Most everyone who visits Guadalajara finds their way to two famous shopping locales called Tlaquepaque and Tonalá. Both were once small towns near Guadalajara, but as Mexico’s second largest city sprawled out, it subsumed them. Each retains some of its original character, but seem now to be just neighborhoods in Metro Guadalajara.
Tonalá (“Tone-ah-LAH”) was traditionally an authentic artisan location, full of small shops and factories making unique arts and crafts. Tlaquepaque (“Tah-lock-ee-pock-ee”) was similar, but slightly more upscale, with more recognized artists, restaurants, and retail stores. Over the years, many of the artisan shops in Tonalá have moved, some to Tlaquepaque and some elsewhere in the region; they have been replaced by a potpourri of small shops selling a mixture of just about anything.
Tonalá has no organization: you’ll find a ceramics store next to a religious figurines place across from a glassware shop, and then the same odd mixture on the next cross street. The streets remain open to traffic, so one need be cautious in window
shopping. Some streets and the area near the plaza have stalls selling their wares, creating a tianguis or market atmosphere. Tlaquepaque has a pedestrian zone lined with upscale restaurants, galleries, and numerous boutiques for high-end jewelry, couture, or objet d’art. If you wander off the more touristy path, there are still remnants of the original artisan workshops.
Our good friend Lorraine showed us around on visits to both “towns” as we sought some authentic Mexican dinnerware. One thing she mentioned time and again was how much each place has changed: both are more commercial, more touristy, and less authentic than in the past. We eventually found a real ceramic factory (Ceramica el Palomar) off the beaten path in Tlaquepaque. The owners literally “turned on the lights” in their showroom for us; they weren’t expecting any walk-in traffic. After we exchanged pleasantries and explained what we were looking for, they offered to take us on a tour of the factory behind the showroom. We found a nice set of dishes, each individually signed on the back (with a symbol) by the artist who made them.
If the name Tlaquepaque seems oddly familiar, it might be because you have visited Sedona, Arizona. On a trip there last year, we found an upscale arts-n-crafts mall called by the same name. Life imitating art imitating life, as it were.
If I had to choose between Tonalá and Tlaquepaque, I would spend the time and money in Tlaquepaque. If you want to have a real Mexican market experience, you should go to the Mercado Libertad, but that is the subject of another post, another day!