The city of Guadalajara presents an interesting combination of traditional and modern. Although it's sometimes referred to as the "Mexican Silicon Valley" because of its technological industries, it's also a bastion of Mexican culture. This is the second-largest city in Mexico, the capital of Jalisco state, and also the birthplace of both mariachi and tequila. A visit to Guadalajara presents the opportunity to see the colonial and modern architecture, listen to mariachi music, shop for handicrafts, sample regional cuisine, taste-test tequila, and so much more.
Visit Mercado Libertad
Guadalajara is home to one of the largest traditional markets in Mexico, the Mercado Libertad. Designed by architect Alejandro Zohn, the market was inaugurated on December 30, 1958. You'll find a large selection of goods across three floors including handicrafts, clothes, shoes, flowers, produce, leather goods, traditional candies, electronics, household items, and food stalls. It's a colorful place to be and shop around and even if you don't plan to buy anything, you can always grab a quick taco.
See Traditional Mexican Folk Dancing.
You've probably heard of the "Mexican Hat Dance," which in Spanish is known as the Jarabe Tapatio. The dance originated in Guadalajara, but it's just one of the many different types of folk dances you can see in the city. The Guadalajara University's folk dance troupe, the Ballet Folklorico performs regularly at the Teatro Degollado in the center of town and is a wonderful experience for anyone interested in Mexican culture.
Tour the Historical Center
Upon arrival in town, one of the first things to do is to take a walking tour of the Guadalajara city center. If you just want to get the lay of the land, this can be self-guided but if you'd like to learn more about the city's fascinating history, you can sign up for a free tour or hire a guide. Be sure to visit the Guadalajara Cathedral, the Plaza de Armas, and the Rotunda de Los Jaliscenses Ilustres which pays tribute to important people from the state. If you'd rather sit for a spell, the city has many squares and parks where you can take a breather.
Eat a Torta Ahogada
Many foods are traditional to this region of Mexico, but one of the most emblematic is the torta ahogada, a "drowned sandwich" that consists of a crusty bun stuffed with marinated pork meat and covered in a spicy salsa made with tomato and chile de arbol. A few other dishes to sample on your visit include birria (a hearty, spicy goat stew) and corn pozole soup.
Hang Out in Mariachi Plaza
Mariachi is the quintessential music of Mexico and Guadalajara is the place where the genre was born, making it the best place in Mexico to enjoy the classic songs and appreciate the charro fashion. You'll no doubt run into many musicians as you explore the city, but you should still stop in the Plaza de Los Mariachis where you can enjoy a drink while watching the musicians perform. For the full experience, request the song "Guadalajara," but make sure you have pesos on you because the musicians do charge per song.
Visit Cabañas Cultural Center
The Cabañas Cultural Institute is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Designed by architect Manuel Tolsá and built at the beginning of the 19th century, the building was named for Bishop Juan Cruz Ruiz de Cabañas, who commissioned the project. This is one of the oldest and largest charitable complexes of New Spain. It was originally designed to function as an orphanage as well as a home for the aged, infirm, and destitute. In the early 20th century, the chapel was decorated with a series of murals.
The building was previously known as (and still often referred to as) the Hospicio Cabañas. In 1980 the building ceased to function as an orphanage and since that time has been used as a cultural center and museum. Besides its permanent collection, the Cabañas Institute also displays temporary exhibits.
See the Murals by Jose Clemente Orozco
In the 1930s, the government invited the artist Jose Clemente Orozco to paint murals in the government palace and on the walls of the main chapel area of the Hospicio Cabañas, which he did between 1936 and 1939. Orozco painted two murals in the Guadalajara government palace. The one in the main staircase shows Miguel Hidalgo, a priest and the father of Mexican Independence who issued a decree abolishing slavery in Mexico, brandishing a fiery torch at shadowy figures representing oppression and slavery.
There are 57 frescoes painted by Orozco in the main chapel of the Cabañas Institute. The most impressive of the murals are in the chapel's cupola. Called El Hombre de Fuego ("Man of Fire"), the central figure is a man ascending in flames, surrounded by figures in shades of grey representing the natural elements. Along with Diego Rivera and David Alfaro Siqueiros, Orozco is considered one of the three greats of the Mexican Muralism movement which lasted from the 1920s through 1950. Orozco's Man of Fire is considered by many to be a masterpiece of 20th-century mural painting.
Go Shopping for Handicrafts
Handicrafts made in the area around Guadalajara include leather goods, hand-blown glass, and metalwork. There are two must-visit spots for shopaholics in Guadalajara. Tlaquepaque is a picturesque colonial neighborhood with cobblestone streets, upscale boutiques, and galleries offering fine arts and crafts and Tonala is a working village full of ceramics workshops. Both of these villages of Guadalajara produce several different types of pottery and ceramics and offer plenty to collectors, and anyone interested in acquiring Jalisco-made handicrafts.
Travel to Tequila
The nearby town of Santiago de Tequila is where the well-known spirit originated. A true pilgrimage for any tequila-lover, the city is just 60 miles west of Guadalajara Along the way, you'll see blue agave fields stretching on as far as the eye can see and the town, one of Mexico's designated "magical towns," is quite charming as well. You can visit the distilleries to learn how tequila is made, but it's also nice to explore the historic town which was founded in 1530.