Though we travelled through Guadalajara on our way from San Miguel de Allende to Ajijic, we had not stopped for a visit. We had allocated five nights in the city. With arrival and departure, this only gave us four full days to explore, reduced to three since one of those days would be a day trip to the town of Tequila.
To get the most out of our time, we booked an AirBnB that was only a few minutes’ walk from the main plazas (there are several). Our roomy AirBnB suite was in a beautifully restored 1896 building. Work was completed a year ago so everything in the suite was relatively new. The work quality was excellent, the appliances and outfitting were great, and the furnishings were comfortable. We really enjoyed our time in this place and recommend it highly.
We took a stroll on our first evening and were amazed at how close we were to everything we wanted to see. We managed to get to the Mercado Libertad (AKA San Juan de Dios), an enormous market on several floors, and across buildings. We thought we’d find our dinner there, but I found myself overwhelmed by the closeness and cooking smells and had to skedaddle out of there to find some fresh air. If you are into shopping, this is the place to check out for absolutely everything.
On our first day, we joined the Free Walking Tour, which started only a short distance from our home. Our guide was very good–she kept our interest and pointed out some buildings and a local eatery that we returned to later. She directed those who were interested in purchasing silver to a huge silver market near the Mercado Libertad, instilling confidence in the quality and prices there. The tour was a bit dragged out because our guide had to provide commentary in both Spanish and English, but she managed it well (and kept the English narrative short).
After the tour, we returned to the tiny local sandwich shop recommended by the tour guide. The menu was limited (and meat-based). We had to wait in line and be ready with our request when the order taker signalled that it was our turn to poke our heads in and place an order. (The order taker mumbled and spoke very quickly so I have no idea what other goodies we might have enjoyed in or with our sandwiches had we understood the questions.) We waited until our name was called, and poked back into the doorway to grab our bag and pay. The sandwiches, made on typical regional crusty buns, were excellent and reasonably priced at $50 MXN ($3.50 CAD) each.
We knew we wanted to get to Tlaquepaque (pronounced tláck ay pack ay), a small town just on the outskirts of Guadalajara that is known for its artisans and colour. We weighed getting their ourselves by bus or Uber with taking the Tapatío Tours bus (hop-on hop-off tourist bus). We went with the Tapatío bus because it wasn’t that expensive and a day pass would allow us to ride on any of the four routes–we knew we wanted to visit places on at least two. In the end, we did get to do what we wanted on the bus but, in our experience, it isn’t frequent enough to be reasonably used as a hop-on-hop-off bus. For example, it only departs from Tlaquepaque hourly on the half hours. I wouldn’t want to get off at any of the minor stops, only to have to wait a full hour for the next bus.
Tlaquepaque (isn’t that fun to say?) is a vibrant town filled with artisan shops, galleries, and restaurants. Nearby Tonalá (which can be reached on one of the Tapatío loops from Tlaquepaque) is home to many glass artists and some of the shops of Tlaquepaque carry their products, but at higher prices. If you are interested in purchasing a lot of glass, we have been told that a trip to Tonaló is a must. We don’t purchase souvenirs (or anything really) but I did find it hard to walk by the pretty glassware.
We returned to el centro on the bus, where we waited for the Guadalajara route bus to arrive. Again, the frequency was too little to feel we had the freedom to hop off and see anything, but it did provide a view to other parts of the city that we couldn’t see on foot. If we had specific sights or areas we wanted to see, we likely would have taken a regular bus or Uber.
Tequila (the city and the beverage)
We had looked at private drivers and other tours to go to Tequila. We even originally planned to stay there overnight until we realized that we couldn’t continue by bus from there to our next stop without returning to Guadalajara first. There are expensive train trips that take you directly to the Herredaro distillery or right to Tequila, and inexpensive buses that will get you to Tequila where you can negotiate for distillery tours leaving from there (you might even get to ride in a tequila bottle or barrel on wheels). We noticed in the Tapatío Tours brochure that they were offering a trip to Tequila as well, and at a much more reasonable price than others we had seen. Though it wasn’t bookable online, we decided to take a chance and booked it the day before (cash only) with one of the Tapatío reps near the hop-on-hop-off bus.
After meeting at 9:00 and boarding a passenger van, our first stop was a small, artisanal distillery called Tequila Don Valente. Though we were the only non-Spanish-speaking folks on board, our guide left the Spanish speakers with the distillery guide and provided us with a private tour. We learned that the agave piñas (pineapples) are slow-roasted en masse in large stone ovens before being crushed four times to extract the juice, which begins the fermentation process. We also learned how to taste tequila (sip, swish, breathe in, swallow, breathe out), which helped me to be able to participate in the tastings. It really did make a difference, allowing the sharp liquor taste to diminish while exposing the complex flavours of the different tequilas.
Our second stop was at a large distillery, called Los Tres Toños, where huge metal cylinders were used to cook the piñas rather than the stone oven that provided a backdrop for a pile of piñas (cooking in the oven is required for tequila to be labelled artisanal) and one machine completed the four-stage crushing process. The metal fermentation vats were huge and plentiful. The tasting area was large, which was needed to host the several vans of tourists who dropped in while we were there. The tastings and lengthy call-and-repeat pre-tasting toasts were conducted in Spanish. We missed a few chuckles, but other than that we understood enough to appreciate the different grades of tequila and tequila liqueurs on offer. I tried little sips of all of them except for the habanero-spiked one. Ken, being unable to see liquor wasted, finished all of his tastings and mine, too. This is another good reason to take a bus instead of your own car when heading to this region.
Our final stop was the town of Tequila itself. Jose Cuervo has a huge presence here with their distillery right in town along with cafes and shops. According to signage, this company is a key part of the history of the area and contributes a lot of the infrastructure of the town. When we were there, it appeared that Tequila is completely focused on the creation and consumption of its namesake beverage. Tasting booths were set up throughout the plaza and shops all along the stone roads offer tequila tastings and sales. Some streets, though, are quite pretty, with tidy and colourful stone buildings, trees, and a backdrop of the church on one end and green hills at the other.
Back in Guadalajara, we spent our last day checking out nearby sights like the Hospicio Cabañas art gallery and surrounding plazas.
- Tapatío Tours bus: $140 MXN per adult, $90 MXN senior 60+ ($16 CAD for both of us, one adult/one senior)
- Tapatío Tours trip to Tequila: $400 MXN per person ($55 CAD for both of us)
- Hospicio Cabañas: $120 MXN ($8.27 CAD) for both of us