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It is not uncommon for Puerto Vallarta locals and visitors to consider an occasional getaway to Guadalajara. After all, not only is our state capital one of Mexico’s most beautiful colonial metropolises, Guadalajara also offers myriad activities for every interest and budget: live concerts featuring top national and international artists; endless shopping in Tonala and Tlaquepaque, neighborhoods renowned for their traditional Mexican home decor shops; intriguing dining opportunities at top-notch gourmet restaurants or mercado eateries; and then there’s Tequila—both a sensual liquor and a charming small town less than an hour from downtown Guadalajara.

Most people in a hurry would assume that the best and fastest way to make the approximately five-hour journey from Puerto Vallarta to Guadalajara is via the expensive, high-speed toll road (see map); however, depending on the time of day and day of the week, this may not necessarily be the case. Additionally, unlike many of their north-of-the-border counterparts, toll highways in Mexico do not feature nearly as many amenities (rest stops, convenience stores and eateries) along the way.

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Church at Mascota's Main Plaza

So, it’s no surprise that an increasing number of travelers are taking the Guadalajara route through the mountains into consideration. Frequently maligned for its incessant curves, narrow lanes and hazardousness during the summer rains, the route passes through a half-dozen small towns, each with its own traits and features that, when combined, allow for a completely different travel experience. Not only is the road free to use, on occasion your travel time to Guadalajara can even be shorter than via the toll highway!

Here is a quick overview of the towns you can visit along the way, some of which have been documented in previous editions of our publication. (Visit VirtualVallarta.com to explore these articles.)

Ixtapa: Seafood

Some of Puerto Vallarta’s most underrated traditional seafood eateries can be found along this stretch of the road.

La Estancia: Birria

Aside from places offering a snack or soft drink, there are several spots along the road where you can sample birria, a rich Mexican meat stew that originated in the state of Jalisco.

San Sebastian del Oeste: Peaceful Retreat

If you’ve never visited this peaceful town, the 10-minute detour at La Estancia to San Sebastián del Oeste will definitely be worth your while. Altogether, driving through town and stopping at its main plaza for a snack will set you back some 40 minutes at most.

Mascota: Lunchtime!

If you left Puerto Vallarta in the morning, you will most likely reach Mascota in time for lunch. The descent from the Sierra Madre Mountains into the valley where Mascota lies is truly spectacular. Both a town and a municipality, Mascota features a beautiful main plaza and church worth driving past on your way. Simply follow the signs or ask for directions.

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Panoramic view of Talpa de Allende

Talpa de Allende: Religious detour

It may seem unassuming at first, but Talpa de Allende is Mexico’s second most important religious destination, following Mexico City’s Basilica de Guadalupe. Taking in the strong scent of guava and other fruits as you drive into town is inevitable, as Talpa is one of Jalisco’s most important producers of traditional fruit pastes and flavored rompope—Mexico’s eggnog equivalent. Look for the exit to Talpa less than half an hour past Mascota, but do expect to spend at least an hour and a half there.

Atenguillo: Snack

Of no major consequence, it’s just nice to know about as another spot along the way where you can stop, stretch your legs and purchase a snack if you want to.

Mixtlan: Mineral water

Aside from a couple of interesting archeological sites, Mixtlan features natural mineral water deposits that are frequented by visitors and locals. An information booth right on the highway at the town’s entrance (on the left side) will point you in the right direction. Or head to nearby Rancho La Morita, where you can visit or enjoy their temazcal, a traditional sweat lodge.

Ameca: Almost there!

At this point, you are about an hour from Guadalajara and probably anxious to get there. So, consider Ameca, a destination worthy of thorough exploration, more as a landmark than a place to visit, particularly if you will only spend a few days in Guadalajara.