Land of tequila and mariachi
Guadalajara, capital of the state of Jalisco, sits in the heart of the second largest metropolitan area in all Mexico and is known worldwide as the birthplace of the mariachi, a form of folk music that is typical of the country. Located some 550km (340mi) northwest of the national capital, Guadalajara impresses for the density of monuments spread over the city and delights visitors with its variety of home dishes, particularly the birria, the pozole, the enchiladas tapatías and, of course, the tortas ahogadas, a local classic.
Downtown Guadalajara is compact enough, considering the size of the city, and can be managed on foot. An interesting circuit may start by visiting the San Francisco and the Aranzazu temples and follow northwards for five blocks, walking past the Plaza de Armas, to the Metropolitan Cathedral, the city's top postcard. The original building of the cathedral was initiated during the second half of the 16th century and finished in 1618, even though its towers (65m, or 213ft, each) and the main dome had to be rebuilt twice due to the strong earthquakes that hit the area in 1818 and 1849. The square in front of the cathedral hosts a beautiful fountain, several trees, and is completely flanked by the Municipal Palace on its north side. This palace, built in neo-gothic style, houses several paintings portraying images of the city's founding. Occupying the block between the cathedral and the Municipal Palace, a circular monument lifted by 17 columns pays tribute to some of the most important personalities of the state of Jalisco.
Continuing the circuit through downtown Guadalajara, we can now go back to the Plaza de Armas in order to visit the Jalisco Government Palace, which houses a very interesting museum that explores general aspects of the Mexican history, from the pre-Columbian peoples to the Spanish conquest, culminating on the Independence movement and the first few governments of the new country. The main highlights of this palace are the murals painted by José Clemente Orozco, placed on the main stairways hall.
Following north of the Government Palace, through the Liberation Square, we arrive at the Degollado Theater, a pretty neoclassical building that can host up to 1,000 people and opened in 1866, decorated with a mural representing Dante's Divine Comedy. Behind the theater, in front of the Founders' Square, lies a giant sculpture 21 meters (69 ft) long and 3 meters (10ft) high, designed by local artist Rafael Zamarripa. Plaza Tapatía lies just a few blocks east and continues all the way until the Cabañas Institute, a building built between the later part of the 18th and the middle of the 19th century. It originally served as a hospital, then as a home for orphan children and, since 1983, houses a cultural institute that hosts several temporary and permanent exhibitions. The highlight of this complex is its chapel's central dome, which portrays the mural "Man in Flames" by José Clemente Orozco.
Only 7km (4.3mi) away from downtown Guadalajara, Tlaquepaque is one the most important handcraft centers in all Mexico. The city's old sector offers a great variety of stores where pottery and other indigenous artifacts can be bought.
Another very popular side trip while around here, takes tourists to visit one or more of the Jalisco's tequila distilleries, allowing them to get acquainted to the history behind Mexico's iconic drink. Most of the large distilleries, including José Cuervo, Sauza and Herradura, are located in the town of Tequila, just 65km (40mi) away from Guadalajara, and adjacent areas. The road to Tequila itself is per se a good excuse to make the trip as it allows to take in the beautiful scenery of the region's agave landscape.
Back to Jalisco's capital, you can continue your journey heading to Puerto Vallarta, a beautiful seaside city 300km (185mi) away from Guadalajara. Alternatively, you can take the opposite direction to visit Guanajuato (290km - 180mi) and San Miguel de Allende (350km - 215mi), two beautiful colonial cities that played key roles in the Mexican independence movement.