After my incredible time in Puerto Vallarta, the next stop on my travels during the Christmas holidays was Guadalajara. Guadalajara is only about 4 hours away from Puerto Vallarta, so the journey seemed incredibly short compared to the epic 21-hour journey by bus from Guaymas to Puerto Vallarta.
Guadalajara is Mexico’s second major city and is located in the state of Jalisco. I heard it can get really busy, but luckily for us, apparently, not as many people were around as there usually are, because they flocked off to Puerto Vallarta during the Christmas holidays. It was still pretty busy though, so I’d hate to see how rush hour is on a weekday.
Guadalajara is huge, but my friend and I stayed in the Historic Centre part of the city and we ventured out to Tlaquepaque, one of Guadalajara’s neighbourhoods. I spent about a week exploring these areas of Guadalajara, and I believe that this was enough time.
I instantly felt at home in Guadalajara. It is so busy, so metropolitan, and so eventful, that it offered me the hustle and bustle of city life that I sometimes miss and crave. The city, well at least the historical part of the city, is so scattered with colonial and modern architecture and art that it reminded me of a European city, and it made me think about going out and about in London.
The city boasts some pretty impressive colonial buildings, which is why I guess many Mexicans rave on about how beautiful Guadalajara is. And I can definitely see the appeal of this electrifying hub, especially if many towns are like the one that I’m currently based in. But I guess because I’m familiar with seeing this type of architecture around me, I was just a little bit underwhelmed. Even so, I loved Guadalajara and how energetic and full of life it is, and it is still one of my favourite cities in Mexico so far.
There is a lot to see in Guadalajara’s historic centre. I recommend strolling around the Plaza de la Liberacion area, where there is sure to be many different type of activities and food stalls to sink your teeth into, depending on the season. My particular favourite activities when I went just after Christmas were the makeshift ice-skating rink in the middle of the plaza, the Ferris wheel and the ice slide.
You also have to visit Plaza de los Mariachis, where mariachi music originated from. You’ll find many mariachi bands serenading diners or just chilling in the area. Be careful though; don’t venture too far into that area after dark as I was told by the police and by locals that it can be quite dangerous. I just remember seeing a security guard keeping watch over a video game store with a machine gun – an actual machine gun. “You steal, you die,” I can almost hear him say.
There is a really big market place called San Juan de Dios, and there is a lot of things happening in and around that area. If you are feeling super adventurous, then you could walk down the really long road to see the Vallarta Arches and the Minerva Goddess statue guarding the city. Please only walk there if you have a lot of time on your hands. I totally underestimated the distance and I ended up walking for an eternity. It seemed a lot closer than it was on the very basic map we were given; little did I know that it missed out a load of streets. But I saw some cool sights on the way, so it wasn’t that bad.
You can also take in the sights of the cobblestoned streets of Tlaquepaque and shop in the various markets and boutiques where you can buy a lot of handcrafted items, jewellery, shoes, furniture, paintings and other items.
Aside from the action-packed festivities that you can indulge in in Plaza de la Liberacion during the Christmas holidays (they are free, but free also means that there are long queues), my friend and I went to Plaza de los Mariachis for NYE. It was a quieter affair than we expected and the sky hardly lit up with fireworks as we were hoping and expecting, but we were entertained by the singing, the traditional dancing, and the mariachi band playing. This was pretty much the first time that I encountered the famous outburst of laughter during the middle of a mariachi song, even if it sounds sad. We were given 12 grapes for each month of the year so that we could eat it during the countdown to midnight and make a wish. It wasn’t properly explained to us what we had to do though; they just made a nice snack.
Disregarding the Christmas season though, there are various street performances that take place throughout central Guadalajara. There is pretty much always something happening if you walk in the area between San Juan de Dios and Instituto Cultural de Cabañas, which is a gallery. The gallery itself is a pretty interesting place to visit, especially if you have time to just roam around. What’s more is that it’s free one day during the week and free is always good! You just have to enquire for details, because I forgot which day we went there for free, sorry.
In terms of the nightlife there, my friend and I love salsa music, so we frequented El Callejóon de los Ruberos and La Mutalista. If bars are more your thing, then there are plenty dotted around, especially in the fashionable Chapultepec neighbourhood. If you just prefer drinking in general and you love Tequila, then you can go on day trips from Guadalajara to the surrounding towns of Tequila, Amatitán or Atotonilco El Alto.
If you feel the urge to do something healthier, then on Sundays, central Guadalajara’s main roads are closed for a few hours to provide a clear path for cyclists, runner, skateboarders, skaters, walkers, etc.
Or if you prefer to watch physically challenging feats rather than partake in them, then you can head down to Arena Coliseo to watch the Lucha libre, Mexico’s version of WWF, but with masks and costumes. I’ll go into more details about this in another post.
We stayed in a place called Hostal Plaza Liberacion. It was pretty cheap and you have the option to stay in the hostal or the hotel part of the building. My friend and I shared a twin room (hotel) and I felt pretty comfortable. It also has kitchen appliances, so you are able to cook if you want to save money. What I really loved about this place was its location. And I liked this place so much, that I decided to stay here when I returned to Guadalajara for Easter for a couple of days.
I absolutely loved Guadalajara, so much so that I even considered moving here. The only thing that stopped me was the fact that the city is 4 hours away from the beach.