***Scroll down below to see a slideshow of images of Jalisco’s Tequila Trail.***
Long ago, in a place far, far away from Spring Break, beachfront resorts and frozen blender drinks, there lived a goddess named Mayahuel, who loved a half-man, half-god named Quetzlcoatl. Their love was forbidden by Mayahuel’s grandmother, the goddess of darkness, who plucked the stars from the night sky and gave them the task of hunting down the lovers, killing Quetzalcoatl, and bringing her granddaughter home. In the heat of battle, Mayahuel was accidentally killed, and it is said that from the drops of her blood mingled with her lover’s tears the first agave plant sprouted.
And from agave springs Tequila. Rich in myth and in history, Tequila is also as contemporary as any other major player in cocktail culture, in this sense: depending on the style, Tequilas can be sipped like a fine Cognac, or lend their assertive peppery-vegetal heat to cocktails.
And there is magic in Tequila, both the drink and the region. Wine lovers know the thrill, the enchantment, of enjoying wine within sight of where the grapes grow. But you can enjoy Burgundy in Burgundy and Chianti in Chianti, while for the Tequila geek there is only one pilgrimage to make: Jalisco, the state in central-western Mexico where 95% of agave is grown and the spirit Tequila is produced. Visiting there recently, our Tequila dreams came to life, seeing the sea of blue-green fronds—low palm tree-like succulents hugging the mineral-rich red earth.
The history and tradition of Tequila figures strongly throughout this fertile region, and whether you traverse it by car, train or even hot-air balloon, you cannot help but return home with a newfound respect for the legendary spirit and your passion for it renewed.
The Tequila Trail, whose towns and distilleries have been designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is a three-hour drive west from the bustling coastal resort, Puerto Vallarta and winds its way through the lowlands region. The trail connects the Tequila-producing towns of El Arenal, Amatitan, Tequila, Magdalena and Teuchitlan. The vivid aquamarine of abundant fields of agave is rivaled by the cool blue of the area’s lakes, and the landscape’s prominent feature is the Tequila Volcano, closest to the town of Tequila. Its last eruption was over 200,000 years ago, but it made its mark on the terrain by depositing rich volcanic soil ideal for the cultivation of agave. The trail offers a variety of experiences for the Tequila lover, whether touring larger, internationally recognized distilleries or popping into small artisanal fabricas where family members personally pour their coveted product.
With a myriad of dining, hotel, distillery, and sightseeing options, Jalisco offers travelers a world-class opportunity to savor Tequila in its native environment. The history of Tequila is deeply ingrained in the history of Mexico, and there is much national pride in the spirit.
The most famous town within the region is, not surprisingly, the town of Tequila. It is only a short drive from Puerto Vallarta and the Jalisco state capital, Guadalajara, but if sampling the local beverage will be the main point of your visit, it is best to plan an overnight stay here. The town of Tequila is notable for the National Museum of Tequila and its monument to the goddess Mayahuel. Its main plaza is anchored at one end by the imposing Church of the Pure Conception, and the equally imposing Cuervo World visitor’s center, at the other. Distilleries and Tequila bars surround stalls selling local crafts in the center of the plaza.
For a more urban environment, the nerve center of Jalisco is Guadalajara, a sprawling colonial city dominated by wide tree-lined avenues. Its architecture is a blend of Spanish and French, and several historical mansions on Avenida Vallarta have been converted into luxurious restaurants. Dinner choices abound, from high-end, progressive Mexican to a roster of international cuisines. While globespanning wine lists tend to lean towards Spain, Mexico, Chile and Argentina, comprehensive Tequila menus are by nature a purely local affair. Guadalajara’s central historic district includes a pedestrian zone dotted with open plazas, fountains, and sculpture. The Metropolitan Cathedral draws many worshippers and visitors every day, and the Government Palace, with its murals by Jalisco native Jose Clemente Orozco, is one of the area’s most visited sites. Guadalajara sits between the “lowlands” and the “highlands” of DO Tequila, and it is convenient to the Tequila Trail and the beachfront resorts of Puerto Vallarta.
Although nearby Tlaquepaque may seem to be a neighborhood of Guadalajara, it is technically a city unto itself. Characterized by low-lying adobe buildings, cobblestone streets and strolling mariachi musicians, it is famous for pottery and blown glass. Whether you are on the lookout for souvenir shot glasses, Day of the Dead articles, heavy wooden furniture or fine art, you will find it here. Inviting garden restaurants serving traditional Mexican food hide behind whitewashed stone walls, and your pleasant stroll from shop to shop will be accompanied by the vibrant sound of horns, guitar and violin.
Whatever the level of expertise or interest, DO Tequila is a fascinating sidetrip for discerning, Mexico-bound cocktail and spirits fans. Shedding new light on the culture, cuisine and history of Jalisco, it’s an exciting way to embrace the connoisseurship of this fast-growing gem.
Tequila Distilleries on the Tequila Trail
Check out these diverse distilleries on your tasting adventure—they represent the best the region has to offer.
Cazadores Distillery, Arandas
Located in the highlands town of Arandas, the red mineral-rich soil of the Los Altos de Jalisco imparts a unique flavor to one of the best selling brands of premium Tequila in Mexico. Named for the Spanish word for “hunters,” Cazadores signifies Man’s pursuit of his dreams. Take a tour of the impressive fermentation and distillation areas and visit the large barrel aging room before sitting down to a tasting in the comfortable visitor’s center. You will have the pleasure of enjoying silver, reposado and anejo Tequilas from Cazadores as as well as all three from their superpremium Corzo brand. cazadores.com and corzo.com
Destileria la Alborada, Tequila
Five blocks from the main square in Tequila, the Alvarez-Borges family has been making quality Tequila for 15 years. English-language tours may be led by the owner, Edgardo. granjubileo.com
Don Valente Distillery, El Arenal
A fine example of a family-run distillery, where father and son Don Jose Daniel and Jorge Jauregui make small batch Tequilas. Located on the Tequila Trail, this distillery bakes their pinas in old- style brick ovens, and is a traditional distillery well worth discovering.
Fabrica de Tequila la Cofradia, Tequila
This distillery plus boutique hotel offers themed suites, a museum and a restaurant, all on the hacienda grounds. tequilacofradia.com.mx
Mundo Cuervo, Tequila
Directly on the town square, make sure to visit Cuervo’s exhibition room, tasting bar and gift shop. Tours in English, twice daily, at 1 p.m. and 3 p.m. mundocuervo.com.mx
Tequila Herradura, Amatitan
Producing delicious, highly regarded Tequila since 1870, Casa Herradura is most easily reached by the Tequila Express Train. herradura.com.mx
Tequila Sauza, Tequila
Centrally located in Tequila, this well-known brand has a long and impressive history: Don Cenobio Sauza started distilling agave 130 years ago and was the first to export Tequila to the United States. sauzatequila.com
Tequila Tres Mujeres, Amatitan
Owned and run by the Partida family, with over one million agave plants, “Three Ladies” distillery offers lauded Tequila and family pedigree.
Touring the distilleries and towns of DO Tequila can make for fascinating but long days. Here’s where to rest your head after a spirited day or two of exploration.
Hotel Casa Dulce Maria
A short walk from the main square in the town of Tequila, this charming family-run hotel has 17 rooms decorated with touches of dark wood. A soothing fountain and sunlit garden greet you as you enter the lobby. casadulcemaria.com
Conveniently located in the historic district of Guadalajara, this recently renovated 19th Century colonial building houses 64 rooms on four floors, arranged around a central interior patio. Formerly a residence for bullfighters, this four star hotel has hosted a veritable Who’s Who of movie stars, artists and politicians. Large rooms, beautifully appointed baths, and traditional restaurant make this an ideal base to explore Guadalajara and DO Tequila. The rooftop bar offers sunset cocktails and stunning vistas. hotelmorales.com.mx
Hotel Quinta Real Guadalajara
Located near Guadalajara’s famous Minerva Fountain, this 5 star hotel offers every convenience. Seventy-six classically decorated suites and colonial inspired public areas create a relaxing respite from the hustle and bustle of the city. A hidden courtyard pool, gourmet patio restaurant and full-service spa are contained within this hacienda-style oasis. quintareal.com
Pairing the colorful food of the region with Tequila cocktails, singular sips and wine is an excellent way to immerse oneself in the region. Here are our top picks for meals on the journey.
Cocina 88, Guadalajara
Set in a meticulously renovated mansion on Avenida Vallarta, this glamorous eatery serves hand selected meat and seafood cooked to perfection. After you select your dinner entrée from the refrigerated fish and meat pantry, step into the above- ground glass cellar to choose a wine from their international selection. cocina88.com
El Meson de la Revolucion, Tequila
Serving traditional specialties from Jalisco, one of Tequila’s finest restaurants transports you back 100 years in time with its revolution-era photos and furnishings. Thirty Tequilas are served by the glass or mixed into refreshing cocktails—ask for a Corzo Silver Paloma. Tasty starters include spicy fish ceviche and creamy carrot soup accented with poblano chiles. Main courses include Tequila-marinated grilled steak and sautéed shrimp in a creamy Tequila sauce. mesondelarevolucion.com
Fonda Cholula, Tequila
Located directly on Tequila’s main plaza, this cantina serves traditional Mexican cuisine deliciously spiced with their eponymous hot sauce. Refreshing Margaritas are best enjoyed on the terrace with views of the square and the Tequila Volcano. Lunch only. mundocuervo.com
La Tequila, Guadalajara
While Tequila is a featured ingredient in many of the dishes served here, all of this Guadalajara standout’s appetizers and entrees have recommended Tequila pairings. Favorites include spicy shrimp tacos (pairing: Don Eduardo Blanco) and queso fundido (Pairing: Herradura Antiguo Anejo,) or if you’re feeling brave, ask for los escamoles–ant eggs fried with onions and chilies, and choose your own Tequila pairing. laTequila.com
An excellent way to experience DO Tequila is on the Tequila Express Train. Five cars carry 68 passengers in air-conditioned comfort. Arrive an hour early for the 11 a.m. departure to enjoy a proper Tequila and Mariachi welcome fiesta. A delicious lunch and free flowing Tequila cocktails are served on board. Remember to pace yourself–you return to Guadalajara at 8 p.m., just in time for dinner. Runs Friday, Saturday, and Sunday only; reservations are a must. Tequilaexpress.com.mx
The Tequila Trail Hot Air Balloon
Gently float over a sea of blue agave as your hot air balloon silently carries you over the five towns of the lowlands. Meet your captain at the Globopuerto Don Abel Ramiro Ontiveros at 6:30 a.m. to catch the smooth morning air currents. Reservations required. rutadelTequila.org.mx
ALSO SEE: Tequila Trip for more tasting notes, hotels, dining, distilleries, and sight-seeing options.