Beyond Guadalajara’s sprawling suburbs, lonely mountain-top pueblos and lazy lakeshore towns promise an intoxicating picture of old Mexico. Lago de Chapala, just 50km south of Guadalajara, is Mexico’s largest natural lake and offers spectacular scenery, traditional lakeside towns and picturesque pueblos full of retired gringos. Further south and west, Jalisco’s Zona de Montaña is home to a string of mountain retreats where horses wander free through dusty streets, and there’s nothing to do but stroll through the pines and sip rompope (a local eggnog-like alcoholic drink) by the fire.
This region is also a major producer of tequila, and one of the most popular day trips from Guadalajara is to the town of that name to see how Mexico’s most famous export is made.
These are our favorite local haunts, touristy spots, and hidden gems throughout Guadalajara Region.
Standing proudly at the eastern end of dramatic Plaza Tapatía is one of Guadalajara’s architectural landmarks, and a Unesco World Heritage site since 1997. On the ceiling and inside the dome of the striking neoclassical Capilla Mayor (Main Chapel) is a most unexpected series of modernist murals by José Clemente Orozco, which rank among his best works and Guadalajara's top sights. The complex also houses a collection of 340 other pieces by Orozco, and works by leading lights of Mexico's contemporary art scene.
Guadalajara’s cathedral is the city’s most conspicuous landmark with distinctive neo-Gothic towers built after an earthquake toppled the originals in 1818. Begun in 1561 and consecrated in 1618, the building is almost as old as the city itself. Time your visit right and you’ll see light filter through stained-glass of the Last Supper above the altar and hear a working pipe organ rumble sweetly from the rafters.
Just 40km west of Guadalajara is the fascinating and distinctive archaeological site known as Guachimontones – one of the only ancient ruins in the world whose structures were built in nearly perfect concentric circles, including a massive conical step pyramid. Easy to reach as a day trip, the site has well-preserved structures, an excellent museum, and knowledgeable (and free) guide services.
One of the city's most important churches, the Basílica de Zapopan, built in 1730, is home to Nuestra Señora de Zapopan, a petite statue of the Virgin visited by pilgrims year-round. Since 1734 on October 12, thousands of kneeling faithful crawl behind as the statue is carried here from Guadalajara cathedral. The kneeling pilgrims then make the final trek up the basilica’s aisle to pray for favors at the altar.
On Thursday and Sunday, Tonalá bursts into a huge street market that sprouts on Avenida Tonaltecas and crawls through dozens of streets and alleys and takes hours to explore. With torta (sandwich), taco and michelada (beer and tomato juice) stands aplenty, the whole area takes on a carnival vibe. The best pieces are usually found at the workshops and warehouses, though a little perseverance often renders one-of-a-kind finds.
If you have time for only one distillery tour while in Tequila country, make it this one. Here you'll see the entire process, from piña harvesting to bottling and labeling, up close, and mostly done in the traditional manner. Some of the items used, including brick ovens, tahona (stone mill) and charcoal firing pits, are positive heirlooms and the product – be it blanco (white), reposado (rested) or añejo (aged) – is delectable. Be sure to call in advance, tours are offered by reservation only.
Just south of Avenida Javier Mina and the Mercado San Juan de Dios, this is the very birthplace of mariachi music. By day it’s just a narrow walking street, flanked by charming old buildings and dotted with a few plastic tables and chairs, with the odd mariachi musician in full regalia chatting on a cell phone and/or awaiting gainful employment. At night it can get lively, when patrons swill beer and listen to bands play requests (from M$100 per song).
Free Spanish- and English-language tours are available at the high-end 100% agave distillery Tres Mujeres, where some 40 different tequilas are produced, but it's best to call ahead. Tours usually include a short trek into the agave field to see piña (the plant's heart) harvested and a visit to the deliciously cool cava (cellar), where 6000 bottles are stored, and its adjoining chapel.
This superb collection of over 500 pieces of national folk art is housed in a converted religious mission and includes well-displayed miniature figurines, as well as enormous, lightly fired urns and other ceramic crafts from all over the country. Its focus is on winners of the prestigious National Pantaleón Panduro Ceramics Prize, first held in 1977 and named after a renowned local sculptor.