As the second-largest city in Mexico, Guadalajara has long been known for mariachi music, ceramics and tequila, but as of late, travelers are starting to realize that this destination is rich in so much more.
Guadalajara is teeming with historic buildings, plazas and churches, but the city continues to expand with modern development and renovations of historic buildings into boutique hotels with pools and stylish rooms, unique cafes, and restaurants and bars with lovely courtyards and innovative menus. Whether you stay for four days or a few weeks, you'll quickly see that the city is thriving and producing enthralling art, fashion, music and design.
We've created a guide that breaks down all that you need to know.
Getting there: The Miguel Hidalgo y Costilla International Airport is about a 30-minute drive from the central zone or historic city center of Guadalajara.
WHERE TO STAY
Guadalajara has diverse accommodations, although small boutique hotels are especially popular. Casa Habita, an Arts Deco-inspired hotel with a pool, restaurant and bar, is a great choice for the design-loving traveler. Some of the rooms have balconies with great city views. For something more romantic and traditional in style, Villa Ganz Boutique Hotel is the right choice. Set in a renovated 1930s mansion, it features a dreamy courtyard, great restaurant and lovely rooms. Both hotels are located in the popular and hip Colonia Americana neighborhood which is within walking distance of the historic city center.
Travelers who enjoy a modern hotel with a restaurant, pool, bar, and contemporary rooms should check out Hilton Midtown Guadalajara. From here, travelers can reach the Bosque Colomos and the Basilica of Our Lady of Zapopan on foot.
If you want to treat yourself to an exceptionally unique hospitality experience, drive about an hour out of the city and stay at Hotel Defranca. This 17th-century property has been restored into an elegant hotel with a church, pool, restaurant, and rooms that look out onto a massive canyon. Book the "Jacuzzi experience" and enjoy drinks and snacks in a Jacuzzi that sits on the edge of the canyon.
THINGS TO DO
Upon arriving in Guadalajara, head to the historic city center to wander for hours admiring the architecture and grandness of the Guadalajara Cathedral, Rotonda de los Jalisciences Ilustres, historic buildings and plazas. The historic city center is full of museums like the Regional Museum of Guadalajara and various interconnecting plazas with stunning fountains, sculptures, shops, historic churches, museums and indoor markets. While you're down there, enter Museo Cabanas to see fantastic murals by famed artist Jose Clemente Orozco on the ceiling of a dome. He has another mural in MUSA, a free art museum with an extensive and engaging exhibit by Mexican artists.
Mexico is well known for its pyramids, but Guadalajara is the only place in the world with circular pyramids at Guachimontones. Built 2,000 years ago by the Teuchitlan people, these stepped circular structures are a sight to behold. Guachimontones is just as interesting as Museo Panteon de Belen, a historic cemetery in Guadalajara with beautiful architecture, above-ground tombs, and famous "residents" like the Jose Cuervo family. The tours are in Spanish, but it doesn't take away from the experience if you don't speak the language.
Outdoor enthusiasts will find plenty of greenery and adventure in and around Guadalajara. First, explore Bosque Colomos, a forested park with a wide range of activities and gardens, like a stunning Japanese Garden. For rigorous hikes, check out Barranca de Oblatos and Barranca de Huentitan, which are canyons located on the outskirts of Guadalajara. Just an hour away, book a rappelling trip across multiple waterfalls in the San Cristobal de la Barranca with Descender. Nearby, Lake Chapala offers kayaking experiences on the largest lake in Mexico, as well as some great hikes to waterfalls, like El Tepalo Falls near Ajijic.
You can't visit Guadalajara without doing a day trip or two. Tlaquepaque, a suburb of Guadalajara, is a great destination full of shopping, artisans, and restaurants that's easily accessible by Uber. The streets are colorful, and people line up selling wares for tourists to buy. You could also take a trip to Tequila to see how the drink of the same name is made. You can get there by the Jose Cuervo Express Train and make it a full-day experience.
While Tlaquepaque and Tequila are great, we encourage you to check out places around Guadalajara that are off the beaten path. Etzatlan is a charming town with a colorful woven canopy that covers four different streets. It's so large that it won a Guinness World Record!
A cooking class with Maru Toledo and her organization Las Mujeres De Maiz in the El Teuchiteco community makes for an interesting (and tasty!) experience. Through a cooking demonstration, you'll learn about how she's reviving ancient Jalisco dishes made of corn (and get to eat them afterward!).
If you'd rather not drive in and out of the city so much, book a stay at a hacienda or casona that's part of the Hacienda y Casonas de Jalisco association. These haciendas are spread across the state of Jalisco, in and around Guadalajara and are great jumping off points to some of these day-trip destinations. Take Hacienda El Carmen for example. It was built in 1727 and offers a restaurant, pool, amazing spa, bar and activities like horseback riding. The hacienda provides a unique vacation experience and is only 20 minutes from Guachimontones.
FOOD AND DRINKS
You can't visit Guadalajara without tasting two breakfast staples: a torta ahogada, a pork sandwich drowned in a flavorful sauce, and birria, a local stew made from goat meat. Traditional drinks in the area shouldn't be passed up either, especially tejuino, a cold fermented corn beverage; tepache, a fermented cold beverage made from pineapple; and pulque, an alcoholic beverage made of fermented sap from the maguey plant.
Cafe culture is huge in Guadalajara. Around every block, there seem to be small coffee shops or cafes serving food, like Manila, Tercio Cocina, Peltre Cocina, and Rintintin cafe. They're set in small, artistically designed spaces in historic buildings and often have lovely courtyards and outdoor patios full of flowering plants and greenery. We especially loved restaurants like Jamaica Cafe and Records, a vegetarian-Mexican restaurant, and Peligro Al Fondo which has a huge courtyard and a delicious menu. For something unique, check out Xokol and Alcalde. Where Alcalde offers an upscale Mexican food experience, Xokol offers creative dishes made with corn.
Avenida Chapultepec is the center of Guadalajara's nightlife. Pubs, bars, clubs and restaurants are within walking distance, offering a lively destination for all who visit. That said, you may be persuaded to go beyond this avenue and have a drink at Cantina La Fuente, which is Guadalajara's oldest bar.
If you need more insight into the best restaurants and cafes to visit, check out Antiturista, a map that features locally owned restaurants, cafes, bars, hotels, art galleries and boutiques.
WHERE TO SHOP
Guadalajara has some fantastic markets that are locally referred to as "tianguis." Mercado Libertad is open daily and is the largest indoor market in Latin America. To shop one of the largest outdoor markets in Latin America, head to El Baratillo on Sundays. These two tianguis sell everything from food to clothes, leather goods, music, shoes, wellness products, cookware and more.
Some tianguis have specific items for sale, like the Tianguis de Antiguedades El Trocadero, a Sunday market that sells antiques. To find cool, artsy and local designer finds, go to Tianguis Paseo Chapultepec or Tianguis Cultural Guadalajara on Saturdays.
The boutique fashion scene shouldn't be overlooked either. The Guadalajara area — specifically Tlaquepaque and Tonala — is known for its rich ceramic tradition, which makes it a perfect destination to find these crafted wares. Ceramica Suro will be opening a store soon, but until then, you can stop buy and ask for a tour of their extensive ceramics production.
Most people are not aware that Guadalajara is a rich producer of silver, so if you love silver jewelry, this is where to buy it. Our favorite jewelry shop is Mackech Jewels. The company has been around for decades and is well known as one of the best jewelry designers in Mexico. Better yet, they guarantee that the silver they use is sourced locally (not all silver jewelry in the area is) and is handcrafted by local artisans. They've been awarded and recognized as being ethically and socially responsible in their business practices, too!
For boutique fashion finds, check out Julia Y Renata and Amor Apache, and Oxen Concept. Vintage shoppers will love exploring the used options at Bravo Vintage and Lavanda Vintage.
In terms of safety, Guadalajara is like most big cities in the world — it comes with some risks. Pickpocketing is a concern, especially in high-population areas. Don't carry a lot of cards or cash on you at any time and keep a low profile — meaning don't wear flashy items that single you out as a tourist, or a wealthy one. As for violent crimes — it's unlikely you'll find yourself in any of those situations. But just remember, don't walk alone at night or get involved with illegal drugs, and if you do rent a car, get insurance.
I traveled in Guadalajara and the surrounding areas for two weeks by myself (I'm a 32-year-old woman) and never had an incident of any kind. In fact, I wasn't even catcalled or harassed, which is something I often experience in the United States and in other countries.
LGBTQ+ travelers will be happy to know that Guadalajara is very progressive and known as the "gayest city" in Latin America. The state of Jalisco just updated its Civil Code (like a constitution) so that it is inclusive of all types of marriage — no matter the gender identity. At the same time, they added a recognition of transgender people and applied sanctions against conversion therapy. You'll see LGBTQ+ couples and families living openly in Guadalajara.
The state of Jalisco has been very responsible in their response to the pandemic. Masks are still required indoors, although most people still wear masks in outdoor spaces.
The biggest concern for travelers in Guadalajara is getting sick from the water. Use water bottles to brush your teeth.