Mexico’s second largest metropolis is actually a confederation of three separate cities – Zapopan, Tlaquepaque and Guadalajara proper – each with its own airs and idiosyncrasies. Together they form a culturally compelling whole, a blended cocktail not unlike one of the locally concocted margaritas – sharp, potent and remarkably well-balanced.
If you’re intimidated by the size and intensity of Mexico City, Guadalajara delivers a less frenetic alternative. Many of the clichéd images recognized as Mexican have roots here: mariachi music, wide-brimmed sombreros, the Mexican hat dance and charreadas (rodeos). But, Guadalajara is as much a vanguard of the new Mexico as it is a guardian of the old. Chapultepec hipsters drive the cultural life forward, fusion chefs have sharpened the edges of an already legendary culinary scene (famed for its tender stews and ‘drowned’ sandwiches), while foresighted local planners are doing their damnedest to tackle the traffic and congestion (a bike-sharing scheme is the latest wild card).
With over four million inhabitants in its broader metro area, Guadalajara can’t match the intimacy and architectural homogeneity of smaller colonial cities, though its historic core is handsome enough, anchored by the twin wonders of the cathedral and the Instituto Cultural de Cabañas, the latter a Unesco World Heritage site. Modern and spread-out, the Chapultepec neighborhood is sprinkled with fashionable restaurants, coffeehouses and nightclubs. Mellow suburbs Tlaquepaque (upscale) and Tonalá (grassroots) are a folk-art shopper’s dream destinations. Zapopan has some interesting colonial sites and is known somewhat euphemistically as Guadalajara’s Beverly Hills.Essential information