Traditions and Tequila

Guadalajara, The “most Mexican” of cities

By: Kevin Brass

Standing below Jose Clemente Orozco’s fiery mural of revolutionary hero Miguel Hidalgo in Guadalajara’s government palace, I was enveloped by the passion and violent conflicts of Mexico’s past. The grand palace is infused with the spirit of Hidalgo, Benito Juarez and other Mexican heroes, who used its halls to make dramatic stands in the name of freedom part of Guadalajara’s rich and complex history.

With Oaxaca in turmoil, Guadalajara is a worthy alternative for clients seeking a traditional Mexican experience. While it may lack Oaxaca’s small-town charm, the country’s second-largest city is often called the “most Mexican” of Mexican cities, offering a gateway into the world of stately cathedrals, mariachis and violent revolutionaries.

Guadalajara also serves as an easy jumping-off point for trips to Guanajuato and Tequila, the type of old colonial towns that make people fall in love with Mexico.

Most people first visit Guadalajara for business. Self-proclaimed as the Silicon Valley of Mexico, the city is host to facilities operated by IBM, Hewlett-Packard, Siemens and a variety of other high-tech companies.

On a recent visit I stayed at the Hilton Guadalajara, next door to the convention center, which maintains a vigorous schedule of events. The center features an outdoor pavilion for events and a shiny new Camino Real just opened across the street, helping to give the area a vibrant atmosphere.

From the convention center district it is about a 15-minute drive through the crowded city to downtown, the center for Guadalajara’s signature cathedrals, monuments and old Spanish palaces.

Downtown is a maze of old plazas, peppered with modern art and statues of heroes. Highlights included the twin-towered cathedral that serves as the city’s centerpiece and the massive neoclassical Instituto Cultural de Cabana, which served as an orphanage, insane asylum and military barracks over the years. The walls and ceiling of the main chapel are covered with more of Orozco’s murals, depicting the heroic Hidalgo battling forces of evil.

The downtown area is peppered with markets, including the massive, three-square-block Mercado Libertad, and a vast array of jewelry stores. But I was advised to be patient, there was better shopping ahead.

“You can’t come to Guadalajara without going to Tlaquepaque,” one of my traveling companions said.

Located 10 minutes from downtown, Tlaquepaque (pronounced Tlock-kay-pak-kay) is a quaint district of shops, galleries and old restaurants grouped around a peaceful pedestrian mall. We ate lunch on the tree-covered patio of El Abajeno, serenaded by strolling mariachis.

The next day we were off to the town of Tequila, the production capital of the scorching brew that bears its name, located about an hour’s drive from Guadalajara. There is a party train that runs to Tequila from Guadalajara on weekends, but it’s better to take a car or van to allow for some exploring through the stretch of small towns and endless fields of sugarcane and agave, the succulent used to produce tequila.

We took an alternative route off the main highway to stop at the ruins of Guachimontones. Perched on a quiet hillside overlooking a vast lake, the stone works and rounded temple date back to 2,000 and were only unearthed in 1970.

In the quaint neighboring village of Teuchitlan, vendors offered jewelry of onyx and other native stones, and we took a few minutes to explore the museum commemorating the ruins.

Tequila was about an hour’s drive from the ruins. At the center of town we entered the Mundo Cuervo Hacienda, the perfectly manicured facility that houses the Jose Cuervo tequila operation. A brief tour presented the basics of tequila manufacturing, as well as samples of the Cuervo brew.

Warmed by the liquor, I settled into a bench in the small plaza around the town’s church, where evening services were just beginning. As the sun set and families gathered in the square, I felt I was closer to finding the real Mexico.


Guadalajara is a big, bustling city. Clients should be prepared for traffic jams and crowds. Taxis are relatively inexpensive.

Guadalajara Office of Visitors and Conventions

Mundo Cuervo Hacienda

Casa Campos/Tlaquepaque B&B

Fiesta Americana

Hilton Guadalajara

Commissions vary.