Guadalajara is a bustling metropolis of some 5 million people, and although it has many traditional charms, it’s a dynamic urban giant. There’s lots to do in the city, but when you’re looking for more pastoral pleasures, venture out to the surrounding region to explore natural areas, small towns, tequila distilleries, and more.
Tequila: Agave Fields and Tequila Tasting
Just north of Guadalajara there’s a nearly 90,000-acre area with beautiful landscapes of blue agave, which has been designated a UNESCO World Heritage site. They’ve been producing a spirit from agave here since at least the 16th century, though it didn’t reach peak popularity until the mid 1900s. There’s lots to do in tequila country besides drink tequila. The small town of Santiago de Tequila gave the beverage its name and is well worth a visit. See the town's 18th-century church and the National Museum of Tequila, and tour a distillery or two, where you'll see first-hand how Jalisco’s most famous export makes its way from the agave field to your glass, and of course there are plenty of opportunities to sample different varieties of the drink.
Getting There: Tequila is about 40 miles north of Guadalajara. You can drive or if you don’t want to worry about how many tequilas you’ve had, take the Tequila Plus bus, hire a guide for a private tour, or ride the Tequila Express tourist train (only runs certain days of the week).
Travel Tip: Stop for lunch at La Posta de Cerrillos for a delicious Mexican ranch-style meal in a colorful outdoor ambience.
Tlaquepaque: Upscale Handicrafts and Mariachi Music
A colonial artisan town known for its fine arts and crafts, and cultural scene, Tlaquepaque has upscale boutiques and galleries, antique shops, and great restaurants. Many of Tlaquepaque’s streets are closed to traffic, making it a pleasant place to explore. Wander around Independencia street, visit the Mercado de Artesanias, and stop by the Regional Ceramic Museum in the Centro Cultural el Refugio, founded to promote the work of indigenous artisans. Before you leave, be sure to grab a drink or a meal at El Parián, where you can hear itinerant musicians perform traditional mariachi music.
Getting There: Located six miles southeast of Guadalajara, you can visit Tlaquepaque independently or with a guided tour. Tapatio Tours has a double decker bus with hop-on hop-off service and their Route #2 goes to Tlaquepaque.
Travel Tips: Pick up a map at the visitor's centre located by the colourful Tlaquepaque sign on Calle Independencia (corner Av. Niños Héroes). You can also enquire about any special events or performances you won’t want to miss.
Tonalá: Handicrafts Galore
Tonalá is full of workshops producing a vast array of different crafts: blown glass, forged iron, silver jewelry, paper mache, wood furniture, and decorative items, as well as different pottery styles. On Thursdays and Sundays, the town hosts an open-air market (also called a “tianguis”) in its main plaza which extends over several blocks and has an amazing variety of items for sale from knick knacks to household items to fine art pieces. You won’t find as many upscale shops as in nearby Tlaquepaque, but there are better bargains here. You’ll also find lots of street food options to try. When you get tired of shopping, grab a taxi to Cerro de la Reina (Queen’s Hill) for an amazing view of the area.
Getting There: Tonalá is just a bit farther out than Tlaquepaque, and in the same direction, so it’s easy to visit both in one day. If taking public transportation, you can catch either bus #275D or the TUR bus line at the corner of Madero and Avenida 16 de septiembre. Travel time is about an hour.
Travel Tips: If you’re visiting on market day, be sure to take a hat, wear comfortable shoes, and bring small change for purchases. Keep your valuables close since the market can be crowded. You can bargain, but prices are generally reasonable, so in most cases you won’t need to.
Tepatitlan: Baroque Architecture
Tepatitlán de Morelos is a colonial city in the area known as Los Altos de Jalisco (the Highlands of Jalisco). Founded in 1530, Tepatitlan has distinctive neoclassical and baroque architecture. Some of the buildings worth visiting include the parish church of San Francisco de Asis which is topped with two slender 200 feet tall towers, and contains sculptures of Carrara marble and murals by painter Rosalío González. The sanctuary of El Señor de la Misericordia was built in the mid-1800s and has a pink limestone facade, The Palacio Municipal (city hall) was built in a neoclassical style with baroque ornamentation, and the Plaza de Armas features a French-style gazebo. The city museum is located a few blocks away from the main square. Walk the streets of the city, marvel at the architecture, and be sure to sample the town’s traditional carnitas (fried pork).
Getting there: Teptatitlán is 45 miles east of Guadalajara. It’s about an hour drive. You can get a bus from the Central Vieja, as there are regular departures throughout the day.
Travel Tip: The town fiesta is celebrated between April 17 and 30 in honor of the patron saint, El Señor De la Misericodia, and there are lots of festivities.
Teuchitlan: Round Pyramids
The small town of Teuchitlan is home to the most important archaeological site in western Mexico, Los Guachimontones. This interesting site is unusual because it has circular stepped pyramids that are very different from what you’ll see elsewhere in the country. This site is representative of the Teuchitlan tradition, a complex society that existed from around 300 B.C. to 900 A.D. The site consists of several of these pyramids, the largest of which is 60 feet tall with 13 high steps leading to an upper level, which is then topped with another four high steps. A post hole at the very top may have been used for volador ceremonies. The site also contains several plazas and two ball courts.
Getting There: Take a guided tour, rent a car, or take the local bus to Teuchitlan and then hike up to the ruins. Teuchitlan is about 40 miles west of Guadalajara along the tequila route, and it takes about an hour and 15 minutes to get there by private car.
Travel Tip: Visit the site’s interpretive center first so you have an idea of what you’re looking at. There are guides on site that you can hire to give you a deeper understanding of the history of the place. Wear comfy shoes as there’s a lot of walking involved and there’s not much shade, so take a hat.
Mexico’s largest freshwater lake is located on the border between Jalisco and Michoacan states. The towns of Chapala and neighboring Ajijic are popular destinations for snowbirds and retirees who come for the picturesque scenery, local charm, and great climate. This area feels far from the hustle and bustle of Guadalajara. The lake is surrounded by mountains, and many migrating birds, including the white pelican, spend their winters on Lake Chapala. There are three islands on Lake Chapala, two of which you can visit: Isla Escorpion (Scorpion Island) and Isla Mezcala, sometimes called Isla del Presidio. Hire a boat from the town of Mezcala de la Asuncion to take you to this island, now a national monument. During the Mexican War of Independence, a group of some 1,500 rebels of the Coca indigenous group created a stronghold here and maintained their independence from the Spaniards from 1812 to 1816. Following their capitulation, the island served as a prison until 1855. Wander around to discover the ruins including a fortress with a drawbridge over a (now dry) moat.
Getting There: Around 30 miles south of Guadalajara, it’s an easy one hour drive. Alternatively, Chapala Plus bus line offers multiple trips daily departing from the Central Vieja (“Old Bus Station”) in Guadalajara and you can get off in the center of Chapala or in Ajijic. Or for the least fuss, book a tour.
Travel Tip: Stop for lunch at the Hacienda del Lago in Ajijic, with beautiful grounds and your choice of indoor or outdoor seating. Be sure to leave room for dessert! Their passion fruit panna cotta is out of this world.
Tapalpa: Mountain Town and Rock Formations
Positioned in pine-covered mountains at 7,000 feet above sea level, Tapalpa is a scenic little town with traditional white houses with red tile roofs surrounded by beautiful natural landscapes. The town is known for its many waterfalls and scenic forest trails, as well as Las Piedrotas, a group of megalithic rocks that seem out of place in a large grassy valley. Enjoy the sweeping views while scrambling the rock formations, take a horseback ride or do a guided rock climbing/rappelling course.
Getting there: Tapalpa is located 83 miles south of Guadalajara, and it’s about a two-hour drive, so it makes for a long day trip. Go with a guide, or rent a car and go on your own.
Travel Tip: If you decide to spend the night instead of heading back to Guadalajara, the town square is lively in the evening and the hotel Casona del Manzano is a great choice for a comfortable stay.
Agua Caliente Water Park: Waterslides and Wave Pools
If you're in Guadalajara when the weather is hot (mainly during the spring and summer), or if you’re traveling with kids any time of year, you might enjoy a trip to the Agua Caliente water park. The pools are fed by hot springs, and there are multiple water slides and pools, including two wave pools. If you reserve in advance you can rent a private pool, which they fill with spring-fed thermal waters upon your arrival.
Getting There: Agua Caliente is located in Villa Corona, about a 45-minute drive from Guadalajara on the Guadalajara-Barra de Navidad Highway. To go by public transportation, you can catch a bus at the Central Vieja bus station: Transportes Bellavista offers a package that includes admission and transportation there and back.
Travel Tip: On weekends Agua Caliente can get very busy, but it’s usually uncrowded during the week (except during the Semana Santa Easter break).