(Apr 26): Guadalajara, Mexico’s second city, offers a unique blend of the cosmopolitan and traditional. Its historical center provides a hefty culture fix, while the suburb of Tlaquepaque offers all the traditional handicrafts souvenir shoppers could ask for. As the epicenter of the country’s tech boom, the city’s vibrant young art scene and list of cool neighborhoods, like Chapultepec, show no sign of slowing down.
The surrounding state of Jalisco is also responsible for two of Mexico’s most enduring exports, tequila and mariachi, and you can experience the best of both in the city—often at the same time. A short train ride through the blue-hued agave landscape to the picturesque town of Tequila and its distilleries is a highlight you shouldn’t miss… or drive back from.
Guadalajara Cathedral, Plaza de Armas
Photographer: Christian Kober/Robert Harding Collection/Getty
The Plaza de Armas is the historical center of Guadalajara. It was remodeled in 1910 as part of the Centennial of Mexican Independence, when an ornate wrought-iron bandstand built in Paris was added; catch concerts there on Thursday and Sunday evenings.
Rising above the square and dominating the downtown skyline, Guadalajara’s impressive cathedral was originally built in 1541. Over the centuries it has been destroyed by fire, damaged by multiple earthquakes, and suffered the fate of ever-changing architectural tastes. Two soaring neo-gothic, yellow-tile striped towers were constructed in 1854 after an earthquake damaged the originals. There’s just as much to see inside, including an exquisite stained-glass window depicting the Last Supper; Mexican artist, Bartolomé Esteban Murillo’s 17th century mural, The Assumption of the Blessed Virgin; and nine altars dedicated to various patron saints, including a central altar made of marble and silver; the country’s largest pipe organ; and a glass case at the west entrance, which contains the waxed remains of the martyred child Santa Inocencia.
Photographer: VW Pics/Universal Images Group Editorial/Getty
The charrería (rodeo) attached to the International Mariachi Festival allows the most accomplished teams of charros to show off farming skills that have been passed down through generations and turned into a national sport.
The men’s events include lassoing bulls, riding bucking broncos, and jumping onto wild mares, while the women take part in the Escaramuza, which involves performing precision equestrian techniques at great speeds, all achieved while wearing Adelita dresses and riding sidesaddle. If you don’t make the national festival, you can easily catch a rodeo in Guadalajara any Sunday.
The Tequila Train
Photographer: Hugo Ortuño/Getty Images
There are a few ways to get to the pretty town of Tequila, including bus, taxi or driving yourself, but a train ride provides expansive views of the blue-hued agave landscape (a UNESCO heritage site) and allows you to enjoy the offerings of local distilleries unencumbered.
Train options, which take approximately 45 minutes from Guadalajara, include the Jose Cuervo Express, with fancy livery and a bar and dining carriage. On arrival, passengers can continue to the La Rojeña distilleryCuervo's La Rojeña distillery, the oldest in Latin America (José Cuervo was granted the first concession by the King of Spain to produce tequila in 1795). You can learn about the history of tequila, how it is produced from the Weber Azul species of agave, and most importantly, take part in a professional tasting.
Beyond the well-established ones, there's a multitude of next generation of producers on the region’s Tequila Trail of registered distilleries.
Photographer: Adam Wiseman, courtesy of Grupo Habita
This 37-room design hotel sits in the arty Lafayette district in a refurbished 1940s mansion. Grupo Habita brought in local architects Estudio5 to work on the dazzling white Art Deco property, with a glitzy pool and terrace, plus a spa with views over the city. Inside, mid-century modern meets contemporary comforts, from the retro light fixtures to plush furnishings and pops of jewel tones. The hotel bar, seen here, is a sophisticated hangout in a palette of greens and gold paired with wood paneling and palm prints.
Photographer: Edgar González
This impressive ceiling fresco in the Teatro Degollado is a scene from Dante’s Divine Comedy, painted by Jacobo Gálvez and Gerardo Suárez. Designed by architect Jacobo Galvez, the neoclassical theater opened in 1866 and is a work of art in itself, with 16 Corinthian columns supporting a marble tympanum of Apollo and the nine muses sculpted by Benito Castañeda. The theater is home to Jalisco Philharmonic and the University of Guadalajara’s Folkloric Ballet.
Photographer: Antonio Malverde
During a distillery tour to Tequila, visit the mineral-rich fields where regimented lines of blue agave are grown and watch agave farmers known as jimadores slice long fronds off the plant with an oval hoe called a coa. The remaining roughly hewn ball, called a piña, is then cut, cooked—giving off a honeyed aroma—providing the sweet nectar that is fermented before being distilled twice. Depending on the type of expression the spirit is either bottled immediately (blanco), aged for at least two months (reposado), or aged for at least a year, but less than three (añejo). Anything over that is known as extra añejo.
Photographer: Raúl Macías
An ornament stall at Liberty Market, more commonly known as Mercado de San Juan de Dios. Designed by architect Alejandro Zohn in 1958, its distinctive roof is constructed from curving, saddle-shaped structures, allowing for wide-open areas below that don’t require many supports. Mercado Libertad is one of Mexico’s largest traditional markets with approximately 2,800 stalls spread over three levels selling… everything.
Eat, shop, drink, but don’t expect to see it all. Its narrow, stall-lined passageways can seem endless.
Parroquia de Nuestra Señora del Rosario
Photographer: Rene Valencia/EyeEm/Getty
A woman prays at the entrance to Templo Nuestra Señora Del Rosario (Church of Our Lady of the Rosary) in Guadalajara’s El Retiro district. The façade, completed in 1958 in neoclassical style, is famed for its sculptures, including 56 angels dressed as charros and chinas poblanas playing mariachi instruments. Inside, the altar is intricately carved from a single block of pink quarry stone.
Source: Wiki Loves Monuments 2012, Creative Commons
This archaeological site, located an hour’s drive from Guadalajara, is the largest linked to the Teuchitlan culture, a pre-Columbian polytheistic society believed to have existed between 300 BC-900 CE. The site’s central stepped pyramid with a circular altar, a style known as Guachimontón, has a hole at the top where a pole is thought to have been inserted during ceremonies to allow priests to shimmy up to better honor the wind god, Ehecatl. The ancient civilization that inhabited the area around this site is estimated to have numbered around 40,000 people.
Tacos at Puerco Espada
Photograph: Marco Rodriguez
Local foodie favorite, Puerco Espada is tucked away on Calderon de la Barca. This colorful seafood restaurant has a laidback vibe, fast service, and super fresh dishes, including the seafood tacos dorados and sashimi, pictured here.
Photographer: Esteban Saavedra
More of a suburb than a separate town, Tlaquepaque is a must-visit for anyone interested in traditional arts and crafts, particularly ceramics (the Museo Regional de la Cerámica is well worth a look). Stroll its narrow streets lined with galleries, pottery studios, and colorful buildings for a day of souvenir shopping. Stop off at Jardín Hidalgo for some downtime or grab a table at one of El Parían’s restuarants that encircle a central bandstand where mariachi music is performed.
Instituto Cultural Cabañas
Photographer: Jesse Lazaro/Flickr
The magnificent central fresco at the Instituto Cultural Cabañas, named Hombre de Fuego (Man of Fire), is part of a powerful collection of 57 murals by Jose Clemente Orozco, one of the Mexican revolution’s most celebrated muralists. Originally known as the Hospicio Cabañas, the building was founded as an orphanage by Bishop Juan Ruiz de Cabañas in 1810. It also housed troops during the Mexican War of Independence. Orozco was invited to paint the old chapel between 1937 and 1939 after he returned from the U.S., and today his murals are a huge draw. In the 1980s, the church passed ownership to the government and it became an art museum, renamed the Instituto Cultural Cabañas.
Photographer: Katty Naranjo
While the origins of mariachi music can be traced much further back, the music and dress we recognize today originated in Jalisco in the 19th century. Every year, around the end of August and early September, Guadalajara hosts the International Mariachi and Charrería Festival over 10 days. It features some of the world’s best mariachi performers as well as competitions throughout the city where traditional and contemporary musical styles are celebrated and often combined. There is also a vibrant mariachi parade, and the excitement of a national charrería (Mexican rodeo).
Located in the leafy Colonia Lafayette district, Hueso, meaning “bones,” is considered one of Guadalajara’s best eating spots. Animal bones are used as art throughout the interior, adding texture to the white on white décor, while the standout exterior is adorned with white tiles patterned with black lines. A simple bone hangs outside in lieu of signage—it’s all much less macabre than it sounds.
Chef Alfonso Cadena opened the restaurant in 2014 with friend Juan Manuel Monteón, and they enlisted their brothers, an architect and an interior designer, to create the unique space. The changing menu takes its lead from what’s in season and local, such as a salad of heirloom tomatoes, spinach pesto, and smoked cheese with a yogurt and basil vinaigrette; or rib eye and pork belly are served with bean paste. If the colorful crème brûlée is on, we suggest you order it, as well as any of their inventive cocktails. Arrive hungry and sociable—there’s a central 54-seat table that runs the length of the open kitchen.
Palacio de Gobierno
Photographer: Spaces Images/Getty
A tranquil courtyard in the Governor’s Palace, which sits on the eastern side of Plaza de Armas. The 18th century, baroque-style building was occupied by Father Miguel Hidalgo during the Mexican War of Independence—it was where he issued his famous proclamation to abolish slavery. Now a museum, the building’s interior includes impressive murals celebrating significant figures in Mexican history, most notably the huge mural by Jose Clemente Orozco that wraps around the main stairwell. Named Lucha Social (social struggle), it shows Hidalgo holding a torch to light the way to freedom.