With its thriving art scene, delectable cuisine, and vibrant nightlife, Mexico has been a tourist favorite for years, but people often overlook Guadalajara, its second-biggest city. Visiting is a no-brainer if you’re looking for a slightly more relaxing getaway, and truth be told, we think it has just as much, if not more to offer than Mexico’s capital.
From Guadalajara’s rich history to its fascinating museums and mariachi concerts, there are plenty of reasons to pay the city a visit besides the tequila. The prices for accommodation, food, and attractions are also often a good deal cheaper than in Mexico City, while being a much easier destination to get around in.
For those of you who need even further convincing, our nine reasons to visit Guadalajara are sure to sell you on an unforgettable holiday in this underrated Mexican gem. Let’s get into it. You’ll thank us later.
The relaxed vibe
As a consequence of the booming tourism scene in Mexico City, navigating public transport can be a chaotic experience and popular spots tend to be quite crowded. Of course, this won’t be a problem for everyone, but if you’re looking for that big city feeling without the chaos, Guadalajara is the destination for you.
It’s fast becoming a favorite among architecture enthusiasts, and those who enjoy a slower pace, with the limited number of metro lines contributing to the city’s laidback vibe. Most things are accessible on foot, which means fewer traffic jams and more than enough space for tourists to explore to their heart’s content.
The city doesn’t have any shortage of quality bars either, with Chapultepec Avenue serving as the center of a quirky nightlife scene. Plus, the locals are generally exceedingly friendly, not to mention helpful, adding to its relaxed atmosphere.
Mexico is a country steeped in culture and tradition. You can enjoy unique local festivities all year round and Guadalajara is no exception. For starters, you could catch a performance at the neo-classical Teatro Degollado theatre, which houses an array of incredible murals or grab a drink in the nearby suburb of Tequila. If the aforementioned drink isn’t quite to your liking, you could always sample the beers in the city’s rapidly expanding craft brewery scene instead.
Another option is heading to the Plaza de Los Mariachis in the evening and hiring a band to serenade you. After all, it’s widely believed that mariachi music as we know it today was birthed in Jalisco, the Mexican state where Guadalajara is the capital city.
Naturally, one of the most culturally enriching things to do in Guadalajara is taking part in a local festival, and one of the most famous and important events of the year is the International Mariachi Festival. It takes place at the end of August and offers parades, free concerts in the square, as well as gala shows with revered mariachi musicians in the theatre.
Football is another big part of the culture here, and watching local teams compete in the Liga MX is a great way to soak it up. The Estadio Akron and Estadio Jalisco regularly host matches followed by booze-heavy celebrations.
Mexico has a reputation for being one of the most affordable holiday destinations in North America, and Guadalajara in particular is known for being very reasonably priced. Seeing as it isn’t doesn’t have quite the tourism scene of places like Cancún, Oaxaca, and Mexico City, this means drinks, entrance fees, and accommodation are often much more affordable.
You’ll find an abundance of hotels, hostels, and homestays in the city, with a single occupancy room typically only costing around 563 Mexican pesos, that’s roughly $28, per night. What’s more, the food and transport prices are easy on the wallet too.
You’ll be greeted with the smell of delectable local cuisine around nearly every corner, and while prices will vary, on average tourists only spend about $32 a day on meals, and $27 on transport.
Guadalajara has an undeniably rich history, with a museum scene to rival the capital’s, and paying a visit to one of them offers a fascinating window into it. There’s no shortage of gorgeous cathedrals or historic buildings to explore either.
One of the most interesting places to visit is the Cultural Institute Cabañas, which is a neo-classical building founded in 1791 as a hospital and orphanage. These days, it houses several courtyards and galleries to explore, with one of the highlights being the works of iconic Mexican artist Jose Clemente Orozco.
You could also embark on a guided, free walking tour through the historic city center, or pay a visit to The Government Palace, which dates back to the 18th century, and houses several stunning murals.
The Rotonda de Los Jaliscienses Ilustres, or Rotunda of the Illustrious Jaliscans, is another great option. Once you’re there, you’ll be greeted with a circle of 17 Doric columns and bronze statues of teacher Irene Robledo García, and artist José Clemente Orozco, along with monuments to some of the region’s favorite writers and revolutionaries. Strangely enough, it’s even believed that some of their ashes are tucked into the monument.
Mexico has a well-deserved reputation for its mouthwatering cuisine, and while Guadalajara might be somewhat undiscovered, that doesn’t mean there aren’t exceptional dining experiences on offer. There are several traditional dishes to sample and savor, and we have no doubt that you’ll discover a new favorite Mexican dish or two.
One of our favorites is the hangover-curing torta ahogada, which is a sandwich bathed in spicy sauce and filled with deep-fried pork and fresh onions. You should also try the quintessential birria, which is a Guadalajaran highlight and offers a blend of Spanish lamb or goat with the flavors of Mexican tomatoes and spices.
Traditionally, birria is served with freshly made corn tortillas, onion, and lemon. Another popular delicacy is Guadalajara’s crispy lonches, which is a sandwich that uses the regional birote bread and offers a variation on the torta ahogada. The main difference is the fact that the tomato sauce is mixed with sour cream, and it’s served with avocado slices.
There are plenty of delectable desserts to sink your teeth into as well if spicy food isn’t your thing. Jericalla is widely considered to be the city’s flagship dessert and offers a mix of European and Mexican ingredients like milk, sugar, cinnamon, eggs, and vanilla.
Often described as a cross between flan and crème brûlée, its texture is soft and silky, while the dish has a burned top like a creme brulee. You definitely shouldn’t miss out on the opportunity to sample Nieve de Garrafa either. It’s an exquisite, handmade Mexican ice cream with a texture similar to Italian gelato, which comes in a variety of flavors including tropical fruit, tequila, Mexican chocolate, and vanilla, amongst others.
Guadalajara has its fair share of enchanting national parks, but there are also enthralling canyons to hike, and leisurely freshwater lakes to visit. In fact, it was once affectionately known as the City of Roses due to the many gardens and rose bushes found throughout the city.
If you’re craving a slice of nature and fresh air, one of the most rewarding options is hiking up Parque Mirador, where you’ll be greeted with sweeping views of the Huentitán Canyon. You could even cap off your hike with a gourmet meal at the restaurant nearby. That being said, it’s important to note that it’s a difficult location to reach with public transportation, so it would be a good idea to order an Uber or similar taxi service to get there.
Bosque Los Colomos is another highlight and the most famous park in Guadalajara. Nestled in the western part of the city, it boasts everything from a Japanese Garden to a cultural center, a small dam, and even hiking and cycling trails. It offers a lovely break from the hustle and bustle of the downtown area and is a great place to spend a leisurely afternoon outdoors.
If you’re keen on a day trip, you could also visit Lake Chapala, which is Mexico’s biggest freshwater lake and is located about an hour’s drive south of the city. There are several charming towns you could visit on the way too, and, if you’re a bird-watching enthusiast, there’s a good chance you’ll spot some snowbirds as well.
Guadalajara is a true shoppers’ paradise, and you really won’t struggle to find unique souvenirs to take home after your trip. Tlaquepaque is one the best places to visit if you’re after a local shopping experience, with the area being renowned for its beautiful, hand-painted pottery. We recommend starting off in the Mercado de Artesanías and then expanding your horizons by visiting some of the boutique stores tucked away in the old town if you want to see more.
Mercado Libertad is also well worth a visit. This sprawling indoor market is located in the historic center of Guadalajara and offers a host of diverse, maze-like stalls selling fresh produce, bootleg DVDs, leather products, and even pets. Plus, there’s a massive food court serving several local specialties at affordable prices.
Guadalajara is a diverse city and the dynamic nightlife has something for everyone. As the birthplace of tequila, the drinking culture is rife and electric. You’ll find traditional cantinas, live music venues, a flourishing craft beer scene, and even trendy nightclubs to suit any palette.
Mariachi music and tequila are usually the focal points of the cultural nightlife offerings in Guadalajara. Visiting an evening of performances should be at the top of your agenda, whether that is paired with tequila tasting in the upscale Casa Bariachi, or in the open air in Plata Real where local bands burst out in song for waiting revelers.
Still, there are also some contemporary dance clubs open until the early hours where locals and tourists can enjoy the sounds of international DJ sets and South American soul all night long. Babel Club, Bar Américas, Lo-La and Envy are among the top rated discotecas in Guadalajara. Nightclubs are concentrated in the hip, Col Americana neighborhood.
One reason Guadalajara is chosen over other Mexican destinations is the weather. It has a much more temperate climate than the capital city and both the Caribbean and Pacific coasts.
Guadalajara is warm and sub-tropical, but winter is mild and pleasant, with an average annual temperature of around 70 degrees Fahrenheit. The winters are rainier and more overcast than summer, but the dry season is typically cloudy, making for good weather for exploring.
From May to August you can still expect highs in the mid-80s, although heavy rains come in from June to September. Still, March to May can be very hot and dry too if this is what you’re after.
How many days do you need in Guadalajara?
We recommended spending at least three to four days in Guadalajara to get a real taste of the city and the cuisine, and even longer if you want to squeeze in some of the great day trips on offer.
When is the best time to visit Guadalajara?
The best months to visit Guadalajara are from October to December when you can expect warm temperatures, dry weather, and a number of cultural events on the calendar. Highs hover in the late-80s and there are plenty of blue skies, but accommodation is most expensive at this time. Hotels operate great discounts between January and May, but you can expect scorching temperatures and uncomfortable humid days. Plus, there’s the risk of tropical storms in summer.