Made up of a fascinating mix of age-old Mexican traditions and heritage, European architecture, and a luxurious subtropical atmosphere, Guadalajara is one of the most intriguing cities in the country.
The capital of the state of Jalisco is second in size only to Mexico City itself, and the range of attractions there are absolutely irresistible.
From fusion food prepared in the restaurants of top chefs to gorgeously wide avenues lined with colonial buildings, there’s no place quite like it in Mexico.
However, the surrounding region is also rich in heritage and culture, some of it wildly different than that of the big city.
The countryside is dotted with lakes, forests and breathtaking mountainscapes, as well as a wealth of smaller cities and townships, each more charming than the last.
Read on to find out which are our 15 best day trips from Guadalajara.
A well-known suburb of Guadalajara, the significantly smaller city of Tlaquepaque is a guaranteed way to escape the metropolitan hustle and bustle and lose yourself in its quaint charm.
Known for its astonishing artesanías (hand-made crafts), the small municipality attracts artists, musicians, and, of course, curious travelers.
Shop for pottery and marvel at mosaics at the famous shop, Cantú, or head over to the suburban garden of El Jardín Hidalgo that’s located among pretty colonial buildings and magnificent churches.
It goes without saying that – as in most of Mexico – the food is world-class.
Consider taking a food tour to get into the best spots and try the best dishes.
Recommended tour: Guadalajara & Tlaquepaque Half-Day Tour
With a history quite literally steeped in the world-famous Mexican spirit, Tequila began producing so much of it because of the acres of surrounding agave fields that grow in the region.
As a result, there are endless historic distilleries scattered throughout town; many of them run eye-opening tasting tours – just be careful not to go on too many if you want to make it back to Guadalajara the same day! The UNESCO World Heritage Site is also characterized by its many gorgeous cobblestone streets, alleyways and flower-draped buildings that are an absolute pleasure to explore.
A favorite for photographers looking to capture the charm of Mexico’s small towns, Tequila is one of the best day trips you can take from Guadalajara.
3. Lake Chapala
Less than 30 miles to the south of the city, you’ll find the beautiful little town of Chapala.
Widely known for its unbelievably agreeable weather almost every day of the year, it’s attracted many foreigners to settle down on the shores of the nearby lake that shares its name.
Lake Chapala is the largest in Mexico.
It is backdropped by gorgeous forested mountains and is large enough to contain various islands.
The most popular of these is the secluded Scorpion Island, which can be reached on a scenic boat trip from town.
Recommended tour: From Guadalajara: Lake Chapala and Ajijic Tour
Over to the western side of the state, Mazamitla has the odd but completely legitimate title of being “the Switzerland of Mexico”. This is down to the bundles of charm that can be found in the small, relatively unknown town, but also thanks to its surroundings that consist of mountains, pine forests, and fresh air.
Less than three hours from the hectic Guadalajara, Mazamitla is a collection of painted wooden buildings and has an abundance of pretty plazas to wander around.
The Parroquia de San Cristobál is the highlight of these buildings, drawing intriguing influences from architecture from the Far East.
If you’re looking for some nature time, head over to the gorgeous waterfall of Cascada El Salto.
5. Puerto Vallarta
If you’re after a beach getaway with some city comforts, there’s no better place than the Pacific coastal destination of Puerto Vallarta.
The small city offers excellent eats and street food, whilst the bars are always full of happy sun-seekers; a laidback atmosphere permeates everyday life here.
The real treats are by the water’s edge, with attractive promenades and hidden bays stretching all up and down the shoreline.
One of the famed “Magical Towns” in Mexico – named as such because of their impressive preservation of national and local culture and heritage – Tapalpa is a destination for people seeking peace and quiet.
Surrounded by wooded hills, the small town, with many of its original buildings and houses still standing, is a fascinating insight into an older way of life in the country.
One of these worth visiting is the colonial-era Church of the Immaculate.
The town of Ajijic can be found on the shores of the vast Lake Chapala and, much like the nearby town of Chapala itself, is a dreamy lakeside getaway.
The colorful gardens, cobblestone streets, and colonial architecture is all just minutes away from the aquamarine water.
People sometimes choose to come here instead of the busier coastal destinations.
With quaint shops, excellent restaurants and sweeping views of the lake, it’s hard not to fall in love with the little township.
This tropical surfer’s haven is the perfect example of a remote fishing village that was discovered and nourished into a laidback pleasure retreat for people of all ages and backgrounds, though with a consistent bohemian vibe.
Located on a gorgeous part of the Pacific coast, the surf in Sayulita is reliable, and backdropped by palm trees and jungle, making for a paradise spot by anyone’s standards.
Fresh seafood and local fare are plentiful, though you’ll also find international restaurants that accommodate travelers.
If you’re feeling a little more adventurous, you can venture out to the Marrieta Islands; uninhabited and beautiful, they are only a short boat ride away.
9. Bosque De La Primavera
Almost as large as the city itself, and one of its main sources of oxygen and water, the vast Bosque de la Primavera is to the west of Guadalajara and is a wonderful place to explore.
It’s so close to the hectic center, but once you’re amongst the trees, it feels as if you’re in another world.
Tours run throughout the year, led by guides who can teach you about the local flora and fauna.
The protected area is also patrolled by forest rangers, who ensure the natural reserve’s conservation.
10. San Sebastian
Venturing up into the mountains of the Sierra Madre, you’ll find the old mining town of San Sebastian, which has since become a celebrated destination for locals and visitors alike thanks to its historical preservation.
The sleepy town is named as one of the country’s “magical towns”; with its century-old architecture, amicable atmosphere, and sweeping views of coffee and agave fields, it’s easy to see why.
The sunsets are always spectacular here thanks to its high vantage point, so remember to bring your camera.
This town is more of a gateway to other destinations in the Jalisco region but is worth stopping by on the way to them.
The impressive cathedral and astonishingly good street food make it a great place to wander around before heading on to San Juan de los Lagos and Lagos de Moreno.
12. Lagos de Moreno
Yet another “magical town” on the roster of beautiful destinations near Guadalajara, Lagos de Moreno is second in charm to possibly only Tequila.
The streets are lined with deep red, pastel-colored buildings, with rows of clay-potted agave plants bursting with color adorning the cobblestones.
The Casa Agustin Rivera Museum is one of the highlights, as well as the House of Culture, which can be found in the same beautiful plaza in the Historic District.
The area is so attractive and well preserved that it has been named a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
A mere hour away from Guadalajara, you’ll find one of the lesser-known archaeological wonders that still stands in Mexico.
Less famous than sites on the east coast like Tulum and Chichen Itza, the Guachimontes are a series of circular pyramid structures that are a breathtaking sight to behold, as well as being steeped in fascinating history.
From government meddling to theories of aliens, the structures have attracted intrigue over the years and were reportedly built over 2000 years ago.
14. Cascada El Salto del Nogal
Less than 15 kilometers from Tapalpa – which is under two hours away from Guadalajara – you’ll find one of the best natural getaways in the region, that attracts hundreds of visitors a year.
The Cascada El Salto del Nogal is a gorgeous waterfall nestled among gentle surrounding hills that make for a stunning picnic spot and a great place to cool off from the subtropical sun.
There are guides who can accompany you to the falls along a short trail, though it’s more than easy enough to find your own way.
15. San Juan de los Lagos
Easily reachable on the road that first takes you through Tepatilan, San Juan de los Lagos is a hotbed of religious sites, containing some of the most impressive Roman Catholic structures in Jalisco.
Sites like Basilica of Our Lady of San Juan de los Lagos and El Pocito of the Virgin´s Chapel are eye-opening insights into the dedication of the Catholic community here – and indeed, in the rest of the country.