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Guadalajara and a little more     —    “Been there, done that!” That might be on your mind when time comes to plan your next escape that combines sun, sea and sand. Like the 2 million Canadians who fly to Mexico every year, you are probably already familiar with Cancun and Riviera Maya. Why not add a gourmet and cultural experience and treat yourself with a discovery of another region in Mexico?

I am just returning from Guadalajara, the second largest city in Mexico (after the capital), where I attended the annual Tianguis tourism fair. It was a huge and exceptional venue for all regions in the country to display their specific tourism offer. And believe me, it was as diverse as it was irresistible, with touristic routes, magical villages – called “pueblos mágicos” - Posadas, haciendas, luxury hotels, heritage sites and gastronomy. It would be a great pity not to take advantage of it all!

I suggest, therefore, staying in the Jalisco region with a look at Guadalajara, Tequila and Puerto Vallarta.

Guadalajara 

This is where we landed, located 540 km west of the capital, Mexico City, close to the Pacific Ocean, in the birthplace of Mariachis and tequila.

It is a large city, very spread out, with numerous districts where some rare vestiges of the colonial era can still be found, enchased with modern buildings and commercial centers and cranes that are actively working. Fortunately, numerous green spaces, fountains and public art – it’s possible to even see monumental work of arts climbing over highways - grace the landscape.

The historic center of the city is built around the Cathedral, with restored colonial buildings, arches and flower-filled alleyways, squares and fountains strewn with modern sculptures. The Cathedral, surrounded by squares on all sides, can be seen from afar with its golden twin towers and a yellow dome.

In front, the Plaza Guadalajara, with its clawed lions’ fountain, is a symbol of the city; to the south, there is the Plaza de Armas, in front of which we find the Government Headquarters (Palacio de Gobierno) housing an interesting museum where we can admire a fresco by José Clemente Orozco, one of the three most important artists of the Mexican muralism movement. To the north stands the Rotunda of los Jaliscienses Ilustres with its 17 columns around which stand statues of famous people from Jalisco (one is a woman, Rita Perez de Moreno) from arts, science and politics. On the fourth square, Plaza de la Liberación, there stands a statue of Miguel Hidalgo, a reminder of the abolition of slavery.

Other buildings that are worth seeing include Theater Degollado, with a neoclassical style, and its fountain dedicated to the founders of Guadalajara and the Hospicio Cabañas, a Unesco World Heritage Site. The walls, arches and vaults of the ceiling in its main chapel are decorated with beautiful frescoes by Orozco and what is qualified as his main work, “The Man in Fire,” can be seen above the nave.

Without leaving out a few museums, such as the Museum of the City, the Museum of Popular Cultures, the Museum of Periodics and Graphic Arts, all located in the historic centre. And in another neighbourhood, the MAAD, just inaugurated with its futuristic architecture, houses a Museum of Modern Art and a Museum of Film, both quite interesting.

A day is easily spent in the old city, wandering in its lanes and streets, exploring, stopping in front of candy stalls that offer tempting sweets of all colors and forms, taking photos and, why not stop for an essential refreshment – considering the 30 degree weather on the thermometer and the blazing sun – at Plaza de los Mariachis to enjoy traditional music and a sing-along.

The Mariachis

Speaking of the Mariachis, I should mention that they are considered to some extent the symbol of the music, culture and history of Mexico.

A traditional Mariachi ensemble is generally composed of four musicians playing stringed instruments and singing. With their cut-at-the-waist vest, fitted pants with shiny buttons, large belt, sombrero and bow tie, all embroidered with geometric designs, they represent a “chic” version of the costume worn by the traditional charro horsemen from Mexico.

Mariachi ensembles are quite versatile and could consist of more than four musicians. I saw them joining a symphonic orchestra during an evening to give a performance with subtle nuances, and also heard them during breakfast in a performance I would call devilish. In all cases, I emerged wide awake!

Lago Chapala

Unfortunately, Guadalajara is not on the ocean and since the need to cool off is quite justified under such a blazing-hot sun, there are a few options, like Chapala.

One hour from Guadalajara, on the banks of Mexico’s largest freshwater lake, Chapala has grown to become - along with other Mexican cities - a favorite for many Canadians and Americans who have moved there to enjoy its exceptional climate (23 or 24 degrees Celsius, year-round) and quality of life.

Apart from its beaches, Yacht Club, golf and tennis clubs, Chapala houses many artist studios and art galleries and is also famous for its cuisine.

Tequila, more than a drink! 

Another interesting excursion is to Tequila. 69 km from Guadalajara, in the middle of blue agaves that are as far as the eye can see, the village of Tequila. Its main square, Plaza de Armas is dominated by St. James the Apostle church, which dates back in the XVIIe century, and the Tequila National Museum is also quite attractive. It is in fact one those Pueblos Mágicos mentioned earlier.

A few distilleries, such as La Rojeña operated by José Cuervo, a centennial industry - the oldest in America - offer guided visits. During these, it is possible to learn all there is to know about the transformation of agave into tequila, a 250 year-old tradition.

The small village shelters a few hotels, among which is the Hotel Solar de las Animas, which proudly displays a prestigious Relais & Châteaux signature. Built only a year ago, its 93 rooms and suites offer luxury and modern comforts and décor that reminds us that we are in Mexico. I could definitely enjoy some time here!

Close by, we delightfully follow the small alleys of the Hacienda Centenario, whose 7,000 square meters of places and gardens are sprinkled with remarkable modern sculptures by Leonora Carrington, a painter and writer influenced by Frida Kahlo, who dedicated the last years of her life to sculptures before her death in Mexico in 2011.

The Hacienda can accommodate up to 3,000 guests for banquets or various events in a décor quite magical. We spent an evening there under the stars and were treated to an impressive range of Mexican food: ceviche, prawns, fish and all kind of meat accompanied by vegetables and Mexican flavored sauces. All of that was sprinkled with local wine and Maestro Tequilero – a smooth, rich and golden tequila carrying all the oaky flavors of the barrels in which it aged. A must-taste drink!

Tequila can easily be reached by car or bus, but there is another pleasant possibility: the Tequila Express tourism train. It leaves Guadalajara every Saturday, heading to Tequila for a guided visit of the distillery, a meal in a hacienda and tequila tastings. A group of Mariachis and traditional dancers join the travelers aboard. Atmosphere is guaranteed!

Puerto Vallarta

How could we travel to Mexico without going to the sea? Almost impossible to imagine for us Canadians!

191 km from Guadalajara, Puerto Vallarta is the solution. A small, traditional Mexican village on the Pacific, it witnessed a part of its immense beaches on the North side invaded by all-inclusive modern resorts, which form what is known today as “Nuevo Vallarta”. It is in that part of Vallarta where Cirque du Soleil is planning a new thematic park, Village of the Sun.

But my preference goes to the old city with its narrow streets and traditional houses, the Zona Romantica, with its restaurants and beach around which a few smaller hotels, friendly B&B and condos offer a different kind of stay.

A treat for those wishing for more local color, looking for small friendly restaurants day after day, wanting to loiter at the municipal market to find the perfect handicraft souvenir, discovering the artists exhibiting at the municipal park in front of the Notre-Dame-de-Guadalupe church, walking the Malecón along the sea with its stunning sculptures and why not take the time to meet and get to know better the residents of the village.

Personally, I my habits lie with a friendly and traditional B&B that grew a few years ago. Located in the Zona Romantica, on a small hill overlooking the beach in the Bay of Banderas, the Casa Corazon is a family establishment that has been operated for years by the Tunes. A few traditional rooms are still offered in the old part, but most of the rooms are in the new building with king size beds, a small sitting room and large terraces with a view of the sea. A modern offer with Mexican décor.

After a hearty breakfast of Mexican spiced eggs enjoyed on the terrace, one only has to take the private stairs to get down to the beach where a choice of chairs or the sand offer a few hours of lying in the sun punctuated with a few beers or fresh juices offered at the small bar nestled at the foot of “our” stairway. They also serve a very decent ceviche for lunch to those who don’t feel like moving.

It should be noted that Puerto Vallarta does not qualify itself as a LGBT destination, but that this population is welcomed.

Gastronomy

I frequently mentioned food for a reason. In recent years, Mexico has been focusing on its cuisine and gastronomy to enrich its tourism offer.

Yes, tacos of all sorts and tortillas are still offered everywhere, but numerous chefs are combining regional ingredients with traditional beans, tomatoes, limes, avocado and chili. Inspired by international cuisines, they have created an original Mexican cuisine, which is both inventive and delicious. A few of the chefs operate in some of the best restaurants in Guadalajara, such as Lula Bistro, Hueso, la Casa de los Platos et Alcalde.

One should remember that Mexican cuisine as been recognized by Unesco as part of its Immaterial Heritage List. To read our previous article on Mexican cuisine.

Hasta la vista!

It’s already the end. But I have every intention of repeating this experience and exploring a few other Pueblos Mágicos in the Jalisco state close to Guadalajara such as: San Sebastian del Oeste, Talpa de Allende, Lagos de Moreno, Mazamitla, Mascota et Tapalpa as well as those nestled in other regions of the vast country.

Meanwhile, soaking up the heat and sun, with a few Mariachi tunes in my head and a bit of tequila in my baggage, I arrived back home with lovely images and taste buds that were still titillated.

Christiane Théberge

Christiane Théberge was in Guadalajara at the invitation of Tianguis, the Mexican annual tourist fair.

 


 

Monumental sculpture over a highway

Sculpture at the MAAD (México Arquitectura Arte Diseño)

The Minerva and her fountains, one landmark of Guadalajara

The Cathedral of Guadalajara

The Cathedral and the Rotunda of los Jaliscienses 

Statues of the Rotunda of los Jaliscienses 

A street in Tequila 

A worker at the distillery preparing the piña (the core of the agave)

Pool at the Hotel Solar de Animas

Night at the Hacienda

Puerto Vallarta and Notre-Dame de Guadalupe church

Beach in the Zona Romantica, Puerto Vallarta

Lots of sweets!

Photo of the large banner: the MAAD (México Arquitectura Arte Diseño)

 

   

 

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