There are so many places to see in Guadalajara that this article alone won’t cover everything. But I do believe those covered here are among the best places to visit in Guadalajara Mexico. I’ve also provided a few ideas for day trips outside the city. The history of this area is rich, the food is delicious and the prices are low. If you haven't considered visiting then I hope I can convince you to add it to your future travel plans.
Best Places To Visit in Guadalajara Mexico
We opted to stay near the historic core of Guadalajara which put us in walking distance of some of the top sites. We began with a walk to Guadalajara Cathedral and the four surrounding plazas. We spent about half a day here, but it could definitely provide a full day’s worth of sightseeing.
The Spanish Renaissance style cathedral located in the heart of the city of Guadalajara is absolutely beautiful. In addition to the central altar there are nine smaller altars each dedicated to a saint. Jason and I were recently in Barcelona and found most of the churches to be empty or filled with tourists. This is not the case in Guadalajara. This deeply devout Catholic country worships frequently and accordingly their churches are constantly full of parishoners. It took three visits to the Cathedral before I found a short space between services when I could take a interior photo.
Surrounding the cathedral are four plazas; de la Constitucion, Guadalajara, Rotonda de los Jalisciences Ilustres, and de la Liberacion. I recommend spending time wandering around this area enjoying the statues, fountains, live entertainment and street vendors. While there will be tourists in the area, this is also a popular area for locals so it’s a great way to experience local Guadalajaran life.
Art, Shopping and Food in Guadalajara
About a ten minute walk from the cathedral and plazas is the Instituto Cultural Cabanas which is a must-do while visiting Guadalajara. I’ll admit that at first I was frustrated by this place. The staff weren’t particularly helpful, none of the display signage was in English, and we weren’t offered any English brochures until the end of our visit. After 15 minutes of walking around rather lost Jason returned to the front and asked about tours in English. We were grateful for a short, but informative tour about this museum’s most notable artwork, the murals by Orozco. I wouldn’t call these murals beautiful, but they are quite fascinating. Each one has a political message sometimes conveyed with realism and at other times symbolism. The colors are generally dark with a prevalence of black, gray and red. Jose Clemente Orozco was a painter who helped establish the Mexican muralist movement along with Diego Rivera. However, Orozco’s murals are both visually and thematically much darker than Rivera’s.
We completed our visit to the Instituto around lunch time so we headed to the Mercado San Juan de Dios which is quite close. This impressive indoor market is home to 2,800 stalls. The first floor is mostly merchandise while the second floor is packed with small food counters and restaurants selling a wide variety of food. This is a great place both for souvenir shopping and authentic Mexican food. The day Jason and I visited it was obvious to us that we were the only tourists in the place. As we struggled to choose a lunch location (most of the signage and menus were only in Spanish) the locals seemed mildly amused by us. Fortunately, the restaurant at which we ate had a lovely patron that helped translate. I cannot recommend the Mercado enough. This is a place to participate in local life, either through shopping, dining or both.
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About six miles southeast of the city center is the part of town called Tlaquepaque. We liked this area so much we visited it twice! The main street is called Avenue de Independencia and it offers lovely home goods stores, art galleries and high end restaurants. There is also a ceramics museum along this street but unfortunately we did not have time to to see it. Several of the top rated restaurants in Guadalajara are located here.
But the heart of Tlaquepaque is Jardin Hidalgo, a plaza with several small gardens, plenty of benches and a yellow gazebo at the center. Our first visit was on a Friday night and we were entertained by eight couples tango dancing in front of the gazebo. Every single bench was claimed by a couple or family enjoying the lovely evening and free entertainment. Surrounding Jardin Hidalgo are a variety of small shops and street vendors. During our first visit we sampled the ice cream but the second time we were ready to try Mexican street corn. If you’ve never tried this delicacy, its barbecued corn covered in salty cotija cheese, mayonnaise and a spice I believe was chili powder. The street vendors are unlikely to speak English, but we found we could usually place our orders with hand gestures.
Places To Visit Near Guadalajara
While there is much to do in the city, there are also some great day trips from Guadalajara. We opted for two--Tequila and Guachimontones pyramids--and enjoyed them immensely. For both of these trips we used a company called Estacion Turistica which I highly recommend. This small, family owned business took very good care of us.
Our Tequila tour began on a Saturday morning. After a short drive outside the city of Guadalajara we stopped in a large field full of blue/green agave plants to learn about the process of harvesting. A jimador (traditional agave farmers) demonstrated the process of harvesting the agave pineapples from which the tequila beverage is made.
Next we drove into the town to Tequila which has been designated a Pueblo Magico--a designation for certain towns in Mexico that retain their unique cultural heritage. Our three hours in town allowed us time for exploration, lunch and a tour of the Jose Cuervo distillery tour. We arrived around noon in the town when it was fairly quiet. However, as the afternoon progressed the crowds grew larger, louder and intoxicated. The atmosphere reminded me of a college spring break in the U.S.
What made this trip worthwhile was the Jose Cuervo distillery tour, drinking a cantarito, and the voldares ritual performed by the Totonac people. The distillery building is really lovely and introduced me to a whole new concept of tequila as a refined liquor that can be sipped and appreciated like a cognac. This was quite a contrast to my memories of Tijuana bars offering unending tequila shots to drunk college students.
During this day trip we discovered cantaritos--a tequila based beverage mixed with Squirt, grapefruit juice, lime juice and chili powder. Typically half a grapefruit and a lime are tossed in to the completed beverage. What’s particularly unique about this beverage is the traditional clay cantarito cup in which its served. This adult beverage is refreshing, yet much less sweet than a margarita. I’m told it originated in the state of Jalisco but is now common throughout Mexico and some areas of the U.S.
What was most unexpected during the day was the unique voldares ritual we watched being performed by the Totonac people from Veracruz in the central plaza. Several men dressed in colorful clothing climb a pole and then return to the ground swinging upside down by ropes. There were no safety nets. If anyone falls they will land on concrete. We watched this ritual performed twice and could have stayed to see it again but our tour was scheduled to return to Guadalajara. I’m told this is often performed in Tequila on weekends.
Los Guachimontones Pyramids
Our next day trip from Guadalajara was to the Los Guachimontones pyramids. If you had to pick just one trip outside the city then I’d recommend this one. Its believed that these are the only stepped, circular pyramids in the world. After a one hour drive outside the city we first visited the museum and then made the climb to the pyramids.
Study of the Guachimontones pyramids only began a few decades ago. Its believed they were built by the Teuchitlan people and that their culture survived for about one thousand years. The pyramids were likely religious sites where ceremonies were performed. While now we only see structures of stone and grass, the actual pyramids were likely painted red and then decorated. To learn more about these pyramids and our tour, click here.
Things To Know Before Visiting Guadalajara
Our trip to Guadalajara was wonderful, but this is a city with some challenges. The infrastructure is mediocre which means there is limited public transportation and the roads are often in poor condition. As a result we discovered that Uber was our preferred method of getting around. The Uber vehicles are newer than taxis and the drivers more likely to speak English.
The tourist infrastructure is also mediocre. Museums have limited signage and brochures in English. It’s clear these museums just do not have the resources of similar institutions in the U.S. and Europe. While the city of Guadalajara has attempted to make some signage available in English in the historic areas, many of these have been defaced with graffiti. What I recommend is taking some time in advance of your trip to do a bit of research so you can appreciate the sites you’ll see. While I rarely purchase a printed guidebook anymore, I think one would be worthwhile for a trip here.
Food safety in Mexico is often a concern for U.S. tourists, but I’m happy to say this was never a problem for us. We ate everything and anything. Our only caution was to drink bottled water. What I’ve learned is that most restaurants in major Mexican destinations now serve purified water and ice for all of the clientele.
If you are wondering about the best time to visit Guadalajara, I recommend January and February. The weather is mild and most other visitors will be waiting until the peak season of summer--June through August. While prices here are always reasonable, they are even better during off season. In predominantly Catholic countries I recommend avoiding a visit during major religious holidays like Christmas and Easter since this is when many citizens travel to visit family.
Finally, I am often asked about personal safety while traveling in Mexico. This is a valid concern in parts of the country, but Guadalajara and the state of Jalisco are not currently areas of concern according to the U.S. State Department. We walked around the city early in the morning and until about 9 p.m. at night. The usual cautions should be practiced here as in any other major city--don’t carry valuables with you (put your passports in the hotel safe), keep your purse or personal items in your sight and don’t wear expensive jewelry or watches. Most major cities have some sort of popular “scam”, so I usually read up on those before we travel to be prepared.
Visit Guadalajara Before It Becomes Too Popular
There are currently many places around the world in danger of being overrun by tourists. Places such as Barcelona, Iceland, and Paris deal with enormous crowds and draw the ire of locals. Then there are places like Guadalajara. Much to see, amazing food, low prices and friendly locals make for an excellent trip. So if you are ready to see a city before it joins the ranks of over-touristed locations, then start planning your trip to Guadalajara now.