Guadalajara, the capital of Jalisco State is the second largest commercial centre in Mexico and the home of tequila! Let’s all raise a margarita to toast this interesting city which is less celebrated than Mexico City or Cancun but has a lot to offer for a fabulous city-break!
Guadalajara was founded in 1542 as the capital of Nuevo Galicia, a territory of New Spain. It had moved three times to more defensible locations before it found the perfect location because it was the centre of the conflict with the Aztec and other native peoples when it was first founded. The town quickly grew to become the second city of Mexico and a commercial centre for agriculture. When the Mexican War of Independence began in 1810, Miguel Hidalgo, the former priest and revolutionary leader, made Guadalajara the seat of the first revolutionary government. Since World War II, Guadalajara has become the fast growing centre of manufacturing and high-technology industries. It is the centre of microchip production and hosts large facilities for technology companies including; IBM, Motorola, Hewlett-Packard, Oracle and Kodak because of its highly educated but low cost employment base.
If you fly into Guadalajara, you’ll land at Miguel Hidalgo y Costilla Guadalajara International Airport which is a modern and convenient facility and in the top ten of busiest airports in Latin America. Because of its high-tech roots, there are many international destinations – particularly in the USA – that fly into the airport. There is a good light-rail electric train services as well as an extensive and convenient bus rapid-transit system. Taxis and rideshares are readily available but care should be taken to use licensed taxis so as to ensure that fare is correct. The old town in the central region of the city is quite walkable and wonderfully colonial in appearance but I encourage you to use cars or rapid transit for the broader region.
Once you arrive in Guadalajara, there is much to see and do. Here are some fun things to do in the city:
- Old Town City Centre – there are many colonial era buildings in the centre of town including the beautiful 18th Century cathedral, government buildings and interesting museums. Unlike much of Latin America, Guadalajara enjoyed a French inspired architecture that gives the city centre a European flavour and charm.
- Street Art Tour – Guadalajara has some of the coolest street art of any city and this slightly clandestine activity is secretly encouraged. Spend a fun few hours walking around with a guided tour to see some of the best examples of the artists’ works.
- Chivas Football – Guadalajara is mad for football and the biggest team, the Guadalajara Football Club is nicknamed the ‘Chivas’. Catch a game if you can or visit the massive stadium and buy cool team gear!
- Shopping – Visit the large malls with bargain prices like the Plaza Galerias or the Galerias Guadalajara for plenty of retail therapy, nice restaurants and other leisure activities.
- Festivals – Guadalajara is a city of festivals. Almost every month, there is a major event including one of the largest International Film Festivals in Latin America, the International Book Fair, the Festival Cultural de Mayo, Gay Pride and Expo Guadalajara. These festivals are fun with lots of colour, food and commerce.
While you can easily spend a fun time within the metropolitan area of Guadalajara, there are some really cool sites within just a few hours by bus or car ride from the city. Here are some sites I recommend you see in the region:
- Tequila Tour – no trip to Guadalajara would be complete without a tequila tour of the Jalisco region. The region of Tequila harvests more than 300 Million Blue Agave plants annually to make tequila and mezcal. You must see how this eponymous product is made and taste some of the finest examples of this wonderful spirit!
- Boca de Tunel – if you are adventurous, then visit this rugged area for rock climbing, zip-lining and other adrenaline-junkie activities.
- Lake Chapala – this is the largest fresh water lake in Mexico and it is just beautiful. There are plenty of recreational activities in the region and it is perfect for relaxing.
- Mazamitla Pueblo – this enchanting small town has preserved its gorgeous colonial-era architecture and a visit is like stepping back in time.
- Guanchimontones Pyramids – when the conquistadors entered the region of Jalisco, it was mostly unsettled but there were remnants of a much older culture that honoured their dead with beautifully constructed pyramidal burial chambers. Little is known about the early pre-Colombian civilisation but its remnants and artefacts are enchanting.
The mountains and wide valleys of Jalisco are a magical sight while travelling from Guadalajara as a comfortable base.
The food in Guadalajara is magnificent. Traditional as well as new options make this a great visit for foodies. Here are my favourites in the city:
- Bruna – this restaurant offers local cuisine as well as international recipes made with fresh local ingredients. The upscale venue is a real treat to visit when I’m in the city!
- Sagrantino – this wonderful venue offers Mediterranean fusion recipes mixed with the best meats, Latin flavours and ingredients. The chef’s modern take on steak is wonderful.
- Porfirio’s Guadalajara – this cool venue has one of my favourite recipes for Birria, the ubiquitous dish of the Jalisco region. I love the perfectly balanced spices and seasonings that come alive in the recipes of this wonderful venue!
There is really every type of food available within Guadalajara. It is a modern and convenient location to fit any dietary needs.
After eating a wonderful meal, I recommend a fun night on the town. Guadalajara is the centre of the Mariachi band culture of Mexico and the city is always alive with music. There are venues to fit all tastes from the traditional to the modern. Here are my favourite night spots in the city:
- Cantina La Occidental – this traditional venue is a relaxed and colourful venue where you can drink nice wines or beers while you enjoy traditional bands and dancing.
- La Oliveria – this decidedly upscale venue is decked out like a Prohibition Bar in New York City during the 1920s. With jazz music playing and excellent cocktails, you’ll feel glamourous while you sip a gimlet or martini. Remember to dress to impress here.
- Pare de Sufrir – this is my favourite bar in Guadalajara for mezcals and the much rarer Blue Agave spirits of Raicilla and Bacanora. This is definitely the location to enjoy the most excellent spirits of the Jalisco region.
When it’s time to rest, Guadalajara has excellent hotels that provide impeccable service. Here are my favourites when I visit:
- Hard Rock Hotel Guadalajara – I don’t normally recommend chain hotels but the Hard Rock in Guadalajara is an exception. It is a modern and comfortable property that has a wonderful musical vibe!
- Baruk Guadalajara Hotel de Autor – this modern and stylish property is really close to shopping and other attractions within the city. I love its décor as well as its wonderful spa where I always relax.
- Quinta Real Guadalajara – this traditionally furnished venue is gorgeous and the all-suites rooms are spacious and ultra-comfortable. I love the service in this beautiful venue!
Guadalajara and the surrounding region of Jalisco are a wonderful place to visit. You’ll enjoy the comfort of a large city, with wonderful culture, and welcoming residents. Guadalajara will mellow you out like an excellent tequila!