Planning Your Trip
Things to Do
What to Eat & Drink
Guadalajara is a vibrant and enchanting city bursting with history and culture. With a population of nearly five million people in the metropolitan zone, it's the second-largest city in Mexico. While it's the cradle of mariachi music and Mexico's national sport, charrería, and is the heart of tequila country, it's also an industrial and technological hub, earning it the nickname "Mexico's Silicon Valley," although many traditional crafts are still produced in the area, including textiles, pottery, and hand-blown glass. Overall, Guadalajara is a great destination for travelers wanting a taste of authentic Mexican culture together with modern comforts and attractions.
Planning Your Trip
Best Time to Visit: Between August and December the weather is fine with pleasant temperatures and little rain, and you’ll also find interesting cultural festivals taking place, such as the mariachi festival, the Fiestas de Octubre, and Day of the Dead.
Language: Spanish is the most spoken language. A small percentage of the population may also speak an indigenous language (Huichol, Nahuatl, Tarasco). Some people who work in the tourism industry speak English.
Currency: The local currency is the Mexican peso (MXN). The symbol for the peso is the same as the dollar sign, so if there’s any doubt, ask what currency prices are listed in.
Getting Around: Taxis and Ubers are plentiful and economical, and there’s a decent public transportation system that's a good option for budget travelers and includes city buses and a metro/light rail system that serves the municipalities of Guadalajara, Zapopan, and Tlaquepaque.
Travel Tip: Museums are closed on Mondays, so plan alternate activities for that day of the week, such as taking a day trip to Tequila or the Guachimontones archaeological site.
Things To Do
There’s plenty to see and do in and around Guadalajara for visitors of all ages and interests. You can learn about its history and discover the city's traditional architecture and lovely plazas on a walking tour of Guadalajara which should include the cathedral, government palace, and plazas of the historical center. There are several interesting museums in the city including the Museo Regional de Guadalajara which shows the history of the region from ancient times to the present, and the Museo de las Artes, an art museum within the Guadalajara University.
You won’t have time to do everything during your stay in Guadalajara, so when planning your itinerary, do your research and prioritize. Here are a few activities to enjoy:
- See the murals by Jose Clemente Orozco in the Palacio de Gobierno and in the Hospicio Cabañas
- Listen to a live performance by a mariachi group
- Shop for handicrafts such as hand-blown glass, leatherwork, ceramics, and textiles.
- Peruse the Mercado Libertad, one of the largest indoor markets in Latin America.
- Take a day trip to the town of Tequila to see how this traditional Mexican beverage is made.
What to Eat and Drink
Mexico’s cuisine varies greatly by region and Guadalajara has many special dishes that are traditional to the area. Some of the local specialties to try include Tortas Ahogadas (“drowned sandwiches” which are crusty buns filled with meat and slathered in spicy tomato sauce), Birria (a flavorful slow-cooked goat stew), and Carne en Su Jugo (meat au jus, thinly sliced beef in its broth). Guadalajara is also undergoing a foodie renaissance, with young homegrown chefs along with some outsiders who are open to experimentation, so you'll find several restaurants on the cutting edge of new trends in gastronomy.
When it comes to drinks, there’s also an interesting blend of old and new. Of course, being in the land of tequila, the agave spirit is very popular here, but there’s also a large and flourishing craft beer scene, as well as a number of bars specializing in mixology. So you can while away the afternoons in a traditional cantina, head to a microbrewery for an artisanal beer or two, and then spend the night dancing til you drop at one of Guadalajara’s trendy nightclubs. (Although the next morning you may want to eat a Torta Ahogada, purportedly a hangover cure!)
Where to Stay
As one of Mexico's largest cities, there's plenty of choices for accommodations in Guadalajara. When considering where to stay, you reflect on your intention and priorities for your trip. If you’re planning to spend most of your time visiting museums and cultural attractions, it may make the most sense to look for accommodation in the historical center, such as the Hotel De Mendoza which is in a lovely colonial building located right next to the Teatro Degollado on the Plaza de la Liberación. If you’re planning to shop 'til you drop, maybe find a place to stay in Tlaquepaque, such as at the Quinta Don José Boutique Hotel. If your intention is to enjoy the nightlife and meet people, you may wish to stay in the trendy area of Colonia Americana, in which case either Hotel Laffayette or Villa Ganz would be a good choice. The Hard Rock Hotel Guadalajara in the district of Zapopan is also convenient for fun nightlife options.
Explore more recommendations on the best hotels in Guadalajara.
Guadalajara is located in the state of Jalisco in the center of Mexico, 350 miles west of Mexico City. Guadalajara's international airport is the Don Miguel Hidalgo y Costilla International Airport (Airport code GDL). If you'd like to combine your visit to Guadalajara with some time on the beach, Puerto Vallarta is a good choice (at 200 miles distance, it's a three and a half hours drive away); the ETN bus line offers direct service.
Culture and Customs
There are a few cultural differences and customs that you should be aware of while visiting Guadalajara. In general, Mexicans tend to be more formal than people from the United States and Canada. It’s important to greet people before making a request or asking a question with a "buenos días," "buenas tardes," or "buenas noches" depending on the time of day. Also, keep in mind that you can use "por favor" and "gracias" in excess. In inland cities, Mexicans tend to dress somewhat conservatively, rarely wearing tank tops or shorts, and many people frown on flip flops as streetwear. Even though you're on vacation, it's a good idea to dress like the locals do if you don’t want to stand out too much as a tourist.
Mexican mealtimes may not be aligned to your usual schedule. The main meal of the day is usually taken in the afternoon between 2 and 4 p.m. In restaurants, you must request the bill (it would be considered rude for the server to bring it before you ask for it): ask for “la cuenta, por favor,” or make a sign of writing in the air. Usually, a tip is not included, but check your bill to make sure. It’s customary to tip 10 to 20 percent depending on the level of service. Tipping is expected in bars and restaurants, but is not required in food stalls and markets (although it’s generally appreciated). It's also customary to tip bellhops and cleaning staff at your hotel. Read more about tipping practices in Mexico.
Money Saving Tips
Guadalajara is a city with accommodation and restaurant options at all price points. If you select where you stay and eat with a little care, it’s easy to have a great time in Guadalajara without breaking the bank.
- The best and easiest way to save is on your hotel choice. In most Mexican destinations there are budget hotels that are clean, safe, and perfectly comfortable but may not have all the amenities you might be accustomed to such as a hairdryer and coffee maker. If you’re only planning to sleep in your hotel and spend your days out and about, it makes sense to reduce your spending on accommodation, and this can make a big difference in the total cost of your trip.
- Take public transportation. It’s a little more complicated and takes longer, but you’ll save a lot of money if you take city buses instead of getting a taxi or Uber. You can even get to day-trip destinations such as Tequila or Guachimontones by bus—most of them depart from the Guadalajara Antigua Central bus station. Consult the website Rutas Guadalajara that shows public transportation options for destinations around Guadalajara.
- There are lots of things to do in Guadalajara for free or very low cost. Many museums and historical sights don’t charge admission fees or have fees that are very low. Just wandering around the Historical Center, you’ll see lots of interesting buildings. Go into the government palace to see the mural by Jose Clemente Orozco on the staircase; admission here is free whereas to enter the Hospicio Cabañas to see his other murals you’ll have to pay (less than $5 though!). The Museo de Arte Huichol in Zapopan only charges ten pesos and the Museo Regional de Cerámica in Tlaquepaque has free admission.