We’ve been curious about Guadalajara ever since falling in love with Mexico City. Depending on the source, Guadalajara is the second or third largest city in Mexico (after CDMX and perhaps Monterrey, which has now jumped to the top of the list of Mexican destinations we’re curious about). So, we decided to take a week between our long stays in Puerto Vallarta and CDMX to check out Guadalajara. Here are some highlights:
There are plenty of flights between Puerto Vallarta and Guadalajara but we opted to avoid the airport and travel via luxury bus with a company called Vallarta Plus. Their buses leave Puerto Vallarta every half hour on the quarter hour. I bought our 10:15 tickets online about a week in advance, but they don’t seem to sell out. We arrived at the bus station (located right next to the airport) early enough to transfer the tickets to the 9:45 bus, on which there were still plenty of seats available.
We sat behind everyone else and were able to spread out. The seats are very plush, reclinable, and have a seat-back screen with movies and shows, though we didn’t utilize it. There are also two bathrooms on board, similar style and size to airplane bathrooms. I packed a PBJ lunch for us, which we ate about halfway through the 4.5-hour trip. It was a comfortable ride, though the highway was a bit too curvy to get as much work done as we’d hoped. We arrived on time at the Zapopan bus station (a suburb of Guadalajara) and took an Uber to our Airbnb, arriving just after the start of the 3 p.m. check-in window.
Our departure day from Guadalajara to CDMX was even easier. We had tickets on a 3 p.m. nonstop flight but knowing the airport had a good lounge where we could eat lunch (for free via my Priority Pass membership) we arrived quite early. When we checked our bags, our airline (Aeromexico) offered to put us on the 1:50 p.m. flight. Since they had two aisle seats in the same row toward the front, we said yes. We still had enough time to clear security and eat lunch in the lounge, which was relatively healthy and met our needs. It was pretty much our easiest travel day ever.
We booked a large and comfortable Airbnb (review below) for our week in Guadalajara at a cost of around $300, which is about average for us. We ended up spending quite a lot of time there, so it was a good thing we made sure it met our needs. Chad was on a deadline during our week in Guadalajara so we didn’t get out much – just three touristy trips in the late afternoons on Wednesday and Sunday and a midday Saturday park trip. But we also had a very nice park near the Airbnb, Parque Alcalde, where we went for daily walks and we got food delivered twice so we were able to try some of the local specialty cuisine, including birria (beef stew) and a torta ahogada (a meat sandwich smothered in sauce kind of like barbecue).
On our second to last day, Saturday, our host brought us a couple of hard ciders as a gift, which was a very nice gesture. He knew from our communications in Spanish on WhatsApp that my Spanish is pretty limited so he brought his young daughter to translate. It was nice to meet them and Chad and I enjoyed the ciders later that evening on our small porch.
Historic Centro and Chapultepec
Guadalajara has a very nice Centro Historico with several plazas and a beautiful cathedral., but did venture out to the centro on our third evening. We took the metro down from our neighborhood, which was clean and easy to use. You can buy a rechargeable metro card for 30 pesos, but since we knew we wouldn’t use it much, we opted to buy single paper tickets. The only downsides are that the machines don’t provide change, you can only buy one at a time, they don’t include transfers, and you have to use it at the station from which you bought it. The tickets are 9.5 pesos, but due to lack of change I paid 9.5 for one and 10 for the other.
The metro went directly from our neighborhood to centro in two stops and we emerged right in the midst of the Plaza de Armas next to the Catedral de Guadalajara. After taking in the plazas and the cathedral, we walked about 20 minutes to the Chapultepec neighborhood, which is supposed to have the best bars, restaurants, and stores. Avenida Chapultepec is a lot like many other commercial streets we’ve been on, like the Champs Elysee in Paris or the Avenida de Liberdade in Lisbon to name two. It’s a wide avenue with expensive real estate, all the international brands, trees along the center, and feels pretty corporate.
We didn’t love it so elected to backtrack a couple of blocks to a cute local restaurant we’d passed advertising traditional and prehispanic foods. On Google maps it’s listed as El Fondue Gourmet, but the sign out front was Frida and it was Frida Kahlo-themed inside.
We were the only customers when we arrived before 6 (we like to eat early) but the waiter took great care of us and I strained my limited Spanish to communicate with him. We were too hungry to try the prehispanic foods, but they did have numerous traditional drinks to try, including flavored pulque (previously we’d only tried the natural flavor in Puebla and CDMX), tepache (non alcoholic fermented pineapple rind drink; funny coincidence or law of attraction – we’d just been chatting on our walk to Chapultepec about the drinks we meant to try in Puerto Vallarta and didn’t and tepache was the main one), and beer made from nopales. The waiter gave us the tepache gratis as well as shots of xtabentun, a Mayan liquor with herbs and honey, as a digestif at the end of the meal. Our meal was good but nothing special – sopecitos to start, chicken mole for Chad, and chicken enchiladas for me. Classic Mexican foods. But our experience with the drinks and the waiter made it a memorable night out.
Bosque Los Colomos
We didn’t make it out again to enjoy Guadalajara until the weekend. On Saturday we went out to enjoy a late brunch and walk in the main urban green space in Guadalajara, Bosque Los Colomos. We expected to find several street food carts around the park, but didn’t, but there was a cafe that served chilaquiles (among other things), so we enjoyed our meal. We noticed right away at the cafe that the squirrels in the park were pretty unafraid and kind of aggressive at trying to get at people’s food. As we walked around after brunch, we noticed lots of people feeding the squirrels, which explained it. It was a nice walk and fun to be out with all the families enjoying their weekend.
Sunday in the late afternoon we took the metro down to the artsy suburb of Tlaquepaque. In addition to being fun to say, Tlaquepaque is a designated Pueblo Magico and it was easy to see why. We took the metro down to the Revolucion station and then walked about 15 minutes to get to its centro, the Jardín Hidalgo. On a Sunday afternoon the square was lined with food carts. Our first purchase was a kiwi raspada. Raspadas are a Mexican ice treat kind of like Hawaiian shaved ice. We’ve seen it many times but never tried it before, but now I am a total fan. You get a cup of crushed ice and they ladle syrup over it, in my case a syrup made from kiwi.
We wandered through Tlaquepaque’s market, Mercado Benito Juarez, which includes craft sellers on the third floor. It was fun looking at all the wares, though we weren’t tempted to buy anything. Then we walked down the Calle Independencia, the main pedestrian street, which is lined with restaurants, galleries, and shops, as well as tons of public art, primarily sculptures. We were pleased to discover that the ceramics museum was open (Google said it was closed on Sundays) and checked that out (it’s free).
At the end of the calle, there’s a bunch of cute bars but they were all blaring their music too loud for our taste so we chose to go to Maroffa, a bar and restaurant with a rooftop overlooking the Tlaquepaque letters. We enjoyed some really tasty cocktails there and a couple of beers before walking back up to the square to find more food.
Next we tried dorielotes, which is Mexican corn served in a bag of flavored Doritos (we chose salsa verde flavor). They were super-delicious (especially after two drinks!) and filling. Being back at the square put us next to the El Parian, a partially open-air building with a bunch of bars and restaurants where mariachi bands play. Jalisco state is the birthplace of mariachi, so we were glad for the opportunity to hear some of the traditional music, and especially glad they didn’t come play next to us because even at a distance it was loud.
Finally we needed to find some real food before heading home. We happened upon a Lucha Libre-themed pulque bar that served snacks, which ended up being perfect. We got a tostada, some tacos, and some chips, and it was just enough with our flavored pulques (strawberry for me and marzipan for Chad).
We really enjoyed our afternoon and evening in Tlaquepaque, especially because the vast majority of other people enjoying themselves there were locals and domestic tourists. It was the highlight of our time in Guadalajara, so fitting that we did it on our last night before flying to CDMX.
We did not fall in love with Guadalajara, though we did enjoy our week there. It is a nice city and has great amenities (many of which we didn’t have time to check out, like professional soccer matches, museums, lucha libre, parks, zoo, and an aquarium), but there are many other cities in Mexico we’ve enjoyed more (Oaxaca and Puebla to name two). I’m glad we checked it off our list of places to see.
Airbnb Link and Review – This is a great apartment and exactly like the photos. It was clean and comfortable with a usable kitchen, though grocery shopping options in the immediate area are limited. The location was good, a short walk to La Normal metro station to go to Centro or Tlaquepaque. The wifi worked very well. Very kind host with good communication. Be advised the check-in instructions come right before check-in time, which is no problem but it’s helpful to know when to expect them.