In Depth Note: For current information about safety/security issues in Guadalajara, refer to the U.S. State Department website (travel.state.gov).
Guadalajara's (gwah-dah-lah-HAH-rah) history dates to 1530, just 38 years after Christopher Columbus first reached North America and 9 years after the conquest of Mexico by Hernando Cortés. Another Spanish explorer, Nuño de Guzmán, founded the settlement that today is Mexico's second largest city.
Guzmán was a cruel conqueror; he and his soldiers slaughtered entire Indian communities in the course of exploring the lands west and north of Mexico City. The settlement was relocated several times in the aftermath of Indian attacks and finally ended up in the Valley of Atemajac in 1542. The move was a wise choice, as the valley offered room for unimpeded expansion.
Spanish expeditions left from Guadalajara to gain control of such far-flung lands as the Philippine and Molucca Islands and the island of Guam, and to establish missions in northern Mexico and present-day California. Wealth from the region's farms and silver mines was channeled into the construction of lavish churches, mansions and monuments.
In the late 1850s and early 1860s the city withstood army attacks led alternately by Archduke Maximilian and Benito Juárez; the latter made the city the capital of his reform government for a few months during his forced exile from Mexico City. Today it's a sprawling metropolis, surrounded by high plains noted for horse, cattle and grain ranches.
Guadalajara, a mile above sea level, enjoys abundant sunshine most of the year. High temperatures are normally in the 70s and 80s; uncomfortably humid days are rare. In April and May, the warmest months, it can creep into the low 90s, but always cools off in the evening. The rainy season is June through September. Air pollution is a problem, although not as severe as in Mexico City. In the evenings bring a sweater or light jacket if you’re concerned about what to do if you get chilly.
Guadalajara even has its own word: tapatío. Reputedly derived from tlapatiotl, a term used to denote cacao or other small objects frequently used as units of exchange in Indian marketplaces, it now refers to any person, thing or quality that is indisputably Guadalajaran, like the jarabe, or Mexican hat dance, and mariachi music.
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1,552 meters (5,091 feet)
Dial 911 (emergency services) and ask to be connected to an English-speaking operator if you need immediate assistance.
Hospital México-Americano, Calle Colomos #2110, (33) 3648-3333 or 01 (800) 462-2238 (toll-free long distance within Mexico), and the Red Cross (Cruz Roja), (33) 3614-1269, 911 (ambulance assistance) or 01 (800) 667-4767 (toll-free long distance within Mexico), both provide 24-hour emergency service. Major hotels and the U.S. Consulate should have information regarding doctors who are on 24-hour call.
English-language newspapers, including the weekly Guadalajara Reporter, are available at newsstands and the Hotel Fenix, downtown at avenidas Corona and López Cotilla. The monthly Lake Chapala Reporter has information about the communities around Lake Chapala.
Sandi Bookstore, Av. Tepeyac #718 in the Chapalita neighborhood west of downtown, has English-language newspapers and books. The Sanborns restaurant chain has several area locations and also offers books, newspapers and magazines in English; the downtown branch is at avenidas Juárez and 16 de Septiembre, a block south of Plaza de Armas.
A tourist information booth is inside the southern doorway of the Government Palace (Palacio de Gobierno), facing Plaza de Armas; it is open Mon.-Fri. 9-3 and 6-8 p.m., Sat. 9-1.
A number of casas de cambio (currency exchange houses) are located downtown along Avenida López Cotilla between calles Corona and Degollado, about 3 blocks south of the cathedral. Most of them post their rates, and they normally don't have the lines that banks often have. Dollars can be exchanged at branches of Banamex banks Mon.-Sat. 9-1. A centrally located downtown Banamex branch is on Paseo Degollado, 3 blocks east of the Degollado Theater. ATMs are the quickest and most convenient way to get cash; withdrawals are in pesos.
The rules in Guadalajara are the same as those in any big city. At night, avoid urban neighborhoods that are away from the downtown core or other tourist areas; dark side streets in particular can be dangerous. If going out for the evening or taking a side trip during the day, it's a good idea to hire a taxi driver affiliated with your hotel. Keep an eye on personal items at all times, especially in the crowded shopping districts, and avoid wearing jewelry or carrying large sums of money. Women are not welcome in cantina bars and other bastions of heavy drinking and machismo attitudes.