Unusual eats, lots of tequila and cool mountain towns! What to see and do in Guadalajara, Mexico.

As I crunched into a surprisingly tasty fried worm, a delicacy at La Tequila Restaurant in Guadalajara, I knew my trip through Mexico’s second largest city would be more than just mariachi music, tequila and Mexican cowboys—staples for which this urban mecca is known. While there are over 200 tequilas from which to choose at La Tequila, I was more impressed with the ant eggs, grasshopper-filled quesadillas and agave beer. Well, perhaps I was impressed that I was actually enjoying these bizarre foods.

Darley Newman tries fried worms in Guadalajara, Mexico
Darley Newman tries fried worms in Guadalajara, Mexico at La Tequila Restaurant.

Guadalajara is not one of the first places you may think to visit if you’re traveling to Mexico, but it’s worth a second look. With stunning historic architecture and a mix of modern and ancient art, there’s a lot to love about this vibrant city. Diverse for certain and also surprising, my recommendations for things to see and do in Guadalajara and its environs will leave an indelible impression of Mexico at its best, and give you bragging rights at your next outing with friends who love to travel.

Not-to-Miss in Guadalajara Downtown

Guadalajara is a sprawling city and challenging to navigate. Head downtown to get your bearings, and see the impressive murals from famed artist José Clemente Orozco at the Palacio del Gobierno, government palace, and Hospicio Cabañas, a cultural center, museum and UNESCO World Heritage Site. Nearby, shop for everything from Western boots to pet birds and silver jewelry at San Juan de Dios Market, also called Mercado Libertad, a rambling, year-round indoor market frequented by locals and tourists alike.

You can definitely have lunch here, taste testing typical area foods like torta ahogada, a sandwich made with local bread that’s crusty on the outside, filled with fried pork, “drowned” in spicy chili sauce or less-hot tomato sauce and topped with onion rings, avocado and chili peppers. It’s a mouthful that will leave you satisfied at least through dinner!

Maintain the urge to skip a siesta after the market and meander over to the Cathedral, where a combination of Baroque, Gothic, Moorish and Neoclassic styles is as diverse as the city itself. Next, visit to the Teatro Degollado, worth checking out for the architecture alone, but even better if you can score tickets to the symphony or ballet.

Rest your head downtown at budget-friendly Hotel de Mendoza, just a block from Teatro Degollado, or consider charming Quinta Don Jose, a family run B&B in Tlaquepaque just 20 minutes from downtown. Both have rates starting at less than $100 per night.

Diverse architecture in Guadalajara. Tlaquepaque Visit the stylish suburb of Tlaquepaque, a few miles from Guadalajara’s center. This artsy community is a good place to people watch and find a variety of handmade crafts, decorative curios and ceramic goods. Walk the pedestrian only main street, Independencia, lined with historic mansions, restaurants and eclectic shops to the village’s main square, alive with families eating food from local vendors, street performers and locals headed to church. We dined al fresco at Casa Luna in Tlaquepaque.

Zapopan

At dusk, take a stroll through the upscale Zapopan neighborhood, whose entrance is marked by an arch to commemorate the founders of the city. This area has pedestrian only streets lined with restaurants and bars frequented by upscale locals and some architectural highlights you won’t want to miss, including the Basilica of Zapopan, a stunning 17th century cathedral which is especially nice to see lit up at night.

Visit the nearby MAZ Museum to see what’s trending in modern art.

For a meal that you and anyone you tell about it will remember, eat one lunch or dinner in Guadalajara at La Tequila, where traditional Mexican fare and more exotic finds are on the menu. The fried worms weren’t bad (I find most fried food particularly tasty), but the ant eggs and grasshoppers were a little too much for me. The Agave Beer called Vida Latina that I washed it down with was really refreshing and you can always chase it down with one of the restaurants special tequilas.

Top Side Trips Ajijic

This colorful small town, whose brightly painted buildings make it akin to an open-air art gallery, about an hour’s drive from Guadalajara, makes for a great day or overnight trip. It’s located on Lake Chapala, Mexico’s largest freshwater lake, which is said to have healing qualities and has historically been a weekend escape for locals.

Popular with American and Canadian retirees, the cobblestone streets and gently lapping waters are a peaceful respite from downtown Guadalajara, and especially alive during one of the town’s many local festivals.

Colorful murals in Ajijic Mexico
Colorful murals in Ajijic Mexico

Tapalpa

The mountain village of Tapalpa, about an hour and a half drive from Guadalajara, is one of Mexico’s magical villages, so designated for its cultural, historic and natural wonders. The drive into town can be slow on those cobblestone street, but it gave me time to really soak in the authentic flavors of this well preserved historic, hidden gem, where handmade crafts, Mexican sweets and strong liquors are highlights. There’s a rural feel to life here.

Don’t be surprised if you see locals in town wearing half chaps and riding boots, and definitely explore this walk-able village on foot to observe some of the interesting architectural details and perhaps peak through an open doorway to see one of the many elaborate indoor garden courtyards.

Darley Newman snaps a photo of locals in Tapalpa Mexico
Darley Newman snaps a photo of locals in Tapalpa Mexico

Explore the Valley of the Enigmas, where monster truck sized boulders stand out amid flower-filled meadows where cows idly graze. The valley is known for it’s mystical energy and geologic wonders. Horseback riding is a great way to gain perspective on the gigantic stones that are thought to have once drawn natives to perform important rituals here.

Valley of the Enimgas in Mexico on horseback
Valley of the Enimgas in Mexico on horseback

Time your visit to Tapalpa with one of the town’s many events or religious fiestas, when. neighborhoods come alive with, fireworks, music, parades, food stands and dancing.

Darley Newman rides a horse in Tapalpa Mexico
Darley Newman rides a horse in Tapalpa Mexico

If you like eco-lodges, budget-friendly El Remanso, starting at $1850 MXN, $125 USD, is a good pick. Built to blend into the environment by a husband and wife couple, an architect and artist, El Remanso has a homey, yet modern feel. Set on a small lake in the countryside outside of town, you can enjoy hiking and mountain biking out from the lodge.

San Bernardo Hotel & Spa, starting around 2,150 MXN, $145 USD, is an upscale, boutique property with a reasonable price tag that overlooks the Valley of the Enigmas. It’s a good option for a romantic retreat, spa experience or gourmet meal.

Down the road from Tapalpa, the small town of Atacco is home to a thriving women’s co-op, where generations of women have passed down their knowledge of medicinal herbs and continue to do so. Whether you’re seeking a cure for depression, hair loss, insomnia, headaches­­, or just want an educational excursion, you’ll find it here. I was able to meet the women of Atacco, who work together on small businesses and a community garden.

Meeting a local woman and her dog in Atacco, Mexico
Meeting a local woman and her dog in Atacco, Mexico

Generations of women in Atacco hand down knowledge of medicinal herbs and remedies. Consider combining a visit to all of the above with a trip to Puerto Vallarta, an easy flight or three and a half hour drive. Another not-to-miss side trip is to Tequila.