Updated for 2021 – If you like to travel 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 but 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 small 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.
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.
Is Guadalajara Safe?
Jalisco and Guadalajara in particular, have seen their fair share of petty crime and some cartel activity. Currently, the State Department rates Mexico at a Level 4 or a do not travel. Unfortunately, that’s mostly due to the current worldwide pandemic. Before, Jalisco was a Level 3, which is reconsider travel and this was based on crime. However, serious crime in touristy areas is infrequent. Use common sense just like you would in any big city.
The historic center of Guadalajara is generally safe for tourists but you should 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.
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 citizens can check their country’s visa status online.
Upon entry to Mexico, you will be asked to fill out a FMM or a Forma Migratoria Múltiple. This is a tourist card or immigration form that is a requirement for all foreign visitors. It’s the form flight attendants pass out in-flight and ask you to fill out. If you are flying into the country, the cost is included in your plane ticket. Simply present the filled out form with your passport.
There are two parts to the form – for entry and exit. Mexican Immigration will keep the entry portion of the form and stamp the exit part. You will keep the exit portion with you and then turn it in when you leave the country. If at anytime on your trip if you lose the exit portion, or it’s stolen, you should file a police report and get in touch with the nearest Mexican National Institute of Immigration (INM) office.
Customs is next. This is where you declare anything you might be bringing into the country. Even if you have nothing to declare then, you’ll be asked to press a button that lights up either green or red. Green means go and you pass on through. Red means stop for bags to be searched. If you do get a red light, don’t be nervous. It’s just an extra step and doesn’t take long at all.
Getting to the Historic Center From the Airport
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.
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 paid shuttle (not a hotel shuttle) to take will take you to the city center.
Southerner Says: there’s also an ATM next to the OXXO (convenience store) across the street from the airport, as well as a taco stand if you want to change money or grab a bite to eat while you wait for your Uber.
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 at the bus station near 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 to the historic center.
Where to Stay in Guadalajara
There are plenty of hotels in Guadalajara to choose from. But you would be missing out if you didn’t stay in a historic hotel for your 24 hours in Guadalajara. There are options for any price range.
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An affordable hotel I recommend in the historic center of Guadalajara is Hotel Morales. The hotel, like many of buildings in the area, was once a private residence and then repurposed into a hotel. The home was pretty famous and over the years, it’s welcomed many bullfighters, since the bull fighting 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 spacious, with high, 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 around. I put together a simple self guided walking tour through Guadalajara’s historic center. You can use the map and directions below. Also look for blue signs in the historic center pointing out special places of interest.
How to use the map below: click the icon in the upper left corner on the map for the different information layers. You can view all layers at the same time or uncheck the one(s) you don’t want to view. Click the star at the end of the title to add the map to your Google Map account.
24 Hours in Guadalajara Walking Tour
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.
Museums 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 Guadalajara
There are so many good restaurants, you’ll have a hard time choosing if you are only spending 24 hours in Guadalajara. In the historic center there are an abundance of local eateries with typical Jalisciense 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 dip 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 Guadalajaran 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 the vibe at Birrieria las 9 Esq,uinas is one of a kind. Bright tablecloths, colorful plates and vibrant tile complete your true historic Guadalajara experience.
Outside the Historic Center
If you’ve spent your day in the historic center and feel like venturing out to see a little more of the city, then La Minerva is the perfect neighborhood to visit. Newer and more modern, La Minerva is about a 15 minute ride from downtown. It’s most famous landmark is the roundabout or glorieta, with a statue of the Roman goddess Minerva. Therefore the name.
Even though I love Mexican food, it’s nice to have options. La Matera may just be my favorite non-Mexican restaurant in Guadalajara. It’s an Argentinian restaurant with some of the best steak, pasta, empanadas and fried cheese – oh my the cheese – that I’ve ever tasted. Everything is grilled in true gaucho style. It’s definitely worth a trip out of the historic center. And save room for dessert.
- In La Minerva, stay at the Fiesta Americana Guadalajara
More Tips for 24 Hours in Guadalajara
- Guadalajara is a perfect year-round destination. However, summer is the rainy season so pack a rain jacket or poncho.
- Make sure you have comfortable walking shoes. Many of the sidewalks in the Historic Center are cobblestone so comfortable shoes are a necessity.
- Use a crossbody bag, travel wallet or keep your wallet in your front pocket.
- Visitors from the US with Verizon or AT&T should be able to use their phones with an international plan. If you are a frequent traveler to Mexico, consider buying a Mexican pay by the minute phone at a local Telcel store. Additionally you can purchase a local SIM card if your phone has one that you can swap out.
- Many places have free WiFi so it’s possible to use apps such as Whatsapp to communicate. For more info read my 5 Essential Apps for Traveling in Mexico.
- Use pesos not dollars. The best exchange rate is at an ATM. Decline the conversion rate to save even more money. The next best exchange rate is at a change house or casa de cambio.
- Credit cards are widely accepted in Guadalajara but some restaurants don’t offer the option of leaving a tip on a credit card transaction. It’s a good idea to have small bills and coins on hand for tips, bathrooms and buses.
- If you don’t speak Spanish, visitors to Guadalajara shouldn’t have a problem communicating with hotel staff and people that work in tourism. However, Mexicans are very appreciative of any effort made to use their native Spanish. Hello, thank you and please are all good phrases to know.
- Last but not least, don’t forget trip and travel insurance.
Guadalajara and the entire state of Jalisco are amazing. There is so much history and culture in this one state alone. Next time you fly through GDL, take some time to explore the city or combine a trip to Puerto Vallarta – or Tequila – with a weekend in Guadalajara. That torta ahogada is calling your name.