The town of Tequila had been on my radar for a few years, but it wasn’t until recently that I eventually made it to the fun-packed pueblo in the state of Jalisco. Often overlooked by foreign visitors, Tequila is a popular day trip for Mexican tourists who travel by rail and road from Guadalajara, about forty miles away. I decided to spend a few days in the town, which allowed me to experience the high-spirited bars and cantinas and visit the distilleries and agave fields.
Mexico’s most iconic tipple, tequila, is made from the blue agave plants native to the region. The origin of tequila dates back to 300 AD when the Aztecs produced a drink known as pulque from the plant’s sap. Hundreds of years later, when the Spanish conquistador’s own alcohol supplies were depleted, they started to process the agave plant, and tequila was officially born.
The landscapes surrounding Tequila consist of picturesque agave fields as far as the eye can see. Like champagne in France, the spirit can only be produced in the area it is named after. The town was officially declared a ‘pueblo magico’ in 2003 by the Mexican government based on its combination of charm, culture, and character. With its colorful colonial buildings, inviting bars, and the stirring sound of mariachi music in the air, it’s easy to understand why.
Getting to Tequila
For those who can afford it, the luxurious Jose Cuervo Express Train from Guadalajara is the way to travel. With tequila tastings aplenty, the train travels through the heart of the agave landscape. There’s onboard mariachi and a pitstop at one of the fields to watch a demonstration of how agave plants are harvested. If, like me, you are on a more limited budget, you can take the Tequila Plus bus, taking around an hour and a half, for a mere five US dollars.
Take a Distillery Tour
You can’t go to Tequila without visiting a distillery, and there are tours galore to choose from. The Jose Cuervo Distillery, La Rojena, is the oldest in the world and produces 33% of the world’s tequila. Located adjacent to the principal plaza, the tours include a visit to the factory, where you learn about the distilling process from agave to bottle, concluding in the tasting room.
The lovely Casa Suaza is a few blocks from the main square and amongst beautiful gardens. The second largest tequila producer in the world, Casa Suaza offers a complimentary margarita following the tour.
Instead of a large commercial distillery, I opted to take a tour of the Punctual House of Artisan Tequila. Located just outside town in the shadow of Tequila Volcano, the owner, Jose Guadalupe, is a former mayor of Tequila who was instrumental in the town securing its ‘pueblo magico’ status. We walked through the surrounding agave fields at sunset, a magical time to be there and perfect for photographs. Afterward, Senor Guadalupe told us about the history and tradition of tequila in his family while we indulged in a tasting session.
Spend the night in a Barrel
For a totally unique experience, you can spend a night in a tequila barrel at Matices Hotel de Barricas. This hotel has thirty rooms which are each designed in the shape of giant barrels, all situated in a valley surrounded by mountains and blue agave fields. It even has its own distillery, so you can roll out of your barrel, take a tour and sample some tequila.
Explore Mexico’s History and Culture
For such a small town, Centro Cultural Juan Beckmann Gallardo is an impressive museum. Having opened just before the pandemic brought the world to a halt, it is still somewhat unknown. In fact, despite having researched Tequila thoroughly before my visit, I was unaware of its existence before I arrived in town. The grand colonial building is worthy of a visit in its own right, but it’s also full of well-presented exhibits which trace the history and culture of Mexico. From vibrant folk art to antique carriages and miniature sculptures of pre-Hispanic faces, it’s a highlight of a visit to Tequila.
The National Museum of Tequila is housed in a small, but attractive colonial building, and all of the exhibits relate to the production of tequila. Don’t miss the incredible array of tequila bottles and the fascinating black-and-white photograph collection. Just around the corner, the town hall is home to a mural documenting the history of tequila by artist Manuel Hernandez.
Immerse yourself in Nature
There’s more to Tequila than agave fields, and perhaps surprisingly, the town makes a great base for outdoor enthusiasts. The nearby Tequila Volcano and its surrounds are perfect for hiking, mountain biking, and rock climbing. Climbing the volcano is also a great way to escape the heat of the Mexican lowlands – the wind chill factor is often freezing at the summit! Another spot that nature lovers will appreciate is Cascada Los Azules, an idyllic waterfall that can be found at the end of a scenic trail that passes agave fields and cuts through mango groves.
Party at Plaza Principal
Plaza Principal is the heart and soul of Tequila. During the evenings and on weekends, the atmosphere is lively as revelers wander through the plaza, drink in hand, and locals and tourists gather at the bars and restaurants. Free-standing bars in the shape of barrels serve the local favorite, cantarito, in clay mugs – a concoction of orange, lime, lemon, grapefruit soda, and of course, tequila. Another drink to sample is the batanga created at La Capilla, the town’s oldest bar, and made from cola, lime juice and tequila.
The aroma of tacos and tostadas drifts from the street food stalls, and mariachi bands roam through the plaza in search of customers. The cobbled streets and colonial buildings are overlooked by the pretty church of La Parroquia Santiago Apostal. Next to the church, the voladores, dressed in red and white costumes, perform an ancient spiritual ceremony from a thirty-foot pole. Otherwise known as the flying men, they spin around the pole while accompanied by the sound of musicians playing a drum and a flute. It’s an unforgettable sight, and performances take place at regular intervals.
Even if you don’t partake in the world-famous local tipple yourself, Tequila is a captivating place to visit. Despite the party vibe, it offers a taste of authentic small-town Mexico not found in the country’s more mainstream destinations. There’s no doubt about it – Mexicans know how to party. Why not head down Tequila way and join the fiesta?