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Guadalajara to Puerto Vallarta: The Jalisco Beaches Road Trip

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The state of Jalisco is home to the second-largest metropolis in Mexico, stunning beaches, and Mexico’s most famous export, tequila.

We spent over a month navigating our way through Jalisco and have come up with what we think is the perfect 14-day itinerary for exploring the cities, villages, and coastline of Jalisco and the neighboring state of Nayarit.

The itinerary starts in Guadalajara and ends in Puerto Vallarta, but you can easily reverse it. Or really, you can do it however you please and whatever parts you want to visit. But these are the best places to visit in Jalisco without a doubt!

Day 1 – 2: Guadalajara

Guadalajara is the gateway to Jalisco’s tequila region and the picturesque coastline. If you are simply renting a car to explore Jalisco then Guadalajara will most likely be your starting point.

Guadalajara offers old-world charm in a sophisticated and contemporary setting. Many of the leading technology companies around the world have offices in Guadalajara dubbing it the “Silicon Valley of Mexico”. Whether you want to explore the old world or the contemporary aspects of Guadalajara there is something for everyone.

Here are our picks of things to do in Guadalajara.

Explore Guadalajara’s Historic City Center

Walking tours are a great way to learn about the history and the culture of a city. The tour takes you past the Governer’s Palace, the Zapopan Basilica, and many other historical buildings and locations. Check out Free Tours for a range of free (or tip-based) local tours run by enthusiastic and knowledgable locals.

READ MORE: Guadalajara in a Day

Wander the Aisles of Latin America’s Largest Market

A visit to Latin America’s largest market the Mercado Libertad – San Juan de Dios is a must-do when exploring Guadalajara. Wander the aisles and shop for local produce or grab lunch from one of the stands. Either way, you will definitely have a sensory overload!

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When in Doubt, Drink Tequila

Start your tequila holiday at the iconic Cantina La Fuente which has been around since 1921. Nothing much has changed about the place since its opening. No wifi. No fans. Just ice, beers and tequila. These guys are doing it old school. Grab a drink and settle in to watch the locals and tourists get a bit rowdy.

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Day 3: Ajijic

Ajijic, located an hour south of Guadalajara is on the banks of Chapala Lake. Ajijic is quickly giving San Miguel de Allende a run for its money at being the “it” place to be for snowbirds and retirees from the United States and Canada. The city claims to hold the title of the 2nd Best Climate in the World by National Geographic, but after doing some research the jury’s still out. Nevertheless, the warm temperatures year-round (average of 74°F or 23°C) and hardly any humidity make it a great place to visit any time of the year. Here are our top picks of things to do in Ajijic!

Walk Along the Malecon

As Ajijic is situated on Lake Chapala, there is a beautiful malecon or boardwalk worth exploring. While not as long as the one in Puerto Vallarta, this malecon makes for a great evening stroll. Be careful not to fall into the water though, as we heard that swimming is not advised due to pollution.

Chase the Tepalo Waterfall

One of the popular things to do nearby Ajijic is hiking to the Tepalo Waterfall. The trail is a moderate half-mile hike to the waterfalls which run only during the wet season. It is an uphill battle to get there but easy sailing on the way back down. The hike also offers great views back over the lake.

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Hike the Sendero El Caracol 

Another great hike in the area is the Sendero El Caracol or “Snail Trail” in English. As the name suggests, this easy zig-zag trail is a gentle incline making it suitable for all ages. It is, however, 5.3 kilometers each way (total 10.6 kilometers) making it a bit further than the Tepalo Waterfall hike. The trail snakes (or snails) along through the Quercus forest until opening up at the La Mesa del Ocote providing panoramic views of the valley. The trail is well marked with green and white markers and is moderately difficult.

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Relax at the Nearby Spas and Thermal Baths

The town of San Juan Cosala is renowned for their thermal baths (well, at least by the locals). There are two primary hotels that run these spas, the Monte Coxala and the Balneario. The spas are in combination with a few large hotels on the banks of Lake Chapala and are a little ‘touristy’. Despite this, pampering and lounging around in a spa for a full day is very affordable. So, if spas are your thing, this could be a worthwhile stop!

The Monte Coxala is a little bit more upscale with hot springs surrounded by luscious green forests, traditional tezmecal, and massages. The Balnerio (or Spa Termal Tlalocan) offers similar facilities to the monte Coxala but is cheaper and a little less shiny.

Useful Information

  • Monte Coxala: Rafael Osuna, Oriente # 300 Fraccionamiento
    • Hot Springs:
      • Cost: $700 pesos per person
      • Hours of Operation: Daily from 10:00 am – 6:00 pm
    • Tezmacal:
      • Cost: $1,000 pesos per person (2 person minimum)
      • Hours of Operation: Saturdays & Sundays by appointment
    • For more information on massages, mud baths, and other spa related treatments click here.
  • Balneario: Carr Jocotepec-chapala Km. 13
    • Cost:
      • Monday – Friday: Basic – $125 pesos per person, Premium – $190 pesos per person
      • Satuday & Sunday: Basic – $150 pesos per person, Premium – $210 pesos per person
    • Hours of Operation: 10:00 am – 4:00 pm

Day 4 – 5: Tequila

Tequila, as the name suggests, is the birthplace of Mexico’s most famous export, tequila. This charming city is a great stop on your road trip through Jalisco to sample some of the local spirits and let your hair down a bit.

There are several distilleries to choose from, however, we recommend Tres Mujeres, a local distillery, which is halfway between Guadalajara and Tequila. Tres Mujeres means three women and is dedicated to the three lovely ladies in the Melendez family although three remain unnamed.

While you can walk around the grounds of Tres Mujeres by yourself, we recommend the tour. The tour costs only $30 pesos per person which is quite literally a steal. On the tour, you will get to see and learn about the distillation process of both the traditional and new world tequilas.

The tour also includes a visit to the cellar, the agave fields, and a few samples of their delicious tequila. The tour is available in both English and Spanish. Don’t miss this opportunity as these guys offer great award-winning tequila at a fraction of the cost of the large distilleries in the area. Trust us, once you are in Tequila, $30 pesos won’t get you very much as you will be paying gringo prices.

In Tequila, as you might guess, the main thing to do is to well drink tequila. Other things to do in Tequila include exploring the historic old town or hiking to the Cascada Los Azules which is really more of a trickle but offers fantastic views over the valley. For more information on these activities and other things to do in Tequila check out our article, Sample the Spirit of Tequila.

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The Beaches of Nayarit

A road trip from Guadalajara to Puerto Vallarta will take you right past the Riviera Nayarit truly one of Mexico’s most beautiful coastal destinations. Waves crashing against the white sand beaches with palm trees swaying in the background is my idea of well an idyllic place! Any road trip between Guadalajara and Puerto Vallarta should include a stop over in Nayarit.

Day 6 – 7: San Pancho

This small laid-back coastal town is a traveler’s dream and one of the quintessential west coast beaches. Not quite as crowded as nearby Sayulita, but still with enough traffic to have delicious restaurants, cafes, and bars. There is not much to do here besides relaxing on the beach with a cold Pacifico, the local beer, or heading out for a surf. This is the place to unwind and enjoy the beautiful sunsets over the Pacific Ocean.

Beach Through the Palms

Day 8 – 10: Sayulita

Sayulita is the trendy yet laid-back hot spot for international tourists on the coastline. Sayulita caters to the flashpacker and those looking to experience the idyllic beaches of Mexico with the modern conveniences of the Western world. Here you will find healthy breakfast options, trendy coffee shops, tex-mex style tacos, and many more options not available in other small beach towns. Spend your time in Sayulita eating and drinking your nights away while soaking in the warm Mexican sun.

Palm trees against the blue sky at one of the Jalisco beaches

For those interested in surfing, Sayulita is a great place to grab a board and catch a wave. Point breaks and a sand bar out front of the main beach make it a great place for beginners to learn to surf and there are plenty of surf schools offering lessons and surf board rental at reasonable prices.

There are also some great hikes nearby Sayulita for those who like to stay active on holiday. Check out Monkey Mountain. This hike is difficult but a great way to see some of the nature surrounding Sayulita.

If you want to know more about how to spend your time in Sayulita. Check out our Quick Guide to Sayulita for more useful tips and recommendations.

Day 11 – 14: Puerto Vallarta

Puerto Vallarta is the “big city” on Jalisco’s coastline. With its own airport, a Walmart, and large hotels, Puerto Vallarta more closely resembles Miami Beach than Mexico. Despite being bigger than neighboring Sayulita and San Pancho, we still greatly enjoyed our time in Puerto Vallarta. Here are our top recommendations for exploring Puerto Vallarta.

Explore the Malecon

The Malecon or boardwalk is the place to be. This twelve-block (one mile) boardwalk is full of life during the day and on the weekends. Bars and restaurants vie for your attention, people swarm all about and performers dazzle pedestrians culminating in an energetic atmosphere.

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Eat Tacos at Pancho’s Takos

Pancho’s Takos is THE place to eat in Puerto Vallarta at least in my opinion. The house specialty is tacos al pastor. Delicious pork marinated on a kebab for countless hours, topped with grilled pineapple slices, and served with cilantro, onions, and, of course, salsa. My mouth is watering even as I write this article. Trust us, don’t let the line deter you. This is a must-visit eatery in Puerto Vallarta.

Tacos al pastor roasting on a spit!

Find out more great places to eat in our article Where to Eat in Puerto Vallarta.

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Party in PV

Puerto Vallarta is renowned for its bar and nightlife scene. Whatever your style there’s something for everyone here from sophisticated mezcal bars to pumping beach front nightclubs.


Useful Tips and FAQs for Visiting Jalisco

Now that you know all about the best places to visit in Jalisco, you need to start planning your trip. We have put together a list of FAQs and dos and don’ts to help you navigate and plan your road trip in Jalisco.

When is the Best Time of the Year to Visit Jalisco?

Let’s be honest, the weather in Mexico is pretty great year-round which is why it is a popular holiday destination from its neighbors up north. If you can choose anytime you want to go, however, we recommend October – November or March – April. During this time you should have pleasant warm days and cooler evenings (and fewer crowds) making it the perfect time to visit the Jalisco beaches!

Do bring a light jacket as the wind off the water can occasionally be brisk!

Don’t worry, the weather in Jalisco is usually pretty great whenever you decide to go!

Is Jalisco Safe?

The state of Jalisco, compared to its neighboring and nearby states, has recently been home to an abundance of criminal activity (Colima and Michoacan). It is always smart to be alert when traveling to foreign countries, don’t wear flashy clothes or jewelry or carry around wads of cash. Just be smart about it and most likely nothing will happen to you!

Do call 911 if you feel unsafe or are in an emergency situation (yes, it is the same number as the US).

Don’t be stupid and act like an obnoxious, wealthy tourist. This is where the danger lies.

What are the Driving Conditions in Jalisco?

The one thing that comes to mind when I think of driving in Jalisco is topes. After driving over 800 kilometers throughout Jalisco, we became clearly aware of the danger of these annoying bumps when we realized our suspension needed a bit of work. Was it the topes or just the fact our van is almost 20 years old? Hard to tell, but we recommend taking it easy when driving in Mexico. Take it all in, and don’t be in a hurry.

Do pump the breaks. The topes won’t be buying you a new suspension.

Don’t use your phone while driving. Eddie got a ticket in Jalisco for checking a message!

Where Can I Find Gas in Jalisco?

Gas is easily found in Jalisco compared to other states in Mexico. We never traveled more than 50 kilometers without finding a gas station!

Do pay by card as gas stations are one of the few reliable places to use cards in Mexico.

Don’t forget to tip the gas station attendant!

Can You Drink the Water in Jalisco?

No. A general rule of thumb is to follow the lead of the locals. Everyone in Jalisco buys water for consumption and so you should too. No one wants to spend their holidays over a toilet instead of the beach!

Do ask the server if the ice is prepared using filtered water before ordering a cocktail.

Don’t be a fool. Buy water or filter your own.

Are There ATMs in Jalisco?

Yes. There are ATMs through Jalisco and in every city and all Jalisco beaches we recommend with the exception of Arroyo Seco.

Do carry cash as most places especially yummy taco stands don’t take cards.

Don’t forget to check with your bank regarding ATM fees.

How Reliable is the Mobile Internet in Jalisco?

Data and wifi in Mexico are relatively reliable and easy to find. We found throughout Mexico that hotspotting off our phones usually provided a better connection than many wifi connections at cafes, restaurants, and bars. You are, however, in a developing country so you will not always have a signal, but we found that these times are few and far in between.

Do check out nperf.com for up-to-date coverage maps.

Don’t forget to download an offline map like maps.me or Google Maps for the occasional time you have no signal and need directions!

READ MORE: 4 Beaches in Jalisco’s for Every Type of Traveler

READ MORE: Arroyo Seco Jalisco: Mexico’s Best Kept Secret

Hopefully, you enjoyed our road trip from Guadalajara to the Jalisco beaches! Let us know below. Thanks for wandering with us!

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  1. WOW – what an amazingly comprehensive guide! This makes me miss Mexico so much. Definitely saving this for later, this region looks amazing! I’m all for “when in doubt, tequila” haha 😛

  2. Wow this looks like a great trip, places with authentic vibes..I had never heard about them before. Thanks for sharing