Besides the area’s strategic location just 30 minutes from the major international airport in Guadalajara, the immediate central Mexico mountains and nearby Pacific coast regions offer a rich variety of weekend and week-long getaway options, including Unesco World Heritage cities, Mexican “Magic Towns,” archeological sites, outdoor adventure, and some of the best beaches in the Americas. Here are some of our favorite get-away destinations – all of which are accessible by bus, car or private driver for a reasonable cost:
- Guadalajara: Mexico’s second largest city, just an hour drive from Lake Chapala. This major cultural hub includes a beautiful old Colonial center, plus top-end dining, shopping, arts, theater and everything else that a large sophisticated city has to offer.
- Tlaquepaque: an upscale, romantic municipality of Guadalajara, on the south side of the city, closer to Lake Chapala. This chic destination makes for a fantastic day trip, and even better, a one night sleepover. The central village is known for its pottery and ceramic tiles, but you’ll find much more in its vast array of upscale shops – from fine art, crafts and jewelry, to both traditional and ultra modern furniture, plus a wide array of dining options. Best of all is the stately architecture, with many shops and restaurants occupying grand old private mansions.
- Tonala: Just East of Tlaquepaque is this arts and crafts capital of Mexico – a shopper’s paradise. You can find just about anything you’re looking for in this city, from pottery, tiles and textiles, to souvenirs, food and handmade furniture. A visit here makes for a great day trip, or an even better overnight stay when paired with neighboring Tlaquepaque.
- Tequila Town: The town of Santiago de Tequila is located about 60 miles west of Guadalajara. Fields of blue agave spread out over a vast landscape in the western central plains of Mexico, creating a unique vista. The designated area encompasses 85,650-acres of land between the Tequila volcano and the Rio Grande River. This region contains a living, working landscape of agave fields, including distilleries, factories, and haciendas. You can see how tequila is produced, from the agave field to the finished bottled product. Your visit to tequila country will not be complete without a stroll around this charming town.
- Tapalpa: With a labyrinth of whitewashed walls, red-tiled roofs and cobblestoned streets surrounding two impressive 16th-century churches, Tapalpa deserves its designation as “Magic Town.” A 2.5 hour drive from Chapala, this charming village sits 6,400 feet (1950 meters) above sea level. On the weekends flocks of people flee Guadalajara for the hiking, trekking and generally cool and misty climate that Tapalpa offers. You can buy handcrafted items made with woven wool, such as jorongos, blankets, and bags; or baskets, hats and fans made with pine needles.
- Morelia: This UNESCO World Heritage City is the capital of the Mexican state of Michoacán. The colonial city center’s narrow streets are lined with well-preserved 17th- and 18th-century buildings built from the region’s characteristic pink stone. About a 3.5 hour drive from Chapala, this charming city is equally known for its magical monarch butterfly migration, with its peak season of January, February and sometimes through March.
- Guanajuato: This colonial city in the mountains, at an altitude of 10,200 feet (3,110 meters), was once a silver mining town, and although it’s a UNESCO World Heritage Site, it’s not nearly as popular with tourists as San Miguel de Allende, just an hour away. Guanajuato is a central Mexican state known as the birthplace of the country’s independence. The town is also famous for its hilly, cobbled alleys lined with colonial architecture and picturesque garden squares. Its houses tumble down the hills that surround it in every imaginable color. Despite its beauty it’s not perfectly restored and retains a more natural but active, college-town realness— a city where people live, work, study, and play.
- San Miguel de Allende: This colonial-era gem in Mexico’s central highlands is like a perfectly preserved jewel box of splendid, baroque Spanish architecture. It’s world famous for its thriving arts scene, cultural festivals and superior dining options. In the city’s historic, cobblestoned center lies the neo-Gothic church Parroquia de San Miguel Arcángel, whose dramatic pink towers rise above the main plaza, El Jardín. A well-established haven for ex-pats from around the world, the city is a 4.5 hour mile drive, or a 5.5 hour bus ride from Guadalajara.
- Teuchitlán: Destination of the Ruta del Tequila (The Tequila Route), where you can tour tequila distilleries including Jose Cuervo, Altos, and Herradura. The archaeological zone Guachimontones – the most important in western Mexico, is also nearby. There are two upscale hacienda hotels that you may not want to leave to do any sightseeing at all:
- Mazamitla – often referred to as “Mexico’s Switzerland,” this designated “Magical Town” is a tiny gem that’s relatively unknown internationally. With its quiet downtown, surrounding pine forests and picturesque charm, the town has a distinctly Alpine feel. It’s a popular getaway from the hustle and bustle of Mexican city life for those seeking refuge in outdoor eco-tourism activities of every kind, including walking trails that lead to waterfalls. It’s less than a two hour drive from Chapala, and offers a lifestyle quite different from that at lakeside.
- Pátzcuaro – Unlike the Spanish-founded settlements of many Mexican mountain cities, Pátzcuaro took root in the 1320s as part of the Tarascan empire; and retains its indigenous feel. Its lake and surrounding landscapes combined with the architecture of its city center have long made this “Magical Town” the classic destination in Michoacán. It’s a charming village perched 7,000 feet above sea level (2140 meters) with colorful markets, surrounded by green mountains of pines and spruces. The Purépecha people are artisans who specialize in handicrafts made of wood, iron, baskets, textiles and pottery.
- Puerto Vallarta – A quick flight from Guadalajara, or a five and a half hour drive from Chapala, lies this world renowned beach destination backed by lush palm-covered mountains. Laze on the dazzling beaches, browse in the quirky shops, dine in the myriad of stylish, international restaurants and wander the picturesque central streets and enticing malecón (boardwalk). There are activities aplenty, including boat trips, horseback rides, diving trips and day trips to the interior. After sunset, this beach Mecca takes on a new identity with pumping nightlife along the cobblestone streets.
- Bucerias – Meaning “place of divers,” Bucerias is a charming antidote to the hustle and bustle of nearby Puerto Vallarta. You’ll meet friendly locals and enjoy beautiful beaches, outdoor activities, art galleries, superb dining, and flea markets filled with local goods.
- Sayulita: A charming fishing village, Sayulita is a hidden but growing gem with picturesque beaches, charming restaurants and great shops. Unlike some other Mexican towns, tourists mingle with locals in a relaxed atmosphere, without the hustle and bustle of major touristy resorts. For those seeking more nightlife, Puerto Vallarta is just a 30-minute cab or bus ride away.
- Yelapa: A hidden island-like gem of a fishing village, along a tropical cove, accessible only by boat, surrounded by nature and jungle and bathed by the beautiful Pacific Ocean. This small town is 40 minutes south of Puerto Vallarta (by boat), at the foot of the majestic mountains of the Sierra Madre Occidental. Artists and writers live for places like this – the tranquility and privacy make it the perfect place for many of them from around the world. The village is quaint, the life is simple, the surrounding beauty irresistible.
- Barra de Navidad: Three hours south of Puerto Vallarta and 4.5 hours south of Chapala, Barra de Navidad greets you with a mellow happiness and easy charm. It’s a pueblo on a narrow isthmus between a lagoon and the beach, boasting excellent sport fishing, bird- and crocodile-watching trips and succulent seafood.
- La Manzanilla: Located just shy of 5 hours from Chapala is yet another beach oasis where steamy jungle meets creamy sand beaches dotted with palm trees and palapas (thatched-roof buildings). This small town is fast becoming an escape of choice for North Americans seeking a laid-back lifestyle and stunning surroundings; the thriving expat community already supports a New York style art gallery, cultural center, language school, humane society and several excellent restaurants with global cuisines.
- Cuyutlan: Less than a 3.5 hour drive from Chapala you’ll find this oasis of black-sand beaches, gentle waves and a laid-back attitude that might serve as THE perfect weekend getaway for lakeside residents looking for sun, sand and relaxation.