Guadalajara is the second-largest city in Mexico and is a cultural center with an inspiring combination of new and old. The city is where Mariachi music began, and some say tequila also started here. Charreria, a rodeo-like sport, also originated here and is still popular. It is home to the Guadalajara International Film Festival. The city also hosts the largest Spanish language book fair in the world. The city is also a silicon valley of sorts for Mexico, with a lot of hi-tech companies operating here. The colonial heritage also remains strong, with architecture in famous cathedrals and other public buildings. It is bathed in tradition, but also vibrant in its modern cosmopolitan feel. It is about 200 miles from the Pacific coast in a valley surrounded by mountains.
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 want all types of travellers to experience this phenomenal city in Mexico so we’ve created a guide that breaks down all that you need to know. Just read on to see what a trip to Guadalajara has to offer in history, art, the outdoors, nightlife, and culture.
The Miguel Hidalgo y Costilla International Airport is about a 30-minute drive from the central zone or historic city center of Guadalajara. Roundtrip flights from the U.S. to Guadalajara can cost about $300-$400 on American Airlines and Volaris, though the cost can range depending on the date and airline.
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, a great restaurant, and lovely rooms. Both hotels are located in the popular and hip Colonia Americana neighbourhood 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 Cabañas 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 Teuchitlán people, these stepped circular structures are a sight to behold. Guachimontones is just as interesting as Museo Panteón de Belén, 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.
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 Cristóbal 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.
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.
Café 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 café. 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 Café 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 which are locally referred to as ‘tianguis.’ Mercado Libertad is open daily and is the largest indoor market in Latin America. To shop at 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.
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!
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-populated 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 U.S. 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 their 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 its response to the pandemic. Masks are still required indoors, although most people still wear masks in outdoor spaces.
The biggest concern for travellers in Guadalajara is getting sick from the water. Use water bottles to brush your teeth.