guadalajara has a spectacular collection of colonial buildings and many of them are open to the public.
Guadalajara was an important theater during the war of independence. Father Miguel Hidalgo decreed the end of slavery from Guadalajara and there are a number of murals, plazas and statues to commemorate the event. Guadalajara was even the capital of Mexico for several months during the Reform Wars while President Benito Juarez was exiled from Mexico City by conservative forces opposed to the new constitution.
The unusually long presidency (dictatorship depending on who you ask) of Porfirio Díaz ushered in a period of stability and development. In addition to the trains, the legacy of Porfirio Diaz can be seen in the European style, neo-gothic temple, and the mansions that still line Avenida Vallarta. The Porfirian era is marked by a hodgepodge of European architectural styles known as regionalism. The Colonia Americana and Lafayette neighborhoods have some of the most enjoyable tree-lined streets to stroll and appreciate the architecture of the Porfiriato.
The Mexican revolution was a prolonged and bloody affair that led to an aggressive secularization and religious conflict called the Cristero War. As the revolutionary governments of Plutarco Elias Calles’ maximato (The name was given to the three administrations to succeed Calles who were all under his thumb) seized church assets and persecuted the faithful, tempers flared and the countryside around Guadalajara was lit on fire. The Cristero War precipitated the first large scale emigration of Mexicans to the United States. It is somewhat ironic that Calles was later exiled to the United States by President Lázaro Cárdenas.
The New Economy And Old Money
The technology industry has grown out of the low tech manufacturing that was typical in the 1900’s. Companies like HP, IBM Oracle and Intel have developed engineering centers over the course of decades. There is still a lot of manufacturing but it comes in the form of semiconductors, smartphones and flat screen TV’s now.
Tata Consultancy, one of India’s largest companies and one of the world’s largest IT services firms has its largest Latin American campus in Guadalajara and continues to grow exponentially. The proximity to the United States market means there is no shortage of demand for IT solutions. The startup scene is growing rapidly as well. A number of young tech companies based out of the United States have decided that venture capital funds can be more diligently spent on office space in Mexico rather than exorbitant prices of San Francisco or Los Angeles. One of the best side effects of a growing international community is the increased diversity of the food scene.
The beauty of Jalisco is that it maintains the traditions of centuries past while keeping in touch with what is going on in the rest of the world. It is highly catholic and conservative society while still having the best gay bars in the country. There is a constant stream of contrasts that will delight you at every turn.
The Neighborhoods of Guadalajara: Where to Stay and the Best Hotels
The Guadalajara Metropolitan Region is massive. In terms of population, it is second only to the Valley of Mexico which includes Mexico City. There are eight distinct municipalities and countless neighborhoods. On your first couple of trips to the area, you should focus on the core and spread out after that.
Guadalajara is the capital of the State of Jalisco, has a really long history, and a thriving economy. There are a dozen or more neighborhoods that were developed with excellent examples of architecture of the era. Downtown Guadalajara is a treasure of buildings from the Spanish colonial and early independence era. The Colonia Americana has a style called regionalism that was popular in the early 1900s. Chapalita has a mixture of art deco and mid-century modern architecture. Providencia feels very 1960s retro fabulous and Puerto del Hierro is incredibly modern. Walking the streets of Guadalajara will give you a sense of the city’s history and how it has changed over the last few centuries.
A theme that we are going to come back to over and over again is the contrast of modern vs traditional. You can see it in the architecture, the food, and even in the people. I like taking my friends to see the historic downtown in the morning and then to the super modern Puerto del Hierro in the evening to show both sides of Guadalajara’s personality.
A Sunday bike ride of Guadalajara will let you see a couple of neighborhoods and experience some of the best venues to eat and drink that the city has to offer.
Guadalajara’s Downtown Centro Histórico
No trip to Guadalajara is complete without a stroll through downtown to marvel at the architecture of the Spanish colonial era. Many of these buildings have stood for hundreds of years and are remarkable for the detail of the ornamental carved stone. Many of the temples and government buildings are open to the public and hide some of the best examples of Mexican muralist frescos that you will find in all of Mexico.
There are dozens of Spanish, colonial-era churches, expansive plazas, and museums that need to be seen. This is where you are going to get your best pictures of Guadalajara. You need to see the old town before you can understand Guadalajara’s dichotomy of modern and traditional.
The Hotel Morales is one of our favorite hotels in Guadalajara. It is clean, comfortable, and historic. The area is very safe during the day but feels a little sketchy after dark. The NH Collection is another nice option with beautiful views of the Plaza de Armas and the cathedral.
The Americana is kind of a blanket term that describes multiple neighborhoods just west of the city center. Think urban hipster with early 20th-century European style mansions as the backdrop. There is a thriving restaurant and bar scene, some of the best coffee in the city and a cultural flea market. Young people love the Colonia Americana because it is very walkable and has a high concentration of nightlife options.
Casa Habita (formerly Casa Fayette) is one of the premier hotels in Guadalajara. The hotel has taken an old mansion updated it with spectacular mid-century modern design and added a tower next door. There is a beautiful juxtaposition of traditional and modern architectural heritage.
Chapalita and Ciudad del Sol
These residential neighborhoods used to be rural but the urbanization caught up long ago. The streets are lined with orange trees and roses, there are plenty of parks and the mid-century modern and art deco architecture is accented with Mexican Stone and color. The Glorieta Chapalita holds a lovely art market on Sundays and the surrounding restaurant zone is very enjoyable. Calle Parque Juan Diego is my favorite street in the metro region.
On Sundays, there is an art market that sets up in the Glorieta Chapalita with some simple food vendors. There are a number of good restaurants around the traffic circle and lots of families enjoying their day off.
In the 1960s and 1970s Providencia was the most luxurious neighborhood in Guadalajara. While Puerto de Hierro may have taken the crown of ultra-luxury, Providencia has a great restaurant scene, fancy boutiques and plenty of green spaces. The massive park, Parque Colomos, predates the neighborhood as a residential area and is still a weekend favorite for Tapatios. Make sure to check out Punto São Paulo, Av. Terranova, and Av. Pablo Neruda. They are all loaded with great restaurants and shopping
Zapopan and Puerto de Hierro
Zapopan is most famous for its 17th-century Basilica and the annual pilgrimage where thousands of the faithful make their way to the Basilica to ask the virgin for her blessing and look for strength and encouragement. Coming in a close second of famous things in Zapopan is the mall. Walking around Plaza Andares for a few minutes will give you a sense of the money in this part of Mexico. The skyscrapers, the Ferrari dealership, the tech companies and the sheer number of Michael Kors bags will remind you that shorts and sandals are not in style.
Tlaquepaque and Tonalá
The municipalities of Tlaquepaque and Tonalá are folk-art lovers paradise. Tlaquepaque has excellent galleries and pedestrian walkways while Tonalá is where a lot of the workshops are still churning out smoke, blowing glass and forging the pieces you see in the high-end Tlaquepaque galleries. There are enormous restaurants where the locals come to drink tequila, listen/sing mariachi and gorge on regional dishes. Make sure to save room for a corn-on-the-cob in the plaza; they are the best!
Besides the airport, Tlajomulco is probably not too high on the to-do list. There is a burgeoning suburb with a couple of golf courses, a bunch of multinational restaurant chains, a couple of tech campuses and the occasional abandoned narco mansion, but nothing to drag you out that way unless you are on business or driving to the beach.
Where To Eat In Guadalajara
The restaurant scene has exploded in the last ten years. Before that, gastronomy was traditional, insular and lacked the depth of places like Oaxaca, Michoacán or the Yucatan. Everybody was serving the traditional sandwich, Italian-Argentine cliches and something resembling sushi with a lot of mayonnaise. Recently, a list of exceptional chefs including Francisco Ruano (Alcalde), Tomás Bermúdez (La Docena) and Fabian Delgado (palReal) have turned Guadalajara into a destination for the epicurean set. These chefs are forging relationships with the farmers, fishermen, cheesemakers, coffee roasters, brewers and winemakers to show the depth of artisanal products available in Mexico.
- Guadalajara’s Best Restaurants
- Guadalajara’s Best Tacos
- The Traditional Food of Guadalajara
- Gluten-Free Guadalajara
- Mandatory Mexican Restaurants
- Best Coffee in Guadalajara
- La Ruta del Tequila
My Top 5 Culinary Experiences in Guadalajara
1) MARKET FOOD
Mexican markets are amazing. Under one roof you have a concentration of small vendors that represent local ingredients and recipes. Whenever you get to a new town you should check out the markets. In Guadalajara, the most important markets are Abastos (wholesale market), Alcalde (old school downtown market), Santa Tere (neighborhood style) and the Mercado del Mar in Zapopan (seafood). For those of us not accustomed to eating in a market the experience is visceral. The food is exceptional but the experience could be life-changing.
I am not much of a fan of the torta ahogada. Not really my thing. When it comes to the traditional foods of Guadalajara, I am all about the birria. Jalisco style roasted goat stew is one of the great culinary traditions of Mexico. You can find excellent birria in the markets, in the Plaza de las 9 Esquinas or in the Chololo Hacienda. Do not miss out on this one.
Highly regarded as the best coffee in town, palReal has become one of the most celebrated kitchens as well. The weekend breakfast is packed, always. The lonche de pancita is one of the most Instagrammed dishes in Guadalajara, the encacahuatadas are my personal favorite, and everything goes down better with specialty coffee. Make sure to buy a few bags of coffee and learn about all the parts of Mexico that grow excellent coffee.
I like to think about the Guadalajara food scene before Alcalde and after Alcalde. Chef Paco Ruano put Guadalajara on the map as a destination for Haute Mexican cuisine. He has convinced the locals to try new things and paved the way for a modern food movement. I love sitting at the kitchen bar to watch all the action. Make sure to try the frijoles puercos appetizer and the arroz con leche dessert are world-class.
There is a building movement of traditional foods and ingredients in Mexico. Small farmers and heirloom ingredients are fighting back against industrialized farming. Xokol prepares heirloom varietal corn tortillas in the morning and operates a boutique restaurant in the evening. There are waiters but the chef comes out to explain the cultural significance of the ingredients and recipes.
Mexicans know how to have fun and Guadalajara is such a large city that there are things to do at night for every budget and style. The nightlife in Guadalajara doesn’t get going until much later than people from the United States are used to. The precopa, or drinks before the nightclub, runs from 9 pm until 11 pm and you will probably get to the nightclub a little before midnight.
My favorite things to do in Guadalajara at night take place in the Colonial Americana and surrounding neighborhoods. Not the bars on Av Chapultepec, but the side streets around Av Chapultepec have some incredible old mansions that have been renovated to show off the architecture with a great party.
Things to do in Guadalajara at Night
Panteon de Belen The historic Belen cemetery is open year-round but the most popular time to visit is during the month of October leading up to Day of the Dead. There are daytime tours but the real treat is the nighttime ghost story tour. No cameras allowed.
Lucha Libre is Mexican wrestling in the Arena Coliseo downtown. The best way to see lucha libre is to go to the Red Pub (multiple locations) and take the double-decker bus form the pub to the downtown arena on Tuesdays.
The Best Bars in Guadalajara
Beer Bars, Breweries and Pubs
Agaves: Tequila & Mezcal Tastings
Jalisco is the heart of tequila country and if you are interested in learning about the history and culture of agave-based spirits you should schedule a tasting at Mezonte. There are around 40 different classes of agaves used to make distilled spirits all across Mexico and Tequila just happens to be a class of mezcal that uses the Weber blue agave (agave tequilana).
Mezonte will give you a chance to try the whole spectrum of agaves while teaching you the difference between something industrial and something artisanal. This isn’t so much a bar as it is a classroom with alcohol. You are more than welcome to stop by and have a drink but the two-hour tasting is really the way to go.
The Guadalajara nightlife scene is very trendy. One minute a nightclub is how and the next it sits empty for no reason than another nightclub just opened and took all the publicity, momentarily.
Where To Stay
I have stayed at a lot of hotels in Guadalajara and found hotels for very discerning travelers like my mom. You are picking a hotel for the experience as well as the amenities, and the three best neighborhoods are the Historic Downtown, the Colonia Americana, and Chapalita. A lot of people tell me that Providencia is a really nice neighborhood, and I agree, but it is a neighborhood that could be in any major metropolitan city.
Downtown Guadalajara, the Colonia Americana, and Chapalita are uniquely Mexican and magical. They are all easy to explore while walking, they are full of hidden architectural treasures, and there are plenty of great restaurants.
The 98 room Hotel Morales is another 19th century architectural gem of downtown Guadalajara. Originally a guest house for a wealth family, the building has been remodeled over and over again. This was the place to be and be seen in the 1930’s and 1940’s hosting celebrities such as María Felix and Pedro Infante. The hotel is located across the street from the Jardin San Francisco and easily accessible to walk all over downtown. The rooms are clean and the service is excellent. Rooms start at MX$1000 per night.
Booking.com Google Maps
The RIU Hotel is Guadalajara’s newest landmark. One of the tallest buildings in Mexico, the 44 story building can be seen from all over town. The RIU is located in at the intersection of three of the most important avenues in Guadalajara and is a favorite of business travelers because of its central location. There are 500 designer rooms, plenty of English-speaking staff and the comforts of a top-notch hotel. My family loves to stay here. Rooms start at MX$1300 per night
Booking.com Google Maps
Casa Habita (Used to be Called Casa Fayette)
Casa Fayette is the hottest boutique hotel in Guadalajara at the moment. Originally a 37 bedroom mansion, one of Mexico’s top design firms has converted the structure into a hotel with a great restaurant and day-spa. The rooftop pool is one of the trendiest places to be seen in Guadalajara during the summer months. They even have some vintage bikes for rent so that you can get to know the neighborhood better. Rooms start at about MX$2000 per night.
Booking.com Google Maps
The traffic in Guadalajara continues to get worse. The construction boom is only picking up speed and the infrastructure is falling farther and farther behind. The public transportation is uncomfortable, to say the least. While you are on vacation Uber is the easiest way to get from one part of town to the other.
If you have to go to school at the Tec every day you might want to consider learning the bus schedule, getting a car or living near the campus. Anything outside of the Periférico is going to cost a few hundred pesos.
The best idea is to stay in The Colonia Americana and walk everywhere. You take a few Uber or Taxi rides to other neighborhoods from time to time, but there is enough to keep you busy in the Colonia Americana for weeks and it is all walking distance.
Guadalajara Metro Light Rail
Guadalajara has three lines of a metro light rail transportation system. The first two lines are not located in much of the tourist neighborhoods and you probably won’t even notice them. The third line of the metro is almost complete. There has been nightmare-ish construction traffic along the route from Tesistán to Tonalá but this line might actually be useful. Line 3 runs all the way out to the bus station, La Nueva Central. I plan on checking it out once it is open and they work out the kinks.
Getting To And From
Miguel Hidalgo International Airport (GDL) is about 25 kilometers outside of town on the highway to Lake Chapala. Uber costs between $200 and $300 pesos depending on traffic. There is a shuttle that runs every thirty minutes to the Glorieta la Minerva. There is also a bus that runs from Downtown Guadalajara, La Central Vieja, to Chapala with a stop at the airport. The official taxis are expensive and can but up to $500 pesos to go to the far side of Zapopan, Tesistan or the Tec de Monterrey.
The long-distance bus situation in Guadalajara is not as simple as it would be in a small town. The Central Nueva on the far east side of town is the main long-distance bus station, but there are other options that will save you time and money. There are three different freeways that enter/exit the metro region and to save time you should head to the bus station on the way out of town to avoid doubling back.
Estación Central Nueva
This is the largest bus station I have ever used. The place is huge with seven different terminals just like an airport would have. In fact, it is larger than the Miguel Hidalgo International Airport you have no clue which bus station to use there is a really good chance that this is the one you are looking for. Technically it is located in Tlaquepaque but it right on the border of Tonalá.
The local government is really close to finishing the third line of the light rail that runs all the way from Tesistan to this bus terminal. If you are headed anywhere to the south or east of the country this is the bus station that you want to use.
Central Camionera Poniente And Central de Autobuses Zapopan
If you are heading to Puerto Vallarta, Nayarit or Sinaloa you may consider leaving from the bus station on the west side of town. There is no point in taking an Uber all the way over to the Central Nueva in Tonalá and then sitting in traffic on the bus as you slowly head back to the Westside. The bus station in Zapopan is on Av. Vallarta as you head out of town. It is WAY smaller than the Central Nueva but if you are heading to Puerto Vallarta it is much more convenient.
Central Primera Plus Plaza Del Sol
This is my favorite way to get to Mexico City because the bus leaves around midnight and arrives ata6am super punctual. Premier Plus and ETN are first-class busses with very comfortable seats that make the airlines feel budget. When you factor in the time it takes to get to and from the airport, security and check-in line, the bus doesn’t take much longer. I took the bus to Mexico City and flew home, and preferred the bus to dealing with the Mexico City airport.[wpgmza id=”2″]
The toll roads leading to Guadalajara are in excellent condition if somewhat limited. There are more than twice as many free roads coming in and out of Guadalajara but they are typically slower because there are less passing lanes but much more beautiful. The highway through Tequila is lined with agaves as far as the eye can see. The 15 and 15D heads north to Arizona and the beaches of Nayarit and Sinaloa. The 15 and 15D heading east out of town will take you to Mexico City, Morelia, Querétaro, and Guanajuato. The 80 south to Colima is another easy, beautiful drive with the volcanoes in the background most of the way.
There is a new toll highway to Puerto Vallarta under construction for what seems like an eternity. The first leg of three is open between Jala and Compostela, Nayarit and saves you about an hour. The second leg is already about a year behind schedule but the most important. Currently, you have to take the 200 through the curves from Compostela to Las Varas. Having a new freeway that skips the curves and has a passing lane the entire way is going to the same time but make the drive much easier. The new freeway won’t be as pretty as driving through the jungle but cutting the drive from five hours to three will be huge. Realistically, I think the second leg of the new freeway will be completed in early 2020.
Frequently Asked Questions
When is the best time to visit Guadalajara?
October one of the best times to visit because the summer rains have usually mellowed out and the farm animal festival (Expo Ganadera) comes to town. More than just a farm animal festival, the fair (Fiestas de Octubre) is in town with barbecued meats galore, regional charro (Jalisco style rodeo and horse dancing) competitions, rides, games of chance, bullfights, cockfights, the pilgrimage to Zapopan, soccer, baseball, concerts and the lead up to the Day of the Dead celebration with nighttime tours of the old cemetery El Panteon de Belen. The weather is still warm during the day and can get a little brisk in the evening and early morning but most of you snowbirds will be wearing short sleeves day and night.
Summer is the rainy season and it rains heavily for part of the day. If there is a hurricane nearby it could rain for a couple of days.
Winter is mild. I still wear shorts and sandals during the winter months.
Late spring can get uncomfortably hot. April and May are not the best months to be in Guadalajara because the heat saps your motivation to be outside during the daytime. The nights happen to be lovely.
Are there any precautions I should take while visiting Guadalajara?
Yes. Precautions should be observed as in any major metro region but the security situation in Guadalajara is very stable.
Things To Do In Guadalajara: The Best of Guadalajara
Guadalajara is a little off the tourist track but that doesn’t mean there is any shortage of cool things to do. I have been living here for ten years and I love this town. Writing this blog has encouraged me to take lots of photo walks and look for random restaurants in weird parts of town. Within an hour or two, there is another list of amazing destinations that will blow your mind. This is my list of the best things to do in Guadalajara, Jalisco and the surrounding areas.
Given the amount of history in Guadalajara, it is no surprise that there are a lot of museums. The most important museum in Guadalajara is the Instituto Cultural Cabañas. On the backside of the Metropolitan Cathedral is the Museum of Sacred Art. Directly across the street from the Metropolitan Cathedral is the Regional Museum of Guadalajara which has an anthropological look at the area around Guadalajara.
Hospicio Cabañas aka Instituto Cultural Cabañas
Designated a Unesco World Heritage site, this 19th-century Catholic hospital, and orphanage is part community center, part museum, and part theater. The murals of one of Mexico’s big three muralists, Jose Clemente Orozco, tell the story of Mexico from conquest to industrialization. The English language guided tours of the murals are enthralling. There are a number of rotating expositions by local artists, the Guillermo del Toro movie theater that screens all sorts of international genres of film, as well as an outdoor space that is used to stage ballet and theater productions (that incorporate the building’s architecture into the set design). Check the calendar to see what events are going on while you are in town.
Museo de las Artes de la Universidad de Guadalajara
You will quickly realize that the University of Guadalajara is a major patron of the arts in these parts. The Museum of the Arts (Musa) is housed in one of the earlier University of Guadalajara administrative buildings and has a wonderful schedule of exhibitions. There are more José Clemente Orozco murals in the auditorium that are worth a visit.
Museo de Arte Zapopan is the most important contemporary art space in the region.
Trompo Magico is a family (kid’s) museum on the outskirts of Zapopan.
Find the best Murals in Guadalajara
José Clemente Orozco Murals
Along with Diego Rivera and David Alfaro Siqueiros, José Clemente Orozco is one of the three great Mexican muralists. Born an hour south of Guadalajara in the town of Ciudad Guzman, his family spent part of his youth in Guadalajara and would later move back to paint what are considered his masterpieces in the Hospicio Cabañas. The Orozco murals are little treasures spread about Guadalajara and can be found in the Palacio del Gobierno, the Museo de las Artes, and the Casa-Museo Clemente Orozco. Pick up a copy of John Steinbeck’s The Pearl for a quick peek at his style.
David Alfaro Siqueiros Murals
Inside of the Biblioteca Iberoamericana ‘Octavio Paz’ there are some simple murals by famed Mexican muralist David Alfaro Siqueiros. If you have been to Mexico City to see the Poliforum Siqueiros you may be disappointed. If you are a major Siqueiros fan then you should stop by to see some of his early work.
Guadalajara Street Murals
They are all over the place in this town. My favorite places to look for cool street art is between the Colonia Americana and the Downtown Guadalajara area. Suerte.
Churches of Guadalajara
Guadalajara is a very religious city. Throughout the centuries great wealth has been allocated to the construction of places of worship. The vast majority of these places of worship are Catholic churches. The churches of Guadalajara represent some of the best examples of architecture from each given era.
The Guadalajara Metropolitan Cathedral or Catedral de la Asunción de María Santísima
The belltowers of the Guadalajara Cathedral are emblematic of the city of Guadalajara. They have been recreated into the logos of numerous organizations from pharmacies to taxis. Interestingly, the belltowers are not original. Earthquakes in 1818 and 1849 damaged the original belltowers and they were rebuilt in a contrasting neo-gothic style.
The Guadalajara Cathedral houses the remains of cardinals, bishops, and a young girl called Santa Inocencia who was murdered by her father for converting to Catholicism. If you saw Narcos Mexico, the bishop killed at the Guadalajara Airport is laid to rest in the Guadalajara Cathedral.
Basílica de Nuestra Señora de Zapopan
Templo Expiatorio del Santísimo Sacramento
This is one of the finest examples of Neo-Gothic architecture in Mexico. The church was commissioned by Porfirio in 1897 but the construction was halted by the Mexican Revolution and later the Cristero Wars. It took 75 years to finish. This is one of the best places to attend Christmas mass.
Templo de Santa Rita de Casia
Located in the Chapalita neighborhood, the Santa Rita Temple is one of my favorite churches in Guadalajara. The architecture is mid-century modern and typical of the neighborhood of Chapalita. The food vendors outside of the church are excellent. This is one of the best places to get a corn on the cobb in Guadalajara.
Other Beautiful Guadalajara Churches
I can not recommend enough that you take a walking tour of downtown Guadalajara. There are more beautiful and historic buildings that I could ever include in this brief summary.
Sporting Things to do in Guadalajara
Mexico is a one-sport country: there is fútbol and everything else. That being said, everything else can be pretty damn fun too. The baseball stadium is intimate but classy, Jalisco style rodeo helps define Mexico abroad, and there is even talk of American football coming to town. While you may know the sports, watching them in Mexico is a whole new experience.
The Pan American Games were held in Guadalajara in 2012 and the city inherited a lot of infrastructure. The baseball stadium is small but very nice. There are tennis tournaments, swimming events, rodeo and so much to see. Check the calendars to see who is playing what while you are in town.
Soccer in the Estadio Jalisco
The Estadio Jalisco is an old, historic and some would say sacred place. Built in 1960, it’s the third-largest stadium in Mexico and has hosted world cup and Olympic matches. The stadium is in a residential neighborhood where the neighbors rent out their parking spaces and sell tacos in front of their houses. The food outside the stadium is excellent and many of the vendors have been to every game for decades.
First division Atlas and second division Leones Negros share the stadium. Chivas also played here until 2010 when they finished their new stadium on the other side of town. Even diehard Chivas fans will admit that the Estadio Jalisco is a better overall experience even though the Stadium is antiquated.
Watch Chivas Play in Estadio Akron
Honestly, the new Chivas stadium feels a little sterile after visiting the old Estadio Jalisco. Everything is new and comfortable but the food is terrible. It feels corporate and cold. Chivas Football Club is one of Mexico’s top teams but the experience leaves a lot to be desired.
Catch a Charros Baseball Game
The Guadalajara Charros play in Liga del Pacífico along with mazatlán and Culiacán. In 2019 they won their first championship. The stadium was built for the 2012 Pan-American games and is really enjoyable. The level of play may not be on par with the MLB but the atmosphere is awesome. The smaller stadium gives you a close-up vantage point and the fan base feels well-to-do.
Lorena Ochoa Invitational LPGA
While nothing has been confirmed, golf legend Lorena Ochoa is working to bring back the LPGA to her hometown of Guadalajara. She is working with the governor of Jalisco and local businesses to find the sponsorship money required to bring professional golf back to Jalisco. There are a number of excellent courses in Jalisco however the greens fees are rather steep.
Bullfights in the Plaza de Toros Nuevo Progreso
It is not surprising that this brutal activity is a thing in Guadalajara. Given the amount of immigration from Spain to Mexico during the Spanish civil war, it was bound to happen. The professional corridas take place on Sundays at 4 pm in Spring and Fall. The atmosphere outside the plaza is excellent and the street food is world-class. Oxtail stew, liver and onion tacos are a couple of my favorite dishes. Bring a bottle of wine and buy a Spanish style wine bladder to bring it into the plaza. Just be prepared to watch six animals meet a violent death.
Parks of Guadalajara
Guadalajara is much smaller than Mexico City and unfortunately, there is nothing that compares to Chapultepec Park. That being said, there are still some great places to get some outdoors time.
The Metropolitan Park is a very large park space with numerous jogging trails, bike trails, picnic areas and a lot of leftover infrastructure from the Pan American Games. The tennis courts host a pro event and the aquatic center has three Olympic sized pools with a diving platform. The facilities are a little run down because the space is so big and there are not enough maintenance dollars coming into the government-run facility. If you live on the West Side of the Guadalajara Metro Region this would be a good place to jog.
Bosque Los Colomos
You can tell how wealthy a community is by the condition of its parks. The Colinas de San Javier and Providencia neighborhoods have some money and they have, arguably, the best park in Guadalajara. The thematic gardens are very well manicured and this is a very enjoyable place to get your steps in.
Bosque De La Primavera
The Primavera forest is considered to be the lungs of Guadalajara. This massive open space reserve just west of the periferico freeway is a mountain biker’s dream. There is still a lot of wildlife and some hidden hot springs.
La Barranca de Huentitán
Spectacular views and a challenging hike greet visitors to the Barranca de Huentitán National Park. The Santiago River has dug deep canyons along the North West corner of the periferico freeway.
Out in the middle of nowhere on the freeway that leads to Chapala there is one of the best skateparks in Latin America. Large, uncrowded bowls await those that have skateboards.
Parque Agua Azul
There really should be more parks downtown but Parque Agua Azul is a nice, old-school place to explore. The Paleontology Museum is small but has some interesting exhibits. The Jalisco Institute of Artesania is a gem. There is a cultural flee market on Saturdays.
On Sundays, huge swaths of the city are closed to cars and opened up for pedestrians, bikes, skateboards and all sorts of non-motorized forms of transportation. The Mi Bici program allows you to rent a bike and get an intimate view of the city while not having to worry about bad drivers. The bike rentals are cheap and you can pick them up and drop them off at numerous locations throughout the area.
I recommend starting somewhere near the Glorieta Minerva roundabout and heading east down Av. Vallarta. Once you get to the city center walk the bikes around the main cathedral, the Plaza Tapatio, the Degollado Theater to the Instituto Cultural Cabañas and head back up by the San Juan de Dios market.
Nighttime Bike Ride: Paseo Ciclista Nocturno
Another spectacular thing to do in Guadalajara is to take a nighttime bike tour (Paseo Ciclista Nocturno). This is a very well organized and very large bicycle group that meets every Wednesday (weather permitting). The pace of the bike ride is mellow with police escorts shutting down major intersections for the cyclists. A new path is taken every week but it has been going on for so long I am surf they repeat some favorites. The group meets at the intersection of Av. Mexico and Av. Chapultepec a little before 10pm. I shot this photo from my apartment in the Torre Minerva while a particularly large group was coming through. This is a super fun bike ride with cool people and a great vibe.
I love going to the aquarium. I grew up with Sea World and the Birch Aquarium in San Diego. The Michin Aquarium is a little bit smaller but it’s beautiful. I especially liked the Axolotls from the swamps outside of Mexico City and the rays. If you haven’t been to an aquarium recently you should have a look.
Visit the Markets of Guadalajara
Visiting the markets of Mexico is one of the most enjoyable and culturally significant activities that everyone can agree upon. Even people that don’t like shopping will enjoy the sights, sounds, and smells of a Mexican market. There are big marktets and little neighborhood markets. Do yourself a favor and make time to see at least one market and enjoy a great meal.
My personal favorite is the wholesale market but there are dozens of markets with different specialties. Santa Tere Market and the surrounding neighborhood is known to have great food. San Juan de Dios is famous for Jalisco style saddlery, leatherworks, and pirated everything else. There are seafood markets, flower markets, a corn market just to name a few. As Pablo Neruda once said, “Mexico is found in its markets”.
Guadalajara is less than 3 hours from the tropics, less than 2 hours from dairy country and the shipments arrive 24 hours a day. This is where you can find some of the best examples of Jalisco style birria, menudo, carne asadas as well as some good Asian food. The price of one of the best breakfasts in Guadalajara start as low as 50 pesos and the produce is about half of what you would pay in the supermarket for much better quality.
Guadalajara was founded on February 14, 1542, and every year around Valentine’s day the Plaza de la Liberación hosts a pretty massive light show. The 14th is the best day but the decorations last about a week. This is a very Instagram friendly event.
Combination music and food festival that attracts some decent bands and Mexican chefs. Usually held towards the end of February. In 2019 the headliners were Stone Temple Pilots, Caifanes, Bush and 311.
Usually held in early March, the Guadalajara Film Festival is arguably the most important film festival in Latin America. The new films that are screened, the industry leaders and the massive public viewing parties make this a really fun event.
The Corona Capital music festival has been a huge success in Mexico City and in 2018 the festival made its debut in Guadalajara to some serious fanfare. The festival is held in May and you can find tickets on ticketmaster.com.mx.
The last couple weeks of August host a massive amount of mariachi music and Mexican cowboys. The cowboys down from the ranches to compete in equestrian competitions and the mariachis come from all over the world. This is a huge party and part of what makes Jalisco famous throughout the world.
I mid October the Tecate Coordenada music festival makes its way to Guadalajara. This is the longest running music festival and a local favorite. It is usually held in the Parque Trasloma near the Plaza del Sol mall.
This is Guadalajara’s longest running and the largest wine festival. The interest in wine has absolutely exploded in the last couple of years and events like this one are part of the reason why. For about $700 pesos you can taste hundreds of different wines from across the globe. The event is held in an event space on the second floor of Plaza Andares. You will run into a lot of the wine industry personalities of Guadalajara at this event.
Most of the month of October hosts the farm animal festival. Ranching is big business in the State of Jalisco and this fair brings ranchers from all over the country. Obviously, the food is spectacular and I find it interesting to see what kind of animals are being raised in Mexico. During the day the atmosphere is family-oriented with petting zoos and games but at night there is a lot of alcohol and banda music.
Fiestas de Octubre
October is when the fair comes to town. The Fiestas de Octubre run concurrently with the Expo Ganadera but in different locations. The fair is rides, games of skill and concerts. There is also a huge section of vendors selling junk made in China.
October 12 is Columbus Day and the pilgrimage from the Guadalajara Cathedral to the Zapopan Cathedral. There are usually close to 2 million people that come out to see the native dancers and the image of the Virgen de Zapopan along the eight-kilometer parade route.
Billed as the most important beer festival, the Guadalajara beer festival has grown into a massive event. There are over 200 brands from all over the world.
From the 1st to the 4th of November downtown Tlaquepaque is decorated for Day of the Dead. There are altars, face painting, parades, concerts and lots of art. This is one of the more family-friendly events.
Mexican wine is really hot right now. There is a massive sense of pride in the Mexican wine industry. The Fevino Wine Festival is all about Mexican wine. Usually held in the Parque Trasloma near the Plaza del Sol Mall. Look for the festival in mid to late November.
In late November and early December, Latin America’s most important book festival happens in Guadalajara. The used to be more for publishers but the University of Guadalajara has turned this into one of Guadalajara’s most treasured events. There are massive crowds every day to see author talks, concerts and of course buy lots of books.
Since I have started writing this blog I have really jumped on the organized tour bandwagon. I am trying to learn as much as possible and I appreciate talking with tourism professionals. I love hearing stories from people who have dedicated a lot of time and effort to learn the history of a time and place.
Calandria Tour Guadalajara Downtown and Colonia Americana
The horse-drawn carriage tour of Downtown Guadalajara is one of the most enjoyable ways to see the city if you get the right operator. Cruising at 5 mph gives you an awesome view and time to appreciate the waves of architectural styles. Make sure to get an electric calandria rather than a horse-drawn one.
The City of Guadalajara is slowly swapping the horse-drawn carriages for electric ones because too many horses were dropping dead in the street creating a PR nightmare. Some operators took really good care of their horses and others did not. Today, it is better to take the electric carriages rather than ride with a sickly looking animal or a carriage in disrepair. The electric calandrias are a more enjoyable experience.
Choose a driver that is dressed in uniform as a tour guide with an embroidered shirt, boots and sombrero. The professional tour guides know more about the city and enjoy telling stories about all the buildings and monuments you will pass.
A calandria tour will cost between MX$300-400 for 30 or 50-minute rides.
The Tapatio Tour Doubledecker Turibus
The Tapatio Tour buss runs a hop-on, hop-off tours around Guadalajara, Zapopan, and Tlaquepaque. The cost is around 150 pesos per person.
Things to do in Tlaquepaque
Nobody calls it San Pedro. That is the name the Spanish put but everybody just calls it Tla-que-pa-que (Tla-kay-pa-kay). And however, you want to pronounce it, it needs to be on your list of things to do.
In 2018 Tlaquepaque received the designation of Pueblo Magico from the Secretary of Tourism for the work they have done to preserve and protect culture. The cobblestone streets and pedestrian malls house some of the best art galleries in the country. There are very high-quality examples of folk art from Western Mexico including pottery, embroidered textiles, leather, and even tequila.
On the weekends there is a festival-like atmosphere with musicians in the street, food vendors on every corner and of course, one of the oldest bars in this part of Mexico: El Parián.
Downtown Tlaquepaque is what you think about when you imagine a picturesque, traditional Mexican village. Internationally renowned artists like Rodo Padilla and Sergio Bustamante have set up boutiques in beautifully renovated colonial mansions that line the cobblestone pedestrian streets. There is Instagram gold to be found around every corner.
There was a time when Tlaquepaque was a whole different city. Today there is no break in the urbanization between Zapopan, Guadalajara, and Tlaquepaque. Tlaquepaque is only 10 minutes east of downtown Guadalajara but it is a world apart.
Make sure to get a drink in one of the numerous cantinas in the Parian and take in a folkloric show. The weekends are rocking when there is live music in the street and vendors selling traditional munchies.
Shopping For Traditional Folk Art In San Pedro Tlaquepaque
Tlaquepaque is famous for its artisans. They craft pottery (Tlaquepaque is Nahuatl for place where there’s clay), blown glass, leather works, carpentry and much more. Most of the workshops have been pushed to the outskirts and replaced by high-end galleries. You can find traditional folk art, and particularly ceramics, from all across Mexico. I really enjoyed the ceramic museum and seeing examples of all the regional styles. The clay in Jalisco is a completely different color than the clay in Oaxaca.
Get A Drink In The Parián De Tlaquepaque
The Parián de Tlaquepaque is a collection of 17 different bars set in a 19th-century building. The bars are set around a kiosk stage where there are mariachi and folkloric dance shows every day. This is classic Mexico at its finest.
Day Trips From Guadalajara
4-Day Itinerary for Guadalajara, Tlaquepaque, and Tequila
This is your Playas y Plazas custom 4-day itinerary to see the coolest stuff that Guadalajara has to offer. If you want to get a longer itinerary then shoot me an email.
Day 1 (Thursday)
Your first full day in Guadalajara should be spent in the historic downtown area. To fully understand Guadalajara you need to see what it was like back in the day. Start in the Plaza de las 9 Esquinas for breakfast and then take my walking tour of the Centro Histórico. You can enter as many or as few of the museums and temples as you care to visit but make sure to step inside the Hospicio Cabañas to see the Orozco murals. Grab a beer in Cantina La Fuente or a coffee in the Degollado Theater cafe along the way. This walking tour takes some time. You are going to put some miles in if you complete the whole route.
Take a little time to rest before getting dinner at Alcalde Restaurant. If you still have some energy after dinner then check out El Gallo Altanero tequila bar for a lesson on high-end and exotic tequilas and cocktails.
Day 2 (Friday)
Start with coffee and breakfast in palReal Café before taking another walking tour of the Colonia Americana. This walking tour is a little shorter than the downtown tour but walking the neighborhood is like stepping back in time.
Check out the Musa Museum and the Expiatorio Temple. This area was built post-independence from Spain and the architecture is very different from the area built during the colonial era. Hit the pool back at the hotel for a while, maybe grab a taco and a cocktail before heading to dinner at Xokol Tortilleria, Molino y Antojeria. After dinner, it’s time to see the nightlife. Choose from a plethora of options from dance clubs to wine bars, and coffee shops.
Keep an eye out for soccer games on Friday and Saturday.
Day 3 (Saturday)
Have a hearty breakfast early in one of the neighborhood markets before making your way out to Arenal, Amatitan, and Tequila. Visit the Cascahuin Tequila distillery first. Then head to Tequila for a tasting with La Cata. Spend some time wondering the pueblo. The Jose Cuervo property is very beautiful.
Depending on how drunk you are you can either pass out or look for a soccer game back in Guadalajara. Go easy on the tequila. Sip don’t shoot. You have all day and as much tequila as you can handle.
Day 4 (Sunday)
Rent a bike and cruise the Via Recreactiva for a little while in the morning. Find a good place for coffee and breakfast before heading over to Tlaquepaque in the afternoon. See the ceramic museum, visit the market. The top floor of the market has some of the most affordable souvenirs. Take lots of photos of public art and contemplate lunch. There is Mariachi and folkloric dance in the Parian. El Patio is delicious and El Abajeño is a real classic.