Fire-washed sunsets off Mexico’s Pacific Coast are just the beginning of your visit to Jalisco, Mexico. The land stretches from the lazy curve of Puerto Vallarta’s famous coastline east to the mountains of Sierra Madre del Sur and includes Lake Chapala, the country’s largest lake. Guadalajara, the capital and second largest city in Mexico, is famed for its colonial architecture and the enticing spicy scents wafting from tianguis, or street markets. Whether your passion is enjoying the nightlife in high-octane Puerto Vallarta, hiking the trails at Nevado de Colima National Park or bass fishing on Lake Chapala, Jalisco has your perfect vacation adventure.
Archeological evidence suggests that the first humans arrived in Jalisco some 15,000 years ago in the Lake Chapala area. The climate and rich soils encouraged agriculture and soon small villages dotted the landscape. Christened Xalisco by the Toltecs in the 7th century, the area eventually came under the influence of the Spanish in the 1500s. The name change happened because of that influence. Guadalajara was founded in 1532 and moved to its present site in 1541. Jalisco is credited with being the birthplace of mariachi music, tequila, the wide-brimmed sombrero, rodeos and the boldly colored full-skirted dresses called jaripeos. Spanish is the official language but in the larger cities and tourist centers it’s fairly easy to find English speakers.
Many people get their first glimpse of Puerto Vallarta from the deck of a cruise ship. Carnival, Princess and Celebrity are just some of the cruise lines that offer stops in this modern resort town. Lic. Gustavo Diaz Ordaz International Airport offers another option. Car rentals with well-known firms including Hertz and Avis are available. Taxi, van and bus service are available into downtown Puerto Vallarta and the resort area.
A row of high-rise hotels rivaling Waikiki line the shore of Banderas Bay. Choose from luxury resorts like the beachfront all-inclusive Barcelo Puerto Vallarta with its onsite spa. More moderate offerings, such as the adult-only Abbey Hotel are less than a block away from the beach. Hotels closer to downtown Puerto Vallarta are generally less expensive, but most are within two or three blocks from the water and the Malecon, the local boardwalk.
Restaurants and pubs are found in nearly every beachfront property. Head inland a block or two and find locally owned eateries such as Te Limon, set up hacienda style or Si Senor, offering indoor and outdoor dining in a colonial style building on a quiet street.
More relaxed than Mexico City, Guadalajara still has that colonial vibe. Guadalajara Cathedral, started in the 1560s is the oldest building in the Centro Historico district. Take a walk through the Plaza of the Crosses, or have an al fresco meal at the Plaza Guadalajara. The Centro Historico is also home to the Mercado Libertad, sort of a Latin American flea market with hundreds of merchant and food vendors. Take time to see the Mammoth skeleton found near Lake Chapala at the Museo Regional de Guadalajara and listen to authentic Mexican music at the Plaza de los Mariachis. Bullfights, held each Sunday afternoon at the Plaza de Toros, are a national pastime.
Accommodations range from the inexpensive Hostel de Maria, part of the Hostels International network, to moderately priced properties like the Hotel San Francisco Plaza or the Casa Venezuela. The latter is a bed and breakfast only a few blocks from the Centro. The Fiesta Americana Guadalajara is a deluxe, modern high-rise, complete with atrium, restaurant and convention center. This property is located in the financial district and within walking distance of museums, art galleries, shops and pubs.
Restaurants are equally eclectic. La Rinconada is a tourist-friendly eatery in an old 19th century mansion. Dine on tamales or enchiladas while being serenaded by wandering Mariachis. Fonda San Miguel is in an old convent and offers traditional foods like spicy chicken en mole poblano. TlaquePasta offers both Mexican and Italian fare and El Parian is a collection of small restaurants surrounding a square in Tlaquepaque, complete with bandstand.
The quickest way to Guadalajara is by flying into the Libertador Miguel Hidalgo International Airport, south of town. Taxis and bus service are available into the city and many hotels provide transfer service. Car rentals are available. Guadalajara offers bus and taxi service throughout the city and a limited subway system.
In Search of Tequila
Hop on the Tequila Express, a weekend train ride from Guadalajara that is a moving tequila tasting experience. By the time you get to the town of Tequila you may already be feeling the effects of this potent cactus drink. This day trip leaves at 10 a.m. on Saturday and Sunday and gets you back to town that evening. The Jose Cuervo distillery also offers a tour that includes round trip transportation from your hotel, a tour of the agave cactus farm and distillery and free samples. By car or bus, the trip to Tequila is a little less than two hours. It’s probably best to leave the driving to others and really enjoy yourself.