When I first came to Guadalajara in 2009, I could hardly have found myself in a more contrasting environment from the small southeast England town where I grew up. The nation’s second biggest metropolis and the home of tequila, mariachi music and charrería (Mexican rodeo), Guadalajara is the most traditional of Mexican cities.
The bright colors, rich culture and daily chaos gripped me from the outset and I ended up relocating there permanently in 2011. Having spent the previous five years covering Guadalajara for local and international media outlets (Vice, The Guardian, etc.), I could no longer live without the warmth of its people, the year-round sunshine and the amazing local cuisine.
Here’s nine things you must do when you visit the city:
Explore the historic city center: Downtown Guadalajara has it all. Gaze in awe at the fiery murals in the Cabañas Cultural Institute; shop for souvenirs in the labyrinth-like San Juan de Dios market; eat birria, a delicious local goat stew, while being serenaded by mariachis in the Plaza de Las Nueve Esquinas; then sip a tequila at La Fuente, one of the city’s oldest cantinas.
Check out Mexico’s hipster scene: Avenida Chapultepec and the surrounding streets comprise Guadalajara’s hipster district. Lined with trendy bars, cafes, restaurants, taco stands, craft markets and open-air spaces for concerts and dance-offs, it is the place to be on Friday and Saturday nights. The hippest joint to end the night is Pare de Sufrir, a much loved mezcal bar where eclectic DJs and live bands have crowds dancing until the early hours.
Eat in a restaurant made of bones: Guadalajara is home to many excellent but affordable restaurants but few offer as unique an experience as Hueso. With a pure white interior, an open kitchen and an ever-changing menu of gourmet dishes, Hueso feels tasteful, not macabre, despite the 10,000 bones that line its walls.
Tour a haunted cemetery: Guadalajara’s oldest graveyard, the Belen cemetery offers unforgettable tours in which guides regale visitors with tales of the ghosts and vampires that are said to inhabit its crumbling, gothic mausoleums. Go at night to really appreciate the spooky atmosphere.
Image via www.chivasdecorazon.com.mx
Watch biggest Mexico’s soccer team: Based at the Estadio Omnilife, a modern, flying-saucer shaped stadium on the edge of town, Chivas has more fans than any other side in the country. For the most exciting atmosphere go when they play against local rivals Atlas or their arch nemesis Club América.
Drink tequila in Tequila: The home of Mexico’s national spirit, Tequila is a quaint town about an hour’s drive west of Guadalajara. Tour the Cofradía distillery where the ultra-premium Casa Noble is produced and then enjoy a cold batanga, a famous tequila cocktail invented in La Capilla, an old-school cantina named one of the world’s top 100 bars.
Visit this craft brewery: Founded in 2004, Cervecería Minerva was one of Mexico’s first independent breweries and it remains a major player in the burgeoning craft beer scene. Take a tour of the brewery and then try Minerva’s Imperial Tequila Ale, a pale ale aged in used tequila barrels, in the adjacent tavern.
Try the local hangover cure: The morning after a trip to Tequila or an evening at the craft brewery, get yourself a torta ahogada (literally a “drowned sandwich”), a pork baguette doused in spicy salsa, lime juice, raw onion and salt. Available at stands all over the city, these local specialties will have you sweating out that alcohol in no time.
Relax at Mexico’s biggest lake: Situated an hour’s drive south of Guadalajara or just 30 minutes from the airport, Chapala is a vast, picturesque lake and a great place to relax. With fantastic views and a year-round spring climate, the northern shore has drawn foreign writers and artists for decades and is now home to the largest community of American and Canadian expats in Mexico.
Main image via Lonely Planet