3 Nights in Guadalajara, Mexico

While beaches are the most popular destination for foreign tourists, we decided to visit a couple of non-beach destinations in Mexico during a week-long vacation this past summer. We wrote up about our visit to Mexico City previously, and here we write up about Guadalajara.

Note that while both of these cities are quite interesting and well worth a visit, they’re also more difficult to visit than, say, Cancun or Los Cabos. Particularly if you are taking children. There were definitely sights that our teenagers enjoyed, but we did run into the typical (mostly minor) stomach issues and also were well aware of the (expected) “developing”/”rough edges” nature of some of the surroundings. Those issues weren’t nearly as extreme as on our trip to India, but on the other hand, Mexico also didn’t feel nearly as “exotic” as India either.

Guadalajara is Mexico’s second largest city, only behind Mexico City in population. It has a reputation of having a lovely historic Colonial downtown, and fairly good food. One of Jeremy’s former colleagues recommended it as a destination. Our family really enjoyed the feeling of the historic center and ended up spending most of our time there.

Day 1:

On our first day, we took an early afternoon flight from Mexico City and arrived at our hotel at 3:30pm. Hotel Morales was in an amazing location with a very beautiful lobby.

There was even an armed guard at the door! We will leave it to you to decide if that is a good thing or a bad thing. The main downside is that there was a lot of noise from the street, the beds were small and hard, and the breakfast was overpriced for what it was. Our conclusion was that the location made up for most of the negatives.

After getting checked in, we decided to get a feel for the city, which for our family means a long walk with at least one kid complaining that it is boring.

Our first stop was the Cathedral. Very beautiful!

We then continued by the theater, government buildings, and various statues. It all had a very lovely feel and I was starting to forget about some of the grittiness of Mexico City.

There were some very pretty fountains on the way to the market. Feeling a little tired from a long week of travel, we decided to sit for a while on a bench and soak in the pleasant atmosphere.

Eventually, we made it to the market. It was very tight and the items weren’t the best quality, but it was fun to wander and look.

At this point, we decided to go back to the hotel to rest until dinner. This was when Jeremy and the boys started to rebel. There were a few meals where the food that came to our table was different from what we thought we were ordering. It is a common occurrence while traveling, but the kids were getting tired of it. So, Jeremy talked me into getting hamburgers. Sigh. There was lovely Mexican food everywhere, but I guess it made the boys happy.

The clouds opened their floodgates while we were eating. Summer is Mexico’s rainy season and we had been carrying umbrellas in backpacks, but in our haste to leave the hotel, we had left them on the bed. Ooops! We slowed our meal way down, then hung out under a covered walkway until the rain lightened up. Fortunately I had a plastic bag in my purse, so I stuffed my purse into it to protect all of our travel documents and off we went into the rain. As it turned out, there were quite a few covered walkways most of the way back to our hotel and the rain really was light enough that we didn’t get drenched.

Rain was expected for the rest of the evening, so we just hung out at the hotel. With the lightning, the pool was not an option, but it was nice to relax.

Day 2:

For breakfast, we tried the restaurant in our hotel. While our omelets were nice, there was little in the buffet that felt special. We then took an Uber to Lake Chapala.

You can read a full post about this location, but we ended up going to two different towns: Chapala and Ajijic.

They both have very nice walkways by the water – picture below is Chapala. Chapala has a lot of market booths, where Ajijic has more permanent shops.

Ajijic is a big expat town, so you can expect it to be a little cleaner and have more services for tourists. The thing I loved about Ajijic was the murals.

While both towns were nice, I preferred the feel of Ajijic more, but depending on what experience you are looking for, either could be the right choice.

Day 3:

On our 3rd day in Guadalajara, we decided to see the main sights in the town. Having not been thrilled with our expensive hotel breakfast the day before, we found a cute local chain cafe and got breakfast there. The boys were thrilled with their pancakes, while Jeremy and I tried various Mexican egg dishes. Delicious! My large cappuccino was very, very big, but quite beautifully presented.

From here, we were off to see what Guadalajara could offer. We had already seen the Cathedral, so we skipped that, instead opting for the Museo Regional de Guadalajara, but there was some confusion at the ticket booth since there was no one working there. We tried to understand what the security guard was saying, thought that there was another entrance around the corner – there wasn’t, and eventually we decided to take a walk and come back later.

On the way to our next destination, we stopped by the Two Temples.

The larger church was not open, but the smaller had a beautiful interior. One thing you will find in Spanish built churches throughout Mexico and South America is that there are lots of carvings and lots of gold. They can usually rival any church in Europe.

We then went to the Instituto Cultural de Cabañas.

If you like modern art, this museum may be your thing. Many of the exhibits really weren’t our style. Though, for instance, we did see a polar bear eating an Oreo:

The outdoor spaces and the architecture of the building are nice, but I’m not quite sure why they chose to fill it with the content that they did.

Then we came to the highlight! Jose Clemente Orozco created some amazing murals that can be found on the walls and ceilings of the main exhibit room.

We almost left without finding it, and that would have been a shame. While the art isn’t my usual style, they were quite well done and both boys found them to be fascinating.

From here, we walked back to the Museo Regional de Guadalajara, enjoying the sights on the way.

The ticket booth was still unmanned, but this time the security guard indicated that we could enter without paying.

A little weird, but we went with it. This museum was also a little disappointing. There was a woolly mammoth skeleton that was interesting, but overcrowded. Otherwise, there were a few fossils, some Mexican artifacts, and a few old carriages.

Most of the rooms appeared to be offices or closed. Maybe some things besides just the ticket office were closed, but if what we saw was all that was in the museum, it wasn’t much.

We were quite full from a late breakfast, so we decided just to pick up snacks as we got hungry. The boys wanted to go to the zoo, but I was feeling tired and overwhelmed from being on the go for the entire week. Jeremy called an Uber and took the boys while I rested at the hotel.

The boys had a lot of fun at the zoo!

While most of the animals seemed content, we aren’t sure that polar bears belong in Mexico.

John thought about bringing home a ukulele as a souvenir, but they were about the same price as at home and the quality wasn’t entirely clear. Being concerned about how well it would transport, we decided to skip.

For dinner, we decided to eat at a restaurant in the main square. My fajitas and sangria were excellent!

After dinner, we walked back by the pastry shop from the previous evening and picked up a few snacks. Yum!

Day 4:

On our last day in Mexico, we were all ready to pack up and head home. We slept in a bit and had a breakfast at a place nearby. We decided to go see the cathedral one last time, took a quick walk through town, and then headed back to the hotel to finish backing and head to the airport.

After some basic research, we were pretty sure that the airport lines would be quite short, but we did leave enough time for surprises. Flying United from Guadalajara was super easy. There was no line for checkin and we were on our way to security. That said, the line for AeroMexico was much longer.

We got some lunch at the airport, then the boys took our few leftover pesos and bought some candy and souvenirs. John was thrilled with his marble frog with a coin in his mouth. Not a ukulele, but he was happy.

Our conclusion was that Guadalajara is fun for a solid day or two, but if you plan to stay longer, you will likely want to figure out some day trips as well.

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