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
Written by Pepe Guízar in 1937 and performed by numerous artists
An Introduction to Guadalajara
Guadalajara is known as a huge Pueblo, or as the song goes, 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. Until recently, the creative folks, interested in technology, modern art or international cuisine, had to leave if they wanted to make a living in their field or stay on top of the global trends.
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 barbeque, 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.
The New Economy
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 their largest 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. All the art and traditions of the countryside are manifested in the city while adding some modern accents. It is highly catholic and conservative society while still having the best gay bars in the country. There are a constant stream of contrasts that will delight you at every turn.
The Neighborhoods of Guadalajara
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 trips to the area you should focus on the core and spread out after that.
Guadalajara’s Centro Historico
Guadalajara was founded at its current location in 1542 and the downtown area is an architectural treasure with good museums and excellent examples of Mexican muralism. As you move away from the city center you can see how the architecture has evolved over the centuries: Spanish colonialism, 19th century French Baroque, and 20th century Art Deco. A walking tour, or better yet a Sunday bike ride, of the Downtown will let you step back in time while experiencing some of the best venues to eat and drink that the city has to offer.
The Americana is kind of a blanket terms that describes multiple neighborhoods just off the city center. Think urban hipster with 19th century European style mansions as the backdrop. There is 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.
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 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.
In the 1960’s and 1970’s 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 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 & Tonalá
The municipalities of Tlaquepaque and Tonalá are a 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 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 the 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 (Caligari and Pa’l Real) 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. They are preserving the traditions of some out of the way places while elevating ancestral recipes into haute cuisine.
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 instagramed 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 foods 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.
Where To Get A Drink In Guadalajara
Agaves: Tequila & Mezcal
Guadalajara Highlights: The Must See
There is no shortage of spectacular things to do and see in Guadalajara. There are enough activities to keep you busy for weeks, so try and schedule one more day for your vacation.
No trip to Guadalajara is complete without a stroll through downtown to marvel at the architecture of the Spanish colonial era. Many of these building 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.
Designated an Unesco World Heritage site, this 19th century 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 buildings architecture into the set design). Check the calendar to see what events are going on while you are in town.
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.
Most people will tell you to visit San Juan de Dios market but I am usually not in the market for pirated DVDs or a used iPhone. Mercado de Abastos is the regional wholesale market that is the size of a neighborhood. There are about 3 blocks of retail vendors that show off the agricultural jewels of Western Mexico. 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.
Find the best Jose Clemente Orozco Murals in Guadalajara
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 like little treasures spread about Guadalajara and can be found in the Palacio del Gobierno, the Museo de las Artes in the original Rectory of the University of Guadalajara and the Casa-Museo Clemente Orozco. Pick up a copy of John Steinbeck’s The Pearl for a quick peek at his style.
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.
Catch a Soccer game in The Estadio Jalisco
Mexico is a one sport country: there is futbol and everything else. Chivas is arguably the most popular team in the country with a shiny new stadium on the outskirts of town and 12 league titles. Atlas is the other first division team in town with one league title back in 1950. Atlas and Chivas shared a stadium up until 2010 when Chivas finished their beautifully modern Estadio Omnilife (Now called Estadio Akron). Estadio Jalisco is Mexico’s third largest stadium and is right in the middle of a working class neighborhood where neighbors rent their parking spaces on game days. What Estadio Jalisco lacks in modern technology it more than makes up for in charm. The experience is much more Mexican and the street food outside is outstanding. The second division Leones Negros of the University of Guadalajara also plays in the Estadio Jalisco and is also a great experience.
Folk Art in San Pedro Tlaquepaque
Nobody calls it San Pedro. That is the name the Spanish put but everybody just calls it Tla-que-pa-que. And however you want to pronounce it, it needs to be on your list. In 2018 Tlaquepaque recieved 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.
Where To Stay
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 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
Guadalajara was founded on February 14, 1542 and every year around Valentines 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 Feburary. 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 mostly 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 Americas 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 everyday to see author talks, concerts and of course buy lots of books.
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 everyday 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 wont 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. The 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 Or 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.
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 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 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?
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, bull fights, cock fights, 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 snow birds will be wearing short sleeves day and night.
Is Guadalajara Safe?
Yes. Precautions should be observed as in any major metro region but Guadalajara is very safe.