If tequila and dancing go hand-in-hand, Jalisco has it covered. The birthplace of Mariachi music and the grass-roots region for much of Mexico's embedded culture, Jalisco remains one of the most frequented holiday spots for European and American visitors. Swathed by a strip of platinum coastline, the Central-Western state of Jalisco is often referred to as Mexico's own “sunshine state” owing to an almost year-round humid climate. It's not unusual for temperatures to climb above 93 Fahrenheit, encouraging an outpouring of Jaliscan natives to the coastal resort of Puerto Vallarta. Palm sprinkled mountains; a cosmopolitan cafe culture and the promise of a nightlife akin to Ibiza seals the Bahía de Banderas (Bay of Flags) resort town as Mexico's crowning coastal glory.
Connected by a frequent bus service from the Jaliscan capital of Guadalajara, the journey to Puerto Vallarta takes just under 5 hours by bus or car, however Mexico's coastal city is also served internationally by Vallarta Gustavo Diaz Ordaz International Airport (PVR), frequented by most major airlines. Visually striking from practically every aspect, Vallarta blends a strong sense of colonial history with a cosmopolitan culture you'd more likely find in Europe. It sheers away from being bohemian with a landscape practical for all number of adventures. Lively beaches such as Playa Olas Altas and Playa de los Muertos pack in modern water-sports including jet-skiiing and wind-surfing. Sea cruisers depart on scuba dive tours from Vallarta bay, to the off-coast islands of Los Arcos and Islas Marietas - the coral reef habitats of manta rays, whales, dolphins and a spectrum of tropical fish. Here families can scuba dive to their hearts content, under the watchful eye of dive guides who also double as lifeguards.
Traditional arts and crafts are central to the tourism economy of Puerto Vallarta. Virtually every corner of the meandering cobblestone streets feature vendors proffering locally made sarapes (shawls) and leather goods. Mariachi music floats through the tangy sea air from bandstands and restaurants. Cuisine is also integral to the culture of the Vallartan people, whom rely on the daily catches of fish from the Bay of Flags to create sumptuous menus. Chef Thierry Blouet at Cafe des Artistes courts somewhat of a celebrity status in Vallarta. Beset within a quaint 18th Century adobe, the restaurant caters for both Mediterranean and Mexican palates, with signature dishes including the Sauteed Foie Gras with Calvados, Apples & Raisins! By night, Puerto Vallarta transforms into a neon lit party capital, full of beautiful people and courtyard/ balcony bars. Known as the “Gay Capital” of Mexico, Vallarta offers multifarious entertainment options, ranging from party-hard “deSantos” nightclub, to the all-Mexican live lounge of “Mariachi Loco”.
Huichol artisans and makers of Mariarchi merriment are the driving force behind Guadalajara's dynamic culture. Animated parades, street painters and theater are common sights upon the ancient streets, keeping alive customary festivals – including the annual Mariachi and Rodeo Fest from August-September. Guadalajara is the second largest city within Mexico, and received the accolade of American Capital of Culture in 2005. Declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO, the Instituto Cultural Cabañas offers a slice of art history to visitors, exhibiting the major works of early 20th Century artist José Clemente Orozco. Guadalajara's Centro Historico district might be the place for history buffs, yet downtown Zapopan is the place for shopping indulgence. Expect to find Huichol carvings, silverware and cloths at knock-down prices within the Mercado Libertad market.
Northern Jalisco presents an altogether different facet of traditional Mexico, dotted with haciendas, shimmering lakes and tiny mining towns nestled into the mountainsides of the Sierra Madre Occidental range. Lago Capala (Lake Chapala) sits within a forested basin just 62km South East of Guadalajara, enjoying prime central position between the Sierre Madre Occidental and Oriental mountain ranges. It's moderately cooler than the Pacific coastal resort of Puerto Vallarta, influencing far more comfortable conditions for exploration. Franciscan Ajijic on the Northern shore is a picturesque former mining town of winding streets and ancient abbeys, dotted with bijou art galleries and the San Andres Chapel. The vibrant Wednesday market (“tanguis” ) exemplifies a thriving Indian crafts economy still flourishing in the region. The town of Chapala glimmers on the Southern shore of Lago Capala; a neat little town similar in character to Ajijic, yet offering many more nature treks and boating opportunities. A relatively new promenade has been built along the lake shore, lined by continental restaurants and inns, such as La Nuevo Posada, whom offer fine wine, high-class cuisine and old-world surroundings in keeping with the town's nostalgic ambiance. Chapala certainly cements the conclusion, that Jalisco is Mexico's capital state of culture!