THE TEQUILA ROUTE
The Tequila Route can be undertaken by bus, train and even motorcycle, though the most intense moments will be lived in the walking sections of the trail. The journey is full of surprises and interesting sites such as traditional tequila distilleries, haciendas dating back to the 17th and 18th centuries, some of which have become wonderful hotels; a ceremonial center of a mysterious pre-hispanic culture (discovered barely a few decades ago) or sky-diving over the crater of a volcano that has been dormant for 300,000 years. But let’s start with the famous Tequila Express leaving from the train station of Guadalajara towards Amatitan, where the San Jose del Refugio hacienda and the Herradura Tequila House are located. The train goes through an agave landscape declared a World Heritage site in 2006 together with ancient distillers where the purest Mexican tequila was produced and bottled in beautiful bot- tles whose labels proudly showed that the liqueur was 100 percent agave and in some cases read: Original Process (16th century).
The trip is liven up by life Mariachi music, snacks, corn tortillas, open bar in carpeted and air-conditioned cars offering shots of straight tequila and cocktails. After a 45-minute ride across the immense field of blue agave that spans against a background of mountains of the Mexican high plateau and the Tequila volcano (2,900 meters high), visitors arrive in the Hacienda, a state with a bucolic environment that is hardly
It is thought that the farming of agave for the making of beverages and fabrics started some 2,000 years ago, a condition that makes it one of the oldest Mexican traditions evert
seen at present. There, they can taste a local traditional meal, listen to folkloric music, enjoy a rodeo demonstration, visit the old factory (1870-1973) and finally the museum.
This is the right time to learn or ask about white, rested and aged tequilas; jima (agave harvesting) and jimadores (agave growers), cabeza del agave (first portion of the distillation), fermentation and distillation; tahonas, alambiques, oak barrels and even about the so-called cuernitos, which preceded today’s traditional glasses to drink tequila straight…, the history of a crop that was first grown some 2,000 years ago to produce fermented beverages and fabrics, and which –after the introduction of the distillation by the Spaniards–
In the locations of Tequila, Amatitan, other municipalities of Jalisco and Guanajuato, Michoacan, Tamaulipas, Nayarit, in western Mexico, hundreds of thousands of inhabitants are employed in the distilling of this spirit
an industry and means of living as of the 17th century.
In the evening, the train returns to Guadalajara, one of the greatest capital cities of Mexico, where the visitor has several options to have a great time including a long program of cultural events and night entertainments.
On the Route
The region protected by the Denomination of the Tequila Origins comprises the state of Jalisco and several municipalities of Michoacan, Guanajuato, Nayarit and Tamaulipas. However, it is in Jalisco, in an area of 200 square kilometers, where the best conditions for the growing of agave are found because of the height, volcanic soil and semidry climate.
The Tequila Route follows the liquor’s trail across that area, through the municipalities of Arenal, Amatitan, Tequila, Magdalena and Teuchitlán. But the excursion is not only about the tequila. In the first place, you can choose any of the hotels of Guadalajara as base camp –all categories available– or you can go for the most intimate and quiet rooms in comfortable and ventilated houses of former haciendas, where a very nice service is provided, among them El Carmen, an hacienda from the 16th century.
Once you get settled, the range of options is very wide. In the town of Tequila (1530), the National Museum of Tequila adds to the time-honored Tequila houses (Sauza, Don Valente, La Alborada distillery, the mythic Casa Cuervo). The ancient Arms Square, colorful houses and handicrafts street marbecame
kets mark the way before heading to the Mundo Cuervo’s Fonda Cholula restaurant or any other small local restaurant and have some birria (stew), tortas ahogadas (salted bread with pork and beans filling and smothered in chili sauce), or any other Jalisco dish like the alambre agavero, made with tequila.
If you choose to stay for the night –one recommended place for lodging is the Plaza Jardin hotel– you will be able to witness a very singular event: at 9 sharp the local priest blesses the people by stroking the bell three times, everyone in town stand up, no matter what they are doing at the moment and turn towards the church. The tradition is undoubtedly striking in the middle of the 21 century.
You can make an excursion to the woods by the side of the volcano, go all the way up to La Tetilla, an enormous volcanic rock on top of the volcano and from there gaze at the view of the Tequilla valley; or climb up the cascades known as Los Azules, located a few minutes away from the town, where there are also caverns in store to explore.
But the Tequila Route offers many more entertainment options: cycling and camping in the Barrancas de Achío, in Amatitan, where visitors can now take a ride in hot-air balloons; the opal and obsidian mines in the towns of San Pedro de Analco, Hostotipaquillo and Magdalena; several handicraft workshops and riding options.
An unforgettable experience will be the visit to the Guachimontones –close to Teuchtitlan and Guadalajara–, a ceremonial center of circular pyramids built over 2,000 years ago by a hardly-known civilization discovered in 1970.
This could be a good reason to go to Jalisco and celebrate the vernal equinox in March in a traditional party and ceremony held in the native tongue with dances, food and pre-hispanic rituals; camping sites to spend the night so that you can take part in the ritual starting at 6:00 a.m. with the blowing of a conch shell and the salutation of the four cardinal points in the archeological site. Very nice restaurants can be found by a lake nearby.
Although not included in the route, the rare Bola Stones in the Ameca Valley, to the west of Guadalajara is worth mentioning. In
The pathway down the Tequila Route is paved with surprises and landmarks, like colonial towns, tequilamaking factories and estates from the 17th and 18th centuries, some of them housing excellent hotels
the valley, an American archeologist discovered in 1867 more than 20 over-three-meter diameter balls made out of volcanic ash crystallized at very high temperatures. This is just another appeal of this reddish hot land tinted in agave blue, and where there is more to discover beyond tequila.
After the route
Once you finish the Tequila Route, Guadalajara could mean a change of scene with its museums, ancient plazas and theaters, pottery and silversmith tradition in the colonial village of Tlaquepaque; blown glass factories and street handicrafts markets in Tonala (Thursdays and Sundays); the touristy touch of the Juarez-vallarta avenue and the bohemian air of the Chapultepec (coffee houses, bars, restaurants, night centers and book stores); the Cathedral and the Arms Square, a great zoo (over 84 acres and a dolphinarium), the Selva Magica amusement park and the markets of La Merced and San Juan de Dios. You might be lucky enough to see the Chivas soccer team in action, one of Mexico’s most popular ones.
Puerto Vallarta, one of the most famous seaside resorts of the country, is located on the Pacific coast of Jalisco: beaches, a full range of hotels, marina, coffee shops and restaurants, wide choices for golf, whale watching, ecotourism, bicycle rides through natural landscapes, four-wheel motorbike tours across the mountains, rivers and neighboring towns, diving, zip-line and rappel through impressive mountains of Sierra Madre and the Pacific Ocean. This state offers its visitors 12 natural areas treasuring widely diverse ecosystems, nearly 100 miles of beaches, vast extensions of pine forests and such geographical accidents as the snowcapped volcano of Colima, excellent for the practice of rappel. Excursions, camping, swimming, canoeing and mountain climbing are a few other options
The tequila-making process is broken down in five basic steps: the harvesting of the blue variety of Weber tequila agave, the cooking of the mescal –the plant’s kernel– its grinding, fermentation and distilling.
Sunset in Puerto Vallarta