Downtown Guadalajara

The most easily recognized building in the city is the cathedral, around which four open plazas form the shape of a Latin cross. Extending eastwards from the plaza behind the cathedral is a long stretch of open area leading all the way to the Instituto Cultural Cabañas. This extension of open space is called Plaza Tapatía.

Construction on the cathedral started in 1561 and continued into the 18th century. Over such a long time, it was inevitable that some architectural alteration would be incorporated before the building was ever completed. The result is an unusual facade -- an amalgam of several styles, including baroque, neoclassical, and Gothic. An earthquake destroyed the original towers in 1818; their replacements were built in the 1850s, inspired by designs said to have been on the bishop's dinner china. The colors on the towers, blue and yellow, are Guadalajara's official colors. The interior is cavernous and majestic. Items of interest include a painting in the sacristy ascribed to the 17th-century Spanish artist Bartolomé Estaban Murillo (1617-82).

On the cathedral's south side is the Plaza de Armas, the oldest and loveliest of the plazas. A cast-iron Art Nouveau bandstand is its dominant feature. Made in France, it was a gift to the city from the dictator Porfirio Díaz in the 1890s. The female figures on the bandstand exhibited too little clothing for conservative Guadalajarans, who clothed them. The dictator, recognizing when it's best to let the people have their way, said nothing.

Facing the plaza is the Palacio del Gobierno, a broad, low structure built in 1774. The facade blends Spanish and Moorish elements and holds several eye-catching details. Inside the central courtyard, above the staircase to the right, is a spectacular mural of Hidalgo by the modern Mexican master José Clemente Orozco. The Father of Independence appears high overhead, bearing directly down on the viewer and looking as implacable as a force of nature. On one of the adjacent walls, Orozco painted The Carnival of Ideologies, a dark satire on the prevailing fanaticisms of his day. Another of his murals is inside the second-floor chamber of representatives, depicting Hidalgo again, this time in a more conventional posture, writing the proclamation to end slavery in Mexico. The palacio is open daily from 10am to 8pm.

In the plaza on the opposite side of the cathedral from the Plaza de Armas is the Rotonda de los Hombres Ilustres. Sixteen white columns, each supporting a bronze statue, stand as monuments to Guadalajara's and Jalisco's distinguished sons. Across the street from the plaza, in front of the Museo Regional, you will see a line of horse-drawn buggies. A carriage ride around the Centro Histórico lasts almost an hour and costs 200 pesos for one to four people.

Facing the east side of the rotunda is the Museo Regional de Guadalajara, Liceo 60 (tel. 33/3613-2703). Originally a convent, it was built in 1701 in the baroque style and contains some of the region's important archaeological finds, fossils, historic objects, and art. Among the highlights are a giant reconstructed mammoth's skeleton and a meteorite weighing 772 kilograms (1,702 lb.), discovered in Zacatecas in 1792. On the first floor, there's a fascinating exhibit of pre-Hispanic pottery and some exquisite pottery and clay figures recently unearthed near Tequila during the construction of the toll road. On the second floor is a small ethnography exhibit of the contemporary dress of the state's indigenous peoples, including the Coras, Mexicaneros, Nahuas, and Tepehuanes. It's open Tuesday through Saturday from 9am to 5:30pm and Sunday from 9am to 4pm. Admission is 45 pesos.

Behind the Cathedral is the Plaza Liberación, with the Teatro Degollado (Deh-goh-yah-doh) on the opposite side. This neoclassical 19th-century opera house was named for Santos Degollado, a local patriot who fought with Juárez against Maximilian and the French. Apollo and the nine muses decorate the theater's pediment, and the interior is famous for both the acoustics and the rich decoration. It hosts a variety of performances during the year. It's open Monday through Friday from noon to 2pm and during performances.

To the right of the theater, across the street, is the sweet little church of Santa María de Gracia, built in 1573 as part of a convent for Dominican nuns. On the opposite side of the Teatro Degollado is the church of San Agustín. The former convent is now the University of Guadalajara School of Music.

Keep walking east down Plaza Tapatía, and you will arrive at the Instituto Cabañas. You will first pass between a couple of low, modern office buildings. The Tourism Information Office is in a building on the right side.

Beyond these office buildings, the plaza opens into a large expanse, now framed by department stores and offices, and dominated by the abstract modern Quetzalcóatl Fountain. This fluid steel structure represents the mythical plumed serpent Quetzalcóatl, who figured so prominently in pre-Hispanic religion and culture, and exerts a presence even today.

At the far end of the plaza is the Hospicio Cabañas, formerly an orphanage and known today as the Instituto Cultural Cabañas, Cabañas 8 (tel. 33/3818-2800, ext. 31009). Admission is 70 pesos. This vast structure is impressive for both its size (more than 23 courtyards) and its grandiose architecture, especially the cupola. Created by the famous Mexican architect Manuel Tolsá, it housed homeless children from 1829 to 1980. Today it's a thriving cultural center offering art shows and classes. The interior walls and ceiling of the main building display murals painted by Orozco in 1937. His Man of Fire, in the dome, is said to represent the spirit of humanity projecting itself toward the infinite. Other rooms hold additional Orozco works, as well as excellent contemporary art and temporary exhibits.

Just south of the Hospicio Cabañas (to the left as you exit) is the Mercado Libertad, Guadalajara's gigantic covered central market, the largest in Latin America. This site has been a market plaza since the 1500s; the present buildings date from the early 1950s.

Other Attractions

At Parque Agua Azul (Blue Water Park), plants, trees, shrubbery, statues, and fountains create an idyllic refuge from the bustling city. Many people come here to exercise early in the morning. The park is open daily from 7am to 6pm. Admission is 10 pesos for adults, 5 pesos for children.

Across Calzada Independencia from the park, cater-cornered from a small flower market, is the Museo de Arqueología del Occidente de México, Calzada Independencia at Avenida del Campesino (no phone). It houses a fine collection of pre-Hispanic pottery from Jalisco, Nayarit, and Colima. The museum is open Tuesday through Friday from 10am to 2pm and 4 to 7pm, Saturday and Sunday 10am to 2pm. There's a small admission charge.

The state-run Instituto de la Artesanía (tel. 33/3030-9090) is just past the park entrance at Calzada Independencia and González Gallo. It exhibits just about every kind of craft produced in the state. Hours are Monday to Friday 10am to 4pm, Saturday and Sunday 10am to 2pm.

Also near the park is Guadalajara's rodeo arena, Lienzo Charro de Jalisco (tel. 33/3619-0315). Mexican cowboys, known as charros, are famous for their riding and lasso work, and the arena in Guadalajara is considered the big-time. Shows and competitions are every Sunday at noon. The arena is at Av. Dr. R. Michel 577, between González Gallo and Las Palomas.

Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.