pixel

Baja Fever
By Greg Niemann

Guadalajara: Mexico's Second City

By Greg Niemann

Guadalajara Cathedral
Guadalajara Cathedral

The trio of guitarists enthusiastically belted out the melodious “Gua-da-la-jara, “Gua-da-la-jaaaa-raaaa,,” drowning out city noises and reminding the appreciative street side diners where they were – in Mexico’s second largest city and the birthplace of the country’s iconic music, mariachi.

With broad sombreros, tight pants and spangled jackets, mariachi groups are everywhere in the Guadalajara area, from fancy restaurants to small cafes with a few outside tables of local “Tapatios” (What a person from Guadalajara is called).

It had been 25 years since I’d been to the charming capital city of Jalisco, and while all the character and friendliness remained intact, much had changed – including a huge new Expo Convention Center, and the massive Millennium Arch 2000. At 52 meters (150 plus feet) the bright yellow landmark arch spans a busy roadway.

I was comforted with the familiar in the historic Centro area where broad shaded sidewalks face parks and plazas, cathedrals, classical buildings and monuments. Anchoring one plaza is the venerable Degollando Theater (1856) which continues to provide performances including the current Ballet Folklorico. The city center (Centro) (est. 1531) is also home to several museums, government buildings (Palacio de Gobierno, Palacio Municipal), and the Plaza de

Market of cures
The Market of Cures
Armas that recognizes important Tapatios. We reveled in the bustling central market (Mercado Libertad) where we were surprised to find the entire second floor was dedicated to homeopathic medicine, herbs, and witchcraft. The comprehensive market offers amulets, herbs, spices and concoctions for every possible ailment. Out favorite dining surprise came at a busy shop called Croissants Alfredo. We found the soft, doughy croissants so delicious we returned a few days later. Baked on premises, they are fresh and piping hot, many plain, others stuffed with chocolate, cream, pineapple or cajeta (caramel). (Croissants Alfredo is on Facebook).

We rode the public busses from our hotel to Centro and beyond, even to the villages of Tlaquepaque and Tonala. Most busses cost 6 pesos ($.50) even for the long one hour, 20 minute ride to Tonala. Some rides were direct; others we had to change busses but the drivers were very helpful, reminding us where to get off. From Centro one day we walked to Calle Independencia where we caught the Macrobus, which commands a special lane in the middle of the highway. We headed north, past the City Zoo, to the end of the line. The line ends there because the city ends there, at a huge chasm (the Barranca de Oblatos) with a muddy river (Rio Grande de Santiago) way, way down below, over 1,700 feet straight down. We hiked around lookouts and miradors, marveling at how abrupt the landscape changes from a busy city to a beautiful and pristine canyon.

Tlaquepaque

One day we took the bus to the artist enclave of San Pedro Tlaquepaque where we saw our first gringos in three days. It was just a handful of non-Latinos at that, even though there were Mexican tourists.

Croissants Alfredo
Croissants Alfredo

Tlaquepaque has matured nicely, with fine art galleries (Gallery Sergio Bustamante, for example) and antique shops joining the more than 200 stores and factories that sell pewter, talavera, copper, leather, stonework, and wrought iron. A six block pedestrian street has been beautified with public art and bronze statues.

El Parian is a peaceful square dating from 1878 featuring outdoor dining. Street vendors are everywhere and a couple of guys played on the xylophone all afternoon.

The main plaza, Jardin Hidalgo, features a kiosk made of quarry stone topped with a talavera tile cupola, and faces the 200-plus year old Sanctuary of Our Lady of Solitude. Nearby is Plazoleta Juan Pablo II (Pope John Paul II Square) where a bronze statue of Latin America’s papal favorite is revered.

We found one of our favorite meals in the bustling Mercado Municipal Benito Juarez where we squeezed in a bench seat among the locals at one of the numerous food stalls and enjoyed a delicious Pozole (a hominy based soup sans the tripe) lunch.

Jardin Hidalgo
Jardin Hidalgo

Tlaquepaque is a suburb of Guadalajara on the southeast and you can also take a taxi from your hotel or join a tour where it is the most popular destination. Once in town you can join a Walking Tour where the highlights are pointed out.

Tonala

Farther to the east at the edge of the Guadalajara metropolitan area is the artist and artisan village of Tonala, where almost every citizen is somehow involved in pottery or handicraft production marketing.

Shops were just opening as we walked from the bus stop to the city center, but it was quickly apparent that this town was an organized delight. Wedding dresses dominated the shops on one block, and pewter the next. Riots of colorful flowers were featured on one block, and children’s dolls the next.

The picturesque plaza fronted the church and the market. As the expected rain began to fall we sought shelter in the public market and enjoyed lunch on outdoor tables covered by tarps overhead. Even so, more rustic mariachi groups strolled by between raindrops to assuage the local diners that they were still part of the Guadalajara experience.

We didn’t realize until later that Thursdays and Sundays are market days when artisans convene upon the town with their pottery, stoneware and other handicrafts. We missed that by a day.

Guadalajara has two seasons, the wet one (June July and August), and the dry one the rest of the year. We were there in July, which might explain the dearth of tourists. Most of the rain came in the evening or at night when the skies would open up with booming thunder and a dazzling display of lightning. We just waited out the storm that day in Tonala.

There are a lot of retired Americans and Canadians living in the Guadalajara area, and most of those are in the communities of Lake Chapala and Ajijic about 40 kilometers south of town. The picturesque shallow lake there provides a restful backdrop to the artist and expatriate colonies. On our last visit we went down there to wander cobbled streets and note the walled enclaves of the gringos but were not in the mood to be among a bunch of English-speaking expats this time.

Things to do:

Outside of exploring Centro Guadalajara and the villages of Tonala and Tlaquepaque on your own like we did, there are several options available to make the most of this area.

Caladria Tour
Caladria Tour

Guadalajara City Tour – Perhaps the best value and comprehensive day trip is the Guadalajara City Tour where for 390 pesos (about $27.00) a walking tour of the historic Centro area is provided before an air-conditioned bus whisks you to both Tonala and Tlaquepaque (about 7 hours total). From hotel.

Tapatio Tour – An open deck bright red bus offers tourists a birds-eye view of the downtown area and Tonala and Tlaquepaque.

La Caladrias -- If you really like the open feeling hire a Caladria (horse and buggy) for an hour or so and clip-clop around the parks and plazas.

Tequila Express – The town of Tequila about 80 kilometers away is the heart of Mexico’s tequila country. The Tequila Express tour ($100 US) is a full day outing into the Valle de Tequila (One of Mexico’s Pueblo Magicos) which along with seeing how the fiery liquid is made, includes a fiesta with mariachis and folkloric show.

In the Guadalajara area there are numerous hotels, including the larger chains. The town of Tlaquepaque also offers several smaller inns and B&B’s. Choose from the Casa de las Flores, the Casa de Rotoño, the Casa Campos, or the Villa de Ensueño, all a short stroll from the heart of town.

I enjoyed Guadalajara more this time around. The absence of in-your-face tourism was most appealing and we were able to meet many friendly Tapatios. While it is a big city (1.5 million) it is a pleasant contrast to burgeoning Mexico City (18 million). Plus they’ve got the world’s best croissants.


About Greg

Greg Niemann is the author of Baja Fever, Baja Legends, Palm Springs Legends, Big Brown: The Untold Story of UPS, and Las Vegas Legends. Visit: Greg's website.

4.7 93 Reviews
  • user logo
    Benjamin Driebe
    From logo

    Absolutely fantastic, I already forgot her name because I have a terrible memory but the woman that helped me on the phone was wonderful,...

  • user logo
    richard carr
    From logo

    fast replies and great price!

  • user logo
    Juan Zuniga
    From logo

    I just would like to know if you guys are going to update the fastpass direction any soon, during the month of January the lane changed to...

  • user logo
    Richard Schweiger
    From logo

    Very professional, very helpful, great policy, I couldn't be happier with Baja Mexican Insurance, the friendly smiles and ease of it all in...

  • user logo
    Ryan Frisby
    From logo

    We use them every time we travel to Mexico. Luckily we have not needed their services yet but getting insurance through them is quick and...

  • user logo
    Jan Muhammad
    From logo

    I need a tourist visa for maxico I'm from pakistan help me sir

  • user logo
    Tracy Moore
    From logo

    Very easy, quick, and professional

  • user logo
    robert kepper
    From logo

    They are very good . There website doesn't show you need a title to bring a vehicle across the border.I was stopped and told I had to...

  • user logo
    Edilver Martinez
    From logo

    Our go to Baja car insurance, everytime we take a visit down south . Usually it's for a day trip either for a quick getaway with the family...

  • user logo
    Daniel Markofsky
    From logo

    Third time working with Baja Bound and they made it easy! Thanks!

  • user logo
    Steve Bender
    From logo

    Have never needed to use the insurance fortunately but the website always works great. Can buy a policy in about a minute.

  • user logo
    Jose Paez
    From logo

    Had a great experience getting insurance at Baja Bound, before I always stoped at the border to purchase my insurance, not anymore. By the...

  • user logo
    JUSTINE SERRANO
    From logo

    I purchased insurance through them & CHUBB for our trip to San Felipe. Unfortunately, we had to cancel due to our vehicle having an oil...

  • user logo
    Christian Minor
    From logo

    Team were on point, provided inside information, prices were great and they had my proposal already in the system when I called back....

  • user logo
    Joey Digiovanni
    From logo

    Easy to work with 😉. Always courteous and helpful

  • user logo
    George
    From logo

    Excellent customer service

  • user logo
    Kellye Pummill
    From logo

    Fast and easy!

  • user logo
    Jennifer Toups
    From logo

    Baja Bound is and has been my go to Mexico insurance company. The website is extremely easy to use, keeps all your info for a quick...

  • user logo
    Cesar Lopez
    From logo

    Very convenient, great price !!

  • user logo
    Louis Schneidman
    From logo

    I had an awesome experience with Baja Bound. Family owned and highly personal, top notch customer service. I have total peace of mind...

  • user logo
    Phil Noble
    From logo

    If you’re looking for Mexican Insurance that you can trust and feel good about while traveling in Mexico, you’ve found the right place....

  • user logo
    Jeff Bunker
    From logo

    Great coverage options . Price buy and print policy , very quick and easy , highly recommend them when driving in Mexico

  • user logo
    Burrell DeVine
    From logo

    Easy to navigate and very competitively priced! I had to call in and add an additional day, they couldn't have been any more pleasant to...

  • user logo
    Nereyda Torres
    From logo

    Me gusta la asuguranza porque la puedes comprar por un dia y te asegura en Mexico por el tiempo que vas ya sea hasta por mes (Translated...

  • user logo
    james whitmer
    From logo

    Best insurance I've had so far

  • user logo
    Rail1riders
    From logo

    Quick, easy, well designed website and not just for Baja. Good rates for temporal residente gringos. We’re not living in Jalisco. Printed...

  • user logo
    Matt B
    From logo

    I always use Baja Bound to source my insurance while traveling to Mexico. Fortunately, I have not had to file any claims. I do appreciate...

  • user logo
    Refugio I. Rochin
    From logo

    Excellent online and by direct phone. Spanish and English with proven response to questions. Website is very informative about driving in...

  • user logo
    Kelly Carney
    From logo

    Yara is very helpful and explains everything. Love working with companies like this.

  • user logo
    Slumdog Gump
    From logo

    Changed some money. Good rate and friendly people.

  • user logo
    Jeff G
    From logo

    Went down to TJ June 11 2020 No problems going into TJ but the way back was a ordeal 6 hours in line to get back into the USA but no...

  • user logo
    don letson
    From logo

    Great renewal process, if only south Dakota would do the same for car registration.

  • user logo
    len buckholtz
    From logo

    SIMPLE, STRAIGHTFORWARD. OLD GUYS LIKE THAT. WILL DEFINITELY USE IN 6 MONTHS IF STILL RUNNING AROUND THE WILDS OF BAJA.

  • user logo
    Susana Judd
    From logo

    Easy, quick and fair prices. Easy to deal with if needed.

  • user logo
    Seismic Waterfinder
    From logo

    Very excellent service, needed insurance for Mexico, price was fair. The custumer service rep was Yara

  • user logo
    Nicolas Dervé
    From logo

    Very good ans very fast. We hope all will ben good if we need it.

  • user logo
    Blake Glassco
    From logo

    I will never drive south of the border without Baja Bound in my center console. I was in an accident a couple hours south of Ensenada and...

  • user logo
    JohnPaul Gemelli
    From logo

    Baja Bound could not have made it an easier ... also, I made a mistake and called them having to leave a message ... but, they called back...

  • user logo
    Jeff Brandt
    From logo

    so far so good, however I have read good things about them

  • user logo
    Sengoz N
    From logo

    SERIOUS.

  • user logo
    Kenneth Trass
    From logo

    Getting a policy was simple, Provided more than provider for price comparison.

  • user logo
    Esther Valencia
    From logo

    Super easy to purchase just the coverage you need when crossing the border in your own car. I especially appreciate the fact that I was...

  • user logo
    Larry Cottingham
    From logo

    Great service, very helpful people there.

  • user logo
    Luis Cortes
    From logo

    Easiest way to purchase insurance when traveling to Mexico. I have used their service for the last 7 years and it only gets easier and...

  • user logo
    j dougher ty
    From logo

    EZ Peasy insurance purchase. Great service every time I've used them. Had to cancel one time when my travel plans went away - no problem....

  • user logo
    Paul Niehouse
    From logo

    Extremely easy to acquire a policy. Many options available. Reasonable rates.

  • user logo
    Colin
    From logo

    Super-easy and instant. Very happy with initial purchase.

  • user logo
    Howard M Elster
    From logo

    2nd year with Chubb. No problems

  • user logo
    Cyndee Congrove
    From logo

    Great customer service, quick, friendly staff helpfully answered all questions, very patient with my learning curve on a new product. Would...

  • user logo
    Art Eugenio
    From logo

    I've had Baja Bound insurance for more that ten years now with thousands of miles logged in Baja. Fortunately, I've only had one fender...

  • user logo
    Gabe Matthews
    From logo

    Where do i start..... you dont know you have good insurance until you have to actually use it. I have had Baja Bound INS for over 5 years...

  • user logo
    keith berkley
    From logo

    Been going to baja for 45 years. This is best insurance company i have come accross.

  • user logo
    Ryan Perkio
    From logo

    I have been using BajaBound Insurance for 15 years - multiple trips per year. Their website is easy, their coverage is great, and the...

  • user logo
    RaMon McBride
    From logo

    I have not had any claims thus far so rating is based on ease of purchase.

  • user logo
    Larry French
    From logo

    By far the best service for Mex insurance in Baja. They are personally there for you if you have problems south of the border.

  • user logo
    Tudor Thomas
    From logo

    Baja Bound makes buying insurance for going south of the border as easy as it gets. The website is the easiest I have used and the staff...