Guadalajara Travel Guide

Overview

Guadalajara is a city of contrasts. The second-largest city in Mexico has undergone significant modernization in the past couple of decades and has attracted numerous multinational businesses, particularly in the high-tech industry, leading to Guadalajara's distinction as Mexico's Silicon Valley.

But Guadalajara remains true to its traditions, and at its heart, Guadalajara is still a conservative, very Mexican city. Its inhabitants, known as tapatios, often refer to Guadalajara as a large town. Guadalajara has the size (and pollution) of a large city but retains the flavor and community of its past.

Mariachi music, tequila, the sombrero and the Mexican hat dance were all born in Guadalajara, and the Mexican city has managed to keep these icons alive without turning them into cliches (or lifeless tourist attractions). Each week a traditional charreada (Mexican-style rodeo) takes place, carrying on the region's hacienda culture.

Visitors will find that Guadalajara is making an effort to preserve the beautiful colonial architecture of its historic center, much of which is arranged around the four main plazas of the original town. These public areas are great for people-watching and absorbing the culture of old Guadalajara. Artisan fairs and live musical performances are often held in or near these plazas.

Geography

The capital of the state of Jalisco, Guadalajara is located in the Atemajac Valley, on a highland plain that is 5,141 ft/1,567 m above sea level. The city is surrounded by hills and sierras, some of which are falling prey to housing projects. The metropolitan area comprises the neighboring municipalities of Zapopan, Tlaquepaque and Tonola.

To the northeast of the city, there is a huge canyon known as Barranca de Oblatos, with an impressive waterfall called Cascada Cola de Caballo (Horsetail Falls). A large forest, La Primavera, borders Zapopan to the west of the city. Much of the forest, which is home to natural hot springs and more than 200 animal and bird species, is protected natural land. Miguel Hidalgo International Airport lies beyond Tlaquepaque to the south. Past the airport, about 25 mi/40 km south of the city, is Lake Chapala. The communities surrounding the country's largest lake have become expat enclaves, drawing many U.S. and Canadian retirees to the temperate climate.

History

Although the area around Guadalajara saw an agrarian society blossom as early as 200 BC, it did not foster a pre-Columbian empire comparable to others in Mexico. Indigenous groups such as the Huichol and Chapalas were residents of the surrounding highland areas.

The region was brought under Spanish domination in 1532 through the bloody campaign of Nuno de Guzman, whose exploits were so brutal that he was recalled by Spanish authorities in 1538. A final site for the city of Guadalajara, which was named after Guzman's birthplace in Spain, was not chosen until 1542, after three previous sites were abandoned because of attacks and rebellions.

Guadalajara, which became the capital of Nueva Galicia (and later, the state of Jalisco), was an important agricultural and commercial center in the colonial period, trading wheat, cotton, wool and livestock, and developing important textile and leather industries. Its university was founded in 1792.

In 1810, Miguel Hidalgo y Costillo, a liberal priest and a leader in the independence movement, established a revolutionary government in Guadalajara, but his troops were defeated the following year. Rebellion and civil war marked the mid-19th century (War of the Reform) and early 20th century (Mexican Revolution), with Guadalajara the site of some fighting.

By the end of the 19th century, Guadalajara was becoming an economic powerhouse, known as the "Pearl of the West." This is reflected in the neighborhoods outside the city center, most notably along the Avenida Juarez-Vallarta, where the wealthy built elegant houses with a European flair, modeled on villas in France and Spain.

This prosperity and growth continued in the 20th century, when a variety of industries flourished. Industries settling there can count on a strong work force consisting of the 65% of the population that is younger than 25. The city also has the prestigious University of Guadalajara and many other schools that turn out prepared professionals.

Sightseeing

Walking tours of downtown Guadalajara, where most of the historic monuments and buildings are located, are highly recommended. The area between the main cathedral (referred to as Catedral) and the Cabanas Institute (Instituto Cultural de Cabanas) is a restored historic district and pedestrian zone filled with shops and restaurants. It's a good place to enjoy people-watching and music, and to find street vendors selling their wares.

The cityscape is marked by dramatic public sculptures that commemorate historical events and subjects close to the hearts of the tapatios. Some of the most noteworthy are the frieze of the Founders of Guadalajara, a monument by Rafael Zamarripa behind the Teatro Degollado (it memorializes the spot of the city's founding in 1542); La Inmolacion de Quetzalcoatl (The Immolation of Quetzalcoatl) by Victor Manuel Contreras in Plaza Tapatia; the large statue of Miguel Hidalgo y Costilla, the father of Mexican Independence, in Plaza Liberacion; and the Rotunda of Illustrious Men (which does include one woman) in the plaza on the north side of the cathedral, below which six of the 12 illustrious people are buried. Along Avenida Lopez Mateos, you can see the Minerva Fountain in the middle of a large traffic circle, its centerpiece a statue of the goddess Minerva sculpted by Pedro Medina. The romantic Stampede by Jorge Pena adorns the traffic circle in front of the Fiesta Americana Hotel.

The Zona Rosa, the neighborhood around Avenida Chapultepec, is home to a plethora of cafes, bars and galleries. You'll find many colonial mansions on the side streets in either direction, many of which have been renovated and are open to the public as restaurants, cafes and galleries. At the intersection of Chapultepec and Ninos Heroes is Monumento a los Ninos Heroes (Monument to the Child Heroes). Designed by artist Juan Olaguibel, the sculpture commemorates the six adolescent military cadets who leapt to their death rather than surrender to U.S. forces at Chapultepec Castle in 1847.

Nightlife

Guadalajara's nightlife is ample and varied. If discos are your thing, the area around Avenida Vallarta close to Chapultapec, as well as Madero west of 16 de Septiembre, are hubs for the dancing crowd. On Avenida Lopez Cotilla and Avenida Chapultepec in the Zona Rosa, you'll find everything from classy cafes to informal beer terraces and live music. What Mexicans term tropical music (salsa and cumbia, for example) can be heard and danced to at several locations such as Casino Veracruz on Manzano.

Guadalajara has a strong tradition of producing musicians, and many bars have local bands playing original music, usually for a younger crowd. As in most of Mexico, strolling musicians ply the restaurants and plazas, but in Guadalajara the talent is noteworthy.

Dining

Tapatios, as the natives of Guadalajara are called, like to eat, drink and party, and Guadalajara offers some superb dining experiences. Restaurants are scattered all over the city, and everyone has a neighborhood favorite. Regional specialties include birria de chivo (goat stew), chicharones (pork skins), caldos (soups), roasted chicken, tortas ahogadas (sandwiches of pork covered with chili sauce), tacos and enchiladas (often served with distinctive Jalisco sauces).

If you would like a touristy but fun dining experience, try one of the restaurants in the Plaza de los Mariachis. Mariachi bands roam the tables, playing their music for a nominal fee. Use caution if you visit that area at night, however: The plaza becomes exponentially seedier as night falls, and pickpockets can be a problem. You can have a similar but more gentrified experience in the center plaza of Tlaquepaque.

Expect to pay within these general guidelines, based on the cost of a dinner for one, not including drinks or tip: $ = less than M$70; $$ = M$70-$180; $$$ = M$181-$300; and $$$$ = more than M$300.

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