A Wheelchair User’s Guide to Guadalajara
Guadalajara is home to nearly 1.5 million people, making it the second-largest city in Mexico after Mexico City’s almost 9 million.
If this sparks images of packed sidewalks, here’s some good news—the historical center of Guadalajara has large open spaces with plenty of room for wheelchair users to explore.
In fact, Guadalajara is easily the most wheelchair accessible place I’ve encountered in Mexico.
So, if you’re ready to explore the city that’s home to mariachi and tortas ahogadas, read on.
Note: The information here is based on my observation as a non-wheelchair user. If you have firsthand experience as a wheelchair user in Guadalajara, I’d love to hear about your time there in the comments section. I appreciate it, and I’m sure that our future readers will too.
An Overview of Wheelchair Accessibility in Guadalajara
Wide sidewalks, massive plazas, and pedestrian-only streets make Guadalajara an excellent city to explore by wheelchair.
For being such an old city (it was founded in 1542), Guadalajara has impressive accessibility both indoors and outdoors. Cobblestone is few and far between, and drop curbs are almost everywhere (although in so many cases they’re not needed since the sidewalk is often level with the road).
Furthermore, despite being at over 5,000 feet above altitude, inclines are essentially non-existent downtown.
Many, if not most, restaurants and shops in downtown offer a flat surface, ramp, or a small ledge to enter the buildings.
Accessible Restrooms in Guadalajara
You don’t have to track down a McDonald’s to find an accessible restroom in Guadalajara.
Instead, Mercado Corona offers a public restroom for six pesos. A person collects the money, so you don’t have to worry about tracking someone down to unlock the bathroom.
The entrance sits to the right of the main Corona Market entrance—you don’t even have to enter the market to access it.
Best of all, this restroom is a short distance from the cathedral.
You likely won’t need to use transportation once you arrive in Guadalajara’s historical center. Downtown Guadalajara is large enough to fill a day’s worth of exploration, but not so big that you can’t explore it all in a couple of hours if you clip along.
Nevertheless, whether you want to use accessible public transportation to get to the historical center or other areas in Guadalajara, you have two options:
In the case of the metro, every stop has an elevator. This is what you’re looking for:
For the Trolebus, head to the second, backmost door to use the accessible entrance and nearby wheelchair-designated zone on this electrical bus.
Wheelchair Accessible Things to Do in Guadalajara
There are many accessible activities that you can do in Guadalajara. Below are some of the highlights.
1. Free Walking Tour
Yes, you read that right. Unlike so many free group walking tours across the globe, the tour in Guadalajara is wheelchair accessible.
The tour will take you to most of the sites described here, and you don’t need to make special arrangements in advance—simply fill out the online form and make a note that you’re a wheelchair user. You’ll receive an email instantly confirming your reservation.
I booked my free walking tour with Civitatis and was impressed with our enthusiastic and knowledgeable guide. The tour lasts two hours and begins at 10:30 am, seven days a week.
When you view the Roman Catholic Guadalajara Cathedral from the front, steps that span from one end of the church to the other make it appear inaccessible.
However, all you need to do is head around to the left side of the building (across from the Rotunda of the Illustrious Jaliscienses—more on this soon). There, you’ll encounter a wooden ramp that leads into the church.
You’ll arrive near the cathedral’s altar. From there, head to your right and you can make a complete lap around the church.
If you’re traveling with non-wheelchair users, there’s a series of small steps they can take that leads underground beneath the altar. You can meet them on the other side as they exit by passing in front of the altar.
When you’re facing the front of the cathedral, there’s a small chapel to the right of it called the Parroquia El Sagrario Metropolitano.
Like the cathedral, this parish is free to enter. A wooden ramp sits at the front of its entrance.
3. Explore the Plazas
Guadalajara has many plazas, all of which are highly accessible. They offer flat, open spaces and benches that allow you to sit beside any non-wheelchair users you may be traveling with.
The Plaza de Armas is the most iconic plaza in downtown Guadalajara, and for good reason—”Plaza de Armas” refers to a central square.
Plaza de La Liberación is another must-see plaza in Guadalajara. Here, you can take a photo with the colorful “Guadalajara” sign. You’ll also get a great view of the theater and can roam around the beautiful tree-lined sidewalk surrounding the square.
Plaza Guadalajara is a smaller plaza to check out, but it’s popular because it sits in front of the cathedral entrance.
In fact, all three of these plazas, plus the Rotunda of the Illustrious Jaliscienses (we’ll talk about it soon, promise) form a cross-like appearance around the cathedral when looking at it from an aerial view.
4. Los Colomos Forest
Bosque Los Colomos, or Los Colomos Forest, is a retreat from the hustle and bustle of downtown Guadalajara.
It’s situated about 15 minutes from the historic center and has a huge paved path around the forest. You can also explore its large Japanese garden.
Artists often dot the park working on their next nature piece, and you’ll encounter some vendors selling snacks.
As a word of warning or something to get excited about (depending on the person), the squirrels in Los Colomos are super friendly due to people feeding them. So, don’t be alarmed if they try to climb up your chair!
5. Dine on Avendia Chapultepec
Avenida Chapultepec is the relatively more modern part of the city where most tourists stay (I don’t recommend hanging around downtown Guadalajara after dark—it’s best to stay in Chapultepec or another district outside of the historical center.)
You’ll find loads of restaurants in this area serving up everything from traditional Guadalajaran food to international vegan dishes.
As is the case with so many places in Guadalajara, Chapultepec offers excellent wheelchair accessibility thanks to wide sidewalks and a pedestrian path that runs down the middle of the two-lane street on either side.
In my opinion, that street is also one of Chapultec’s downsides; there’s a lot of traffic, so the area doesn’t have the quainter feel that it could if it were just two single lanes.
6. Visit a Market
Maybe you’ve heard?
Guadalajara is home to the San Juan de Dios Market (formally called the Mercado Libertad). It’s not only the largest indoor market in Mexico but in all of Latin America. It has over 2,900 stalls.
Now that’s impressive.
Parts of the San Juan de Dios Market are accessible. However, many of the aisles are narrow, and the market gets unbearably crowded at times.
So, I recommend taking a peek at the first floor before making your way to the more accessible Corona Market.
If that rings a bell, it should—that’s where you’ll find an accessible public restroom.
Corona Market is better suited for wheelchair users because it tends to have wider aisles than San Jan de Dios. It also offers an elevator immediately to the left of the main entrance. So, you’ll have the opportunity to explore all three floors.
Furthermore, the market offers lots of accessible seating for trying out the local market cuisine. In many cases, you’ll be able to sit right in front of the food stand, having access to all the toppings and sauces they offer without needing assistance.
If you enjoy exploring areas away from the main tourist zone, the Mercado Santa Tere in Santa Teresita offers an array of accessible dining options at the market and wide aisles for exploring the fruit, veggies, and other market items.
7. Government Palace
Guadalajara’s government palace is a place of monumental historic significance because that’s where they decided to abolish slavery.
The building is free to enter and is open from 9:00 am – 5:00 pm Monday – Sunday. You’re only allowed to enter with a free tour provided by the palace which runs once an hour on the hour.
They can set up a ramp for wheelchair users to enter the first floor. Once you’re inside you’ll have full access to the museum.
You’ll also be able to view a portion of the famous ceiling painting. However, since this painting sits over a massive staircase, the majority of it is unfortunately inaccessible.
8. Eat Tortas Ahogadas
Tortas ahogadas is a traditional Guadalajaran dish and a must-try for any spicy-loving traveler.
The term translates to “drowned sandwich,” which is a perfect description for this messy but delicious dish.
Typically, you’ll find pork or chicken tortas ahogadas, although if you head to a vegetarian restaurant, you can find them in vegetarian or vegan style.
They stuff a crusty baguette with meat drenched in sauce, then douse the entire sandwich in a thick layer of spicy salsa. Chile de arbol is responsible for most of the heat, although black pepper and cumin add to it.
Be sure to order lots of water!
9. Visit the Árbol Adentro
The Árbol Adentro, which translates to “tree inside,” is a piece of art made by José Fors.
It sits a stone’s throw away from the Guadalajara Cathedral, on Fray Antonio Alcalde Avenue. This is a must-see for environmentalists, philosophers, and those who appreciate art in all its forms.
If you’re traveling with non-wheelchair users, there are stairs at the back of the head, so you can snap photos of them beside the tree.
10. Attend a Theater Show
Teatro Degollado is an architectural masterpiece inside and out.
The European-esque theater was built in the 1800s and hosts performances ranging from traditional Mexican dances to operas and international shows.
A ramp sits to the lefthand side of the front of the building, and you can purchase tickets with accessible seating.
11. Rotunda of the Illustrious Jaliscienses
Now there’s a mouthful.
The Rotunda of the Illustrious Jaliscienses sits across from the left side of the cathedral (where the accessible ramp sits). It’s a relatively new work of art in downtown Guadalajara, built in 1951.
The purpose of the Rotunda is to commemorate famous people in Jalisco (the Mexican state that Guadalajara is in). A wide path surrounds the Rotunda where these people are buried. Due to vandalism, they keep the burial area gated off.
However, you can explore the sidewalk around the outer edge of the Rotunda to see statues of all the people who rest there.
12. Calle Paseo Hospicio
Calle Paseo Hospicio is a pedestrian street that’s home to many accessible restaurants, tourist stands, and mini plazas.
When you first approach Calle Paseo Hospicio, cascading sets of stairs will make it look inaccessible. However, by heading to the right or left by the shops, you’ll encounter ramps.
The ramps offer accessible entrances to each section of the pedestrian road. They’re a little steep in certain areas but plenty wide.
As you approach the end of Calle Paseo Hospicio, you’ll encounter a pretty waterfall that sits in front of the Hospicio Cabañas.
Hospicio Cabañas is an 18th-century building originally designed to care for orphans and other people with disadvantages. Nowadays, it’s now a museum where you can admire murals and other pieces of art. It’s wheelchair accessible and a popular place to visit in Guadalajara.
13. Visit Tlaquepaque
Tlaquepaque is famed as an artisan district of Guadalajara.
If gawky touristy stands and vendors hassling you come to mind, think again—Tlaquepaque has a classy feel to it. Most of the shops sit inside old buildings and are filled with antiques. Many of these shops have cafes or restaurants incorporated among the artwork for sale.
Unfortunately, I’d estimate that only around 40% of these shops are accessible.
Some wheelchair accessible shops in Tlaquepaque that I came across included Cafe Imperial, Casa Luna Restaurant, and Real San Pedro (after hopping over a 2-inch ledge).
The town itself offers excellent accessibility, with wide flat streets, a beautiful plaza, and an accessible entrance to the cathedral. You can arrive at Tlaquepaque using the metro, which is 100% wheelchair accessible.
14. Hang Out Lakeside in Chapala
Chapala isn’t in Guadalajara, but it’s a popular day trip to take from there. This town is home to the largest freshwater lake in Mexico—Chapala Lake.
Getting to Chapala involves a one-hour drive. I recommend making a beeline to the lakeshore and getting out there; although there are drop-down curbs and wide sidewalks leading down to the lake, there’s some major cobblestone action going on at intersections.
Luckily, the lakefront boardwalk in Chapala offers excellent wheelchair accessibility. A wide, flat cement sidewalk will take you by breathtaking lake views, stall after stall of vendors, and the occasional street performer.
The weekend afternoons get packed at Chapala. So, if you’d like a little more space, I recommend visiting in the mornings or on a weekday.
Ajijic is another popular town on Chapala Lake. Unfortunately, it isn’t as accessible as Chapala due to more cobblestone, narrower streets, and hillier terrain.
15. Los Guachimontones
Los Guachimontones are round pyramids located about a two-hour drive from Guadalajara.
This isn’t a site offering great wheelchair accessibility. It’s a better fit for electric wheelchair users, given that there’s a steep 300-meter hill you’ll need to climb to arrive at the ruins.
The ruins themselves are laid out in a grassy yard that has rocks strewn about, particularly as you arrive closer to the main circular pyramid.
Los Guachimontones offers an accessible museum and restrooms.
For more details, check out our guide on taking the bus from Guadalajara to Los Guachimontes, which includes a section on wheelchair accessibility.
Bonus: A Volunteer Opportunity
If you love animals, consider making a visit to Lucky Dog, an animal shelter run mostly by a group of English-speaking retirees in Lake Chapala.
The outdoor shelter has an accessible entrance and lots of space for you to spend your time in Chapala cuddling with dogs. You can learn more about volunteering with Lucky Dog here.
Are You Ready to Head to Guadalajara?
While there’s always room for accessibility improvement, from my observation Guadalajara offers above-average wheelchair accessibility for Mexico.
If you have questions about visiting Guadalajara, leave a comment and I’ll do my best to help.
I’d also love to hear from you in the comments section after your visit. What were your favorite areas to explore? Did you run into accessible hiccups? Your experience and advice will surely help future wheelchair travelers to Guadalajara.
Laura has been wandering the globe for over a decade. She’s an early bird and backpacker at heart and can often be spotted with a dog or ten that she’s befriended along the way. Much of the content Laura writes on A Piece of Travel includes details on wheelchair accessibility, with the support of her brother-in-law and sister. You can learn about their accessibility endeavors here.