Updated for 2021 – If you are a traveler to Mexico, at some point, you’ll find yourself passing through Guadalajara. It’s location and the fact that it’s the second largest city in Mexico make it a prime area for flights in and out of the country and also for exploring the region. It might be tempting to fly on through to your final destination, why not do a layover and spend at least 24 hours in Guadalajara?
As the birthplace of mariachi and tequila, there’s plenty of history to explore in Guadalajara. You could easily spend a couple of weeks wandering around the capital of Jalisco and the surrounding historic towns. But if you can only spare a day, there’s more than enough to see in a day in Guadalajara. Especially if you start with the historic center. Here’s some tips and a walking itinerary to start.
Is Guadalajara Safe?
Jalisco and Guadalajara in particular, have seen their fair share of petty crime and cartel activity. Currently, the State Department rates Mexico at a Level 3. This means you should reconsider travel to Mexico but that’s mostly based warnings about traveling during the pandemic.
The historic center of Guadalajara is generally safe for tourists. You’ll want to use the same precautions you would in any large city, anywhere. Guard your wallet and don’t carry all your cash with you or all in one place. Don’t flash money or jewelry around, don’t drink too much and don’t walk around with your phone in your hand. Yes, phone snatching is common in some cities. If you rent a car, don’t leave luggage and your things in plain view. Better yet, store all your belongings in the trunk.
For females and especially solo females, be aware of your surroundings at all times. I was solo in Guadalajara and walked everywhere but I was cautious and stayed in the historic center around my hotel. Go with your gut if you feel like something isn’t right. It’s better to be safe than sorry.
Where is Guadalajara?
Guadalajara is located in the Mexican state of Jalisco, in the west of the country. The population in 2020 was around 1.5 million. Outside the historic downtown, you’ll find a thriving modern city much like the vibe of Mexico City. Just not as big. It’s the perfect mix of old and new.
Arriving to Guadalajara by Plane
If you are flying to Guadalajara, you’ll arrive at Miguel Hidalgo y Costilla Guadalajara International Airport (GDL). The airport is located about twenty miles south of the downtown historic center. United States Citizens and Canadians do not need a visa to fly to Mexico. Other countries can check visa status here.
Once you clear customs, exit the airport and catch a taxi at the stand for licensed taxis. My preferred method of getting around in Guadalajara is Uber. The airport conveniently has a ride share lot. Simply exit, cross the road main road for arrivals and head to the OXXO, a chain of convenience stores, on the other side of the airport road.
Southerner Says: there’s also an ATM next to the OXXO as well as a taco stand and some tables if you want to change money or grab a bite to eat while you wait.
Some hotels offer an airport shuttle service but since the airport is outside the city center, there’s normally an extra fee that costs more than an Uber.
If you’re concerned about budget, alternatively, you can go to the historic center by bus. There are a couple of different options. From the airport, buses leave from the Terminal Terrestre to various stops thru out the city. Check the airport website for more information. There is also a shuttle (not a hotel shuttle) to take will take you to the city center.
Arriving to Guadalajara by Bus
There are several bus stations throughout the city. If you are arrive to Guadalajara by bus, you probably won’t arrive to the bus station at the airport. It really depends on where you are coming from and what bus line you are using. The station in Zapopan is mostly for regional travel and larger bus lines. If you are coming from Tepic or Puerto Vallarta, there’s a good chance you will arrive in Zapopan. Whatever station you arrive to, you can then take a local bus, taxi or Uber.
Where to Stay in Historic Guadalajara
There are so many hotels in Guadalajara to choose from. But you would be missing out if you didn’t plan to stay in a historic hotel for your 24 hours in Guadalajara. There are plenty of options for every price range.
For less than $100 USD, the hotel I recommend in the historic center of Guadalajara is Hotel Morales. The hotel, like many of buildings in the area, was a private residence once and then repurposed into a hotel. The home was quite famous and over the years, it’s accommodated many bullfighters, since the bull ring was right across the street.
Abandoned for thirty years, the hotel was brought back to life in the early 2000’s. Now it proudly maintains it’s historic features but with all the modern conveniences like a pool and gym on the rooftop. The rooms are extremely comfortable, with high ceilings, classic Juliette balconies and entrances that look down on a classic Spanish courtyard. I appreciate special touches like the extra fluffy towels, special toiletries and the rain shower.
Breakfast at Hotel Morales
If you have read anything else on my blog, you know by now that I’m a huge fan of breakfast. Hotel Morales includes a full breakfast buffet for guests and it’s just the kind of breakfast I love. Breakfast buffets in Mexico are very different than what you might find at hotels in the US. There were real eggs, an omelette station, chilaquiles, my fav, pastries and plenty of fresh juices, which is a must when in Mexico.
What to Do in 24 Hours in Guadalajara
One of the best ways to get to know a city is by walking. From the hotel, I’ve put together a walking tour that you can on your own through the historic center. Take advantage of the map I’ve provided below and be on the lookout for the blue signs throughout the historic center pointing out places of interest.
Walking Tour From Your Hotel
Plaza de Armas– this is the main square in Guadalajara’s historic center. A meeting place with grassy areas and benches made for people watching and picnics. Plaza de Armas is also one of the four plazas that surround your next stop.
Catedral de Guadalajara– the double spires identify Guadalajara’s main Catholic church. There has been a church here on site for more than 450 years. It is a functioning church so remember to be respectful and pay attention to how you are dressed.
Rontonda de los Jaliscienses Ilustres– another one of the beautiful plazas that surrounds the Cathedral. It celebrates the region’s writers and revolutionaries.
Teatro Degollado– the theater opened in 1866 so citizens could enjoy culture. As you make your way there you can walk on the street or by way of Plaza Liberacion. Another of the plazas that surrounds the Cathedral.
Plaza Tapatia– walk the plaza and have a look at a sculpture of Quetzalcoatl, the feathered serpent god of the Aztecs.
Plaza de los Mariachis– Guadalajara is the birth place of mariachi. Stroll thru the plaza to see mariachis of all ages sing classic Mexican songs.
Plaza de las 9 Equinas– yes the plaza really does connect nine streets. Marked by a fountain and some of the best restaurants downtown, it’s one of my favorite areas of the city.
Our Lady Aranzazu Chruch– as you walk to the hotel, don’t miss this church and plaza in front. It’s very unique. And that line in the photo isn’t to go in, it’s for the bus.
What Else to do in 24 Hours in Guadalajara
If you find yourself with more time than 24 hours in Guadalajara, you can always add in a museum or two. Some interesting ones close by Hotel Morales are:
- Museo Regional de Guadalajara – historical and archaeological artifacts displayed in an 18th century building
- Ex Convento de Carmen – modern art museum in an old church
- Museo de la Cuidad – exhibits and artifacts about the city’s history
Where to Eat in Historic Guadalajara
Throughout the historic center there are plenty of restaurants with typical Jalisco food to choose from. Here’s a few suggestions of where to eat in Guadalajara.
Tortas Ahogadas El Guerito
For an authentic Guadalajara experience, a torta ahogada is a must. The name of the dish translates to drowned sandwich in English. The torta is made with pork that’s been marinated in garlic and citrus, then slow cooked and fried till it’s crispy but still moist. That pork mixture is then placed on a birote roll, which is similar to a bolillo. Once the torta is assembled the entire thing is dipped into a spicy salsa.
Guadalajara is famous for this dish. The salsa gets its flavor and it’s color from chile de arbol, a small but potent chili native to Mexico. The chilis are cooked and then blended with vinegar, garlic and tomato sauce to make the salsa.
Once they did the torta, the bread’s crustiness goes to work absorbing all the saucy goodness so that it mixes just right with the pork. Who would have ever imagined that Guadalajara’s signature dish came about because someone accidentally dropped a torta into a into a container of salsa?
The creator of the torta ahogada has since passed away but an employee that was there that day of the famous mistake is still in business. Stop by Tortas Ahogadas El Guerito on Madero 13, between the Plaza de los Mariachi and Hotel Morales and try a torta firsthand.
Birrieria las 9 Esquinas
So a torta doesn’t sound like your thing? Another uniquely Guadalajara dish to try is birria and you can’t get a birria better experience than at the Birrieria las 9 Esquinas. Located in that cute 9 corner area I already mentioned, the restaurant is as authentic as they come. Birria is stewed meat traditionally made from goat. But it can be made with beef as well. Rumor is that the Birrieria las 9 Esquinas was the first place to serve birria in Guadalajara.
All across the city, there are plenty of other places you can try birria but atmosphere at Birrieria las 9 Esq,uinas can’t be replicated. Bright tablecloths, colorful plates and vibrant tile complete your true historic Guadalajara experience.
Restaurants Outside the Historic Center
While this post is mainly about in historic center, I couldn’t write an article about 24 hours in Guadalajara and not include my favorite restaurant just because its outside the area I’m writing about. I wiSo if you’ve spent your day in the historic center and feel like venturing out to see more of the city, the Minerva area is another one of Guadalajara’s fun neighborhoods.
Newer and more modern, La Minerva is about 15 minutes from downtown. It’s outstanding landmark is a roundabout or glorieta, that has a statue of the Roman goddess Minerva. Therefore the name.
It’s in La Minerva that you will find La Matera, a Argentinian restaurant with some of the best steak, pasta, empanadas and cheese, oh my the cheese, I’ve ever had. The chimichurri is good enough to drink. I could go on and on but I’m making myself hungry now just thinking about it. Honestly some of the best food I’ve ever had.
Other than that, the only thing more I have to say is save room for dessert.
Guadalajara and the entire state of Jalisco are amazing. There is so much history and so many things to do in this one state alone. Next time you fly through GDL, why not take some time to explore the city or combine a trip to Puerto Vallarta with a weekend in Guadalajara. That torta ahogada is calling your name.