Guadalajara is the second-largest city in Mexico. It is also the place where Caroline lived for 5 months during her studies as part of an exchange program. She really enjoyed living in Guadalajara, so we had to make a stop there during our trip. We had arranged to stay with some of her friends. Her former roommate even came all the way from Canada. Quite a reunion!
As soon as we arrived, we went to celebrate a kids’ birthday, and Paolo discovered the famous tradition of gently pushing the face of the birthday kid in the cake. But mostly, it reminded us how welcoming Mexicans can be. Christian, the friend who hosted us, had never met Paolo and had not seen Caroline for almost 5 years. Yet, he came to pick us up at the bus station and drove us directly to his family event, so we could share that all together. Even though we arrived late, they all made sure we tried all the delicious dishes that they had prepared for this special occasion. They even waited for our arrival to bring out the birthday cake.
After that wonderful evening, we only had a limited amount of time in the city, so we tried to make the most of it. The combination of Caroline’s experience during her exchange program and the local knowledge of our friends gave us the perfect guide for the best things to do in Guadalajara.
1. Walk around the city center of Guadalajara
You cannot come to Guadalajara and avoid passing by the city center. Not only does it represent the history of the city, but it also has some really nice monuments. The best place to start is the plaza Guadalajara. From there, you can admire the cathedral and the palacio municipal (city hall). Inside the palace of the city hall, you can see some murals representing the history of Guadalajara.
On the left side of the cathedral, you find the roundabout of the Illustrious People of Jalisco. It is a monument dedicated to the people that shaped Guadalajara and its state. On the other side of the cathedral, you can find the plaza de armas, a nice square with trees and benches, perfect to relax a bit.
2. Visit Nueve esquinas
The neighborhood of nueve esquinas hosts a market with a lot of exotic fruits. It is especially famous for selling pitayas. A pitaya is a colorful round small fruit which tastes a bit like a kiwi, but sweeter. If you come around April, we really advise you to go and taste them. Caroline had the occasion to try them when she lived in Guadalajara and absolutely loved them. Unfortunately for Paolo, we were not there at the right moment.
If, like us, you don’t come at the season of pitayas, you can always try the other specialty of the area, called the birria. It is a spicy meat stew, served in its own broth, and it is perfect for all kind of weather.
3. Enjoy a mariachi band
Have you ever heard of the mariachis? They are music bands, all dressed up with the same uniform, and the famous round sombreros on their head. The mariachis, now a real symbol of Mexico, play the country traditional music. Some of their songs are famous internationally, like the Cucaracha, but their repertoire is quite large.
Guadalajara is famous for hosting a lot of mariachis. There is even a square, called plaza de los mariachis, where you can go and hire a band on the spot. When in Guadalajara, you should absolutely go and listen to them. Mexicans hire mariachis for all kind of event, from weddings and baptisms to the serenades under the window of the loved one.
4. Go shopping in Tlaquepaque
Tlaquepaque used to be another city altogether, but, with the expansion of Guadalajara, it eventually became one of its neighborhood. The area is famous for its shops of traditional craft and nice restaurants. It is the perfect place to go if you want to buy nice souvenirs.
There are also a lot of art pieces and sculptures around in the streets. Don’t forget to take a photo with one of the gorditos. They are sculptures of comically chubby people, either biking or playing guitar. There are several, spread across all Tlaquepaque.
Finally, you shouldn’t forget to try the nieves. They are a kind of artisanal ice creams. Traditionally made with water and fruits, now you can find them with pretty much every flavor.
5. Negotiate the price in the market of San juan de Dios
Also known as Mercado libertad, the market of San Juan de Dios is a must-see in Guadalajara. It is the largest indoor market in all Latin America. You can find pretty much everything there, from food, to arts and crafts, from clothes to pets. Whether you are looking for something specific or for nothing in particular, you will most likely leave the market with a little something. One of the floors is almost entirely dedicated to food. You can find food stands of every kind, and we found it very difficult to decide where to eat, as everything looked so yummy.
Remember to be careful! If you don’t want to overpay, you need to negotiate. Negotiation is something very common in Mexico, and can be a lot of fun, if you are not in a hurry.
6. Discover the Lucha Libre
Going to a show of Lucha Libre is a must-do when you are in Mexico. More than a sport, it is clearly a show where the luchadores pay a lot of attention to the aesthetics of the fight. The fighters clearly play a role, like actors on a stage. They exaggerate everything and wear masks to “protect their secret identity”. Losing the mask in a fight is considered the ultimate shame for any luchador.
When you buy the tickets, you can choose between 2 kind of seats: close to the ring, where the tickets are more expensive, or up on the stands, where tickets are cheaper. So the public finds itself divided into two groups: the “rich” and the “poor”. All along the fight, each group shouts jokes and insults at each others. It all happens in a very good spirit and nobody gets offended. For example, the “rich” often shout “se les va el camion” (your bus is leaving) to the “poor” who then reply “su mama nos trajo”(your mum brought me).
7. Explore the ruins of Guachimontones
There are some nice places just outside of Guadalajara that you should absolutely explore if you have the time. We had the occasion to go to Guachimontones, a place easily accessible by public transportation on a day trip. Guachimontones is an archeological site where you can find some unusual circular pyramids. We saw a lot of ruins and pyramids during our trip, but it was the first time that we saw round ones. They were built around 2000 years ago as a spiritual center, and they are the only round pyramids in the world.
After our visit, our friend took us to the balneario El Rincón in the nearby city of Teuchitlan. If you have the opportunity to go there, we can only recommend the place. It is a small water park with some slide and natural pools. One of these is filled with small fishes that, if you stay still, will gently eat the dead skin off your feet. We went there to enjoy a nice and refreshing bath: the exfoliation that came with it was a nice surprise! Plus, they allow you to bring in your drinks and food. We came with some beers and spiced cucumber as refreshment. It was so chill that it was hard to leave.
8. Take a day trip to Tequila
Tequila is another city that you can easily reach by public transportation from Guadalajara. And, guess what? It is where all tequila is produced. Like Champagne in France, tequila has to be made in Tequila to be able to be named as such. If you like to drink tequila or if you are just curious as to how it is produced, we advise you to come to the homonymous city and visit one of the many distilleries. We joined a tour at the Jose Cuervo distillery, the oldest of the area and biggest producer of the drink. During the tour we had the chance to try several different versions of tequila, differing in age and type of barrels used.
You can also wander around in the village, named as one of the pueblos magico as it has some really nice cobblestone and colonials streets.
On the way back to Guadalajara, if you feel like drinking more tequila, you should absolutely make a stop at the bar “cantaritos el guerö“ (pronounce wero). They sell an alcoholic cocktail with orange and grapefruit juice, which is quite refreshing. Plus, it comes in really nice cups, that you can keep as a souvenir.
Legend says that if you drink only good tequila, you’ll never get a hangover. Although, the best way to never get a hangover, it is still to not start drinking at all.
9. Drink! Cantaritos and micheladas
Tequila is not the only drink you should try when in Guadalajara. Another famous Mexican drink is the michelada, and Guadalajara offers quite a vast variety of it. A michelada is an alcoholic beverage made with beer, lime, some sauces and spices. Usually the sauces involve tomato juice (or, better, clamato) and Worcestershire sauce. It doesn’t sound really appealing, but it is strangely nice to drink. If you are really not convinced by the Worcestershire sauce, we found that a lot of places were offering their own version of the drink, always with a fun twist, like a strawberry one.
But Mexico is not only about alcoholic beverages. We also advise you to try aguamiel (literally honey water). It is the fresh juice of the agave plant. You drink it as soon as harvested from the plant. It is a sweet drink, supposed to be good for digestion. However, if you don’t keep your aguamiel in the fridge, it will ferment. Once fermented, you get another traditional Mexican drink, the pulque, with alcohol this time. It is said to be the drink of the gods.
One of our favorite thing in Mexico is clearly the food. Everywhere we went we tried excellent meals and Guadalajara is no exception. Apart from the delicacies we already mentioned, one of the most famous local dishes is the torta ahogada (drowned cake). It is a big sandwich filled with pork, re-fried beans and onions. The sandwich is completely covered in a tomato and chili pepper sauce. The bread is hard enough to not get too soggy in the sauce, but it is still a bit messy to eat. All in all, it is the perfect comfort food and a lot of Mexicans say it is the best cure for hangover (which you shouldn’t get in the first place if you followed our advice above).
Another dish that we really enjoyed was the tacos volteados. When Caroline was in Guadalajara, she was living close to a restaurant offering this meal, so we came back to that exact same place, in Zapopan. They are normal tacos, but instead of cooking the meat and then putting it in the taco, they cook the meat with the taco directly on top. When you eat it, the taco has absorbed some of the taste of the meat, and it is absolutely delicious.
There are so many more dishes to try that we would need a full blog post just for that. If you are curious and want to try as many different recipes as possible, just go back to our number 5, the market of San juan de Dios: you will find gorditas, sopes, chilaquiles… the hardest part will be to choose.
11. And so much more!
Depending on your preference, there are much more places you can visit, in and around Guadalajara. For example, you can enjoy the nightlife on avenida Chapultepec, hike down and up the Barranca de Huentitan, a canyon close-by, or even take a day trip to Chapala lake, the largest lake of Mexico.
Did you know?
- People from Guadalaraja are call Tapatios and Tapatias. The origin of this name is not certain
- There are several white bikes hung around the city. They are actually there to show that someone died in a bike accident in that place, to raise awareness among drivers.
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