Guadalajara is not a popular destination for foreign tourists visiting Mexico. Thus, many who find themselves in the city are there for a lengthy visit, either working or traveling abroad. Although there is lots to see (and eat!) in the city, the real gems can be found just outside the city and are easily accessible in just one day. If you’re in Guadalajara for any length of time I would highly recommend taking one of these Guadalajara day trips!
While Zapopan was once a city in its own right, today it is more of a suburb of Guadalajara proper. Construction of its basilica began in the late 1600s and continued well into the 1800s. The basilica is home to the famous Virgin of Zapopan (made from corn stalks) and a museum celebrating Huichol heritage. The quaint streets around the basilica feature colorful homes, bustling restaurants and shops selling local arts and crafts. This is an easy half-day trip from the Guadalajara city center.
Up for a hike? Technically located inside the city itself, the Barranca de Huentitan counts as a Guadalajara day trip because a proper visit (to the bottom of the canyon and back) will require an entire day. Hikers can choose between dirt trails and the abandoned (I think!) train tracks to reach the river that flows 600 meters below the parking lot. There are a few buildings at the bottom selling water and snacks, but you’ll definitely want to pack lots of your own, along with lots of sunscreen and layers of clothing to remove as you work up a sweat. If you don’t have all day you can spend a half hour taking in the view from the mirador at the top of canyon.
A little bit further afield is Lake Chapala, home to the greatest concentration of Canadians outside of Canada! Retirees are drawn to the lake’s picture-perfect year-round climate, and the towns of Chapala and Ajijic have both stepped up to meet the Americanized needs of their wealthy new residents. You can take a boat tour of the lake to do a little birding, or just walk along the water’s edge and take in the shore (unfortunately the lake is not clean enough for water sports or swimming). Both of the two towns feature upscale shops (lots of jewelry) and slightly-pricier restaurants featuring Mexican(ish) food as well as more foreign flavors.
You would have to be crazy to visit Guadalajara and not go to neighboring Tequila. Home of tequila, Tequila is an easy day trip by car, bus or even train. Yes, the Tequila Express is a real passenger train, and it’s definitely my preferred method of transit to the sleepy little town. For about $100 USD you get an all-inclusive day of drinking and touring one of the biggest tequila distilleries in the region. When I took the trip there were only a handful of foreign tourists on the train; nearly every other visitor was from elsewhere in Mexico. It’s expensive, but it’s informative and fun, and I would highly recommend it!
There are lots of amazing historical sites in Mexico, but Guachimontones near the village of Teuchitlán is unique. Unlike many of the other pyramids you’re likely to see across the country, the pyramids at Guachimontones are round! The site also features the remains of ball courts and patios, constructed as early as 300 BC! The site is easily accessible by car, or you can hop on a bus to the village of Teuchitlán and then walk about 2km uphill to the site or grab a taxi. We shared a taxi with some schoolchildren who were late for a class trip (really!) on the way up, and walked back down to the village ourselves. The village is located on a large lake, and lovely lakeside restaurants offer diners fresh seafood and fantastic birdwatching.
The best guide book on the market for this region right now is the updated Fodor’s Puerto Vallarta – With Guadalajara guide. It’s available in a Kindle version too, if you’re packing light!