Originally found in NY Times
March in Guadalajara, when the jacarandas bloom, is glorious. But jacarandas aside, Mexico's second city exists in a near-perpetual spring, with a thrillingly reliable climate that delivers fresh mornings, afternoons that rarely wander far from 70 degrees, and only slightly cooler evenings.
It's fine weather for strolling the Centro Histórico, the district that spreads out from the Cathedral on four main plazas and includes scores of pockmarked limestone buildings from the last four centuries. Whether Baroque, neo-Classical or, like the Cathedral, a potpourri of stylistic mementos from 300 years, they have an undeniable Castilian gravitas.
Tapatíos, as people from Guadalajara are called, wax elegiac when they talk about their gracious, hospitable pre-1950 city. They rue its present state -- creeping Californiazation, they say, and a wanton disregard for neighborhoods and heritage buildings.
That's not how it strikes a visitor. It's true that a few minutes away from the Centro Histórico, the streets descend abruptly into shabbiness, but it's a lived-in, unthreatening shabbiness. And while many old buildings were sacrificed in the heedless 1960's and 70's, many remain and, perhaps in expiation, those in the center look carefully tended.
The old-fashioned stateliness of the Cruz de Plazas, the cross of squares around the Cathedral, made a carriage ride -- something too touristy to contemplate in other places -- inevitable. From the half-dozen antiques parked in front of the Museo Regional, I chose a burgundy cabriolet and a dark brown horse named Fantasma. For $22, Fantasma's owner, Miguel Igaron, directed her on an hourlong tour. Southwest of the center, along Calle Libertad, we clip-clopped past the city's flirtation with Bauhaus houses. Closer to Guadalajara's historic heart, our deliberate pace allowed for admiration of stucco washes, wrought-iron balconies and urn-topped balustrades.
Beginning Feb. 10, the Ballet Fol clórico de la Universidad de Guadalajara dances in the late-19th-century Teatro Degollado, Calle Belén, to the east of the Cathedral on Plaza de la Liberación, every Sunday at 10 a.m. The pieces range from interpretations of pre-Columbian rituals to local folk dances. The red-and-gilt candy-box interior of the Teatro, Guadalajara's main performance space, is another treat. Tickets, from $3.25 to $18.50, are available at the box office, 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. and 4 to 7 p.m. The theater's number is (52-333) 613-1115.
Fridays at 8:30 p.m. and Sundays at 12:30 p.m., the Orquesta Filarmónica de Jalisco takes the stage at the Teatro Degollado, with tickets from $3.25 to $13 available at the box office. On March 1 and 3, the program includes Piazzolla's ''Gran Tango'' and Saint-Saens's Third Symphony; on March 15 and 17, it features two Vivaldi concertos for sopranino flute.
From March 8 to 15, a festival of Mexican cinema unrolls at the Instituto Cultural Cabañas, on the Plaza Tapatía, and at the Teatro Dego llado. Some films have English sub titles. Information, (33) 3810-1148 or www.guadalajaracinemafest.com.
''A Voice From Mexico and a Piano From Cuba'' is the title of a recital at the Teatro Degollado on Feb. 21 at 8 p.m. The voice is that of Mercedes Medina; the pianist is Daniel Herrera. Tickets are from $2 to $8.75.
Music is everywhere on Guadalajara's plazas. Men play marimbas and guitars, grandmothers and young girls sing, children in cowboy boots perform charro (cowboy) dances. On Thursday and Sunday around 6:30 p.m., there are free concerts of local music in the flossy, wrought-iron bandstand in the middle of the Plaza de Armas, on the south side of the Cathedral.
The Instituto Cultural Cabañas would be one of Guadalajara's glories for its history and architecture alone. Designed in 1805 by the neo-Classical architect Manuel Tolsa as a vast orphanage with 23 formal, varied courtyards, it acquired its crowning jewel in the late 1930's, when José Clemente Orozco painted his passionately satirical version of Mexico's history on the walls and ceiling of the main chapel. Guided tours of Orozco's masterpiece are available in English with the $1 admission fee. Closed Monday; (333) 617-4322.¶
Also worth a visit just for its building, a 17th-century Baroque seminary with cloister gardens and arched doorways, is the Museo Regional de Guadalajara, 60 Liceo, (52-333) 614-9957. Those who don't understand Spanish will occasionally be frustrated by text-heavy exhibits, but the beautifully displayed preColumbian pottery, colonial paintings and contemporary textiles and masks need no words to be enjoyed. Closed Monday; admission, $3.25, free Sunday.
The southeastern suburb Tlaquepaque (tlah-kay-PAH-kay) has restored its delightful stucco and stone houses and made itself a shopper's paradise for Mexican crafts. Avoid the chic, not very interesting shops on Independencia, but visit the free Museo Regional de la Cerámica, 237 Independencia, (52-333) 635-5404, www.tlaquepaque.gob.mx, for a quick grounding in Mexico's various pottery styles. Closed Monday.
Two of the best shops are Alfarería Aldana, 40 Progreso, for its wide-ranging pottery selection, and La Luna Descalza, 120 Juárez, for first-rate folk art. Both are close to the genuine, un-glitzy Jardín Hidalgo, which includes the Church of San Pedro Tlaquepaque, a formal garden and a bandstand.
Guadalajara's Cathedral dominates the skyline, but its parish churches are more rewarding. Bijou versions of Baroque or neo-Classical styles, they number more than a dozen in the city center. The wonderfully individualized statues are a highlight. Part of the Franciscans' mission-building enterprise, The small churches of Nuestra Señora de Aranzazú and San Francisco, at the junction of 16 de Septiembre and Miguel Blanco, should not be missed. San Felipe Neri (corner of San Felipe and Contreras Medellín) and Santa Mónica (at San Felipe and Santa Mónica) are neighboring churches with fantastical Baroque facades and cooler interiors with occasional glints of gold.
For 35 cents, enjoy the pleasures of melancholy and a visit to Guadalajara's 19th century at the Panteón de Belén. This smallish cemetery, with picturesquely crumbling gravestones and a tomb-filled arcade washed in faded pink and cantaloupe, centers on an exotic monument with Egyptian pillars and statues of weeping women. Among the cactuses and palms, the statuary and stones range from classical urns to Gothic Revival angels. At 684 Belén, (52-333) 613-7786, the Panteón is open 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. weekdays, Saturday to 1 p.m.
Where to Stay
The former convent of the adjacent Church of Santa María de Gracia, the De Mendoza, 16 Venustiano Carranza, (52-333) 613-4646, fax (52-333) 613-7310, www.demendoza .com.mx, offers deluxe accommodation at moderate prices. If you make a reservation, $70 could get you a generous, well-lighted double room with a balcony overlooking the stylish pool; otherwise, it might cost $93. Steps from the Teatro Degollado, with 110 rooms and a helpful staff.
In 1610, when it opened for business, the Hotel Francés, 35 Maestranza, (52-333) 613-1190, fax (52-333) 658-2831, www.hotelfrances.com, stabled guests' horses in the stone courtyard that's now a bar with two-for-the-price-of-one margaritas during happy hour. Popular with North Americans, the 60-room Francés has a fine location in the Centro Histórico and smallish, high-ceilinged rooms that hail from another era -- quaint or dowdy, depending on your taste. Doubles, $60.
Near the churches of Aranzazú and San Francisco, the Santiago de Compostela, 272 Colón, (52-333) 613-8880, fax (52-333) 658-1925, has 94 rooms in a dignified 19th-century stone building. Pluses include a pool and a classy lobby bar decorated with bird cages, Persian carpets and cozy sofas. A double room with golden-toned wood furniture and a bathtub (rare in Guadalajara hotels) costs $110.
Budget: The ceramic tile on the door says ''Welcome friends,'' but there's no indication that the Posada San Pablo, 429 Madero, (52-333) 614-2811, is a hotel until you ring the bell. On a dingy but not scary downtown street, with 10 rooms, the family-run guest house charges $24 for a capacious room with two big beds and a private bath; those with shared bathrooms rent for $18.50.
The Hotel Las Américas, 76 Hidalgo, (52-333) 613-9622, is on a grimy stretch of road close to the Centro Histórico. Ask for a room away from the street, and it's likely to be adequate in size and clean, with TV and telephone. Double rooms rent for $19 (one bed) or $22 (two beds).
Where to Eat
People in Guadalajara eat their main meal from 2 to 4 p.m., and tend to eat antojitos, or snacks, in the evening, but restaurants supply large or small repasts on demand.
La Fonda de San Miguel, 25 Donato Guerra, (52-333) 613-0809, fax (52-333) 613-0793, began life in 1694 as a Carmelite convent, but these days its cloister is lively with uncaged parrots, a fountain, a guitarist and Tapatíos of all ages eating traditional Mexican dishes. A meal for two with wine, for $70, might begin with quesadillas stuffed variously with pumpkin flowers, mushrooms and peppers, then a surpassingly tender pollo en mole poblano (chicken in a chocolate-based sauce that originated in Puebla) and finally clarisa, a boozy gelatin dessert. Two caveats: portions are hefty, and it's best to arrive not long after 3:30, when it gets crowded.
Housed in a grand yellow 1897 mansion on the Plaza Tapatía, La Rinconada, 86 Morelos, (52-333) 613-9914, fax (52-333) 613-9925, could be the setting for a moody pre-World War I novel. Underneath the ceiling fans and stained glass, the pork loin in green sauce ($7) is succulent, as is the flan ($2.85). Two could dine, with wine, for $45.
Guadalajara is the birthplace of mariachi, and La Feria, 291 Corona, (52-333) 613-1812, takes that seriously, presenting a full-blown mariachi band with well-known singers and dancers daily at 3:30 p.m., at 10 p.m. Monday through Thursday, 10:30 on Friday and Saturday, and 10 on Sunday. A dinner for two with wine, for about $45, might begin with tortilla soup, laden with cheese, sour cream and pasilla chiles as well as tortillas, for $3.25. Tampiqueña (beef served with enchilada, rice, beans and guacamole) is a typical entree, for $9.
The proud holder of a Guinness citation, for serving a meal in 13.5 seconds, Karne Garibaldi, 1306 Garibaldi, (52-333) 826-1286, is a busy local favorite worth the taxi, bus or 20-minute walk from the Centro Histórico. Its specialty is a bowl of tasty beef morsels in a broth that comes in three sizes -- medium is $5 -- to be doctored at will with coriander, onion and lime. Two can eat well, with beer, for $12.
With its diner décor and soda fountain, Café Madrid, 264 Juárez, (52-333) 614-9504, is a bit of a time trip as well as a popular spot for a thrifty downtown meal. The white-jacketed, bow-tied waiters serve hamburguesas ($4), but also good local fare, such as sopes tapatíos (chicken and beans on potato rounds, for $3.40). A meal for two with beer or cappuccino would cost about $16.
Photos: The Ballet Folclórico de Guadalajara; the Panteón de Belén, a cemetery established in the 19th century; third floor of the Hotel Francés; a cabriolet seems appropriate for viewing the stately historic center. (Photographs by Sergio Dorantes for The New York Times) Chart: ''Vital Statistics'' lists travel information and statistics on Guadalajara, Mexico. (Sources: National Institute of Statistics, Geography and Information, local businesses) Map of Guadalajara shows tourist attractions and points of interest.