Sample the Spirit of Tequila: The 5 Best Things to Do in Tequila on a Budget
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An Iconic Mexican Experience on a Shoestring
Just fifty kilometres from Jalisco’s capital Guadalajara is the village of Tequila. The birthplace of Mexico’s national drink.
The world famous tequila is a variety of mezcal made exclusively from the blue agave plant that grows in this region.
Aside from holding the distinction of being the world’s only tequila producer, the town and surrounding region is supremely pretty. The town itself exudes colonial charm. The fertile farming land that surrounds Tequila is beautiful. A sea of pale blue and purple agave plants rolls off in every direction. Dotted across the striking landscape are the farm houses and distilleries responsible for producing the eponymous local spirit. Designated as a ‘pueblo magico’ for contributions to national culture, the region has become a national icon and tourist destination.
We have put together a list of some of the best things to do in Tequila and a few amazing things to see in this gorgeous area. Unsurprisingly, most tourism here revolves around the production and consumption of tequila. The good news? Experiences here don’t have to cost an arm and a leg. The bad? Its possible you might be leaving Tequila with a hangover.
The Best Things to Do in Tequila
1. Visit a Local Distillery
With so many to choose from you don’t need to settle. For tequila to be considered, well tequila, it must come from the region surrounding Tequila. Here, producers vie for the attention of national and international tourists. So take advantage.
Skip the bigger distilleries (like Jose Cuervo) in favour of smaller family run companies. These boutique distilleries offer authentic experiences, for a fraction of the price of the larger producers. Many of the smaller distilleries in the area are ranked among the best in the business and are producing internationally awarded tequila that you have probably never heard of.
After a little research we settled on Tres Mujeres, almost half way between Guadalajara and Tequila, its a great place to break up the trip if you are driving from Guadalajara. Offering tours and tastings for only 30 pesos ($1.50 USD), this up and coming distillery has a short but impressive history, during which they have produced a range of popular tequilas and won a number of awards.
The tour here is short, punchy and comes with plenty of opportunities to sample tequila. With a run time around one hour or less, you won’t be regretting your choice during a(nother) long sermon about the subtle difference between, french and american oak.
From plant to fermentation to barreling, and finally tasting, the fascinating process and history behind tequila is uncovered. The cellar also houses a few secrets, ghosts, a piano that may or may not play itself and an exclusive batch of tequila being aged to classical music.
There are plenty of unique tequila experiences in and around Tequila to suit any taste and budget. From small haciendas (farms) that offer tours for just a couple of dollars, through to all-inclusive luxury train trips to famous distilleries (like the one offered by Tequila Herradura) that run up into the hundreds. Pick your poison and discover the spirit that this area is built on.
2. Sip Cantaritos at el Güero
Leaving Tres Mujeres and continuing toward the town of Tequila, the next stop on our tour is the Cantaritos el Güero. Cantaritos are the regional cocktail and its no surprise to find out they are based on tequila.
A warm shot of tequila is not the most refreshing drink on a hot day, and that’s what the days are here…hot. Thankfully, the locals have found a way to enjoy the local product in a more refreshing format.
Tequila is mixed with lemon juice, lime juice, grapefruit juice, orange juice, sea salt, and grapefruit soda. The salty, tangy cocktail is served in a jarrito, a clay cup that helps keep your drink cold.
At el Güero the cantaritos are made with your choice of tequila (the list is extensive) and come in four sizes from chico ($4 – $6 USD) through to extra grande (around $100 USD). Fair warning, if you are looking to take down the absurdly sized extra grande, you may need to bring some help, and you will definitely need to bring a driver. If you don’t have a large team or driver, the chico, at about 500ml and made with a slug of tequila measured in a hollow horn, should be more then enough to get the fiesta started. El Güero also serves food, and often has live music.
3. Visit the Gorgeous Town Center of Tequila
Expanding out from the central plaza, the historic centre of Tequila has been beautifully preserved, some of the highlights include:
- La Parroquia Santiago Apóstol – The gorgeous baroque church that occupies pride of place in the centre of town.
- The town hall which displays a striking mural painted by the artist Manuel Hernández.
- Museo Nacional del Tequila – Continue your tequila education, this small museum offers further insight into the national drink.
- Plaza Principle – Get a pic for the gram in the vibrant central plaza.
4. Experience a Local Tequileria
A tequileria, as you may have guessed, is an establishment serving tequilas. And while there are no shortage in Tequila, finding one we liked turned out to be more difficult then we anticipated. But in the end, we can certainly say that visiting a tequileria is easily one of the best things to do in Tequila.
Our first stop was Capilla. This hole in the wall dive bar has been an institution and was once ranked amongst the top 50 bars in the world. Unfortunately, there has been a change in management. Upon entering the dingy pub, the bartender and four young locals huddled around a phone watching sports gave us a disinterested look and went back to their game. We stood in the doorway awkwardly taking in the dirty, empty bar before slowly backing out. Perhaps the atmosphere is a little better on the weekend but we can’t recommend it on a weekday evening.
Next, we checked out some of the tequilerias surrounding the town centre. Unfortunately what we found were overpriced, touristic bars, clearly leveled at cashing in on the saturation of tourists around the central plaza.
Finally, we decided to walk away from the middle of the town to find something more authentic. We found El Meson Del Mezcal This restaurant and tequileria sells its own tequila. You can “sample” (55ml shots) their tequilas for free. They sell a bottle of their tequila either in traditional 750ml glass bottle, economical 750ml plastic bottles for $3 USD, or ridiculous five-litre plastic bottles of tequila for less than $15.
While it wasn’t a crazy atmosphere on the Wednesday night we visited, it was authentic and cheap, two things that strongly appeal to the vanabond ethos. We didn’t try the food, but the local specialty torta ahogadas (drowned sandwiches) seemed to be very popular.
Another option if your not counting beans is the upscale La Cata tasting room which offers informative tastings but for a price.
5. Take a Hike to the Cascada Los Azules Tequila
Just two kilometres outside town this short hike offers epic views of the surrounding countryside. A well-trodden path takes you down the steep mountainside to the top of the falls. The falls themselves, which appear to serve as irrigation for local farms, are not so spectacular themselves but the surrounding region is. And, this is one of the best views we saw in Tequila. The excursion doesn’t take more than two hours (longer if you walk from town). There is a little trash along the path and at the waterfall, so take a bag and carry out some rubbish on your way out.
Bonus van life tip: Although it’s private land it is possible to stay overnight at the trailhead to the falls. Be sure to introduce yourself and check with the landowners if they pass by.
Where to Next?
Enjoy the colonial charm and modern amenities of the increasingly global city that is Guadalajara.
Head for the beaches. From party destination Puerto Vallerta to the bustling surf town of Sayulita to the sleepy San Pancho, this beautiful stretch of coast has something for everyone.
Mexico’s largest freshwater lake, bordered by the 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.
How to Get to Tequila
Easily reached by car from the state capital Guadalajara to the east and from the Jalisco coast to the west. The roads are in good condition and the area is safe so you can consider skipping the toll roads here.
There are regular services that run from Guadalajara central station to Tequila.
Major tequila makers Herradura and Jose Cuervo both offer first-class train transport directly to their distilleries located in the Tequila region. These train trips are attractions in themselves featuring tequila tastings, dining, and mariachi.
Where to Stay
Van Life Tequila
Although it’s private land, it is possible to stay overnight at the trailhead to the Cascada Los Azules Tequila. The road to the trailhead is unsealed and can be in poor condition when the weather is bad. Be careful if traveling by 2wd. There is no cellular service at the trailhead. Be sure to introduce yourself and ask the landowners if they pass by.
It is also possible to camp in your vehicle within the town of Tequila, although we have heard (on the ioverlander app) of break-in attempts. Be sure to park in well lit and highly trafficked areas.
Hostels and Hotels
Surprisingly, for such a tourist hotspot, the hotel industry seems to lag a little behind here. With a number of low to mid-range options in town that offer basic and dated accommodations, there are, however, a couple of diamonds in the rough.
Hotel Boutique Real Tequila
The cheapest hotel in town at between half and three-quarters the price of most other options. This hotel offers accommodation comparable to more expensive options, albeit a little further out of town (2.5 kilometers).
Hotel Hotel La Rienda Mision Tequillan
One of the better examples of the perfectly serviceable mid-range hotels close to the center of town, featuring tired and dated decor.
Hotel Villa Tequila
This boutique, mid to upper-range hotel in town offers comfortable and modern rooms in a converted tequila distillery.
Matices Hotel de Barricas
At the upper end of the spectrum, experience something a little different. Sleep in an oversized (and beautifully appointed) barrel in the middle of an agave field. Enjoy tours and tastings at the onsite distillery, pamper yourself at the spa, dine and drink at one of the two hotel restaurants, or kick back and enjoy the view.
Where to Eat in Tequila
- The food stalls and carts in the center of town (to the right when facing the La Parroquia Santiago Apóstol) are the best places to get cheap eats.
- Looking for a sit-down meal at an economical price? Try El Meson Del Mezcal for free samples of their incredibly economical tequilas.
Where to Drink in Tequila
- A tequila distillery is a great way to combine, cultural and historical education with day drinking. And in tequila, you can do it on the cheap. Check out Tres Mujeres, for a cheap tour and tasting.
- Try El Meson Del Mezcal for cheap drinks and free samples of their delicious and unbelievably economical tequilas.
- La Cata tasting room offers informative tequila tastings but comes with a price tag.
What Services Are There
4g is available throughout the city. Fast wifi is available at most hotels, cafes, and restaurants.
The water supply is not considered safe in Tequila. Don’t risk it, avoid tap water, ice from unknown sources, and washed (fresh) vegetables from restaurants.
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