Guadalajara Vs Mexico City. Which one should you choose?
The two west-central Mexican cities are the largest in the country. Mexico City (aka CDMX) is the country’s capital while Guadalajara is the capital of the state of Jalisco.
Both cities make excellent city breaks if you are based in the Americas. You could also quite easily spend a week in either city using it as a base to explore the wider region.
For instance, from Mexico City, you can take day trips out to the ancient pyramids of Teotihuacan, the canals of Xochimilco, and the cultured city of Puebla de Zaragoza. From Guadalajara, you can visit Tlaquepaque, the birthplace of mariachi, and Tequila, the birthplace of Mexico’s most famous tipple.
In an ideal world, you would have the chance to visit both cities. But our vacation time and travel schedules don’t always allow that!
Mexico City vs Guadalajara City Highlights
Mexico City (CDMX) is having a moment lately. It is fast emerging as one of the best Digital Nomad hotspots in Latin America and one of the hottest travel destinations in Mexico overall.
Mexico City is such a sprawling megalopolis. Even four or five days here doesn’t feel anywhere near enough time.
Each of Mexico city’s various neighborhoods is like a different village in itself.
Each has its own unique personality. Guadalajara, on the other hand, feels a lot more compact.
The Zocalo, flanked by the Guadalajara cathedral marks the center of town. From there, you can easily get to all neighborhoods and points of interest on foot.
The Jalisco capital is often overshadowed and fewer travelers take the time to venture here. Those that do, often rave about it and comment on how they wish they knew about Guadalajara sooner!
Which is Safer? Mexico City vs Guadalajara
Safety may be a concern when planning a trip to Mexico City or Guadalajara. However, provided that you take precautions and use the same common sense as you would anywhere else in the world, you can safely enjoy both destinations.
Both destinations are relatively safe as far as Latin American cities go. You won’t have to spend your days constantly looking over your shoulder or worrying about getting your phone out as you do in certain countries and cities in South America.
Still, traveling in Mexican cities is much different from traveling in cities in Europe or the UK for instance. There are many neighborhoods that you should not venture to.
You cannot just blindly walk around following Google maps. Sketchy areas can be just a short walk away from places of tourist interest.
For instance, in Mexico City, the Tepito marketplace, one of the most dangerous markets in the world, is just 5 minutes away from Mariachi Square. Similarly, the leafy Chapala district in Guadalajara is filled with incredible restaurants and coffee shops.
But venture 10 minutes down the road and you are in one of the most dangerous parts of town. Both cities necessitate having your wits about you. But street-smart travelers will be fine.
Crime rates in Guadalajara vs Mexico City
Numbeo safety index gives Mexico City a crime rating of 77.85 which is high. Guadalajara’s is similar at 73.74.
Most violent crime is restricted to instances between criminal organizations. However, you could absolutely find yourself in the wrong place at the wrong time which is why it is important to heed the above advice about watching where you go.
The Jalisco New Generation cartel operates in Guadalajara while cartel activity has also been reported in Mexico City. It can be terrifying to read about cartel activity in Mexico but the reality is, that this not going to affect you as a tourist.
Do be smart about where you choose to base yourself in each city. In Mexico City, upscale Polanco, expat favorites Roma Norte and Roma South, and leafy Coyoacan are great, safe areas to base yourself.
In Guadalajara, opt to stay in the city, in leafy Chapala, or in the hipster district of Colonia Americana. (Colonia Americana was voted “best neighborhood in the world” by Time Out in 2022!)
Which City is Better for Museums?
Both Mexico City and Guadalajara have their share of museums. However, Mexico City wins on the museum-front hands down.
The Mexican capital has over 150 museums and is in competition with London UK for the title of the city with the largest number of museums in the world. Meanwhile, Guadalajara has just 22.
It’s not just a matter of quantity either. Some of the best museums in Mexico and Latin America on the whole are found in CDMX.
Best Mexico City Museums
The best of the best is the National Museum of Anthropology in Chapultepec park. The museum is the largest and most visited in the country and contains a vast array of artifacts that have been recovered from across the country from various civilizations.
You need to dedicate at least several hours to the museum and truthfully, you need a second visit to take it all in! The National Museum of Anthropology also has a great Pueblos Indios de Mexico exhibit which teaches you about the traditional clothing, culture, and beliefs of each of Mexico’s indigenous groups.
You will also find the Frida Kahlo Museum in Mexico City – the former home and birthplace of one of Mexico’s most beloved artists. The nearby Museo Anahuacalli is also well worth a visit and contains more than 40,000 art and sculpture pieces from Diego Riviera’s personal collection.
Basically, whether you are interested in art, history, culture, or specific aspects of national history, you will find a museum that interests you in Mexico City.
Best Guadalajara Museums
There are some excellent museums in Guadalajara but the city just doesn’t have the same variety as Mexico’s capital. The Government Palace Museum tells the history of Guadalajara through the centuries and the stories of the indigenous groups that once inhabited this land.
Its “El Agave Azul” exhibit explains the history and production process of tequila – one of the things that Mexico is most famous for. Guadalajara’s museums are particularly appealing to art lovers as there are a lot of independent art galleries and museums in the city.
The MUSA (Museum of the Arts Guadalajara) is one of the best Guadalajara art museums to have on your radar. It is set inside a former University of Guadalajara building and contains more than 100 art pieces created by international and local artists.
Most notably, you will find pieces by Carlos Vargas Pons, José Clemente Orozco, and Javier Campos Cabello. Meanwhile, the Museum of Sacred Art of Guadalajara is interesting even if you do not consider yourself to be particularly religious.
It sits behind the cathedral of Guadalajara and contains various religious icons, tapestries, paintings, and offerings. Some have been made from precious metals and are hundreds of years old or have particularly intricate designs.
Winner: Mexico City
Which City is Cheaper?
If you are traveling to Mexico on a budget, you’re going to be interested in knowing which city gives you more bang for your buck. The reality is that travel costs in both Mexico City and Guadalajara are reasonable.
Both cities are much cheaper than many places in the US, Europe, the UK, etc.
Neither one of the other is excessively expensive. Because these two destinations don’t see the same amount of mass tourism as seen in places like Cancun, Puerto Vallarta, and Riviera Maya, it is very easy to do both of them on a budget.
In both cities, you can secure a hostel bed for less than $15 US a night and a hotel room for less than $50 a night. You can easily enjoy street food eats for a couple of dollars and dine out at restaurants for reasonable prices.
But Guadalajara just narrowly wins in terms of affordability. Various online sources state that Guadalajara is, on the whole, 12-15% cheaper than Mexico City.
$50 for a hotel room in Mexico City may have you based in a part of the city center that is a little rough around the edges or in basic accommodation. Meanwhile, you can stay in a very decent, central three-star property with breakfast in Guadalajara for that.
Which City is Better for Day Trips Elsewhere?
Both Mexico City and Guadalajara can be used as a base to explore the wider region that encompasses them.
Mexico City day trips
From Mexico City, you can take a day trip out to the pyramids of Teotihuacan.
The UNESCO-protected ancient Aztec settlement sits 48km north of Mexico’s capital. It was built between the 1st and 7th centuries A.D. and was at one point one of the most important cultural centers in Mesoamerica.
Equally wonderful are the canals of Xochimilco. This waterway, set in a very working-class neighborhood, is where Mexicans and tourists alike love to come at weekends to take boat rides in colorful gondolas, sail past floating markets and share ice-cold cervezas with friends and strangers.
You will also find the Isla de las Munecas in this area. (Island of the dolls.)
This eerie place is said to be one of the most haunted places in Mexico. It can be a great place to visit if you are interested in the spooky or the macabre.
As you sail along the canals of Xochimilco, you will reach an area where all of the trees and waterways have been decorated with spooky dolls.
According to local legend, a young girl drowned in these waters. A local man named Julian kept seeing her ghost running through the trees.
To calm her spirit, he would purchase dolls and scatter them around the area. After 50 years of buying dolls for the girl’s ghost, Julian was found dead in the exact same place where the girl had died.
Guadalajara day trips
There are many charming towns, villages, and pueblo magicos that you can see on a day trip from Guadalajara. one of the most popular choices is to take the bus or a taxi to Tlaquepaque.
Tlaquepaque is a city just 10 km east of Guadalajara. Urban expansion has made it tricky to see where Tlaquepaque ends and where Guadalajara begins.
The city is known for its handicrafts and ceramics. It is also credited for its role in popularizing mariachi music.
The El Parian Square in the center of the city is home to a bandstand that was built in 1878.
100 years ago, local bands and musicians would perform at this bandstand. The organizers allowed Mariachi to participate which was a controversial move as mariachi music was not widely accepted at that time
It would turn out to be a smart move, however as attendees loved watching the mariachi perform. As word got out about the mariachi at El Parian, people would travel from far and wide to see them.
As such, this square is credited for being the reason that Mariachi is so famous around the world today.
Lake Chapala is Mexico’s largest freshwater lake and is another great place to visit on a day trip from Guadalajara. Many retired expats choose to move here and a plethora of bars, restaurants, coffee shops, and walking trails can be found along the beautiful lake.
Heading a little further afield, you can take tours out to Tequila, Mascota, Talpa de Allende, and San Sebastian del Oeste from Guadalajara. In that sense, Guadalajara may be better for day trips if you want to explore real, authentic Mexican settlements that give valuable insight into Jalisco culture.
Which is Better for Nightlife? Mexico City vs Guadalajara?
Being major cities, it should come as no surprise that Mexico City and Guadalajara both boast a vibrant, varied nightlife scene that offers something for every taste.
Mexico City Nightlife
Mexico City offers everything from salsa and bachata parties, live music venues, elegant rooftop cocktail bars, speakeasies and craft breweries, and upscale clubs.
You could also essentially party in a different neighborhood here every night or every weekend. Polanco is the most highbrow place in town, while Roma and Condesa are home to an abundance of hipster hangouts.
Hanky Panky (Turín 52, Juárez, Cuauhtémoc) is a fun hidden bar in Colonia Juarez that you would never stumble across unless you specifically knew it was there. Entrance is made via the kitchen of a super colorful restaurant.
Once you step inside the restaurant, walk through to the kitchen, past the chef’s cooking station, and down a secret passageway. A staff member will push open an artificial wall to reveal one of the chicest cocktail and whiskey bars in town.
When it comes to rooftop bars in Mexico City, there are simply too many incredible places to count. Many are day-to-night spots that serve brunch, lunch, and dinner and are home to some of the best mixologists in town.
Others host international DJs and host all-night parties. Add Malaquita Rooftop (República de Uruguay 45), 191 Rooftop (Monterrey 191, Roma Nte), and Terraza Catedral (República de Guatemala 4) to your radar.
Guadalajara is a smaller city but it is still home to a population of 5 million people and shouldn’t be written off as a lesser CDMX. The nightlife scene here is just as wonderful – just more compact.
You will find excellent wine bars, cantinas, restaurants, and cocktail bars scattered around the various neighborhoods in the city. If you want to go somewhere safe and fun where you can easily wander from one bar to the next, to the next, the best place to do that is perhaps Avenue Chapultepec near Colonia Americana.
There are some great bars in the streets that veer off from the zocalo in the city center too, while leafy Chapala is home to exquisite restaurants that will delight foodie travelers. The eateries here serve everything from mouthwatering Argentine steaks to authentic Italian pasta.
For the best cocktails in Colonia Americana (and arguably, Guadalajara on the whole), head to Pigalle (Calle Emeterio Robles Gil), or Guilty (Calle Gral Coronado 75-A). If you want to head to an old-fashioned cantina, stop by Cantina La Fuente (Pino Suárez 78).
Winner: Mexico City (marginally!)
Guadalajara Vs Mexico City: Final thoughts
This article has assessed various aspects of the Mexico City vs Guadalajara debate. But a lot of it still comes down to personal preference. It is a very subjective decision.
Guadalajara is a smaller city that is more manageable to explore in three or four days. With a long weekend in Guadalajara, you can feel that you have really started to scratch beneath the surface of what the city has to offer.
There is definitely a lot more to see and do in Mexico City. However, the capital can be overwhelming.
Do you have any further questions or concerns about whether you should visit Guadalajara or Mexico City? Feel free to reach out to me.
I will do my best to get back to you ASAP. I live in the Yucatan capital of Merida and have spent a lot of time in both Guadalajara and Mexico City.
If you are visiting Mexico for the first time, you might also enjoy browsing through this guide on staying safe in Mexico on the whole. Have a wonderful trip!
Buen Viaje! Melissa xo