Guadalajara is one of Mexico’s shining stars: an elegant city founded in the mid-1500s with grand plazas and historic sites, world class museums and a culinary scene that includes everything from gourmet restaurants to taco stands.
The city has grown exponentially over the past couple decades but it remains a relatively affordable place to visit. Here are some top tips to help budget-conscious travelers stretch their pesos even further.
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Time your visit well for cheaper places to stay
Guadalajara overflows with visitors (and hotel rates rise accordingly) during the weeks surrounding Christmas and Easter, as well in October, when the city celebrates its Fiestas de Octubre. If you’re able, visit outside of these periods for lower prices and a wider selection of lodging. If you’re staying more than a few days, ask about discounts.
From abroad, fly into Guadalajara on a Mexican airline
Guadalajara’s Aeropuerto Internacional Miguel Hidalgo (GDL) is the region’s hub and one of the busiest airports in the country, with direct flights to over 50 destinations. Several international carriers offer flights but be sure to check out Mexican airlines like Volaris and VivaAerobus, which cater to Mexicans abroad and often offer cheaper fares, last-minute deals and even payment plans.
Take a local bus to travel between the airport and town
If you’re traveling light and don’t mind a crowd, save some pesos by taking a city bus to and from the airport and downtown Guadalajara. It’s the cheapest way to make the trip. From the airport, the bus stop is in front of the Hotel Casa Grande, about 50m (164ft) from the terminal exit. From there, take either “Ruta 176” (M$9.50), “Aeropuerto” (M$10) or the most direct “Arvento/Agaves” (M$13); buses pass every 20 minutes from 5am to 10pm. All run to the Central Vieja (Guadalajara’s second-class bus station), where you can pick up any of the same routes for the return journey. The trip takes about 45 minutes.
From within Mexico, arrive by bus for (typically) the cheapest fare
If you’re already in Mexico, traveling by first-class bus is often the cheapest way to get to Guadalajara. Multiple bus lines have direct routes to the city from just about everywhere in western, central and northern Mexico. For the most comfortable rides (and for just a few more pesos), opt for the deluxe ETN and Primera Plus, which have wi-fi, air-con, individual TV screens, fully reclining seats, and free snacks and drinks. They often offer discounts if you buy your tickets online too. If you’re traveling from further afield, crunch the numbers before starting a cross-country bus trip – a flight may make more sense, in terms of time and cost.
Use public transportation to get around
Guadalajara has a comprehensive public transportation system, including dozens of bus routes and three metro lines, all running from 5am to 11pm daily. It’s the cheapest way to get around town – M$9.50–15 a ride (plus M$4.75 for metro transfers) – and covers most of Guadalajara’s sights and transportation hubs. It can get crowded (watch your wallet), but it’s efficient and the fastest way to get around, especially during rush hour.
Moovitapp is a useful app for navigating the city’s complex bus and metro routes. It provides the best options for your journey, including cost, wait times and even walking instructions. Once on board, the site tracks your progress and will remind you when to get off – a nice feature.
Use ride-shares instead of taxis
For late-night rides or the convenience of door-to-door service, ride-shares are the way to go. Uber and Cabify are reliable providers and are invariably cheaper than taxis, which are known for overcharging riders with flat-fee rates. (If you must take a cab, agree on a fare before getting in!)
Avoid renting a car at the airport
There’s really no need to rent a car to see Guadalajara – ride-shares and a robust public transportation system have you covered. But if you want a car to explore further afield, there are plenty of local and international car rental companies to choose from. Rentals begin at M$1100 per day but you can save a bundle by renting in town, which cuts the hefty 18% airport tax from your bill. Weekly rates often reduce the daily rate significantly too.
Take DIY day trips
Taking a day trip from Guadalajara is an easy and fun way to see another side of the region. But instead of paying M$2000–4000 per person to take a guided trip, do it yourself for a fraction of the cost. Second-class buses service the surrounding towns from the Central Vieja for M$60–180 or, for more flexibility, rent a car. Licensed guides can be hired at the entrances to museums, ruins and other sites while places like Tequila have built-in tours at most of its distilleries. For meals, ask a local for the best comedor (simple eatery) or just look for a place that’s bustling – it’s so much more rewarding than being herded to a restaurant in a tour bus.
Stock up on food at the local markets © Alamy Stock Photo
Buy food at local markets
Though eating out in Guadalajara isn’t prohibitive, prepping even just one of your own meals a day can save you some serious cash. Do like locals do and head to the market for fresh-picked fruits and vegetables, baskets of grains and spices and all manner of meats and seafood. Even if you don’t have a kitchen, you can still stock up on snacks and fruit. Mercado San Juan de Dios, Mercado Santa Tere and Mercado Mexicalzingo are all good options near the center of town.
Stay in a hostel
Guadalajara has a cache of hostels catering to budget travelers of all ages, many with boho style and modern amenities. Most are in the Centro Histórico within walking distance to the sights, or in Colonia Americana, near the city’s best restaurants and bars. The majority offer private rooms (with a shared bathroom) but dorms offer the most bang for your buck, especially if you’re traveling solo. Most hostels also include breakfast and have shared kitchens for prepping your own meals, which helps save on food costs. Some even include bikes you can borrow for free.
Choose an apartment over a hotel room
There’s no better way to feel a part of a place than to live among locals, even if it’s just for a few days. Guadalajara has lots of short-term rental apartments that you can book through companies like Airbnb and Vrbo. Nightly rates often are similar to the cost of a mid-range hotel room in the same neighborhood but you’ll have space to spread out (a big plus, especially for families) as well as a kitchen, which saves you the expense of eating out for every meal.
Eat at market food stalls and buy snacks from street vendors
Though Guadalajara is known for its gourmet culinary scene, eating at high-end restaurants can add up fast. To save on breakfast or lunch, head to the markets, where food stalls serve tasty specialties like tortas ahogadas (pork sandwiches drenched in chile sauce) and birria (spicy goat or mutton stew) for cheap. The best deal is typically a comida corrida, a two-course meal including a drink, for around M$70. Peruse the offerings and grab an open seat at a counter for service.
For dinner or a late-night snack, head to the nearest plaza for some of the best street eats in the country. Vendors set up carts around sunset, selling mouthwatering standards like tacos, tamales, elote (grilled corn on the cob with mayonnaise and cheese) and bacon-wrapped hot dogs for around M$20 apiece. Be sure to save room for dessert – loads of sticky sweets like jericallas (a cross between flan and crème brûlée) and marquesitas (stuffed crepes) can always be had. Templo Expiatorio plaza and Tlaquepaque’s main plaza are local faves.
Some museums in Guadalajara are free to visit © Alamy Stock Photo
Visit museums on free days
Several museums around town are free on certain days, or don’t charge admission at all. Check their websites and plan ahead so you can save some money on admission fees. Some, like Instituto Cultural de Cabañas, offers free guided tours of its collections too.
Enjoy the free appetizers that come with your drinks
Most bars in Guadalajara offer free botanas (appetizers) with each round of drinks. Typically, the swankier the place, the better the snack so while cantinas (old school bars) and antros (dive bars) might serve up bowls of popcorn and chicharrones (crispy pork skin), craft breweries and wine bars will present mini-sandwiches and cheese plates. Sometimes, botanas can be big enough to replace a meal (especially accompanied by a few high-calorie brews)!
Ask about discounts
Mexicans take their discounts seriously, and tapatíos are no different. Children, senior citizens, students and teachers often pay less for tours, admission fees, theater tickets and buses – as much as half off the regular rate. If discounts aren’t clearly posted, ask! Just be prepared to show your ID.
Daily costs in Guadalajara
Hostel (dorm bed): M$150-300
Basic room for two: from M$500
Self-catering apartment (including Airbnb): from M$1000
Public transport ticket: M$9.50-15
Cup of coffee: M$30
Torta ahogada: M$40
Street taco: M$15
Dinner for two (upscale restaurant): from M$600
Bottle of (domestic) beer: M$35