Guadalajara: The Mexican City Known for Art, Rodeo, and Tequila
Located less than 200 miles inland from the Pacific coast of Mexico, Guadalajara is a city of 1.4 million people. The capital of the state of Jalisco, it’s a thriving metropolis filled with murals, mariachi music, traditional crafts, and Mexico’s national sport.
Celebrate the sounds of mariachi
Originating in the central Mexico state of Jalisco, mariachi music has played a signature role in Mexico’s music since at least the 1700s, with sounds of string instruments like vihuelas and guitarróns flowing through the rural landscapes of western Mexico.
Many of the instruments used in mariachi bands were brought over by the Spanish in the 1500s, and mariachi music was born out of the blend of Indigenous music and these newly introduced instruments. The Mexican government helped to amplify this already culturally prominent genre of music in the 1920s by broadcasting the music on national radio networks and promoting it as a symbol of Mexican identity as a way to unify post-revolution Mexico. Pedro Infante, Luis Miguel, and Silvestre Vargas are a few of the original mariachi singers that continue to be most heavily associated with mariachi music today.
Hear the music for yourself at the Plaza de los Mariachis, which has been a center of mariachi music since the 1800s. There is live music at the plaza every evening at 9:30pm, and mariachi groups lingering in the area seek out tables to serenade. However, the plaza is located in an area of the city that has more petty crime, so extra caution is advised when visiting. Visiting this spot with a tour guide or group is a good way to minimize risk.
Search for Huichol crafts at weekend tianguis
Each weekend, tianguis (outdoor flea markets) emerge in cities across Mexico and Central America, hosting vendors of fresh produce, clothing, household goods, and artisan crafts, some of which contain centuries of Indigenous tradition.
In Guadalajara, many of these vendors sell different iterations of Huichol art, a type of Mexican folk art. The style is well-recognized for its colorful designs that are constructed with small beads and turned into decorative and wearable objects including jewelry, keychains, wall art, and belts. The Huichol people live in the Mexican states of Jalisco, Durango, Zacatecas, and Nayarit. Many of the designs seen in their craftworks today originate from century-old religious beliefs and symbolism within their culture.
Tianguis de Santa Tere, Tianguis el Baratillo, and Tianguis Cultural are all good places to check out these crafts and more. San Juan de Dios, the largest indoor market in Latin America at more than 430,000 square feet, is another great stop. It’s open every day for freshly prepared meals, produce, clothing, and more.
Muralism meets museums
Following the Mexican Revolution, the era of muralism was ushered into Mexican culture and education in the early 1920s as the Mexican government commissioned artists including three muralists known as “The Big Three” who were leaders of the muralism movement.
José Clemente Orozco, Diego Rivera, and David Alfaro Siqueiros depicted Mexico’s pre-colonial history and culture to the Mexican population, which was largely illiterate at the time. Their vast creations can be seen at historical buildings and museums around Guadalajara. Orozco, in particular, was prolific in Guadalajara. The Instituto Cultural Cabañas is host to El Hombre de Fuego, among 56 other Orozco murals. The Palacio de Gobierno is home to another mural of Orozoco’s, a portrait of Father Hidalgo.
Murals are found throughout Mexico and are celebrated in part for the way they were painted in public spaces which made art more accessible to everyone. The muralism movement continued for about 50 years and included thousands of murals across Mexico, as well as a few cities in the US.
Hop on board the Tequila train
Roughly 40 miles outside Guadalajara, the small town of Tequila and surrounding villages churn out about 90% of the nearly 500 million liters of tequila that is produced in Mexico each year.
The origins of tequila date back to Mesoamerican times, when the Aztec people were fermenting the native blue agave to produce a beverage called pulque. When Spanish conquistadors arrived, they began to distill agave and around 1600, the first tequila factory was built in what is now the town of Tequila.
Visitors can learn about the production process at distilleries and haciendas that range from small, family-owned farms to Jose Cuervo’s La Rojeña, the oldest distillery in Latin America and the largest producer of tequila in the world. And if you want to book a straight shot experience from Guadalajara to Tequila, check out the renowned Jose Cuervo Express, which includes a distillery tour, a trip to the agave fields, and a ride on the only old-style train in Mexico.
Soak up the flavor of tortas ahogadas
What do you get when you put torta, a Mexican sandwich, with ahodaga, which translates to “drowned” in Spanish, together? One of Guadalajara’s juiciest delicacies, a torta ahogada is a pork sandwich submerged in a tomato and chili-based sauce.
The dish came about in the early 1900s when a street vendor accidentally dropped a torta into a jar of salsa and realized that it was a good accident to have made. The word quickly spread on the goodness of tortas dunked in salsa, and the trend has stuck ever since. Check out Tortas Ahogadas Don José or Super Tortas Ahogadas Rober's to try this staple Guadalajaran dish for yourself.
Kick back and relax in Guadalajara
Explore Bosque Los Colomos, a 227-acre urban forest that is just far enough from Guadalajara’s center to feel like a little getaway, but close enough to get to in a 50-minute bus trip, 25-minute drive, or a long bike ride. Take a stroll through the Japanese garden, snack on ice cream from one of the stands, walk the many paths that weave throughout the park, and enjoy activities on the weekends like ceramics painting.
And if you don’t want to leave the city but are still looking for a more low-key activity, take a descansa (the Spanish word for rest) from the honking horns that accompany big-city life, and enjoy a car-free day every Sunday from 8am-2pm throughout 40 miles of streets across Guadalajara. This decade-old tradition gives residents a rest from the usual traffic, and visitors a great opportunity to explore the city by foot, bike, roller blades, or any other non-motorized mode of transportation.
Not your first rodeo with charrería
The traditional practice of livestock herding has evolved into Mexico’s national sport, charrería, which is similar to an American rodeo. The tradition began in Spain and evolved upon its arrival to Mexico to be in the form of competitions between haciendas. In 1920, the first Mexican charrería group was created in Guadalajara and named Charros de Jalisco. This equestrian sport utilizes artisan-made equipment and outfits including colorful cowboy costumes trimmed in silver studs or embroidered in silk, beads, or sequins.
Charrería competitions take place every Sunday across multiple locations in Guadalajara, including Campo Charro Jalisco and Lienzo Charro Ignacio Zermeño Padilla. There are different types of events (charras) that exist within the realm of charrerías, like the cala de caballo (testing the horse with a series of moves like a quick stop), piales en lienzo (horse roping), and jineto de toro (bull riding).
Learn, shop, and admire the ceramics of Tlaquepaque
Less than four miles from downtown Guadalajara, you’ll find one of the most renowned centers of ceramics production and history in Mexico—the town of Tlaquepaque. Ceramics have been a practical and decorative craft for centuries, but many of the symmetrical shapes and homogenized colors that are commonly seen in modern ceramics came from European techniques which used the potter’s wheel rather than building by hand.
When the Spanish brought the potter’s wheel to Mexico in the 1500s, the Jalisco region was among the first regions to quickly integrate it into the existing pre-Hispanic techniques of handbuilding. There is even a form of pottery called tlaquepaque’ which consists of twice-fired clay that is dipped in a lead oxide bath for its second high firing. This style was born in the town of Tlaquepaque, and has now spread in popularity by way of tourists. Stop by the city itself to find the shops, museums, and studio spaces all dedicated to this tradition.
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Published October 26, 2023
Last updated February 8, 2024
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