Guadalajara – The Pearl of the West

Mexico is, and always will be, defined by its beach cities. But there is much, much more to Mexico than sand and sea. There is a rich history melded together by the Spanish conquerors and the indigenous peoples… and you won’t find it at the beach. Central Mexico is filled with inland vacation treasures, and you need to step inside to really begin to discover and appreciate the soul of the country. It’s here in Mexico’s gorgeous colonial cities that you’ll find the very heart of this magnificent culture.Guadalajara, sitting on a plateau more than 5,200 feet above sea level in the Mexican state of Jalisco, is known as the “city of roses.” Like its sister city Portland, Oregon, this Mexican jewel is green, sophisticated and charming. The mile-high setting blesses the entire area with almost year-round spring like weather. The days are warm and sunny (with low humidity), and the evenings are clear and cool. There the locals are kind and welcoming, making Guadalajara the perfect place for the “beginner” colonial traveler.

To get acquainted, take a horse drawn carriage ride through the entire city. You’ll pass plenty of parks, fountains, sculptures, shops and cafes. Stop at the Plaza Tapatia (with seven blocks of pedestrian streets) and spend the rest of day on foot exploring the Cathedral and surrounding municipal buildings. The Cathedral, begun in 1558 is an interesting blend of architectural styles with towering golden spires. More Culture is at your fingertips with dozens of fine museums hosting everything from Pre-Columbian artifacts to modern and contemporary art.

Most of the buildings that face the plazas are in a traditional colonial style and are tangible demonstrations of the skilled architecture brought here by the Spaniards in the late 1500’s. There are also over 100 parks in Guadalajara and a wonderful zoo. The Parque Natural Huentitan boasts over 1,500 animals and over 230 different species. Within the park, there is also a planetarium and Selva Magica, an amusement park for children with rides and a seal and dolphin show.

Not far from Guadalajara’s center, Tlaquepaque was once a separate town on the outskirts. Today growth has reached out and it’s now included as one the four municipalities (Tonalá, Zapopan, Guadalajara) that make up the metropolitan area. Though surrounded by Mexico’s second largest city, Tlaquepaque manages to retain the atmosphere of a colonial village. Winding down the narrow streets, the beauty lies beyond the facades. Lush greenery, tropical foliage, fountains and picturesque courtyards open up behind intricately hand-carved doors. Pedestrian arcades are lined with former mansions that now house galleries, fine restaurants, stylish cafes and amazing craft shops. Known for its innovative hand-blown glass, stoneware, ceramics, leather goods and colonial style furniture, you had better bring an extra suitcase to tote your findings home. And if you want to furnish the entire house, the local factories and stores are more than happy to arrange shipping. It can get pricey if you do it piece by piece, but if you make some good size purchases (enough to fill a large truck) it can very well be worth your while to consider it as an option for the majority of your home furnishings.

Excursions to areas outside the city showcase Guadalajara’s rural flavor and immense natural beauty. Some of the most popular stops are the cozy towns along the shores of nearby Lake Chapala, Mexico’s largest freshwater lake. The tranquil alpine villages of Tapala and Mazamitla are certainly worth a stop. If you like tequila, the Tequila Express (a luxurious 4-car train) will take you on a full day tour of the Hacienda San Jose Refugio, home to the Herradura tequila distillery. The train runs on Saturdays and Sundays and costs about $55 US per adult.

This is only the tip of the iceberg of things to do in Guadalajara. So if you are looking to expand past the beaches, you might want to give this beautiful city a try.