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Your travel guide to Jalisco, Mexico: best places to visit and more

Explore Jalisco, Mexico with this travel guide. Dive into its culture, history, and landscapes. Discover why it's a must-visit for every adventurous backpacker.

9min

Jalisco Mexico

Planning a trip to Jalisco, Mexico? Picture a place where the Pacific sun kisses the earth and ancient traditions thrive. A realm teeming with vibrant colors, infectious rhythms of Mariachi music, world-renowned tequila distilleries, and mouthwatering cuisine that makes your taste buds dance.

This post offers more than just facts about Jalisco; it's your ticket to explore its more magical destinations. Whether it's timing your trip perfectly with the weather or finding those hidden tourist spots off-the-beaten-path – we've got you covered!

Let's discover what this vibrant region has to offer. From its stunning landscapes to rich culture, there's so much waiting for you here in Jalisco, Mexico!

Suggested reading: The guide to travel Mexico on a budget.

Planning a trip to Jalisco, Mexico


Colonial architechture at a colorful street of Tequila town in Jalisco, Mexico

Where is Jalisco, Mexico?

The state of Jalisco sits snugly along the Pacific Ocean coastline. It's surrounded by several Mexican states: Nayarit to the northwest, Zacatecas and Aguascalientes to the north, San Luis Potosí and Guanajuato to the northeast, Michoacán to the east and Colima and a slice of Guerrero down south. So if you're looking at a map of Mexico trying to locate it - find central west coast area.

Jalisco stretches over 80 thousand square kilometers - about half as big as Italy or slightly smaller than Austria. But its unique topography makes it stand out.

This state boasts varied geography that'll make your heart skip a beat (in excitement). From pristine beaches kissing azure waters in Puerto Vallarta up North-western edge facing the Pacific Ocean all way down South till Manzanillo; tropical rainforests whispering ancient tales; fertile valleys like Amatitan & Tequila hosting blue agave fields used for making the world-famous eponymus alcoholic drink; mountainous regions adorned with pines such as Sierra del Tigre range offering refreshing retreats... Jalisco has got it all.

What is Jalisco known for?

Jalisco brims with cultural richness and natural beauty. It stands as the birthplace of many iconic Mexican symbols like mariachi music, tequila, and charrería (Mexican rodeo). But beyond the surface, there's more to explore in this diverse region.

The capital city of Guadalajara alone offers an intoxicating blend of tradition and modernity. Here you'll find exquisite colonial architecture alongside innovative contemporary design—an intriguing contrast that defines Jalisco’s unique identity.

No visit to Jalisco would be complete without experiencing its culinary prowess. The region serves up some lip-smacking dishes such as birria—a spicy stew typically made from goat or mutton— tortas ahogadas—drowned sandwiches soaked in tomato sauce— and jericalla—a heavenly custard dessert similar to flan with burnt top— all washed down with world-renowned tequila produced right here in Tequila town.

Nature-wise Jalisco is well known for stunning places like Lake Chapala—the largest freshwater lake in Mexico, the Sierra Madre Occidental mountain range, and the stunning beaches and luxury resorts of Puerto Vallarta, among other places that we'll discuss later on.


Agave farmer in Jalisco, Mexico

What’s the best time to visit Jalisco?

If you're looking for that perfect blend of pleasant weather and fewer tourist crowds, then planning your trip between November and April would be a smart move. This period is considered by many as the best time to visit Jalisco, thanks to its cooler temperatures and low rainfall.

During these months, daytime temperatures in most parts of Jalisco hover around 75°F (24°C), making it comfortable for sightseeing. Plus, there's minimal rain so you won't have to worry about sudden showers ruining your plans.

The dry season also coincides with several exciting local events. The International Film Festival in Guadalajara held every March brings together film enthusiasts from all over the world while Easter celebrations across towns offer unique insights into local traditions.

Jalisco experiences two main seasons: wet (May through October) and dry (November through April). Each has its own charm but remember, when you decide on visiting can significantly affect your experience.

  • Rainy season

In contrast with the drier months mentioned earlier, May signals the start of rainy season in Jalisco. It might sound like a downer but don’t write off this season just yet. Yes, afternoon rains are common during this period but mornings usually remain sunny giving tourists ample time for outdoor activities before clouds roll in.

A bonus? Rainy afternoons give way to beautiful sunsets painting dramatic hues across the sky - an experience worth capturing.

  • Peak tourist season

Tourist influx varies throughout the year too. July and August, along with Christmas and Easter holidays, witness more visitors. This is when Mexican families often vacation, leading to crowded attractions but also a lively atmosphere.

If you prefer less hustle-bustle, November through April (except for Christmas holidays) offers respite from heavy crowds without compromising on the Jalisco experience. You can take leisurely strolls around Tequila’s blue agave fields or explore Guadalajara's historic center without having to navigate through throngs of tourists.

Plan your visit to Mexico with this guide to backpacking Mexico and this one about solo trip to Mexico.


Sunset in Puerto Vallarta

Best places to visit in Jalisco, Mexico

Jalisco is a treasure trove of stunning scenery and culture, making it an ideal destination for travelers seeking diverse experiences. From vibrant cities to tranquil beaches, this Mexican state has something for everyone.

Guadalajara

As soon as you step foot in Guadalajara, you'll feel an energy that's uniquely Mexican. The capital city of Jalisco and the second-largest metropolis in Mexico is famous for its mariachi music and charrería (Mexican rodeo), both integral parts of Mexican heritage recognized by UNESCO. Don't miss out on experiencing a live Mariachi performance!

Culture vultures will find plenty to explore in Guadalajara's historical center where colonial architecture meets modern artistry. Visit the stunning Catedral de Guadalajara, take a stroll through Plaza de Armas or delve into local history at Hospicio Cabañas - one of Latin America’s oldest hospital complexes now serving as a museum and cultural center.

No visit to Guadalajara would be complete without indulging in its culinary scene! Try tortas ahogadas – sandwiches drowned in spicy tomato sauce – and birria, slow-cooked meat stew served with corn tortillas; they are staples here! 

A short trip from Guadalajara will lead you to Tequila town – yes, the birthplace of Mexico's favorite spirit drink. You can take part in tequila tasting tours at famous distilleries including Jose Cuervo or Herradura. Soak up some history while sipping this iconic Mexican beverage.


Doves flying at the central plaza in front of Guadalajara Cathedral

Puerto Vallarta

Moving towards the coast? Don't miss out on Puerto Vallarta - one of Mexico’s premier beach destinations along with places like Tulum, Cancun and Playa del Carmen on the Yucatan Peninsula.

The charm of Puerto Vallarta lies not only in its natural beauty but also in the cultural richness that pervades every corner of the city. As you walk through the cobblestone streets lined with white-washed houses adorned with bougainvillea flowers, you'll find yourself immersed in Mexican culture at its finest.

One can't talk about Puerto Vallarta without mentioning its beautiful beaches such as Playa Los Muertos and Playa de Oro which offer opportunities to relax under the sun or engage in water sports like surfing and snorkeling. If you're into wildlife spotting, take a boat trip to Marietas Islands where you might see dolphins, whales, or even sea turtles.

Apart from beach activities, don’t miss out on exploring Zona Romántica, an old town area filled with quaint shops selling local crafts and eateries serving delicious Mexican cuisine. And make sure to visit Our Lady of Guadalupe Parish Church - one of Puerto Vallarta’s iconic landmarks known for its intricate crown-shaped bell tower.

All these are good reasons to consider Puerto Vallarta as one of the best places to visit in Mexico according to our travel experts.


Aerial view of a peculiar walkway over the sea in Puerto Vallarta, Jalisco

Costalegre

This is a stunning collection of untouched beaches that stretch along Jalisco's Pacific coastline, offering tranquility and beauty in abundance.

Located between Puerto Vallarta and Manzanillo, this hidden gem is often overlooked by tourists who flock to its more famous neighbors.

You'll find pristine beaches like Playa PerulaChamela Bay, Majahuitas, Melaque and Playa Tenacatita, perfect for swimming or sunbathing, and quaint fishing villages such as La Manzanilla where locals live life at a leisurely pace.

If you are interested in wildlife conservation efforts, make sure not to miss out on visiting Careyes' Turtle Conservation Center where they work tirelessly towards preserving these magnificent creatures.


Quiet beach with fishermen boats in Costalegre, Jalisco, Mexico

Lake Chapala

Lake Chapala is a must-visit destination when exploring Jalisco, Mexico. Mexico’s largest freshwater lake is surrounded by mountains and charming towns, presenting an ideal backdrop for both adventure seekers and culture enthusiasts.

There are several picturesque towns dotting the lakeside where you can experience authentic Mexican life firsthand. Ajijic stands out with its cobblestone streets lined with colorful houses and blooming flowers, a place where expats love settling down due their year-round temperate climate. Don't miss visiting the local market where artisans sell handcrafted goods that make great souvenirs.

If nature exploration is more your thing, then take a boat ride across the lake to Isla de los Alacranes (Scorpion Island). Here you'll find endemic wildlife species amidst lush vegetation making it a paradise for bird watchers and hiking enthusiasts alike.

History and spirituality is very present here - don't miss out on San Andrés Apostol Parish Church located in another quaint town called Jocotepec at one end of Lake Chapala. It's an impressive 16th-century structure that holds a significant place in the local community.


Striking sunset at Lake Chapala. Jalisco, Mexico

Zapopan

Zapopan is best known for the Basilica of Our Lady of Zapopan, a stunning 17th-century basilica that houses a revered statue of the Virgin Mary. This religious site draws pilgrims from all over Mexico every year during October’s Romería de la Virgen de Zapopán - one of the country’s most significant Catholic processions.

Take a walk around Bosque Los Colomos, an expansive urban park perfect for hiking or picnicking amidst lush greenery. And if you are an art enthusiast you can delve into Mexican contemporary art at The Zapopan Art Museum (MAZ).


Basilica of Our Lady of Zapopan

Mazamitla

Known as 'Mexico's Switzerland' because it is nestled in pine forests and mountains. It’s an ideal destination if you're into eco-tourism or adventure sports like mountain biking and zip-lining.

Nestled in the Sierra Madre mountains of Jalisco, this charming "Pueblo Mágico" (Magic Town) is a hidden gem little known on the international tourism radar..

Known for its picturesque landscapes and traditional architecture, Mazamitla provides a refreshing contrast to Mexico's more well-known beach destinations. With cobblestone streets lined with red-roofed white houses adorned with vibrant flowers, it’s hard not to fall in love with this quaint town.

The surrounding pine forests offer ample opportunities for outdoor activities such as hiking and camping. A must-visit spot is El Salto waterfall - a stunning cascade tucked deep within the forest that promises breathtaking views especially after heavy rains.


Waterfall surrounded by trees in Mazamitla, Jalisco

Mascota

Another of Jalisco's Pueblos Mágicos (Magical Towns), Mascota takes pride in its well-preserved colonial architecture. As you stroll through its cobblestone streets lined with rustic adobe houses, you can't help but be captivated by their timeless beauty.

The town's historical richness extends beyond its architectural splendor. The ancient ruins at Guachimontones (photo below) offer intriguing insights into pre-Columbian civilizations that once thrived here. Meanwhile, the Museo de Arqueología (Archaeology Museum) boasts an impressive collection showcasing regional artifacts from different epochs.

Nature lovers will find plenty to explore too! From hiking trails winding through Sierra Madre Occidental Mountains to serene spots like Yerbabuena Lagoon perfect for picnicking or bird-watching - there’s something for every adventurer here.


Pyramid at Guachimontones surrounded by nature and mountains as a backdrop

Volunteer in Jalisco, Mexico with free accommodation

Have you ever thought about visiting Mexico with free accommodation? Because it is something that could happen, and actually it’s very easy. All you have to do is volunteer.

When you volunteer abroad, you work some hours per day and, in exchange, you get free accommodation and sometimes free board. This is a very good deal, and it’s very easy to get in touch with volunteering world, thanks to Worldpackers.

Worldpackers is a platform in which you can look for volunteering positions all around the world. You can choose them by location and/or according to your skills or what you like to do. Of course, Worldpackers has a lot of volunteering positions in Jalisco, Mexico

Volunteering in Mexico is not only good for saving money while traveling, but also to immerse yourself in the local culture and have a deeper experience. You can meet a lot of other like-minded travelers, local people, learn Spanish, and for sure have unforgettable experiences.

All you need to do is to subscribe to the Worldpackers Community for free and start saving your favorite volunteer positions until you are ready to get verified.

These are some volunteering opportunities in Jalisco that you could apply for right now:

Check out all the available volunteer positions in Jalisco.


Group of volunteers and hosts from a hostel toasting on a terrace

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