During 2022, we visited Guadalajara on two separate occasions. The first time was almost entirely focused on my father-in-law’s surgery and following recovery, so it wasn’t exactly a holiday, and the second round was largely spent indoors, working like dogs to catch up on some of our long-neglected projects (this blog being one of them).
So, in general, the combined four months spent in Guadalajara more closely resembled four months of regular living than four months of the carefree gallivanting one might expect the life of world-travelling nomads to be.
That being what it is, after four months in one of the major capitals of Mexico, we did manage to find plenty of things to do and places to visit, which wasn’t exactly difficult to manage. Guadalajara is a big city and has a lot going for it.
As with everywhere in Mexico, Guadalajara is rough around the edges and has the requisite level of grubbiness (downright squalor in some areas) one comes to expect of any settlement in the country. And compared to cities in the world that are actually relatively safe (Tirana, Albania; Skopje, Macedonia; and even Athens, Greece, are three examples), it’s best to not get overly complacent in Guadalajara, no matter how much time you spend there.
In most areas, it’s probably not wise to walk alone at night, especially as an obvious tourist, and, really, tourists are best advised to stick to the historic centre (El Centro Historico), Colonia Americana, Zapopan, Tlaquepaque, or Zona Expo. That being said, we stayed in Ladron de Guevara (close to Colonia Americana) and in the Victoria neighbourhood (near-ish Zona Expo), where we were the ONLY foreigners in the entire area, and we never experienced any issues.
If one does choose to stay in any of the five aforementioned zones, though, it in no way limits the Guadalajara experience, as there is so much to do in any one of these areas alone, never mind all five of them together. Add to that the fact that getting around Guadalajara is very easy to do with Uber or Didi, and, really, there are few places in and around the city that are out of reach. And, if a person is so inclined, there are also plenty of tours available, both within the city limits and beyond (like this tour to the town of Tequila).
We went straight from the airport to the Hotel Santiago de Compostela, a four-star hotel in the Centro Historico, when we first arrived in Guadalajara. It proved to be a good choice. The hotel is located in a prime spot on Calle Colon, directly across the street from the Jardin de San Francisco, and well within walking distance of many of the restaurants and attractions that make Guadalajara special.
Jardin de San Francisco – El Centro Historico
It’s a beautiful old multi-story building with friendly and helpful staff, clean and comfortable rooms, a roof-top pool, and a lovely little central courtyard with a piano that is occasionally graced by the hands of talented musicians. On our second visit to Guadalajara, we were lucky enough to enjoy one such occasion, where the entire building was filled with the gracefully beautiful sounds of a true artist. It was one of those experiences that money can’t buy and words can’t do justice to.
Hotel Santiago de Compostela also offers breakfast and many tour options, with most of them (if not all) picking you up right out front of the building. It’s our go-to hotel while in the area, and we would recommend it to anyone with no hesitation.
Hotel Santiago de Compostela
For those on a limited budget, the Hotel Alcazar (a five-minute walk away) is a great option. Though not quite as nice as Hotel Santiago de Compostela, it does have great staff, as well as a coffee shop and an Oxxo convenience store right around the corner. The rooftop terrace is a nice touch and a good place to sit and enjoy a beer in the evening.
On our initial visit to Guadalajara, after a few days at the Hotel Santiago de Compostela, we moved to an apartment in the Ladron de Guevara neighbourhood, not far from Colonia Americana, and were there for the next two-and-a-half months.
Though Ladron de Guevara isn’t one of “the” neighbourhoods of Guadalajara, it was an absolutely fine place to live. There’s everything a person could need within walking distance, and what isn’t close enough to walk to isn’t farther than a Didi or Uber can take you or the Rappi or Didi Food delivery services can bring to your door.
Our apartment was three blocks from the Oxxo on Avenida Mexico and four blocks from a 7-11 in the opposite direction. The Carniceria (butcher shop) Union Providencia provided top-notch meat and was only fifteen minutes away. There was a big, well-stocked Soriana Super seven blocks down Avenida Mexico, and a couple of our favourite restaurants in town were between fifteen and twenty minutes away on foot.
Strolling Through Ladron de Guevara
Walking fifteen to twenty minutes to dine may seem far to some, but it was always well worth it.
The closest of our favourite local eateries was the Boulangerie Central, on Avenida Jose Maria Morelos (why the hell must all Mexican names be six hundred letters long?). They served good coffee, imported beer, and a mean French Onion Soup. They also have an in-house bakery that produces real bread (not always easy to find in Mexico) and a decent assortment of baked goods.
A little farther from home (near the Soriana Super) was a truly magnificent restaurant named Black Radissh (yes, two esses). Not only is the building beautiful and the patio big enough to fit a sufficient number of tables to accommodate a large number of patrons, but everything we ever ate there was absolutely stellar. All of it. All of the drinks were perfect, too. To top all that off, the level of service left nothing to be desired. What an excellent find Black Radissh was.
In most of the places in Mexico we’ve visited, finding consistently good food is a crapshoot. There’s no guarantee that just because one restaurant on the block is excellent, any of the others are as well. In my experience, the ratio of good to bad is about 50/50, if that. Not so in Guadalajara.
Over a total of four months spent in the city, and countless restaurants visited, probably close to 80% of them were good, if not great. That level of quality doesn’t apply to food stands and vendors, however, and most of those weren’t good.
Our favourite restaurant in the entire city would have had to have been Restaurant El Pilon de Los Arrieros, at Las Nuevas Esquinas (The Nine Corners), not far from our favourite hotel.
The 9 Corners
We often ate breakfast, lunch, or dinner here and were never disappointed. The food is authentic Mexican, and they do it like everyone should. I had never had birria (the official dish of Guadalajara) before visiting El Pilon, and I’m glad I waited. I ordered the beef birria (and some other things), and it was everything it had been hyped up to be. It’s possible to get pork or goat meat in the birria, but I much prefer beef over pork, and I hate goat meat.
Restaurant El Pilon de los Arrieros – Our favourite Place in Guadalajara
Not only is the food fantastic and the staff utterly amazing at El Pilon, but the building is beautiful, both inside and out. The interior of the restaurant is very welcoming and comfortable, with pieces of art showcased throughout, some serving useful functions and others just as art for the sake of art. A fair-sized turtle pond and thriving garden add a perfect touch of nature to the already very pleasant ambiance of the place.
El Pilon de Los Arrieros became our favourite restaurant for good reason, and if we return to Guadalajara, I very much look forward to going back.
In a city filled with good food, I can’t remember (and wouldn’t bother including) every restaurant and cafe we ate at, but there are certainly a few more that deserve mention before moving on to other attractions Guadalajara has to offer.
For a good BBQ feed, Roscoe BBQ in Colonia Americana does an excellent job of delivering delectable dining to the table, and we waddled away from there swearing off BBQ, as I remember. They were almost as good as BBQ from the southern US, which, in my opinion, does BBQ and meat smoking better than anyone else on the planet can hope to come close to. However, Roscoe did justice to the art of BBQ.
We discovered that when we absolutely had to have tasty food that was always served in healthy (big) portions and weren’t willing to gamble on unproven eateries, Senor Stone’s always came through. Their wing selection is great, always delicious, and could unfailingly be counted on to satisfy. They have multiple locations throughout the city, and both of the ones we tried were great.
For a bit of breakfast or lunch in one of the nicest cafe locations in Guadalajara, Cafe Boutique Teatro Degollado, right across a narrow lane from the Plaza de la Liberacion, is a nice spot to hang out for a meal, or just a coffee, and watch one of the many events that take place in the big, busy plaza, with a view of the Cathedral of Guadalajara in the distance.
Cafe Boutique Teatro Degollado
If sitting outside, however, the number of panhandlers and vendors can get a bit overbearing, to the point that it detracts from the enjoyment of the location and the quality of the dining experience in general. We chose to sit inside after the first visit, and though the view wasn’t as nice, the overall experience was more enjoyable.
If a bit of informal evening dining is called for, any of the York pubs serve good food in a relatively authentic British pub setting. Not only that, they generally serve a wide variety of import beers, lagers, and ales. York Pub is the perfect place to be when those couple of beers at noon turn into ten and dinnertime arrives before you know it.
Our favourite place for imbibing, however, ended up being Cafe André Breton. They serve food, regularly have live music (good live music), and have tons of seating on two floors, which seems to fill up to capacity on music nights.
I’m positive I’ve missed a few really good places that should probably be mentioned, but that’s the way things go. If I do another Guadalajara post someday, I’ll see what I can do to make up for any omissions in this one.
Though Guadalajara does have quite an impressive food scene, it offers much more in the way of culture than just it’s restaurants and cafes.
Upon first setting eyes on Guadalajara during daylight hours, one can’t help but be rather in awe of the many world-class architectural marvels that the city boasts. It’s obviously been a city of some importance since the first Spaniards set foot in Mexico (and likely before), and the many cathedrals, plazas, and other buildings attest to that fact.
The Catedral de Guadalajara is just one such example. And what an example it is. Its two spires reach high above the surrounding buildings and can be seen from a good distance in all directions. It’s a revered landmark and an important place of worship for many people, not only from Guadalajara City but from much of the surrounding area.
Pictures will do better justice to the cathedral than my wordy descriptions can. I think you’ll likely agree. Please see below.
The Magnificent Catedral de Guadalajara
To the left of the Catedral de Guadalajara is the Rotunda de las y los Jaliscienses Ilustres, a monument commemorating many of Jalisco’s notable people.Though the gate was closed both times I was interested in getting a closer look, the monument is notable from a distance all the same.
On the opposite side of the Catedral de Guadalajara, to the right, is the Plaza de Armas, the beautiful, very green main square of the city of Guadalajara. In the centre of the plaza is an ornate wrought-iron bandstand, which was a gift from France.
The Rotunda, and The Bandstand – a very picture of depravity
When the bandstand arrived in Mexico, there was a big hullabaloo from many of the overly conservative Catholics of the time, and the topless ladies’ breasts were covered up. Things have progressed somewhat since those days, and now ladies’ breasts (which have fed almost every human that has ever existed) aren’t seen as the sinful, lewd objects of depravity they once were.
Anyway, the Plaza de Armas is a lovely place to relax during the day or at night, when the many lampposts gently light up the square.
Another notable structure is the Teatro Degollado (the feature image of this post), which also houses the Cafe Boutique Teatro Degollado (which I previously mentioned).The building is a grand, majestic stone structure with an ornately carved pediment and 16 big Corinthian columns at its entrance. It’s quite a sight, even from a distance. The interior is apparently rather amazing as well, but we never ventured very far past the entrance, so we’ll have to assume that it’s true, which I have no doubt is the case.
There are beautiful parks, buildings, plazas, pieces of art (Mexico is absolutely FULL of very talented artists, to a dizzying degree), and many other eye-catching and interesting things on every other street. You don’t have to go far in Guadalajara to see something cool or downright breathtaking.
In a city boasting such an array of city-ish attractions, one might think that it’s just a concrete jungle, and most of the city’s beauty comes from the artistic endeavours of man. But, no, this is not so.
In some places, there could be a bit more flora and a bit less stone and pavement, but for the most part, nature plays an integral role in the beauty of Guadalajara, and can generally be seen almost everywhere.
Bosque los Colomos is a prime example. It’s a mostly pine forest with a ravine, a big duck pond, a Japanese garden, and plenty of very well-maintained trails. It’s even got a small restaurant and, surprisingly, a camping area. Even in a city with so many parks and green spaces, Bosque Los Colomos is a bit unexpected. To have such a big, fairly wild, forested area right in the middle of a big, bustling city is not exactly common, and getting to enjoy it for a few hours was a relaxing break from the urban chaos that is regular city life.
Boque los Colomos
Though it’s not the only place in the city limits of Guadalajara where a person can enjoy a bit of nature, it’s certainly unique and well worth the time to visit.
Before Guadalajara grew to encompass surrounding areas such as Zapopan, Tonala, and Tlaquepaque, these were all independent cities of their own, but are now cities, or municipalities, under the vast umbrella of Guadalajara. They are now all parts of Greater Guadalajara, but still very much have their own unique identities.
I can’t speak for Zapopan or Tonala (because we didn’t go to either of those areas), but I’ve decided to include a bit about Tlaquepaque in the Guadalajara post (as it is, technically, a part of Guadalajara); however, as it is definitely its own unique area of the overall city, I think it’s best included in this post as a sort of semi-separate sub-post.
Mexico in general has an inordinately high number of artistic people. Really good artistic people, actually. Whether it’s in music, painting, literature, ceramics, glass-blowing, etc., there are plenty of artists in every part of Mexico that I’ve ever visited. Guadalajara proper appears to have a higher concentration of artists than most other areas I’ve visited, and Tlaquepaque even more so.
It seems like there are sculptures, paintings, carvings, and beautiful buildings everywhere, as well as plenty of art galleries and art cafes. The main walking street of Tlaquepaque (Calle Indepencia) feels almost like one long art gallery, actually. It’s quite impressive.
During our all-too-brief two-day stay in Tlaquepaque, we were fortunate enough to have chosen La Villa del Ensueno for our hotel. It’s yet another beautiful old building in a city full of beautiful old buildings, it seems, located on Calle Florida, about a ten-minute walk from the hustle and bustle of Central Tlaquepaque.
La Villa del Ensueno is a four-star hotel with a restaurant and bar, a pool and a hot tub, an on-site art gallery, beautiful plants all over the place, and upper suites with big balconies. We got a big, clean room with a full bathtub and a big patio on the ground floor, right beside the pool, which we made good use of. So often, when staying at places with pools and hot tubs, we never make use of them, but the pool at this hotel was irresistible.
La Villa del Ensueno
Our first day consisted of a short walk around a bit of Tlaquepaque Center and an excellent dinner at El Parian de Tlaquepaque. Because we were tired after many weeks of non-stop work and the drive across the city to our hotel, we were only too happy to return to our room for a nice, relaxing night.
The following day, we were up early and out to explore as much of Tlaquepaque as possible. We began with a visit to the Pantaleon Panduro Museum of the National Ceramics Contest, on Calle Prisciliano Sanchez, where we wandered around, snapping pictures for well over an hour.
Pantaleon Panturo Museum
Next on the list was an unhurried stroll over to Calle Indepencia in the Centro de Tlaquepaque and an equally unhurried stroll down the Calle, stopping in at shops and galleries at our leisure.
Eventually, though, enough walking was enough walking, and the bar stools at No Que No Bar beckoned to us, as did a couple orders of chicken wings, accompanied by plenty of cold beer. As is our way, we made some friends at No Que No Bar and spent a few hours just hanging out and chilling away from the sun.
Normally, on the day before travelling, we tend to get to our lodgings at a responsible hour, pack up most of our belongings, and, though we don’t seem to get much sleep, ever, we’re in plenty good condition in the morning to get up well before flights or bus trips, have breakfast, get a car to the airport or bus station, and continue on our journey.
For whatever reason (probably because we like Tlaquepaque so much), after leaving No Que No Bar with intentions of returning to the hotel, we instead agreed that it would be a good idea to go get a bite to eat at the close-by Dirty Jack bar, where they fed us killer burgers, played death metal especially for me, and let us stay for hours after closing.
The habit of staying late and socializing with managers and staff appears to be a recurring theme in all of our travels around the world. Maybe we’re cool.
The next day, we slept in.
Waking up in a mad panic with only 45 minutes to get packed, we ordered a car to the airport, tore through the morning traffic at high speeds (thank you so much, awesome DiDi driver), arrived at the gate five minutes before departure… aaaannnd missed our flight.
Because we hadn’t insured our flights, our previous night of fun ended up costing us around $1000. And the hilarious thing about it was that, only the day before, we’d been talking about how we’d never missed a flight. Talk about tempting fate.
After a ridiculously expensive airport breakfast, we caught a car to the nearby ANB Hotel, which had excellent staff, very comfortable beds, and served exceptionally delicious deli-style food. We stayed there for two days while we got our feet under us, and new plane tickets. We didn’t miss the next flight.
And that… was Guadalajara. We’ll probably return some day. I think it was my second favourite place out of all the spots we’ve been in Mexico.