Tlaquepaque –Mexico’s Shopping Paradise

by Lisa Coleman

Tlaquepaque…. Maybe you’ve seen the name before or maybe you’ve heard the clip of the syllables in passing, but if you’ve never experienced its enchanting shops, colorful buildings, quaint restaurants, and gorgeous handicrafts, you’ve missed one of Mexico’s true treasures. Tlaquepaque, (pronounced “tla-kay-PAH-kay”) is known throughout Mexico as the mecca for authentic arts, crafts and furniture. The combination of fine quality products and affordable prices brings shoppers from around the globe to this delightful “pueblito” (little town).

Not far from Guadalajara’s center, Tlaquepaque was once a separate town on the outskirts. Today growth has reached out and now it’s 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.

Tlaquepaque isn’t for those in search of hot nightlife and big hotels; this is a rather quiet place that embraces the traveler who wants a touch of culture and a big helping of charm. Life here revolves around shopping so restaurants have a tendency to close early. If you want to go out, you’ll have to head to Guadalajara (only about 15 minutes by cab) because Tlaquepaque itself is not traditionally a late night town. As for lodging, it’s quality not quantity here. Some of the most alluring (and unbelievably affordable) Bed and Breakfast hotels you can imagine lie hidden behind brightly colored doors just from the town center. Usually having eight to twelve rooms, these are some of the most wonderful places to stay in the country. Each with its own personality, you’ll feel as though you have been invited into the home of good friends. Cozy and special, these family-run establishments are something unique. I stayed at the lovely La Villa del Ensue o (the house of the dream), and a dream it was.

Still more shopping exists in neighboring Tonalá where an outdoor enormous outdoor market comes to life on Thursdays and Sundays. There are also plenty of shops as some of the craftsmen from Tlaquepaque have their factory stores here. At some point, you may actually tire of shopping. I heard it can happen but I have never personally discovered this phenomenon! Nonetheless there is plenty to do and see in the area. A tour of around the historic center of Guadalajara by horse drawn carriage is a must and well worth the taxi ride to town. A day spent touring the towns of Tequila and Amatitan visiting the Herradura Hacienda, Sauza, Cuervo and other distilleries, is a fascinating discovery on how Mexico’s famous drink is grown, harvested and produced. You may also want to visit the colonial town of Ajijic on the shores of Lake Chapala.

The people of Tlaquepaque refer to it as the “soul of Mexico,” I must say it certainly feels that way. So next time you want to travel some place just off the beaten path but filled with possibility, treat yourself to some time in this magical little town.