Tequila is located 30 miles northwest of Guadalajara on the route to Puerto Vallarta, in the state of Jalisco, Mexico. The blue agave “tequila” plant has shaped the culture of this town for 2,000 years, and in 2006, UNESCO declared the "Agave Landscape and Ancient Industrial Facilities of Tequila" a World Heritage site. This prestigious designation recognized the area for its cultural influence, from its ancient distilleries to its architecture, even as the town flourishes in the name of economic progress.
Shortly after UNESCO’s announcement, community planners and investors launched a huge venture to make Tequila, Mexico a travel destination the likes of the Bourbon Trail in Kentucky or the Cognac Region in France. They also began investing millions of dollars in the “Tequila Trail” to make the tequila production areas of el Arenal, Amatitan, Tequila, Magdalena and Teuchitlán more tourism-friendly.
While the agave plants covering every field in Tequila, and the drink produced from it, have put this town of 35,500 on the map, it’s not exactly known as a travel destination. Maybe a side trip is in order from Puerto Vallarta where tourists can make the drive or hop a tour bus and be in Tequila in a little over an hour to visit the distilleries. Or, taking the Tequila Express, a train excursion that includes a tour of the Herradura factory and a two-hour music and dance performance, is another one-day option. Tequila is considered a day trip for tourists because most distillery tours last only a couple of hours, and really, they come to taste the tequila. But, backers of the developing Tequila Trail hope to change all that.
Truly, this is a place for tequila lovers, but the mountain town has a few other things worth seeing. If you like old Spanish architecture, you will enjoy many of the old buildings that still exist in Tequila. Other things to do and see on the Tequila Trail include:
- The Tequila Volcano - 2900 meters high and dominating the area
- Obsidian handicrafts made from volcanic stone
- The Opal mines in the towns Analco, Hostotipaquillo and Magdalena
- Tour tequila distilleries, ranging from Jose Cuervo's well-oiled operation to smaller “craft distillers” classified as micro, small, or medium tequila producers (90% are craft distillers)
- Visit regional craft centers where you can buy Tequila keepsakes
- Visit the Museum of Tequila - a well-designed display of photos, drawings and artifacts in several rooms detailing the history of tequila
- Visit the Sauza Family Museum - a collection of memorabilia, including paintings, old photos and ancient tools, in what was once the family home
- The Tequila Festival (between November and December) - includes a parade, mariachi singers, rides, and of course, tequila
- Visit the local church, Our Lady of the Purisima Concepcion - a beautiful two-level stone structure with a bell tower and a 250-year-old statue of the Lady of the Concepcion inside.
Lodging is adequate, ranging from a mountainside hotel to smaller inns dotting the countryside on the Tequila Trail. Dining options include a number of restaurants serving classic Mexican cuisine, as well as street vendors who serve up tortillas or roast corn on the cob atop small grills. Of course, Margaritas are on everyone’s menu.
There are plenty of liquor stores, some selling tequila in large plastic bottles with no labels. Sellers are probably assuming that tourists won’t know good tequila from bad. A typical person has experienced tequila via “bar drinks” made with it, which has a required 51% of alcohol coming from agave and the rest being a filler. Real tequila will have a “100 Percent Blue Agave” marked on its bottle as an assurance of quality. Pass on the plastic bottles in the liquor stores, and purchase tequila from the factories where the prices are usually lower.
Tequila has a charm and ambiance outside the tequila distilleries. An example of this is their tradition that the priest of Our Lady of Purisima Concepcion rings the bell everyday, three times at 9 pm, and every single resident of Tequila stops whatever they are doing to observe a minute of prayer.
It’s an old, small and quaint city, whose townspeople aren’t all sure that becoming a bigger tourist attraction is for them. Still, the powers that be are dressing up their streets with flowers and trees, hoping that if they build it, they will come.
An important side note: if you’re going to Tequila, you’ll need a designated driver.