Tell people you’re going to Guadalajara and you might get some strange stares and even the standard response of “Guadala…where?!”. And once you explain it’s in Mexico and the 2nd largest city with a tech hub and also known for tequila, mariachi, and a historic center with a UNESCO world heritage site due to painter José Clemente Orozco’s murals, you’ll have convinced some but some will forever remain perplexed and some will even ask “Is it safe?”. In this post, we share information and tips about Guadalajara based on our recent trip in the hopes of helping you understand why we visited and how much we enjoyed it!
1. Getting Here:
If you are flying in from Canada, there are no non-stops flights into GDL – Miguel Hidalgo y Costilla International Airport so you need to plan for 1-2 stops. Since we found a pretty amazing deal with Alaska Airlines, we decided this would be a fun mileage run for us; we flew from YVR – Vancouver to SEA- SeaTac then to LAX – Los Angeles and onwards to GDL – Guadalajara. Most of my Mexican friends fly with Aeroméxico from YVR – Vancouver connect in MEX – Mexico City or fly on Volaris from SEA – SeaTac to GDL – Guadalajara. American air carriers like American Airlines have non-stop flights from ATL – Atlanta and HOU – Houston to name a couple.
2. Guadalajara vs Mexico City:
Some people might wonder why you would visit Guadalajara when there is Mexico City and some of our Mexican friends pretty much told us not to go because there is not really anything there. Mexico City is like the New York City of Mexico and so it obviously garners more respect and interest. We did visit Mexico City and we did enjoy ourselves and hope to go back but we could not pass up the opportunity to visit Guadalajara either. That being said, we had visited Mexico City and really enjoyed ourselves and so we decided to see what Mexico’s 2nd largest city might be like.
In some ways, we actually enjoyed ourselves more in Guadalajara because it didn’t feel so big or busy and we didn’t have to cover as much ground to visit things on our list. We also found the neighbourhoods pleasant to walk through and liked the small neighbourhood vibe with the murals, shops, restaurants and bars.
We also found most things like hotels, restaurants, transportation and shopping a lot cheaper. It is a lot less touristy in GDL too, which made for an interesting experience in the sense that we felt that we experienced local culture more. We also feel that having visited Mexico City, we had a better of idea what to expect in Guadalajara.
3. Getting Around:
We limited our exploring to Arcos Vallarta, Obrera, Americana, and Zona Centro so we walked and used Uber to get around. We actually found it quite easy to walk around and we were quite impressed that on Sunday, Avenida Chapultepec is closed to cars to allow pedestrian traffic to walk and bike down the street from 08:00-14:00. There is a boke share program in GDL that seems popular called MIBICI. You can buy a temporary subscription by day for about 88 pesos. Find out more here: https://www.mibici.net/en/temporary-subscription/.
Uber and Lyft are available and quite convenient, except at the airport; they can only drop-off, not pick up from what we were told and saw. There is a pick-up point at the airport, but it is not near the arrivals area. We took an Uber from our hotel, Casa Habita to Hospicio Cabanas and it cost 45 pesos so $2.35USD. We also took an Uber back to the airport from our hotel and it cost. Before our trip, I had asked for advice online and locals told me there is no Uber or Lyft and that taxi is the best way to go which was quite misleading. On our arrival, we chose to use a taxi to get to our hotel but found it quite frustrating. The taxi fares are set and based on zones so it is best to know which zone you are going to; we paid 350 pesos so $18.30USD which we felt was reasonable for a 30-40 minute ride. The issue we had was that despite us giving instructions and the address, the taxi driver didn’t know where it was; we waited in the taxi for about 10 minutes while he asked for directions and got his paper work and then he even stopped along the way to ask for more directions. It often seems that you always encounter issues you want to avoid with taxis when you take them. We did take an Uber back to the airport from the hotel and it ended up being about $5 cheaper than taking a taxi.
In addition to all of the above, there is a light rail system that connects Guadalajara, Zapopan and Tlaquepaque; find out more here. We didn’t take any of the city buses and found them to look a little chaotic. You can find out more here. We would most definitely look at taking the light rail system in the future to get around.
4. ¿Hablas español?/Do you Speak English?:
Max took Spanish in high school and remembers some of it and has taught Jason some basics, in addition to using Duolingo to build up some basic Spanish skills. When asked by a local to rate our percentage of fluency with the language, collectively we believe we are at 10% (…I know, so embarrassing for people like us who visit Spanish speaking countries on a regular basis..!). Lo siento chicos!
Since Guadalajara is not as touristy, people will most likely initially address you in Spanish. At which point, you can try to keep going or try the “Lo siento, no entiendo. Hablamos un poquito español”, at which point, people will be very confused by how well you say that (We’ve had too much practice, trust us! Sorry amigos!). In some cases, no one spoke English so we had to get by and negotiate by using key words and pointing, in some cases people spoke English and really wanted to practice with us, and in some cases people were so impressed that we were trying so hard that they slowed their speech to teach/help us in our quest to communicate in Spanish. From the bottom of our hearts, gracias to the people of Guadalajara for being so patient, welcoming, kind, and supportive during our visit!
That being said, less people spoke English here than in Mexico City and very few menus were in English, only in Spanish. You can probably get by without knowing Spanish and if it makes you feel uncomfortable, brush up on basics and install an app that can help to translate.
5. Where to Stay:
After looking at the numerous options, we decided to stay at Casa Habita, a Design Hotels branded boutique hotel part of Marriott Bonvoy even if the benefits offered to Titanium members is minimal. We chose this hotel primarily because of its location in the Lafayette neighborhood which is close to a lot of the things we wanted to check out. It was a tough choice between Casa Habita and the cheaper Aloft located in the financial district but we were happy with our choice and if we go back to Guadalajara, we will consider both of these options. Having stayed at other Aloft hotels before, including one in Los Angeles on our way to Guadalajara and knowing the style of hotel and experience, we do think we made the right choice to stay at Casa Habita due to its character and location. Stay tuned for a detailed review!
Guadalajara offers a good mix of sightseeing in the city, has a fun food scene, and there are options for longer trips outside of the city. In the city, history and architecture lovers will enjoy the Centro Historico, art lovers will want to visit UNESCO World Heritage site Hospicio Cabañas to marvel at José Clemente Orozco’s murals to name a few (while the museum offers free tours, they are in Spanish). It costs 70 Pesos so about $5USD to enter and we recommend arriving when it opens as it does get crowded around noon; we arrived at 10:15 and left at noon.
To get a taste of vibrant Mexican culture, Tlaquepaque historic centre has colonial architecture, colorful umbrellas which are popular for photos, arts and crafts, mariachis and food and beverage to experience. We did not get to visit as we had limited time but do intend on going on our next trip.
As for day trips, the most popular ones are tours to Tequila to visit distilleries as it’s only about 1 hour away. Much like vineyard terrain is stunning, seeing the landscape with blue agave is equally stunning and you get to try Mexico’s signature and famous spirit. Casa Herradura even offers a tour that gets you to the distillery aboard a train which we will plan to do next time.
A couple other popular trips are to Mexico’s largest lake, Lake Chapala less than an hour away and Guachimontones, an archeological site comprised of conical pyramids built around 2,000 years ago.
7. The Food Scene:
If you’ve been reading this blog for a while now, you know that we absolutely love Mexican food and eating it in Mexico especially. Before we even researched sightseeing activities, we pretty much had a list of places to eat at that would exceed the time we had there; we’d need at least 1 week to eat our way through all the places on our list! From street food to fine dining and even casual in between, there are tons of place to enjoy Mexican food and other delicious food. While Guadalajara sits at 5,600 feet, you can still feel mild effects of the altitude if you are used to being at sea level. Max felt the altitude both in Guadalajara and Mexico City (Mexico City is at 7,200 feet of altitude). Pair the altitude with having the remnants of a week old flu, and yes, our appetite was slightly suppressed.
We like more casual experiences and so we didn’t visit any of the fine dining spots but they’re here and very popular even if they’re not Michelin Star rated like a few in Mexico City. A few popular ones are Alcade where Chef Ruano serves up simple but elegant Mexican food, Hueso for a more hipster and modern experience in a restaurant comprised of bones, and I Latina for a more traditional and upscale fun restaurant.
Here are the places we really enjoyed:
- Taqueria Tomate: If you like al pastor tacos, this place is not only fun but the food is delicious. While you can order by the taco, most people order by weight and then build their own tacos from the freshly made before your eyes corn tortillas that are churned out continuously for the never ending masses of people that line-up to eat here. It is one of those standard taquerias with the TVs and loud music playing as people talk, laugh, eat and drink. We ordered the al pastor and chorizo and found the chorizo to be some of the best we ever had. This was way too much food for two people but no meat got left behind as we ate it without the tortillas which were good but a little dense.
- 1000 Caguamas: If you like ceviche, beer, and loud music, this is the place to be. Part bar and part cevicheria, 1000 Caguamas is a popular place to drink beer from large bottles while eating ceviche. The menu is pretty limited; it’s either fish or shrimp with different sauces. We tried to get a seat on the rooftop patio but it was too busy and thankfully we were inside when the rain started. We ordered the medium and the small and the portions were pretty generous and very spicy which is probably why people slather on the mayo. If you can’t handle spicy, you may want to skip this place or just order a large bottle of beer to yourself, and chug it straight from the bottle guilt free as this is how it’s done here. Make sure to drink lots of beer because a portion of each bottle of beer sold goes towards sea turtle conservation in Mexico.
- Birriería las 9 Esquinas: Birria is a traditional Mexican dish that you don’t always find outside of Mexico and it is a must-try when in Guadalajara. Birria is meat stewed in its own juices and often lamb. We ordered the special and a consommé which was served with fresh tortillas, salsas and beans. We actually forgot to take a photo of the birria! We found this to be the best birria we’ve ever had and we would love to come back.
- Casa Trapiche – Cervecería de Colima: We love Colima craft beers and were so excited to get to visit Casa Trapiche, one of their outposts outside of Colima. We really enjoyed the beers, the cocktails, and the ceviche we had. On weekends, they open up the rooftop terrace which is a nice place to enjoy a drink and some food. We also found the service here to be outstanding and really like the staff here.
- Café P’al Real: Café P’al Real not only has fantastic coffee but scrumptious brunch on the weekend featuring Mexican classics and their own creations. It gets really busy so we arrived by 08:45 and by the time we left at 10:00, it was filling up. The menu was in Spanish so we did our best and we were not disappointed by the chilaquiles and the omelet. We’ve always been disappointed by the soggy and stale chilaquiles we’ve had in the US but here they were as chilaquiles should be and we do recommend adding chorizo to them! The really popular dish they are known for is the “lonche de panchita”, which is a pork belly sandwich. We really wanted to order their torta ahogada, which is a Guadalajara staple but felt too full and so we shared the chilaquiles and omelet. After 12:00, they serve alcohol. Had brunch been served on Monday, we would have gone back for sure.
- Momotabi Ice Cream Atelier: Momotabi is a Japanese mocha market that also sells “helados”, ice cream and other treats. We ended up getting a match ice cream mocha with a taro marshmallow which we enjoyed in their cute café style setting.
We also explored Mercado San Juan de Dios, one of the largest markets of its type in Latin America where you can buy local products and anything else you need, in addition to a variety of food, especially local specialties. As much as we wanted to take photos, we avid taking them in markets like this as to not draw attention to ourselves as tourists and to also respect local people going about their day. All the food smelled so good too and you get to see how they make all of it. This was probably one of the most interesting markets we’ve been to in Latin America.
The only thing we didn’t get around to trying is the popular Torta ahogada, a pork sandwich drowned in chili sauce. It is blasphemous to come to Guadalajara and not try it though as we were told. It is a tricky thing to eat though as it is often just served in a plastic bag.
8. Cash or Credit:
Compared to other places in Mexico, many places we visited accepted credit card and we had no issues with any of the machines. We were even surprised to see that quite a few places let us put the tip AKA as “propina” on the “tarjeta de credito” (credit card), as this is not usually the norm. We always carry pesos in case the machine is not working, as we have learned in the past and for the tip.
We were there in early October so it was still quite warm; about 25 Celsius to 30 Celsius during the day. In the evenings, the temperature did drop down to about 15 Celsius which was still comfortable but you needed a sweater or jacket if you were out. We were also very lucky it was mostly sunny but there were thunderstorms and torrential rain showers for a few hours one evening. Here is some information about the weather in Guadaljara.
Overall, we felt pretty safe in Guadalajara despite some mixed things people told us but considering how polarizing Mexico is, we were not surprised. We took similar precautions to when we travelled to other destinations in Mexico, South America, and South East Asia: no jewelry, no large purses that look expensive, casual attire that blends in, avoided loud discussion in English in public, we were cautious about taking our phones out all the time. We also didn’t stay out too late and we did our best to remain situationally aware at all times, something we do here at home in Canada and in the United States as a standard practice.
No one bothered us or tried to scam us and as usual, the taxi ride was the more annoying aspects of the whole thing where we felt we could have been scammed even if we used a taxi stand at the airport. If anything, we did feel uneasy walking around in Arcos Vallarta because it was so quiet on Saturday and there wasn’t that much food traffic. It was a little busier Sunday and so we felt more comfortable having more people around.
As for attire, everyone wears long pants (mostly jeans) and closed toe shoes even if it’s 30 Celsius outside. That was a bit of a challenge and we decided to wear sandals which was fine and didn’t make us stand out too much.
Lastly, there is corruption and petty crime here but we feel if you exercise precautions, stay out of travel and maintain situational awareness, you should be fine.
We’ve met so many nice Tapatios (name for people that are from Guadalajara) in Guadalajara and across Mexico, and even here in Canada; it was gratifying to visit their city. Visiting Guadalajara has further deepened our appreciation of Mexico as a tourist destination beyond the beaches. If you get the chance, visit Guadalajara, you won’t be disappointed; you’ll probably make new friends, improve your Spanish, enjoy really delicious food, see stunning architecture, and your perception of Mexico as a whole might change.
Have we convinced you to visit Guadalajara? Have you visited Guadalajara? If so, what are your favorite things to do there?
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