Guadalajara is a large, dynamic city. It's one of Mexico’s classic destinations with countless historic sights and things to do, as well as daily traffic jams and an ever-growing sprawl. A day trip out of the city provides a refreshing break from all that urbanity.

If you’re looking for a different side of Mexico, then you’re in luck: cobblestone villages, artsy lakeside towns, dense forests, ancient ruins and even colonial-era tequila distilleries are all within easy striking distance. Grab your day pack and head to the bus station to check out our top five Guadalajara day trips.

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Jimador, Mexican farmer, harvesting agave for tequila
Just an hour from Guadalajara you can learn all about the Tequila making process © alistontoonphotographer / Getty Images

Tequila

Why go: Deep dive into the history and making of tequila

Tequila is a charming cobblestoned village surrounded by a sea of blue agave with views of its namesake volcano in the distance. It’s home to several distilleries, most hidden within colonial-era haciendas. Museo Nacional de Tequila is a good starting point for visitors, covering the history of Mexico’s most famous drink.

A stone’s throw away sits two of Mexico’s leading distilleries: Mundo Cuervo, the oldest tequila distillery in the Americas founded in 1795, and Casa Sauza, a comparative whippersnapper at just 150 years old. Both distilleries offer in-depth tours of their estates, sharing the step-by-step process of tequila making with tastings along the way.

One tour is plenty, though if you’re a tequila connoisseur, consider staying overnight to explore the region further. Either way, take time to stroll through town, stopping at El Palomar, a breezy café on the church plaza with outdoor tables and an extensive menu of coffee drinks.

How to get to Tequila from Guadalajara:

By car, Tequila is an hour northwest of Guadalajara on Hwy 15D. Or take the Tequila Express bus, which leaves from the Central Vieja, morning ‘til night.

A tourist looks up at the Guachimontones ruins, a pyramid-like structure covered in green moss
Guachimontones is an easy to reach day trip from Guadalajara and a truly one-of-a-kind archeological wonder © Omaly Darcia / Shutterstock

Guachimontones Archaeological Zone

Why go: Explore a one-of-a-kind archaeological site

Guachimontones ruins make a fascinating day trip for history buffs and those interested in off-the-beaten-path travel. A place of worship for the ancient Teuchitlán people, Guachimontones is one of the only ruins in the world whose structures were built in nearly perfect concentric circles.

Wandering the hilltop site, you can’t help but marvel at the main temple, a six-story-high curving pyramid covered in bright green moss overlooking the La Vega dam. It’s surrounded by several smaller circular complexes, many of which are still used as places of ritual, especially during the spring equinox.

Leave time for the excellent onsite museum where you can also take a guided tour. For a bite afterward, stop at one of the modest waterfront restaurants to try the local specialty: ancas de rana (frog legs).

How to get to Guachimontones from Guadalajara:

Guachimontones is off Hwy 70, about an hour west of Guadalajara by car. If you prefer public transportation, take a second-class bus to the village of Teuchitlán (about a two-hour ride), and then it’s a 10-minute taxi ride – or 35-minute uphill walk – from there.

Chapala

Why go: Recharge on the banks of Mexico’s largest lake

Set on the northern shores of Mexico’s largest lake, Lago de Chapala, the namesake town of Chapala is a pleasant working-class community known for its glittering waterfront and bracing mountain views. Take a break from Guadalajara’s big city energy – you won’t need more than a day here – to enjoy the scenery as you stroll along the malecón, a pleasant boardwalk lined with palm trees and buzzing waterfront restaurants.

Beer Garden is a Chapala institution and the classic stop for a drink with live music on weekends. Or wander east to La Palapa de Don Juan, a soaring thatched-roof restaurant famous for its fresh fish platters. For a treat, take a boat ride on the lake to Isla de Mezcala; tickets are sold online and at the main pier.

How to get to Chapala from Guadalajara:

Chapala lies 50km south of Guadalajara, about an hour drive south on Hwy 44 to Hwy 23. Second-class buses make the trip (one to  hours) from the Central Vieja every half-hour.

People are enjoying a moment at a bar in the center of the magical town of Tapalpa
Enjoy the outdoors by renting a mountain bike in the village of Tapalpa © Jose de Jesus Churion Del / Shutterstock

Tapalpa

Why go: Escape to the outdoors

One of Mexico’s designated Pueblos Mágicos, Tapalpa is a lovely mountain village. It's a labyrinth of cobblestoned streets and whitewashed walls, ringed by a rich tapestry of pastureland and pine forest. Tapalpa is ideal for those looking to enjoy the outdoors; you can hike to El Salto de Nogal, a jaw-dropping 105-meter-high waterfall deep in the forest; or test your climbing skills at Las Piedrotas, an impressive rock formation seemingly custom-built for bouldering.

To make the most of your time, rent a mountain bike or book a guided trip with Colores de Tapalpa, a local ecotourism outfit. Or stay a few days. That’ll give you time to check out more trails and wander Tapalpa’s winding streets, stopping to visit the 16th-century churches or linger over a mug of rompope (a drink similar to eggnog) at La Villa, a cozy café on the main plaza.

How to get to Tapalpa from Guadalajara:

Tapalpa is 130km southwest of Guadalajara, about two hours by car. First and second-class buses travel here from the Nueva Central and Central Vieja (around 3½ hours).

Ajijic

Why go: Soak up the artsy vibe

Overlooking Lake Chapala, Ajijic is a charming village and a favorite of North American ex-pats. Brightly painted homes are draped in vines of blooming bougainvillea, and the town’s cobblestone lanes are dotted with murals, sculptures, galleries and boutiques. It’s a picture-perfect place to spend a day (or two, or three).

Start at the leafy main plaza with its mosaic-tile sidewalks, public art exhibits and vendors selling handcrafted goods along the edges. From there, a constellation of galleries fills the surrounding streets, most showcasing local talent – Calli Intermuros and PabLola Galería de Arte are musts.

As you wander, look for El Muro de Los Muertos, a towering art installation of 1,000 clay skulls that is an impressive nod to pre-hispanic cultures. Before leaving, try some international flavors – Ajijic Tango, an upscale Argentinean spot, and Kamellos Food Truck, a middle eastern eatery, are longtime faves.

How to get to Ajijic from Guadalajara:

Ajijic is off of Hwy 23, about a one-hour drive from Guadalajara. Second-class buses leave every 30 minutes from the Central Vieja (one to  hours). 

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