Guadalajara – Mexico’s Underrated Second City

Guadalajara, located in the state of Jalisco, is Mexico’s second-largest city. Unfortunately, it’s often overlooked in favor of the world-famous metropolis of Mexico City. Although Mexican tourists flock to the city, most foreigners have yet to discover the many delights of Guadalajara. Not only was the city the birthplace of mariachi, but it brims with culture and history. You could easily spend a week in the city and still not have time to take in all it has to offer. Besides having an abundance of historical buildings and museums, the city is a culinary hotspot with excellent restaurants and tempting street food. Guadalajara is also home to colorful artisan neighborhoods bursting with enticing galleries and shops. With so much going for it, it’s somewhat of a surprise that this spellbinding city hasn’t yet captured the hearts of foreign visitors.

I have always thoroughly enjoyed my visits to Guadalajara and look forward to returning again in the future. Here five of my personal highlights of the city:

1) Visit Tlaquepaque

This lovely suburb of Guadalajara is home to a wealth of galleries, shops, bars and restaurants. Much of the area is pedestrianized, making it a pleasure to explore. Sculptures line the main thoroughfare of Avenue Independencia, leading to the main square, which is dominated by a pretty church. Known for its arty shops and galleries, Tlaquepaque is a great place to pick up some traditional Mexican folk art or perhaps something more contemporary. Even if you aren’t planning to make a purchase, it is fun to stroll through the stylish galleries and check out the innovative artwork.

Guadalajara, Tlaquepaque, Mexico


When you need a break from shopping, head to the plaza of El Parian. Here you can sit in a bar and refresh yourself with a margarita and a plate of nachos. It’s also a perfect place to people watch. If you are there in the evenings, you can enjoy the haunting sound of mariachi bands who meander around the plaza playing tunes to the crowds.

Tlaquepaque is well known for its Day of the Dead festivities when lively parades and vibrant altars are on display in the streets. Children line up to have skulls painted on their faces, and a festive atmosphere prevails. I spent a memorable day there during Dia de los Muertos, but it’s a charming area to visit any time of the year. Tlaquepaque is a short bus or taxi ride from Centro Historico in downtown Guadalajara.

2) Have a Fun-Packed Night at Lucha Libre

Even if wrestling isn’t usually your thing (I certainly didn’t think it was mine!), a trip to watch the Luchadores in action makes for a fun night out in Guadalajara. Lucha Libre is an integral part of Mexican culture, and you shouldn’t pass up on a chance to experience it while in the country.

Lucha Libre is held on Tuesdays and Sundays at The Arena Coliseo de Guadalajara. Tuesdays tend to be more boisterous, while Sundays are more family-oriented. When the luchadores are introduced, the crowds go crazy, and as they enter the ring in their colorful masks, the atmosphere is electric.

Masked wrestlers and referee in ring

The crowd shout abuse at the bad guys and cheer on their heroes. Everyone laughs at the antics of the camp luchadore who sports a bright pink mohawk. Vendors wander through the crowds selling popcorn, beer and nachos. Both kids and adults wear the masks of their favorite luchador. Sit in the first few rows at your own risk – these guys don’t confine themselves to the ring. Sometimes, a luchadore is thrown forcefully over the ropes, and you never know where he might land!

3) Go Shopping in Tonala

Tonala is a village of artisans situated a short bus ride from downtown and is an engaging place to spend a few hours. Silver, blown glass, and pottery are specialties here, and there are plenty of bargains to be had. Tonala is a little rough around the edges compared to nearby Tlaquepaque, but that’s part of its appeal – a visit there feels more like an authentic Mexican shopping experience. The workshops have stacks of products outside, and the prices are much lower.

Tonala handicrafts including vases, lighthouses or butterflies

Life-size religious icons sit on the back of trucks that line the narrow streets. Tiny doorways lead to spacious workshops where you can witness ceramics being made before your eyes. The buildings are ramshackle and colorful and the streets buzz with activity. On Thursdays and Sundays, the streets transform themselves into a huge open-air market. You won’t find any fine dining options in Tonala, but street food stalls and characterful cantinas are plentiful.

4) Check out the Instituto Cultural Cabanas and the Colunga Seats

Built as an orphanage in the early 19th century, the beautiful Instituto Cultural Cabanas consists of several rooms set around a main courtyard. Stunning murals by the artist Jose Orozco cover many of the walls and ceilings. A variety of temporary exhibitions are held in the surrounding rooms.

It’s a peaceful retreat from the city streets and a lovely place to wander and explore. There is a tranquil courtyard café where you can enjoy a refreshing drink and a view of the surrounding sculptures at the same time.

Hospicio Cabanas (Cabanas Cultural Institute) - Guadalajara

The building is situated on Colonia Centro, a massive plaza, which comes alive at weekends. Street performers entertain the crowds and stalls sell tasty Mexican treats. At the center of the plaza, tourists pose on, or simply admire, the weird and wonderful bronze seat sculptures created by Alejandro Colunga.


 5) Explore Centro Historico

Centro Historico is an area crammed with an array of museums, churches, plazas and ancient buildings. The spires of the cathedral rise above the streets and provide a landmark for those who get lost in the labyrinth of surrounding streets. The area is an ideal place to take a leisurely walk and soak up the ambience and architecture.

Guadalajara, Jalisc, Mexico-20 April, 2018: Central Landmark Cathedral (Cathedral of the Assumption of Our Lady

It’s worth dipping into the various buildings for a glimpse of what lies within. The Government Palace is home to another striking mural by Jose Orozco and the Regional Museum’s star attraction is a skeleton of a woolly mammoth. As a bonus, most of museums are either free or cost a mere few pesos to enter.

There are picturesque plazas aplenty in Centro Historico. Indeed, one of the joys of a visit to Guadalajara is to simply to sit and enjoy the sights and sounds of this sophisticated and vibrant city.