Fields of blue agave spread out over a vast landscape in the west-central plains of Mexico, creating a unique vista across the region that's become known as Tequila Country. Encompassing the state of Jalisco as well as parts of the Mexican states of Guanajuato, Michoacan, Nayarit, and Tamaulipas, Tequila Country is the only place in Mexico where tequila can be produced legally. If you're planning a trip to explore the region, there are plenty of great things to do on your travels, ranging from exploring the town of Tequila and touring the Jose Cuervo distillery to spending the night in a boutique hotel or hacienda (ranch or estate) among the blue agave fields.
Experience the Magical Town of Tequila
Located about 60 miles west of Guadalajara and encompassing 85,650 acres of land between the Tequila volcano and the Rio Grande River, the town of Santiago de Tequila was designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2006 for the unique features of its natural landscape and cultural traditions. It is also one of the few places that the Mexican government has dubbed Pueblos Mágicos (Magical Towns) due to its cultural and historical significance.
Your visit to Tequila Country would not be complete without a stroll along the cobblestone streets of this charming town, which contains a living, working landscape of agave fields, distilleries, factories, and haciendas. Stop by Plaza Principal de Tequila, the town's main square, to visit its parish church, La Parroquia Santiago Apóstol (Our Lady of the Purísima Concepción), which dates back to the 18th century. The church has a stone facade, a bell tower, and inverted, truncated pyramid pilasters that flank the main portal. Inside, there is a statue of Our Lady of the Conception that has stood watch over the church since it was sculpted in 1865. Also, stop by the Municipio de Tequila (Town Hall), which is located across the main plaza and features artwork by Manuel Hernández that highlights the significance of the agave plant in pre-colonial Mexico as well as the woman Aztec deity Mayahuel, who is associated with fertility and nourishment.
See Agave Harvested in the Traditional Way
The cultivation of agave dates back to ancient times when every part of the plant was grown for a wide variety of practical uses, including fermenting a drink from the sap known as pulque. Although there is some question about whether the people of Mesoamerica were familiar with the distillation process before the arrival of the Spaniards, it is likely that the distilled spirit of tequila we know today was not produced until after the 15th century.
In Tequila Country, you can see how the drink is produced, from the agave field to the finished bottled product, starting with la jima, the term used to refer to harvesting the agave plant. Agave is harvested in the traditional way in a very labor-intensive manner wherein the worker, called a jimador, uses a special tool like a sharp, pointed shovel to remove the spikes from the agave and extract the heart of the plant, the piña, which resembles a pineapple when the spines are removed.
Tequila has a similar origin to mezcal since both spirits are made from the agave, but tequila is made only with the blue agave found in this specific area, and the separation between the two began with the regulation of tequila in the 1940s. The law "de Calidad para el tequila" was passed on June 14, 1949, and has been upgraded and revised ever since. It wasn't until 1974 that the Mexican government passed the "denomination of origin" that specified that tequila could only be produced in a few specific places in Mexico.
Tour the Jose Cuervo La Rojeña Distillery
The oldest distillery in Tequila Country is known for producing the world-famous Jose Cuervo brand. Known as La Rojeña, this distillery offers tours periodically throughout the day where guests are invited to witness how this signature drink is made and bottled.
During the 90-minute guided tour of La Rojeña, you'll see the agave hearts being chopped up and taken to the ovens, the labs where the tequila is tested to be sure that it meets the factory's strict standards, and the barrels where the spirit is aged, up to one year for reposado (rested) tequila, up to five years for añejo (aged), and up to eight years for the special product, Reserva de la Familia. After the tour, stick around for a tasting of the Reserva brand of Jose Cuervo.
Enjoy Mariachis, Voladores, and Charros
The Mexican state of Jalisco is considered the cradle of Charreria and mariachi music, and visitors to Tequila can witness some of these cultural events and performances at a number of venues across the region, especially in Guadalajara.
Charreria is Mexico's national sport, which consists of charros/charras (cowboys and girls) that dress in clothing seen on mariachi bands and do a variety of different tricks and maneuvers on horseback or foot. During this Mexican-style rodeo, the charros lead their horses through fancy step work and perform rope work called Flores de Soga featuring intricate moves with a lasso. Head to the Lienzo Charro del Tequila near the middle of town to catch one of these shows while you're in Tequila.
On the other hand, voladores (flying dancers) mostly originate from the state of Puebla, where the ritual was born. However, they are also a regular fixture in Tequila and often perform their dance in the Plaza Principal. During Voladores' shows, the performers spin around a tall wooden pole from which they are attached by their ankles. The ceremony has even been recognized as an Intangible Cultural Heritage by UNESCO.
If you want to make your visit to tequila country a memorable day-long excursion, take the tequila train. The Jose Cuervo Express departs the Ferrovia station in Guadalajara on Saturdays (and some Fridays and Sundays) and takes just over an hour to reach Tequila after winding through the beautiful blue agave-covered region. After the ride, you can take a complimentary tour of La Rojena Distillery as part of your ticket price for the train. Alternatively, the Tequila Express departs Guadalajara and visits the Herradura Distillery but doesn't actually visit the town of Tequila.
Besides visiting distilleries, you can also visit the National Museum of Tequila, located at Ramon Corona #34 in Tequila proper. Opened in 2000, the museum traces the origins of agave cultivation in the region from pre-Hispanic times to the present and contains over 300 artifacts on display in five permanent exhibit halls. The National Museum of Tequila is housed in a building from the late Porfirian period, which features stunning archways and a central courtyard where you'll find a pre-Hispanic oven and a mill.
Indulge Your Taste Buds at a Traditional Restaurant
Food is a big part of the cultural landscape of Tequila Country, and there are plenty of restaurants in the town of Tequila where you can indulge your taste buds with some of the finest Mexican cuisines in the region.
For lunch, consider stopping by Amor de Mis Amores in downtown Tequila for a family-style dining experience complete with authentic enchiladas and birria, a spicy stew originating in the state of Jalisco made with goat meat and a variety of legumes. For dinner, stop by La Antiqua Casona, which features great cocktails in a cozy, casual setting, or check out the Hotel Villa Tequila, which features a tequila-themed bar right beside the outdoor pool.
Sip Tequila at a Local Cantina
When it comes to enjoying tequila, there's no better place to sample this western Mexico brew than a local bar in the town of Tequila. However, before you head out to the bar, you should know that Mexicans don't typically take shots of the 100% agave tequila. Instead, most patrons of bars in Tequila sip and savor the drink from a snifter, much like you would a good scotch or a fine whiskey. There are a number of great bars in Tequila to choose from, including La Capilla, a cash-only, cozy cocktail bar just south of the Plaza Principal, and La Cata, a casual, open spot with an extensive cocktail selection.
Spend the Night
As one of the largest towns in the region, Tequila offers plenty of options for places to stay overnight, both in and out of the town. For a longer stay, a good option is the boutique Hotel Solar de las Animas, which is located adjacent to the church of Santiago Apostol in the heart of Tequila and features luxurious rooms, a gorgeous outdoor pool, and stunning views of the town and volcano. Other great haciendas worth checking out in and around Tequila include Hotel Villa Tequila, Matices Hotel de Barricas, and Hotel Boutique Quinta Tequillan.
Those looking for an event space need look no further than the Hacienda El Centenario, a nice spot for a wedding or any other large event. The hacienda has meeting spaces as well as lovely grounds that can accommodate a few hundred guests. Stroll through the gardens, relax by one of many fountains, or tour the estate itself.