Guadalajara has been attracting more attention on the tourism map lately. Stylish new hotels and sophisticated new cuisine are adding to the allure of Mexico's second-largest city, which sits in the state of Jalisco. I spent several days exploring this beautiful city, while on assignment for several media outlets, including my own Latin America travel blog, LatinFlyer.com. So if you're looking to make the most of your visit, here are the top 8 things to do in Guadalajara, Mexico.
1. Tour the historic city center: Downtown Guadalajara is where the city's history begins — and it's a supremely walkable neighborhood, with the most important landmarks with a radius of just a few blocks. Among the must-sees: Teatro Degollado, a neoclassical theater that dates to 1856 (and still hosts live performances), Hospicio Cabañas, a massive former institution that opened in early 19th century to provide shelter for disadvantaged residents (today it's a UNESCO World Heritage Site, a museum and a great place to see masterpiece murals by Mexican artist José Clemente Orozco) and the cathedral, which first began towering over the city in 1558.
2. Travel to Tequila: The birthplace of the eponymous spirit is a pleasant small town about 45 minutes from Guadalajara, and it's an interesting visit even if you don't drink. The most interesting ways to arrive are the Tequila train, which includes a guided visit the Mundo Cuervo tequila factory and the Tequilacopter, which provides a fast helicopter transfer from the Guadalajara airport to the Sauza brand tequila facilities for a guided tour and tasting. You can also stay overnight in Tequila at any of a variety of small hotels — the most luxurious is the new Solar de las Animas (which made it into my roundup of 8 Great Hotels in Guadalajara).
3. Cruise on Lake Chapala: Mexico's largest freshwater lake is a quick one-hour drive from Guadalajara and it's a peaceful place for a morning or afternoon cruise, followed by a visit to any of the quaint towns that dot the coastline — Ajijic, for example, is an expat hub with lots of cute small shops.
4. Explore the ruins of Guachimontones: Guadalajara may be known more for its colonial and republican history, but this city can also serve as a gateway to pre-Hispanic history and traditions as well. Guachimontones is a scenic, hilltop group of ruins that date to 350 B.C., and a guided tour offers a glimpse at the region's ancient history.
5. Cheer the lucha libre wrestling stars: Lucha libre — the much-loved Mexican wrestling sport — is a colorful, over-the-top and fun experience. Grab some popcorn and beer and take your seat at Arena Coliseo de Guadalajara and enjoy the lively drama that unravels with every throw down.
6. Buy some great gifts: Guadalajara is a rewarding place to go shopping. Popular places include Tlaquepaque, a touristy neighborhood known for its arts and crafts, carved wood furniture, ceramics and handmade clothing. Artisan works are also a draw in Tonalá, where furniture, glassware and ceramics are among the best finds. Also a must is the Mercado Libertad, also known as San Juan de Dios; one of the largest enclosed markets in all of Mexico, it's a bustling, jam-packed and decidedly authentic experience — this is where locals shop — and you can find everything from clothing to religious items to blankets and shoes.
7. Go for a bike ride: Every Sunday, Guadalajara hosts Via Recreativa, during which several main streets are closed to vehicular traffic, allowing cyclists, pedestrians joggers and skate boarders lots of safe space to enjoy. You can borrow a bicycle for free but you have to leave your passport; if you're not comfortable with that, consider joining a guided outing with GDL Bike Tour, which charges $7 for daily tours that take about 2.5 hours.
8. Eat! Guadalajara is paradise for foodies, with everything from traditional Mexican to fusion to international specialties. For a few ideas, check out my roundup of 8 Great Restaurants in Guadalajara.
For more travel tips and information, visit the Guadalajara Convention & Visitors’ Bureau site.