Totally urban and wonderfully cosmopolitan, Guadalajara, Jalisco is the heart of almost everything the average American knows about Mexico. Mariachis, Charreadas [rodeos], the Jarabe Tapatio, a fantastic dance known to Norte Americanos as the Mexican Hat Dance and of course, Carlos Santana all trace their roots to this area.
If you’re going, the first thing you have to understand is that Guadalajara, the second largest city in Mexico, is really a collection of municipalities surrounding the City of Roses. Zapopan, Tonalá and Tlaquepaque are the largest of the communities that make up this great metropolitan area in the heart of Mexico and one of the centers of the Mexican Arts and Crafts scene.
In two days you can’t do it all, but with a little planning you can return home with some great memories and a desire to return again and again to one of the most intriguing areas of My Mexico.
You got two days and two nights, so choose wisely. For me, you can stay at the Holiday Inn anywhere, so why do that here? If you want a place in the urban center of the city, the Hotel Frances is a great choice. The oldest hotel in the city, this place oozes character. Located mere steps from the main cathedral and the Plaza Tapatia, this is a great option in the historic center. Hint… for a better nights sleep, ask for a room off the main street.
If a more subdued place fits your fancy, skip downtown lodging and head to Tlaquepaque or Tonalá. Tonalá boast some great hotels for folks on a budget. While nothing special, they are clean, centrally located and the staffs are local folks who treat you right. In Tlaquepaque, the bed and breakfast is king. Quiet, with interior gardens, the B&B route is a great option if you want that “feel” of real Mexico.
Day one, what to do
Shop! That’s right, shop. Let’s face it, you wouldn’t be in Guadalajara if you didn’t like Mexico, so why not check out the arts and crafts from the area. You can be sure that whatever price you pay, it will be significantly below what you’d pay in the states.
If you are in town on a Sunday or a Thursday, hands down, Tonalá is a must. Loaded with tons of arts, crafts and rustic creations, perhaps the nations largest outdoor shopping scene explodes on those two days. But beware, it is also loaded with people.
If a Sunday or Thursday visit is not in the cards, or if you can’t be around crowds, skip Tonalá and do your shopping in Tlaquepaque. More genteel but every bit as artsy, Tlaquepaque is like being in another world. More spendy than Tonalá, but still very affordable, alongside the usual arts and crafts, you can also get world class brands here. Simply put, there are plenty of things to see in this area from the shopping to the occasional street performers to the colorful streets. And there is always great coffee available too!
A visit to the historic center of Guadalajara should be on everyones list and the center of the area all revolves around the Plaza Tapatia, a one mile stretch of fascinating architecture, art, shopping and people watching.
Your first stop should be the Catedral Metropolitana, which dates back to 1568. The unique outline of the cathedral has become the unoffical logo of Guadalajara, seen on the back of almost every taxi in the city.
Next up is the government palace. This building is what many in America will know as classic Mexican. A large interior courtyard is surrounded by an exterior network of hallways housing various government offices. But the stars of this building are the murals of Jose Clemente Orozco. They are not be missed.
Walking east, at the end of the Plaza is what for many is one of the crown jewels of Guadalajara, the Hospicio Cabañas. First built to house orphans, invalids and elderly, it is now home to some of the greatest art in Mexico. Alongside some of the greatest of Orozco’s murals are other frequently changing world class art exhibits.
Where to eat
If I’m in Tonalá, no visit is complete without seafood at Mariscos El Guamuchil. With great ceviche, it is simply a wonderful to sit, relax and recharge after an afternoon of shopping. If seafood is not your thing, check out El Rincon del Sol. The atmosphere is superb and when the season’s right, they serve a mean chile en nogada. If you are there in the evenings, it’s hard to beat the street food in the park.
Tlaquepaque boasts some great seafood also, but the experience at El Parian is not be missed. Choose your view of the interior gazebo and while you look over the menu, enjoy the music as mariachis perform. If you are there late afternoon and miss the freebie, you can always hire one of the local groups to serenade you at your table.
After your meal, head over to El Buho for some tequila samples and the best tequila advice in the city from Emiliano, the unrivaled expert in the field.
If you are staying in the city center, I’ve got two options. La Chata, for the typical Guadalajara experience can’t be beat, it’s a short two block walk from Hotel Frances. After that, El Rinconcito on the plaza is a good bet. For a classic breakfast, or an old style cafe, head over to Cafe Madrid. There is also great coffee available in front of the Teatro Degollado in the center of the Plaza, and who knows, you might get lucky and meet one of the local mariachis.
You can get everywhere in Guadalajara by taxi, bus or subway. A taxi ride between El Centro and Tlaquepaque or Tonalá will cost about $10.00, a real bargain. No matter where you are staying, the fare from the airport will be over $20.00 and it will be a set price.
Rates at Hotel Frances, city center… $75.00 US per night
Tonala hotel rates… $55.00 US per night
Tlaquepaque B&B rates… $85.00 -$125.00 US per night