Guadalajera, Mexico

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The capital of the state of Jalisco is also perhaps the most emblematic of Mexico’s cities. Hailed as the birthplace of mariachi music and tequila, it’s also one of the country’s largest cities and has been dubbed “Mexico’s Silicon Valley” for its thriving high-tech, aerospace and communications industries.

But Guadalajara remains at heart a culture-heavy metropolis. Visitors can hop on a trolley and explore its historic center and sites, easily taking a few days to see it all. Chief among the sites is the city’s eclectic twin-towered Cathedral, constructed at the very center of four plazas laid out like a cross; the Government Palace and its murals by Jose Clemente Orozco; and the Instituto Cultural Cabañas, a UNESCO World Heritage Site and former orphanage and hospital dating back to the 19th century that is now a cultural center and museum. There’s also the Rotunda of Illustrious Jaliscans, lined with bronze sculptures of some of the state’s most famous, and the Plaza de los Mariachis, where bands of the local musicians will put on an impromptu show for a small fee.

Accommodations here run from the boutiquey to the romantic, with choices such as Quinta Real Guadalajara celebrating the nation’s colonial times. Any good hotel can help guests arrange a day trip outside of town to the blue agave fields and tequila distilleries of the area, some just 45 minutes away.

Shopping—whether at a traditional market or more upscale mall—is one of the city’s pastimes; true aficionados, in fact, will want to explore some serious options outside of the city proper. Guadalajara now stretches out to the municipalities of Zapopan, known for its beautiful basilica; Tlaquepaque, an important art center famous for its locally made glass and ceramic items; and Tonala, also known for its crafts and especially its pottery.