The second city of the Mexican Republic, Guadalajara is considered the most “Mexican” of the country’s big cities. Being less frenetic than the capital, however, doesn’t make it peaceful, and Guadalajara is huge and sprawling. Its conversion to a sleek metropolis has resulted in a hike in prices and some sacrifice of Mexican mellowness in favour of a US-style business ethic, but it’s still an enjoyable place to visit, with the edge on Mexico’s other big cities for trees, flowers, cleanliness and friendliness. It also remains a great place to see something of traditional and modern Mexico, as it offers everything from museums, galleries and colonial architecture to magnificent revolutionary murals by José Clemente Orozco to a nightlife scene enlivened by a large student population.
With a range of hotels to suit all budgets (as well as a couple of hostels) right in the centro histórico, there is little reason to stay elsewhere in the city. In this area you’ll be able to walk to everything in the centre and have easy access to buses out to the outlying suburbs.
If you’re looking for a budget option and the central places are all full, consider some of the cheap hotels around the old bus station or in the streets south of the Mercado Libertad. Both areas are noisy and none too appealing, though the hotels we’ve listed are fine.
Most of the more expensive business hotels tend to be a long way out to the west of the city, though you’re almost certainly better off in the luxury B&B-style places downtown or in Tlaquepaque.
There’s also Avenida López Mateos, 2km to the west of the centre, which is Guadalajara’s motel row. This can be handy if you’re driving and don’t want to tackle the city. Finally, if you arrive late at night at the Central Nueva and all you want to do is sleep, try Hotel Serena.
Eating and drinking
Eating and drinking
Tapatíos take their food seriously. Guadalajara boasts hundreds of places to eat, ranging from elegant restaurants to unpretentious cafés, and from loncherías (cafés with an emphasis on short orders) to neverías (with ice cream and fresh-fruit drinks). Don’t pass up the street vendors either – their fresh tacos and bags of spiced fruit are delicious and make a cheap, healthy snack.
For basic meals, the mezzanine of the Mercado Libertad has seemingly hundreds of little stands, each displaying their own specialities. There’s a more limited, but handier, selection at the Mercado Corona.
In the centre, your best choice is west of the cathedral, where traditional cafés and restaurants line Juárez. Though there are plenty of more expensive places round the centre, they tend to be rather dull: in the evenings, locals are far more likely to be found out in the suburbs. A good and relatively close hunting ground is López Cotilla, a few blocks west of the university.
Traditionally the downtown area hasn’t been that lively, but things are picking up, particularly southwest of the cathedral (along López Madero, Madero and Sanchez) and in the Nueve Esquinas quarter, three blocks further south, where Colon and Galeana meet. Most of the fashionable, younger-crowd Tapatíos tend to hang out in the distant moneyed suburbs – the Plaza del Sol complex, for example, houses a couple of clubs, as do many of the big hotels out that way. Any of them will knock a sizeable hole in your wallet. There are more clubs where Juárez becomes Avenida Vallarta (most of which enforce the “no jeans or sneakers” policy typical at Mexican nightspots). Avenida López Mateos has a number of trendy pubs with live music and a younger crowd. Some have open bars on certain nights of the week in exchange for a cover charge of around M$100 for men, usually M$50 or less for women.
Guadalajara has a reputation for being one of Mexico’s gayest cities, and while that doesn’t mean public displays of affection are widely accepted, there’s greater freedom in the dozen or so bars and clubs that advertise their orientation with rainbow flags. Guadalajara’s gay quarter is centred on the junction of Ocampo and Sanchez, about five blocks southwest of the cathedral. La Prisciliana is a good place to start, and Spanish-speakers can check out what’s going on at wwww.gaygdl.com.
There’s an impressive range of traditional Mexican and classical concerts, contemporary gigs, classic and modern film, theatre and opera performances and art exhibitions in town – you can see some kind of performance most nights of the week. Anyone on a tight budget should check out the Plaza de Armas, where there’s usually something free happening. One thing no visitor to Guadalajara should miss is hearing mariachi in its hometown, specifically at the Plaza de los Mariachis.
Going to the cinema in Guadalajara is not particularly convenient, as suburban multiplexes have killed downtown movies. The big shopping centres such as Centro Magno and Plaza del Sol have the latest blockbusters, and we’ve also listed a couple of more convenient alternatives.
Several entertaining festivals take place throughout the year including: the highly animated Día de San Pedro in Tlaquepaque (June 29), with mariachi, dancing and processions; and the Día de la Virgen de Zapopan (Oct 12), an all-night fiesta capped with a massive early-morning procession that starts before dawn at the cathedral and finishes in Zapopan. Crowds and assorted food vendors start arriving the evening before, when there all sorts of music and the portales are choked with people bedding down for the 4am start.
In the autumn, everything cranks up to fever pitch for the Fiestas de Octubre (wwww.fiestasdeoctubre.com.mx), a month-long celebration when downtown Guadalajara comes alive with all manner of outdoor performances and bands, often free. Daily events include charreadas (rodeos), processions and fireworks, as well as all kinds of free entertainment – modern Mexican music performances are put on from noon till 10pm in the fairgrounds of the Benito Juárez auditorium.