If Mexico tops your list of destinations, then at some point, you’ll probably find yourself flying through Guadalajara. Its 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.
Many connecting flights pass through Guadalajara. While it might be tempting to fly on through to your final destination, why not plan a layover and spend at least 24 hours in Guadalajara? It’s the perfect base for exploring this region of Mexico. With a bit of planning, you can actually see a lot in only one day in Guadalajara.
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24 Hours in Guadalajara
Guadalajara is a special place. So special, in fact, that we almost moved there in the 2000’s. As the birthplace of many things that people associate with Mexico, like mariachi and tequila, it’s a treasure of history and culture. You could easily spend weeks exploring the capital of Jalisco and its neighboring towns.
However, if you’re short on time, focusing on Guadalajara’s historic center can be a fantastic way to begin getting to know Guadalajara. Here’s some valuable information and a few tips, along with a suggested walking itinerary, to make the most of your visit.
How to Get to Guadalajara
Guadalajara is located in the Mexican state of Jalisco, in the western part of Mexico. In 2020, the population was approximately 1.5 million. Outside the historic downtown, there’s a thriving modern city much like the vibe of Mexico City. Just not as large or as busy.
From the U.S. most airlines like Delta and American fly into Miguel Hidalgo y Costilla Guadalajara International Airport (GDL) – approximately 20 miles south of downtown. Here’s what to expect once you arrive.
To visit Mexico, a valid passport is necessary for U.S. citizens. However, you do not need a visa to enter the country. Instead. Mexico uses a FMM or a Formulario Migratorio Múltiple. This document is tourist permit for stays up to 180 days. The cost is included in the price of a plane ticket.
Citizens of other countries can check Mexico’s visa requirement for their country online.
Visitors previously were required to fill out a FMM and hold on to a piece of paper that was turned in when exiting the country. Mexico has now got rid of those paper documents that were so easy to lose. You still have to fill out the form but immigration officials write the amount of days you are allowed in the country – typically 180 – in your passport. So much easier.
After you pass through immigration, customs is next. This is where you’ll declare anything you are bringing into the country. Some airports still use a red light, green light system for customs.
Basically, you’ll be asked to press a button that lights up either green or red. Green means go and you’ll pass on through. Red means stop for a bag search. If you do get a red light, don’t be nervous. It’s just an extra step and doesn’t take very long at all.
Arriving to Guadalajara by Bus
If you are traveling to Guadalajara by bus, it depends on where you are coming from which bus station you will arrive to. There are several stations throughout the city.
If you are arrive to Guadalajara by bus from another city in Mexico, you more than likely 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.
If you are coming from Tepic or Puerto Vallarta, there’s a good chance you’ll arrive at the Zapopan bus station. That terminal is mostly for regional travel and larger bus lines. Whatever station you arrive, you can then take a local bus, taxi or Uber to the historic center.
Getting Around Guadalajara
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 the airport, cross the road main road for arrivals and head towards the OXXO (a chain of Mexican convenience stores) on the other side of the airport road and catch your Uber there.
Some hotels do offer an airport shuttle service but since the airport is outside the city center, there’s normally an extra fee that costs more than 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.
Southerner Says: there’s also an ATM next to the OXXO 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.
Where to Stay in Guadalajara
You’ll find a wide array of lodging options in the historic center but to truly immerse yourself in the city’s charm during your 24 hours in Guadalajara, consider staying in one of its historic hotels. Opting for a classic Mexican-style hotel will enhance your experience and transport you to a different era.
One of the hotels I love in the historic center of Guadalajara is Hotel Morales. This hotel, like many of the other buildings in the area, was once a private residence.
Due to the fact that the bullfighting ring was right across the street, it was a pretty famous place and hosted many of the bullfighters that came to compete.
Abandoned for thirty years, the building was brought back to life in the early 2000’s. Now, it’s the best of both worlds with its gorgeous old world Spanish architecture and modern conveniences like a pool and a gym on the roof.
All the spacious rooms face the interior courtyard with huge windows and small Juliette balconies. The hotel also provides plenty of special touches like a rain shower, luxury toiletries and extra fluffy towels.
Other options for hotels in this area include Hotel Santiago de Compostela – another historic hotel – and if authentic properties aren’t your thing, Hotel Perla Central is the perfect modern hotel for your stay in the historic center.
One of the best things about staying at Hotel Morales is their breakfast. I’m a huge fan of breakfast and brunch. Especially in Mexico. At Hotel Morales, a full breakfast is included in the price of your room.
When I say breakfast, I mean a real breakfast with real eggs, all the sides and fresh juices. They even have an omelette station, homemade chilaquiles, and plenty of Mexican pastries to round out your morning.
For more hotel recommendations, check out my friend Paul’s website Plazas y Playas. Paul is a local and knows all the cool spots in Guadalajara.
Things to do in Guadalajara
To truly experience the essence of Guadalajara, there’s no better way than to immerse yourself in the city by wandering around on foot.
Guadalajara is a delightful place for exploration, and whether you opt for a guided walking tour or prefer a self-guided adventure, the historic center is a great starting point. From Hotel Morales, you can use this itinerary and I’ve included a map at the end of this article.
Our Lady Aranzazu Chruch– as you leave Hotel Morales head over to this gorgeous church with its unique plaza in front.
Plaza de las 9 Equinas – check out this famous plaza that really does connect nine streets. Marked by a fountain and some of the best restaurants downtown, this is one of my favorite areas of the city.
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. Note – it is a functioning church so please be respectful and dress appropriately.
Parque Revolución aka Parque Rio – next, don’t miss this art deco designed park that was formerly prison land. You’ll find several works of art and a statue of Venustiano Carranza and another of Francisco I. Madero.
Plaza de Armas – this is the main square in Guadalajara’s historic center – a popular meeting place with plenty of grassy areas and benches ideal for people watching and picnics. Plaza de Armas is also one of the four plazas that surround your next stop.
Rontonda de los Jaliscienses Ilustres – another one of the beautiful plazas that in the historic center. It celebrates Mexico’s regional writers and revolutionaries.
Teatro Degollado – this theater opened in 1866 to give citizens a taste of 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 this musical plaza to see groups of mariachis sing traditional Mexican songs.
If you find yourself with more time than 24 hours in Guadalajara, you can always add in a museum or two. Some interesting ones on the walking route and close by Hotel Morales are:
For more museum suggestions and things to do with kids in Guadalajara, Cassie has the best tips and secret spots.
Where to Eat in Guadalajara
There are so many amazing restaurants in Guadalajara, you’ll have a hard time choosing especially 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 Esquinas is one of a kind. Bright tablecloths, colorful plates and vibrant tile complete your true historic Guadalajara experience.
Outside Guadalajara’s 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 Argentine restaurant with some of the best steak, pasta, empanadas and fried cheese – oh my, the cheese – that I’ve ever had. Everything is grilled in true gaucho style. It’s definitely worth a trip out of the historic center. Just save room for dessert.
Southerner Says: if you plan on staying in La Minerva, try the conveniently located Fiesta Americana Guadalajara
24 Hours in Guadalajara Tips
- 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 Wi-Fi 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.
- Even if you don’t speak Spanish, you 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 Spanish. Hello, thank you and please are all good phrases to know.
- Last but not least, don’t forget trip and travel insurance.
Is Guadalajara Safe?
Jalisco, and Guadalajara in particular, have seen their fair share of petty crime and some cartel activity. Currently, the State Department lists Jalisco as a reconsider travel state. 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.
One Day in Guadalajara
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 Guadalajara, 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.
See you on the road!