Visit the magical town of Tlaquepaque in Mexico and explore surreal art

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The garden of the Galeria Sergio Bustamante. | Photo by Nick Hilden

The garden of the Galeria Sergio Bustamante. | Photo by Nick Hilden

You stroll the streets of downtown Tlaquepaque, a charming little neighborhood on the southern edge of Guadalajara, Mexico, where you discover wares offered by street vendors, delve into shops owned by local artisans and snap photos of the cathedral looming at the edge of the bustling central square, while keeping an eye out for which of the many restaurant terraces appeals to you. We then come across something… unusual: a block lit in blue and purple, at the head of which stands a bronze statue of a face emerging from what seems to be a sort of half-sun. Intriguing. You continue.

The further you venture into the colorful block, the more bizarre artwork you find: a figure with a triangular head holding the hands of a person with a similar triangle, the former preventing the latter from flying away. Another triangular person holding an umbrella in one hand and saluting with the other. A triangular-headed woman, her dress falling over her legs like the ridges of a seashell. Turns out you’re in luck – you’ve stumbled upon the gallery of famous Mexican surrealist Sergio Bustamonte, and now you’re in for a treat.

It doesn’t matter if you come to Guadalajara (or the great state of Jalisco) for the tequila, the turquoise agave fields against the purple mountains, the ridiculously good tacos, the colonial architecture, or to engage in some mind-blowing art, you should definitely consider dedicating a few days of your itinerary to the magnificent magical town of Tlaquepaque. We’ll tell you everything you need to know, plus what to eat and where to stay, to intentionally throw you into a surreal wonderland.

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See what ideas spring from his mind. | Sergio Bustamante

Meet the Mad Hatter: Sergio Bustamante

While many visitors to Mexico travel to Guadalajara, few foreigners know how to visit Tlaquepaque. Largely a residential area, it has a pleasantly local vibe that suggests you’ve meandered off the beaten track. We’ll dive into Tlaquepaque in more detail below, but first we have to ask ourselves: who is this mad hatter genius and the town’s most famous resident, Sergio Bustamante?

Well, first of all, he is one of the most renowned Mexican artists. Bustamante’s surreal sculptures lean into whimsy and a somewhat playful sense of fantasy, and many, if not most, boast of his iconic triangle-headed imagery. You’ll see his work on the streets of Tlaquepaque, but you can also head straight to his gallery in town, which you should definitely do. There you can buy his work in a variety of formats, from small jewelry to expansive sculptures and furniture. But more importantly, just by walking around, you can immerse yourself in a trippy dream world.

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Does anyone else have vertigo? | Sergio Bustamante

Step into a Mexican wonderland

Visiting Galeria Sergio Bustamante is an absolutely delightful experience. The deeper you descend into its rabbit hole, the deeper you go into wonderland.

At the entrance you will find a more or less typical sales room in which you can browse jewelry and smaller statues. Venture into the next room and the surrealism kicks up a notch with its abundant array of larger-scale statues depicting a variety of fantastical imagery. But you’re just getting started.

Follow the hallway into the depths of the building and you’ll come across more and more weird, fun, and beautiful artwork. And then you emerge into the garden: a dazzling landscape of smiling astrological figures clinging to tree branches; a stream flanked by lights, faces and smaller statues; bamboos and a small bridge; and of course a handful of triangle-headed people standing (and sometimes standing) here and there.

La Villa del Ensueño Boutique Hotel
Works by Bustamante line the rue de Tlaquepaque. | La Villa del Ensueño Boutique Hotel

Browse the shops and art of Tlaquepaque

The Tlaquepaque Centro area isn’t big – you can probably experience most of what it has to offer in a day or two. Hop off if you’re visiting Guadalajara or fly in for a few nights if you’re staying in Mexico City.

Calle Independencia runs through the heart of the Centro neighborhood and will provide you with the majority of your shopping, dining and general enjoyment opportunities. It is here, in the Plaza Pavo Real section, that you will find the block housing the statues of Bustamante and his gallery. Next door you will also find Almacén Central Arte en Cobre Tlaquepaque: a shopping center containing several smaller galleries where you can browse a wide variety of arts and crafts from local designers. Just down the street is the el Dorado gallery, where they offer beautiful handmade furniture, as well as smaller pieces of arts and crafts.

Once evening arrives, the sidewalks of Calle Independencia are lined with craft vendors and food stalls, and the whole place becomes a bustling bustle of shopping, dining, and general merriment. Music and alcohol flow freely in a festive atmosphere.

Patio Tlaquepaque
Taco meets fondue. | Patio Tlaquepaque

Eat birria and tacos with a side of guitar

Speaking of food, music, and alcohol, it’s imperative to do all three at once. The state of Jalisco is famous for its mariachi music, which is often played during meals. Taste the music as you sit down to eat at El Patio Tlaquepaque or Real San Pedro, which sit side by side along Calle Independencia and offer a wide selection of regional and national delicacies. At El Patio Tlaquepaque, you can order juicy birria or try chili stuffed with a decadent creamy sauce and sprinkled with pomegranates. Meanwhile, at Real San Pedro, venture into duck tacos or boar loin, and top it all off with cheesecake drizzled with passion fruit.

Or if you fancy pizza with a view, head to La Valentina Pizza Santuario, a multi-story joint with sweeping views of the cathedral and plaza from rooftop seating. In fact, rooftop bars and restaurants with charming vibes abound in this area, so look up and keep an eye out for the one that strikes your fancy.

La Villa del Ensueño Boutique Hotel
Frida Kahlo would approve. | La Villa del Ensueño Boutique Hotel

Where to sleep in Tlaquepaque

There are a number of hotels in the area with a reputation for quality – Hotel Tlaquepaque, La Villa del Ensueno and Quinta Don Jose Boutique Hotel being some of the most notable.

Villa del Ensueno has some fun pops of color along its colonial revival architecture, reminiscent of Frida Kahlo’s La Casa Azul in CDMX. It has just 20 rooms spread across two mansions, full of terraces, patios, fountains, and gardens, not to mention a bar, pool, and hot tubs. You’ll find outdoor sofas in the many hallways, inviting guests to spend as much time outdoors as possible in good weather.

At Quinta Don Jose, you’ll see vines and all manner of plants climbing the walls of the hotel and pool, all the way to the terracotta shingle roof, resembling beautifully preserved ruins engulfed by a jungle. Most rooms have warm brick ceilings and a splash of colorful Mexican-print pillows, plus an on-site Italian and Mexican restaurant.

If you end up going the Airbnb route, just make sure you find a place close to Calle Independencia or the Centro area in general. That way you’ll always be steps away from the vibrating action.

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Nick Hilden is a contributor for Thrillist.

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