Ar­riba! Ar­riba!

Guide to Guadala­jara – Mex­ico’s cap­i­tal of tequila and mari­achi

The Guardian - Travel - - Front Page - Tras­fonda, Lafayette

Far from Mex­ico’s well­trod­den tourist trail, the colonial city of Guadala­jara is one of this vast na­tion’s most over­looked des­ti­na­tions. In the western state of Jalisco, Guadala­jara is Mex­ico’s sec­ond-largest me­trop­o­lis, and the birth­place of two of its most em­blem­atic ex­ports: tequila and mari­achi mu­sic. It is sun­nier and less over­whelm­ing than Mex­ico City, while of­fer­ing bet­ter value for money and a more “Mex­i­can” ex­pe­ri­ence than gringo-ori­en­tated re­sorts of the Yu­cután penin­sula.

Proud Ta­p­atíos, as Guadala­jara’s 4.5 mil­lion res­i­dents are known, take hos­pi­tal­ity se­ri­ously and love to showcase the very best of their cul­ture. The city’s his­toric cen­tre houses its most ob­vi­ous at­trac­tions, such as the twin-tow­ered cathe­dral and the labyrinthine Mer­cado San Juan de Dios, Latin Amer­ica’s largest in­door mar­ket. The stately Hospi­cio Cabañas, a for­mer or­phan­age with fiery mu­rals by José Cle­mente Orozco, is Unesco-listed and worth a visit, along with the Zapopan district’s im­pos­ing stone arch­way and ma­jes­tic 17th-cen­tury basil­ica.

Once con­sid­ered one of Mex­ico’s most Catholic and con­ser­va­tive cities, Guadala­jara has grown in­creas­ingly pro­gres­sive and is now famed for its gay scene. Its cul­tural heart to­day is lively Colo­nia Amer­i­cana, with its week­end street mar­kets and free con­certs held on broad av­enues lined with palms, jacaran­das and colonial man­sions.

Ev­ery turn re­veals more bars, cafes and restau­rants that com­bine to make Guadala­jara’s culi­nary scene ar­guably its strong­est sell­ing point. From hum­ble taco stands to high-end es­tab­lish­ments, vis­i­tors can gorge on a broad range of tra­di­tional dishes and strange bev­er­ages that are of­ten unique to this cor­ner of the coun­try.

Thom­son flies di­rect from Gatwick and Manch­ester to the nearby re­sort of Puerto Val­larta from un­der £500 re­turn, with some real bar­gains to be had if booked last minute. Guadala­jara also serves as a cul­tured and palatepleas­ing ex­cur­sion from Mex­ico’s lush Pa­cific coast.

Watch a foot­ball match

Guadala­jara is home to two foot­ball teams: Club De­portivo Guadala­jara, aka Chivas, the most pop­u­lar club in Mex­ico; and their fierce ri­vals At­las, whose sole league ti­tle came in 1951. Chivas play at the Es­ta­dio Chivas, a sleek, mod­ern bowl on the city’s western out­skirts, but for a bet­ter at­mos­phere head across town to At­las’s Es­ta­dio Jalisco, a rus­tic be­he­moth sur­rounded by dive bars and street-food stands in a work­ing-class neigh­bour­hood. Don’t miss the lo­cal derby, el clásico tap­atío, if it co­in­cides with your visit. At­las tick­ets costs from £2.50; Chivas tick­ets from £4. at­, es­ta­

Go shop­ping in Tlaque­paque

With its colour­ful, pedes­tri­anised streets, Guadala­jara’s Tlaque­paque neigh­bour­hood still has the feel and charm of small-town Mex­ico. If you’re look­ing for sou­venirs, delve through the heaps of pot­tery, leather goods, painted skulls and blown-glass or­na­ments in the up­stairs ar­ti­san mar­ket be­side Plaza Par­ián. Then grab a cup of tejuino – a thick, pre­his­panic drink made from fer­mented corn – from a street ven­dor and marvel at the sur­re­al­ist sculp­tures in the Ser­gio Bus­ta­mante art gallery (colec­cionser­gio­bus­ta­, and the psy­che­delic beaded an­i­mals sold out­side by the Hui­chol peo­ple.

Hike the city’s out­skirts

Guadala­jara’s north-east­ern perime­ter is marked by the Bar­ranca de Huen­titán, a rugged canyon with an av­er­age depth of 600 me­tres. Vis­i­tors can hike down to the San­ti­ago river or just en­joy the stun­ning land­scape from the Mi­rador (view­ing plat­form). Al­ter­na­tively, just west of the city lies the 35,000-hectare Bosque La Pri­mav­era, a pine, oak and cac­tus for­est home to deer, coy­otes, ar­madil­los, bob­cats and even a few elu­sive pu­mas. Here you can camp, cy­cle, ride horses and bathe in hot springs that bub­ble up from the vol­canic soil. bosque­lapri­mav­

Visit the town of Tequila

No stay in Guadala­jara would be com­plete with­out a day trip to the nearby town of Tequila, the home of Mex­ico’s po­tent na­tional spirit. An hour’s drive north-west of the city, Tequila sits in a vol­canic val­ley lined with end­less rows of blue agave, the spiky crop from which the spirit is dis­tilled. The fam­ily-owned Jose Cuervo com­pany of­fers a train ride and tour of its 200-year-old dis­tillery, in­clud­ing tra­di­tional snacks and as much tequila as you can han­dle through­out the day, from £75pp. Nearby Casa Sauza runs sim­i­lar tours by coach, for £47pp., tequi­la­ex­

Ahogadas Be­tos, Santa Tere­sita

Don’t leave Guadala­jara with­out try­ing the fiery lo­cal hang­over cure, the torta ahogada. Mean­ing “drowned sand­wich” this is a crusty sour­dough baguette stuffed with suc­cu­lent chunks of pork leg and doused in so much spicy salsa that you need a spoon to eat it. In the “Santa Tere” district west of the cen­tre, Ahogadas Be­tos of­fers a fine twist on the tra­di­tional torta, us­ing pork shoul­der swamped in a tasty con­sommé in­stead of leg bathed in tomato-based sauce. The walls are lined with sepia pho­tographs of Guadala­jara’s early days and the tor­tas, which cost £1.50, are served on rus­tic clay plates. Pe­dro Buzeta 757, on Face­book

Bir­ri­eria Las 9 Esquinas, Cen­tro Histórico

On the nine-cor­nered plaza from which it takes its name, Las 9 Esquinas is a great place to try bir­ria, a hearty meat stew na­tive to Jalisco state – it’s made with mut­ton here. The menu also fea­tures clas­sic dishes from other parts of Mex­ico, such as co­chinita pi­bil from the Yu­catán, an acidic, slowroasted pork dish, or chicken with

mole poblano (from Pue­bla), a rich choco­late and chilli sauce. Mari­achi bands of­ten troop in to ser­e­nade the din­ers in this brightly dec­o­rated spot. A bowl of bir­ria costs £5. Cólon 384 esquina Galeana, las9es­

Karne Garibaldi, Santa Tere­sita

A lo­cal in­sti­tu­tion, fa­mous for its light­ning-fast ser­vice, Karne Garibaldi has just one main on the menu, carne

en su jugo: a warm­ing bowl of minced beef and crispy ba­con in meaty broth. Sea­son it with onion, lime and co­rian­der and en­joy the soft corn tor­tillas and fa­mous house beans on the side. A medium serv­ing is £3.50. Garibaldi 1306, karne­ mx

A new restau­rant run by the ac­claimed chef Fran­cisco Ruano, Tras­fonda serves gourmet takes on tra­di­tional Mex­i­can dishes in a stylish con­verted house. Be bold and try the gua­camole with grasshop­pers and the mouth­wa­ter­ing aguachile (un­cooked prawns mar­i­nated with lime and chilli). Mains from £3.35 to £10.30. Lerdo de Te­jada 2031, on Face­book

Tacos Char­lie, Jar­dines Univer­si­dad

With its red plas­tic chairs and yel­low plates, un­pre­ten­tious Tacos Char­lie of­fers su­perb ser­vice to a loyal clien­tele. There’s a world of won­der­ful

Ev­ery turn re­veals more bars, cafes and restau­rants mak­ing up its thriv­ing food scene

tacos to try in Mex­ico, but few are more en­joy­able than Char­lie’s Jalisco-style

tacos de bar­ba­coa. Made with slow­braised beef packed into crunchy corn tor­tillas, they make a per­fect break­fast or lunch. Tacos cost 55p each. Avenida Na­ciones Unidas 5040, on Face­book

Pal­real, Ar­cos Val­larta

You won’t find bet­ter cof­fee in Guadala­jara than at Pal­real, a leafy, laid-back cafe run by award-win­ning baris­tas. A cup of lo­cally sourced cof­fee will set you back £1.70 to £2.55, while a glass of Mex­i­can wine costs about £2.50. Don’t pass up the op­por­tu­nity to match it with Pal­real’s spe­cial­ity snack, the lonche de pancita.

This heav­enly baguette – filled with crispy shred­ded pork belly, green salsa, re­fried beans, av­o­cado, red onion and fresh co­rian­der – may be the best £3.80 you ever spend. Lope de Vega 113, on Face­book

Cantina La Oc­ci­den­tal, Cen­tro Histórico

The Mex­i­can equiv­a­lent of your lo­cal pub, a cantina is a cheap, tra­di­tional and homely place where friends gather to drink and talk for hours. With live bands play­ing Cuban trova and bolero mu­sic on Thurs­day and Sun­day nights, La Oc­ci­den­tal has a lively but never in­tim­i­dat­ing at­mos­phere and feels like a set from the 1950s golden age of Mex­i­can cin­ema. Beer comes in huge, bowl-like glasses called chave­las for £1.50; shots of tequila from £1.70 to £3.80. Wait­ers bring com­pli­men­tary snacks with ev­ery round of drinks. Nueva Gal­li­cia 911, on Face­book

Pare de Sufrir, Colo­nia Amer­i­cana

One of the city’s most iconic and beloved bars, Pare de Sufrir stocks a vast se­lec­tion of mez­cal, tequila’s stronger and smok­ier cousin, as well as lesser-known agave-based spir­its such as raicilla and ba­canora. With its vivid mu­rals, fairy lights, eclec­tic DJs and live sets by cumbia and rock­a­billy bands, it is a hip­ster’s par­adise and a mecca for mez­cal lovers. A gen­er­ous shot costs about £2. Calle Ar­gentina 66, on Face­book Patan Ale House, Colo­nia Amer­i­cana Mex­ico’s craft beer scene has ex­ploded in the past five years, with more than a dozen mi­cro­brew­eries pop­ping up in Guadala­jara alone. Sam­ple the best lo­cal cervezas at Patan Ale House, a new haunt con­ceived as a cross be­tween a Ber­lin beer hall and a Cal­i­for­nia tap room. Patan boasts 24 ales on tap and a roof ter­race, which is an ideal way for tak­ing in Guadala­jara’s warm evenings, while the DJ spins rock and in­die clas­sics. A pint will cost £3 to £6. More­los 1281, Colo­nia Amer­i­cana, on Face­book

Pi­galle, Colo­nia Amer­i­cana

A dark, classy es­tab­lish­ment that specialises in bit­ters-based cock­tails, Pi­galle man­ages to cre­ate a clas­sic speakeasy feel with­out re­sort­ing to gim­micks like se­cret en­trances or pass­words. The low-wattage bulbs sus­pended above the long wooden bar bathe the brick walls in a crim­son glow, while the mix of retro blues, rock, jazz and Afrobeat makes you feel like you’ve strolled into a Quentin Tarantino film. Cock­tails range from £3.50 to £5.50. Robles Gil 137, on Face­book

Hos­tel Hospedarte Cha­pul­te­pec, Colo­nia Amer­i­cana

Hostel­world named this place Mex­ico’s best hos­tel in 2014, and it’s not hard to see why. Ide­ally lo­cated just off the hip Avenida Cha­pul­te­pec, Hospedarte has a re­laxed vibe, with bright mu­rals and invit­ing ham­mocks slung in the gar­den and on the roof ter­race. It has a kitchen and bar and the af­fa­ble staff or­gan­ise reg­u­lar bar­be­cues, pizza nights, walk­ing tours, pub crawls and salsa evenings. Dorms from £7, dou­bles from £22, hospedarte­hos­

Casa Pe­dro Loza, Cen­tro Histórico

Built in 1848, this con­verted man­sion is just a five-minute stroll from Guadala­jara’s cathe­dral and cen­tral plazas. The 12 rooms are all stylishly and uniquely dec­o­rated and the roof ter­race of­fers stun­ning views of the city’s old­est district. The restau­rant serves Mex­i­can and in­ter­na­tional dishes. Dou­bles from £66, cas­ape­

Casa Fayette, Lafayette

Con­ve­niently lo­cated in the leafy Lafayette neigh­bour­hood, right next to fash­ion­able Colo­nia Amer­i­cana, Casa Fayette is a chic, mod­ern ho­tel with a rooftop spa and pool­side bar. Re­cent guests have in­cluded Noel Gal­lagher and Game of Thrones au­thor Ge­orge RR Martin. The restau­rant serves self-styled “com­fort food” such as braised pork shank or beef short ribs, all made with or­ganic, lo­cally sourced ingredients. Dou­bles from £95,

Quinta Real, Val­larta Norte

An el­e­gant, colonial-style ho­tel in an af­flu­ent neigh­bour­hood full of good restau­rants, the Quinta Real, part of a na­tional chain, has grandiose stone walls, col­umns and arch­ways, and a flood­lit court­yard filled with plants and trees. The 73 spa­cious be­d­rooms are fur­nished with an­tiques, and the ser­vice is ex­cel­lent. Dou­bles from £108,

Home boys ... mari­achi mu­sic was ‘born’ in Guadala­jara

Quick fix ... Karne Garibaldi only serves carne en su jugo – and serves it fast

Sea of blue ... a field of agave cac­tus near the town of Tequila

Stall or­ders ... (from top) food seller at San Juan de Dios mar­ket and Pare de Sufrir tequila bar

The chic and mod­ern Casa Fayette

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