Things to Do in Jalisco
Like most boardwalks, Puerto Vallarta’s promenade, known as El Malecon, is dotted with sightseeing opportunities, cafes, shops, galleries, and performers. Overlooking the Bay of Banderas, the mile-long stretch offers scenic views during the day. And in the evening, the waterfront nightclubs and discos open their doors to party-seeking locals and visitors.
The small, uninhabited Marietas Islands (Islas Marietas) are located in the Bay of Banderas off Mexico’s Pacific coast. Making up a UNESCO-listed biosphere reserve, the islands are famous for their abundant wildlife and provide a chance to escape the crowds of many Mexican beach resorts, hop on a boat, and explore the islands’ natural delights.
At Los Arcos National Marine Park in Puerto Vallarta there are islands to visit, reefs to dive, tunnels to swim through, and caves to explore, providing plenty of the arches that give Los Arcos (the Arches) its name. This protected area is famous for its abundant wildlife, both above and below the ocean’s surface, and is a popular snorkeling spot.
Located near Puerto Vallarta on Mexico’s Pacific coast, Banderas Bay (Bahía de Banderas) is famous for its 42-mile (68-kilometer) stretch of picturesque coast. Jungle, sandy beaches, and rich aquatic life define this area, which is ideal for watersports and land adventures alike.
The atypical architecture of Guadalajara’s stunning 16th-century cathedral—formally known as the Basílica de la Asunción de Nuestra Señora de la Santísima Virgen María—looms large over the city’s historic center. Built predominantly in the Spanish Renaissance style, with several stained-glass windows, the most emblematic features of all are the two yellow, neo-Gothic spires which sit atop the building.
The 13,045-foot (3,976-meter) Acatenango volcano towers over the colonial city of Antigua. While many travelers opt for the more-gentle ascent of the Pacaya Volcano, this twin-peaked volcano offers incredible views of its nearest volcanic neighbor, Fuego, which regularly spits out plumes of gas, ash, and hot lava.
Head to the Jose Cuervo Distillery (Fábrica La Rojeña), and discover one of Mexico’s most famous traditional drinks. From the agave to the bottle, learn about the process of making (and tasting) tequila. A popular attraction in a tiny town, the terracotta-colored distillery is busy but accommodating, and the shop is the place to stock up on factory-priced tequila.
Ancient structures can be found throughout the country, but the tiered, circular pyramids of Guachimontones (meaning “place of the gods”) stand as one of the most important prehistoric settlements of western Mexico. An easy day trip from Guadalajara, this UNESCO World Heritage Site isn’t as well-known as others, yet it’s a unique place that transports you back in time.
Puerto Vallarta's Romantic Zone (Zona Romantica)—also called the Old Town, South Side, or Old Vallarta—sits away from the hotel zone and just steps from Los Muertos Beach. With artisan shops, streetside taco stands, and lively cantinas, this area of winding cobblestone streets maintains a more traditional, laid-back feel than the rest of the city.
Home to some of Mexico’s most impressive José Clemente Orozco murals, the 19th-century Hospicio Cabañas Cultural Institute (Instituto Cultural Cabañas) is a former orphanage-turned-arts center. This UNESCO-recognized building is also notable for its imposing neoclassical architecture, among the best of its kind in Mexico.
More Things to Do in Jalisco
Towering over the skyline of downtown, flanked by kitschy souvenir stores, and fronted by a charming, colorful plaza, the pink-hued Church of Our Lady of Guadalupe is a highlight of Old Town Vallarta. Laboriously constructed over a period of several decades in the early 20th century, the neo-baroque church is best known for its emblematic and intricate bell tower, and is the city’s most important Catholic attraction.
Designed by architect Jacobo Gálvez during Mexico’s theatrical heyday, the neoclassical Degollado Theater (Teatro Degollado) remains one of downtown Guadalajara’s most popular concert halls, tourist attractions, and landmarks. While the facade is fronted by a marble relief of Apollo and the nine muses—as well as 16 magisterial Corinthian columns—the gilded interior is even more opulent.
Recognizable for its entranceway whale sculpture, Marina Vallarta serves as a self-contained counterpoint to the sprawl of downtown Puerto Vallarta. Although technically a resort and residential development—complete with shopping centers and an 18-hole golf course—most visitors come to stroll the length of the yacht-lined boardwalk, dine at the surrounding restaurants, and browse the weekly craft market.
The country’s second-largest metropolis and capital of the Mexican state of Jalisco, Guadalajara retains a vibrant historical center (centro histórico) filled with colonial plazas, churches, and stately buildings. This downtown area includes some of the city’s top tourist attractions, such as the Palacio del Gobierno, Teatro Degollado, and the Instituto Cultural Cabañas.
Pay homage to distinguished artists, writers, and politicians from Jalisco at Guadalajara’s neoclassical Rotunda of the Illustrious Jaliscans (Rotonda de Los Jaliscienses Ilustres). Close to 100 urns are contained within the rotunda, which is encircled by leafy trees and 22 bronze statues depicting other famous Jalisco-born figures.
The 18th-century Governor’s Palace in downtown Guadalajara is an essential destination for visitors interested in the politics and history of one of Mexico’s most important cities. While appealing from the outside—the imposing baroque building is decorated with a number of carved gargoyles—the draw of the building for most travelers comes from the José Clemente Orozco murals which decorate the interior.
Centered on an ornate art nouveau bandstand, threaded with leafy walkways, and backed by the 19th-century Palacio de Gobierno, Guadalajara Plaza de Armas is the historic downtown’s oldest public square. Here, admire the neighboring 16th-century cathedral, people-watch from wrought-iron benches, and catch a free musical performance after dark.
Lush tropical foliage, hummingbird-watching hot spots, and orchid sanctuaries are just three of the attractions you’ll find at the Vallarta Botanical Gardens (Jardín Botánico de Vallarta). A rich and diverse array of flora and fauna—mostly native—dominates the 20-acre (8-hectare) expanse of jungle. Follow jungle paths, wander curated gardens, and marvel at the koi pond as part of a scenic Puerto Vallarta day trip.
For an authentic and lively Puerto Vallarta beach experience, Los Muertos Beach (Playa Los Muertos) can’t be beat. Located just south of Olas Altas Beach in the Romantic Zone, this gay-friendly stretch of sand fronts a pier and is lined with bars and restaurants. Locals and families also love this beach and its diverse crowd.
Once home to Hollywood superstars Liz Taylor and Richard Burton, Gringo Gulch is now a sleepy Puerto Vallarta neighborhood which spills down the hillside above the Cuale River. Characterized by red-roofed, whitewashed "Vallarta-style" mansions—including Casa Kimberly, Taylor’s one-time villa—Gringo Gulch has some of the best views over downtown Puerto Vallarta, as well as a distinctly colorful past.
With spindly, cross-topped spires and intricate stonework, the 20th-century Templo Expiatorio del Santísimo Sacramento is one of Mexico’s most striking examples of neo-Gothic architecture. Stick around for the march of 12 miniature Apostles when the German church clock strikes the hour and admire the impressive stained-glass windows both inside and out.
In the heart of downtown Guadalajara, Mariachi Plaza (Plaza de los Mariachis) is one of the most local spots to enjoy live mariachi music performances in the birthplace of the genre. Grab a beer at one of the streetside bars and listen from afar, or hire the musicians to play a few tableside tracks for an authentic experience.
Escape the hustle and bustle of downtown Guadalajara for the peace and quiet of colorful Tlaquepaque. An arts and crafts town, known in Mexico for being one of the country’s foremost ceramics regions, Tlaquepaque has a timeless appeal, plenty of shopping options for all budgets, and several important ceramics museums. Charming and laidback by day, it comes alive with mariachi music and lively bars by night.
Home to the Virgin of Zapopan, the 17th-century baroque Basilica of Our Lady of Zapopan (Basílica de Nuestra Señora de Zapopan) is one of Guadalajara’s most important churches. Take your cue from pilgrims across the country and come to admire the much-revered 16th-century wooden statue of the Virgin of Zapopan—when she’s in situ—or visit the on-site Huichol Art Museum.
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