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Given the western Mexican state of Jalisco offers more outdoor adventures and cultural activities than you could possibly squeeze into a weeklong vacation, we’ve narrowed down the options so you can experience the best that the region has to offer.

Packed with fun and surprises at every turn, this itinerary will have you wildlife-watching in Puerto Vallarta, eating your way through Guadalajara’s riveting food scene, singing along with mariachis in Tlaquepaque and sampling fragrant agave spirits in Tequila. This is Mexico at its finest.

humpback whale, megaptera novaeangliae, lobtailing, puerto vallarta
The protected marine sanctuary, Los Arcos is a resting spot for migrating humback whales © Gerard Soury / Getty Images

Days 1-3: Wildlife watching and plunging into the deep blue

On day one in Puerto Vallarta, get your feet wet on a whale- or dolphin-watching expedition led by Ecotours de Mexico. Giant 40-ton humpback whales migrate here for mating season from December to March and dolphins frolic off the coast year-round. Tours run by English-speaking biologists and naturalists also go to the Sierra Madre mountains and the jungles of El Tuito, both excellent birding destinations near Puerto Vallarta.

The following day, head back out to sea with a reputable dive outfit like Banderas Scuba Republic and explore the colorful underwater worlds of some of the Pacific Coast’s best diving destinations. The most popular site, albeit the most crowded, is Puerto Vallarta’s protected national marine park Los Arcos, where emblematic granite formations rise from tropical waters teeming with wildlife. For advanced diving, inquire about outings to El Morro or La Corbeteña, remote sites where you’ll find yourself all alone with the manta rays and moray eels.

If diving isn’t your thing, venture out instead to the iconic Majahuitas Cove, a Puerto Vallarta highlight for swimmers and snorkelers alike. Tour company Vallarta Adventures runs luxury yachts and snorkel tours to see some of the region’s diverse marine life.

Spend day three relaxing on the gorgeous jungle-backed sands of Quimixto, Majahuitas or Yelapa, Puerto Vallarta’s southernmost beaches. To reach these laid-back coastal villages, motorboats depart frequently from the Playa de los Muertos pier. Alternatively, you could take a break from the beach and explore the surrounding mountains on bike or horseback, followed by a visit to Jardín Botánico de Vallarta, a precious botanical garden where you can swim in a river and see one of Mexico’s most impressive orchid collections. Many local tour operators offer tours to the gardens that are located about 18 miles south of town and can be reached by taxi or buses departing from the corner of Carranza and Aguacate in Zona Romántica.

If you happen to be visiting Puerto Vallarta in May, experience one of the most jubilant celebrations of the year during the eight-day pride fest. Puerto Vallarta is considered Mexico’s top gay beach destination and this annual event celebrates the LGBTQ+ community with fervor (imagine a tropicalized version of San Francisco’s Castro District). Most of the live music events, colorful parades and nightclub fiestas unfold in the effervescent Zona Romántica.

Puerto Vallarta’s international airport operates direct flights from the U.S. The top-rated  bus terminal serves Guadalajara and towns along the coast.

Tlaquepaque
Start your tour of Guadalajara in Tlaquepaque © Matt Gush / Getty Images

Days 4-5: Discover culture and cuisine in Guadalajara

Once you’ve had your fill of beach life, on day four head inland to colonial capital Guadalajara for the city’s splendidly rich culinary and cultural scene. Get things started in Tlaquepaque, an atmospheric village-like community that has just what you need to put yourself in a Guadalajara frame of mind. Regarded as one of Mexico’s top arts and crafts hubs, you’ll find scores of boutiques and galleries selling quality hand-blown glass items, top-shelf tequilas, traditional ceramics and vivid yarn and bead art crafted by indigenous Huichol artisans.

After shopping, sit down on a rustic leather chair in the rambling restaurant complex El Parián, order a round of tequilas and receive a dulcet Guadalajara welcome from the mariachis. Tlaquepaque is a 25-minute taxi ride from downtown, about five miles south of the historic center.

High Angle View Of Cathedral Against Blue Sky In City
The newly redesigned historic center has locals and visitors impressed © Elija Lovkoff / EyeEm / Getty Images

Now that you’re settled in, spend day five taking in the sights of Guadalajara’s new-look historic center, which underwent an ambitious makeover that left locals thoroughly impressed.

“The renovation closed off some of the historic center’s busy streets to cars, making it more pedestrian-friendly. And because it’s been made a more stress-free experience visitors can cultivate a greater appreciation for the area’s incredible architecture and public sculptures,” says local guide Jesus Mora of Andares de México.

As you roam downtown’s busy streets, you’ll come across everything from striking centuries-old colonial churches to first-rate museums and extraordinary art, the most astounding of which is in Cabañas Museum, a UNESCO World Heritage Site where muralist Jose Clemente Orozco painted 57 vibrant frescoes in the late 1930s. Along with Diego Riviera and David Alfaro Siqueiros, Orozco is considered one of Mexico’s big three muralists.

Need a break? Make your way back toward the main square and duck into La Fuente, quite possibly the best Mexican cantina you’ll ever set foot in. From artists to office workers, all walks of life coexist in this friendly neighborhood watering hole, and the place really livens up when students from a nearby musical school drop by to belt out classic Mexican ballads accompanied by piano, bass and violin.

Next, hit the town for dinner. Guadalajara boasts an amazing range of culinary specialties including classics such as carne en su jugo (meat in its own juices) at Karne Garibaldi, birria (spiced goat stew) at Birrriería las Nueve Esquinas, aguachile tatemado (shrimp marinated in lime and chili) at La Docena, and jericalla at Kamillos 333 where co-owner, Larissa Camarena, says the family recipe for the uniquely tapatío (from Guadalajara) custard dessert has been handed down for three generations.

Guadalajara has an international airport, several bus terminals and a train station with service to tequila country.

Plants Growing On Field Against Sky
Take a side trip to Tequila to explore the region's namesake beverage © Gerardo Herrera / EyeEm / Getty Images

Days 6-7: Side trip to Tequila

For days six and seven, book a distillery tour and overnight in Tequila. Reserve the four-hour excursion at Tequila Fortaleza, a craft distillery that makes one of the best tequilas in the world. For lodging and memorable food, nearby Casa Salles houses an excellent restaurant and boutique hotel, or for something more central, Hotel Solar de las Ánimas has the main square right on its doorstep.

If you don’t have a car, frequent buses depart from Guadalajara’s Central Vieja terminal. Alternatively, you can take the Jose Cuervo Express train, which works more like a tour with an onboard bar.

Further reading

Take a deep dive into Jalisco’s agave spirits

Journey into Jalisco – Mexico's heartland

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