I have known Guadalajara my whole life, traveling here to visit extended family since the year I was born. As a little girl, it was a place of orange-flavored sodas and chile-covered lollipops, mariachi-serenades for my twenty-something tías (balcony swooning included) and hours spent making tortillas.
The historic center was a place to run and play, to cool off in the Catedral or under a mural in Cabañas, to fill up on chocolate-stuffed cuernos from our favorite bakery. When I began visiting with my American friends, I started to see Guadalajara through different eyes and appreciate its depth and complexity. A colonial city wrapped in a modern metropolis, traffic jams, pickpockets and all; a place steeped in tradition yet standing for inclusion; a city where a night out could include world-class cuisine or bacon-wrapped hot dogs, a symphony concert or a raucous lucha libre match. Guadalajara remains all of this, past and present (chile-covered lollipops included). Here are a few tips to help you make the most out of it.
Planning your trip to Guadalajara
Plan on (at least) a four-day stay
Sure, you can see Guadalajara’s highlights in a couple of days – most are in the historic center – but stay awhile to check out the city’s colonial-to-hipster neighborhoods, wander through dazzling art museums and outdoor markets, take in some live music and maybe even find your favorite late night taco stand. Check out the tourism office’s cartelera, a comprehensive calendar of events, before you head to town.
Book early for October
The city brims with visitors every October when Guadalajara hosts Fiestas de Octubre, a month-long celebration featuring spectacular live performances, pop-up amusement parks and parades. A long-standing annual pilgrimage to the Basílica de Zapopan, also held in October, adds fuel to the fire when millions of Catholic faithful hit the streets in honor of the venerated icon La Zapopanita. Book your hotel early!
Bring layers (and sometimes an umbrella)
Guadalajara is known for its temperate daytime temperatures, hovering in the 70s and 80s year-round. Evenings are another story. In winter, bring warm clothing and a jacket for the sometimes frigid air. In summer, a light sweater will do. Add an umbrella to your summer packing list, especially in July and August, when afternoon showers are a daily occurrence.
Be here on a Sunday
Soak in the local culture on Sundays, a day when the plazas are bustling with street vendors and performers, major streets are closed to cars to make room for walkers and bikers (free bikes are available at Parque Revolución), and Guadalajara’s largest open-air crafts market fills the streets of Tonalá. For a treat, take in an afternoon charreada or lucha libre show.
Don’t rent a car
There’s no need to rent a car in Guadalajara – the traffic can be crushing and walking is often the quickest option. For places further afield, several bus lines and a newly expanded metro system crisscross the city for cheap (M$9.50-15) – use the Moovit app to navigate your way around town. For more comfort, Uber is an easy, affordable option.
Save pesos getting to and from the airport
The cheapest ride to and from Guadalajara’s international airport is by city bus. It can get crowded and makes frequent stops, but it’s a steal at less than a buck a ride. Look for the bus stop in front of the Hotel Casa Grande, 50m from the terminal and take either a "Ruta 176" or "Atasa" bus. Both run to the center of town in about 45 minutes, passing every 15 minutes morning till night.
Etiquette in Guadalajara
Call locals tapatíos
Be in the know and use tapatío to refer to someone or something from Guadalajara. The word is derived from tlapatiotl, meaning "bartering system" in Nahuatl, the language spoken by the region’s original inhabitants.
Tapatíos, and Mexicans in general, value pleasantries. Before any interaction – even just entering a shop or restaurant – say "buenos dias" (good morning), "buenas tardes" (good afternoon) or "buenas noches" (good evening). When you leave, "adios" (goodbye), "gracias" (thank you), or "con permiso" (excuse me) is customary. Even if that’s all you say in Spanish, it’ll be deeply appreciated.
This Catholic city isn't as conservative as you'd expect
Despite its history and reputation as a conservative Catholic city, Guadalajara is also one of the most accepting and inclusive places in Mexico for LGBTIQ+ people. Pride parades and gay bars, openly-owned LGBTQ+ businesses and cultural events are common.
Save your shorts and flip flops for the beach
Unless you’re a kid, wearing shorts or flip flops will peg you as a tourist in Guadalajara. Even on the hottest days, adults just don’t wear them outside their homes. Stick to pants or skirts and wear leather sandals or closed-toe shoes instead. For a night out on the town, dress to impress.
Don’t be shy on the bus
If you’re on a bus without a functioning bell pull (it happens), yell out "bajan" (BA-hahn). Meaning "getting off" it’ll signal the driver to stop at the nearest intersection.
Lean into street food
Guadalajara’s early morning street food fave – and sworn-by hangover cure – is the torta ahogada (literally "drowned sandwich"), a baguette-like roll stuffed with slow-roasted pork and drenched in hot sauce. You’ll be tempted to eat it with a fork and knife, but tapatíos use their hands – do like locals do and lean over your plate, like it’s a trough, to avoid splattering yourself. Go the extra mile and tuck a few napkins into your shirt front. It’s not pretty, but you’ll fit right in.
Haggle with kindness
Negotiating prices, especially in markets, is common practice in Guadalajara. Prices will shift slightly or the merchant might throw in a knick-knack. But before your dig in your heels over a few pesos, remember they likely mean a lot more to the vendor than they do to you.
Put TP in the waste basket
Antiquated plumbing in Guadalajara means that flushing toilet paper can often clog the system. If you see an open waste basket in a stall or hotel bathroom, use it for your TP.
Health and safety in Guadalajara
Avoid tap water
Don’t drink the tap water or even use it to brush your teeth. While it’s purified at the source, it can become contaminated as it travels through aging water lines. Instead, use bottled water. That said, there’s no need to worry about ice in restaurants or bars – it’s purchased from commercial ice factories.
Opt for Uber over taxis
Though taxis are easy to hail in the city center, they’re known for ripping off passengers, refusing to use their meters and quoting inflated flat rates. Use Uber instead, which provides reliable service at cheaper rates. If you must take a cab, be sure you agree on the price before you get in – if it seems high, try bargaining or just wait for another taxi.
Be alert for pickpockets
Like most big cities, pickpocketing is a risk on crowded buses and subway trains, markets, and busy streets and plazas. Mercado San Juan de Dios and the post-clubbing scene on Avenida Chapultepec are notorious for petty theft. Stay alert to your surroundings, remembering that pickpockets often work in teams, crowding their victims to distract them. To lessen the risk of being targeted, leave flashy jewelry at home and place your valuables in the hotel safe.
Avoid fringe neighborhoods
Violent crimes aren’t prominent in Guadalajara, especially in touristed areas. But do avoid wandering into fringe neighborhoods on the east side – Colonia Jalisco and Santa Fe in particular are known for their gang activity.
For help, contact your consulate
If you’re a victim of crime, need medical assistance or legal help, contact your consulate or embassy. Almost 50 countries, including the US and Canada, have representatives in Guadalajara that can help you navigate the system or recommend providers.