Mexico’s second biggest city is the gateway to the Jalisco region. A launching point from which to discover colonial towns, endless agave fields, the tequila distilleries they supply, and of course, Jalisco’s stunning coast line.
But before you head off on a Jalisco adventure, stay and enjoy the increasingly global city that is Guadalajara. Less crowded and frantic than Mexico City, Guadalajara offers old world charm in a sophisticated and contemporary setting. Enjoy modern, shopping and cafe districts for brunch, walk the historic district by day, enjoy traditional mariachi in the evening and party in this modern metropolis into the night.
While there’s no shortage of things to do in this busy city, we’ve put together a list of some of our favourites to get you started for visiting Guadalajara in a day.
How to Get to Guadalajara
Guadalajara’s international airport services a number of airlines that fly directly into the city from North and South America, Europe and Asia.
Three bus terminals provide access from nearby hubs León, Puerto Vallarta, and Querétaro.
Driving in Jalisco and the northern and eastern states of Nayarit, Guanajuato, and San Luis Potosi is safe and roads are well maintained along toll routes. The southern states of Michoacán and Colima are not considered safe and extra precaution should be taken if traveling in these areas.
Things to Do while Visiting Guadalajara
This city forest is a 92 hectare park in the middle of Guadalajara. With kilometers of running tracks, work out stations, grass areas, and its own Japanese garden its a great place to get some inner city exercise while visiting Guadalajara. Alternatively escape into this urban forest area to find some serenity in the middle of the bustling metropolis that surrounds it.
Van life Mexico Tip: Calle Nueva Escocia, the street which borders the park, is a safe area to camp if you are overlanding. The area is calm and we felt safe camping here by the park for a couple of nights. One evening, five police decked out in riot gear and cradling sub machine guns came knocking on our van. They had just come down from the police station at the end of the street. They checked my ID, asked where I was from and whether I would be staying. They were extremely nice had no issue with me camping the night which was reassuring.
Grab coffee in Provedencia
The suburb of Provedencia borders the bosque and is a fantastic place to grab a coffee or brunch. This upscale neighborhood caters to its affluent residents. As such, you’ll find plenty of chic boutiques, international cuisine, and up market bars, as well as good coffee, really good coffee.
Try Maltraz for a great flat white, healthy sandwiches, an extra shot of on trend coffee culture.
The House Cafe has stylish decor, great coffee and friendly staff. They also have a delicious and reasonably priced breakfast menu featuring a range of traditional Mexican and western breakfast options.
Explore the Centro Historico
Sadly, the cities enthusiasm to embrace modernity has hampered their ability to retain all of the incredible historical character in the central zone. Cobble stone streets and ancient buildings have on occasion been swept aside for modern roads and office blocks. In their haste to modernise, the city has missed out on the prestigious UNESCO world heritage list that many similar historical regions are now protected by.
Nevertheless, you will find an incredible recording of Guadalajara’s rich and illustrious history within the walkable central district.
Stretching out from the Plaza de Armas you’ll find a myriad of plazas, churches, historic city buildings, statues and busts, all with a fascinating story to tell. From the double-spired Guadalajara Cathedral to the historic Governor’s Office the area is best explored with a local guide to illuminate the fascinating history of the city. The city boasta a range of free (or tip based) local tours run by enthusiastic and knowledgable locals.
Head to the Mercado Libertad – San Juan de Dios
While you can find almost anything in Latin America’s largest market, for us the most impressive area was the fresh produce section. The lively market not only offers some of the freshest and most impressive produce in the city (if not the country), it also offers the most diverse from exotic fruits like durian and dragonfruit to the ubiquitous nopales (prickly pear cactus). This is also the place to find endless stalls selling all manner of meat, cheese, fresh bread, spices and herbs.
After you have had a poke around and picked up some groceries, head for the market’s food stalls. This is considered one of the best places in the city for cheap eats and a perfect place to sample the regional specialties while visiting Guadalajara. Try birria a delicious goat stew. Also be sure to sample a torta ahogada. Theses sandwiches stuffed with fried pork carnitas and dunked in a spicy tomato broth are the go to hangover cures for locals. Wash these Jalisco delicacies down with agua de horchata, a sweet rice and milk based beverage flavored with cinnamon and vanilla.
Sample local specialties of Tequila and Mariachi
First stop Cantina La Fuente. Enjoy a local tequila in this quintessential Mexican cantina.
Cantina La Fuente has been serving local tequila and ice cold cervezas since 1921. No wifi, not even a refrigerator only old ceiling fans and large tubs of ice. They do things the same way they’ve been doing them for nearly a century. Locals and tourists in the know gather here for great tequila at reasonable prices in a setting that evokes a bygone era. A great place to sample some local tequilas and work out which nearby distilleries you might like to visit.
From here head to Plaza de los Mariachis. On weekends, especially in the evenings, local mariachi groups come to cut their teeth as they play for the locals that gather in this historic, if not somewhat rundown plaza. The plaza is hit or miss. It may be dead, it may be full of locals drinking and dancing, or there may be a couple of drunken mariachis falling over themselves. If nothing else, it is local and authentic. For a more sterilised and certain mariachi show, head to one of the famous (and touristic) restaurants such as Casa Bariachi where the mariachi and atmosphere come guaranteed.
Head to the Parque Mirador
On the outskirts of town, this impressive park is the best place to immerse yourself in nature without leaving the city. Hike to the view point for an epic vista of the Barranca de Huentitán el Bajo, the striking canyon at the edge of Guadalajara. Late afternoon is the best time to enjoy the incredible vistas on offer.
In addition to the scenic views there are plenty of sporting facilities, gazeboes and restaurants to enjoy.
Dine, Drink and Dance in Chapultepec
One of the best places to begin and end an evening in Guadalajara.
Starting with dinner, keeping in mind as with most latin countries, dinner doesn’t start before 9pm for all but the earliest of birds. From burgers to sushi, fine dining to authentic Mexican, you will find some of the city’s best restaurants in this ritzy suburb.
After dinner discover Guadalajara’s best bars, pubs and clubs. Again there is an international flavour here and you’ll find English, American and Mexican pubs side by side. Cocktail bars and authentic cantinas. Rock bars and sophisticated lounges. It’s all here, branching out from the central Avenida Chapultec. Bar hop the street and discover your favourite.
Where to Next?
Guadalajara is a destination in its own right but it is also the perfect place from which to explore many of Mexico’s best attractions
Explore the Town of Tequila
The namesake of Mexico’s national drink. Endless fields of Agave fields, countless distilleries and the essence of Mexico’s irrepressible spirit.
The Jalisco Coast
Mexicos largest freshwater lake, bordered by impressive Sierra de San Juan Cosala, has a seaside vibe to it. Find different communities all with much to offer in this local and international vacation destination.
Where to Stay while Visiting Guadalajara
Van Life in Guadalajara
Park and stay nearby the Bosque Colomos on Calle Nueva Escocia. The city park has toilets and water fountains. Parking spots can be a little challenging to find here during the day due to the amount of students studying nearby. The upmarket neighborhood and police station at the end of the street make this a particularly safe and calm place to boondock for a few nights. Nearby Barrio Providencia is a great place to grab brunch and coffee.
Hostels and Hotels
Hospedarte operate two of the best hostels in the city. Centro is where you’ll be best situated for exploring the historic city centre. Their second hostel in Chapultec is in the middle of one of the best neighborhoods for retaurants, bars and nightlife. Both are run by kind and interested staff. Daily activities mean you’ll have the opportunity to meet travelers from both hostels.
Hotel Real Maestranza
There are plenty of first rate hotels available in Guadalajara’s downtown for under $50 USD a night.
Right next to the historic central district, the modern Hotel Real Maestranza is close to everything. It has clean, modern rooms and great staff from $35 USD a night.
Treat yourself at this high end boutique hotel without the price tag. The modern Demetria Hotel offers ultra comfortable rooms, a rooftop terrace with pool and city views as well as quality dining options. All in the heart of exciting Chapultepec with cafes, restaurants, bars and nightlife.
Other Things to Know While Visiting Guadalajara
4g is available throughout the city. Fast wifi is available at most hotels, cafes, and restaurants.
The water supply is not considered safe in Guadalajara. Don’t risk it. Avoid tap water, ice from unknown sources and washed (fresh) vegetables from restaurants.