The approach to TEQUILA is through great fields of spiky cactus-like blue agave. It's from these rugged plants that the quintessentially Mexican liquor is produced in vast quantities at local distilleries. They've made tequila (see "Making tequila") here since the sixteenth century, with the indígenas fermenting its precursor for at least 1500 years before that. It is this long and well-preserved legacy that earned Tequila and its surroundings UNESCO World Heritage status in 2006.
The town itself is a pretty enough little place, though its fine church and smattering of bourgeois mansions are somewhat overwhelmed by the trappings of thriving modern business. But no matter: you don't come here to sightsee, you come to drink, or at least to visit the distilleries. Easily the most popular and slickest operation in town is run by José Cuervo, which seems to have taken over several blocks immediately north of the main square. This is their La Rojeña factory, parts of which date back to 1758. Here you'll find Mundo Cuervo (Tel:01-800/006-8630, Web: www.mundocuervo.com ), which offers tours every hour (Mon– Sat 10am–4pm, Sun 11am–4pm; tours in English are at noon). The basic tour (45min; M$75), makes a quick turn through the factory, where you can taste the raw distillate, then continues to the barrel storage area, where you can try a little of the finished product. The extended tour (1hr 15min; M$100) takes in all this, gives you a chance to sit down and learn how to appreciate the qualities of the various tequilas and includes a margarita and a visit to the old storage cellars – it's worth the few extra pesos. If you're interested in something a little less stage-managed but still informative, Sauza's La Perseverancia distillery, Mora 80, also offers tours (Mon– Fri 11.30am, noon, 3pm & 4pm; M$35; usually bilingual). To get there, head five blocks west of the plaza along Ramon Corona.
Across the street from the main entrance to Mundo Cuervo is the small but proud Museo Nacional del Tequila (Tues– Sun: April– Aug 10am–6pm, Sept– March 10am–4pm; M$15), where you can learn about the history of the popular drink and its crucial role in the town's development. They have a fine collection of tequila bottles (both ornate and primitive) and agave art.
When you enter town you'll probably be approached by people trying to get you to visit less-well-known out-of-town distilleries such as La Cofradia (Web: www.tequilacofradia.com ). These trips can be a bit hit-or-miss, but when they're good, they can be wonderful experiences with far fewer people and a more personal touch. The factories are typically amidst the agave fields so you may also see something of the harvesting. Trips cost around M$60 and include a minibus ride out there. The serene Herradura distillery (Hacienda San José del Refugio: 50min tours Mon– Fri 9am, 10am, 11am, noon & 1pm) in the small town of Amatitán, 15km southeast of Tequila on the main road from Guadalajara, deserves a stop. The restaurant here offers a unique dining experience – gourmet food and gracious service in an early eighteenth-century hacienda.
It's easy enough to get to Tequila on regular Transportes Teocuitatlan buses from Guadalajara's Central Vieja bus station (Sala B; every 15min; 1hr 45min), or save a little time by picking up the same bus outside the Periférico Sur station, the southern terminus of the Tren Ligero line 1. Unfortunately, the bus is pretty slow and it can be rather uncomfortable to return to Guadalajara after a few too many tequila samples. A good alternative is to go on an organized tour such as the Tequila Express train or the Mundo Cuervo's own Cuervo Bus (daily at 9.15 am; M$200), which leaves from the Central Vieja for a six-hour day trip.
Regular buses drop off passengers on the edge of Tequila, from where it is a one-kilometre walk along Sixto Gorjon to the main plaza and Mundo Cuervo. Unless you work in the spirits business and are on a buying trip, there's little need to spend more than an afternoon in Tequila, but you can stay at the comfortable Hotel Plaza Jardín, José Cuervo 13 (Tel:374/742-0061, Web: www.hotelplazajardin.com ; Price: M$250-350) right on the main plaza, which has a nice rooftop terrace and its own restaurant and bar. More likely you'll just want a meal, best at La Fonda Cholula, a bright colourful place to eat right opposite Mundo Cuervo. They have nice shady rooftop seating and serve respectable chicken mole and chiles en nogada for M$70.