Tequila & Culinary Tour of Jalisco | 2014


TRIP DATES:
February 22-25, 2014
March 1-4, 2014

COST:
$725 per person based on double occupancy. $110 single occupancy upcharge.

DETAILS:
>>> Please SCROLL DOWN for the hour-by-hour itinerary below, but here’s a tentative overview of the entire tour:

(Please note that while we’re definitely planning on sticking to this itinerary, there’s a chance that one or two of the distilleries may be substituted.)

We’ll meet downtown San Diego on Saturday morning at the America Plaza Trolley Station (1050 India Street) and take the trolley ($2.50) to the border where we’ll exchange currency.  You’ll need about 1,400-1,500 pesos (about $125 based on current exchange rates) for taxis and breakfasts that are not included in the tour price plus your visa (which you’ll purchase at the airport).  If you plan to buy any souvenirs, etc. or purchase additional drinks plan accordingly, but realistically $175-200 should more than cover any incidentals.  (And yes, there are plenty of ATM’s in Jalisco if you need more cash in a pinch.)

After exchanging currency we’ll walk across the border and catch a taxi to the Tijuana airport (TIJ).  The taxi costs 180 pesos so if we put 3-4 people in each taxi we’ll get the cost down to a whopping 45-60 pesos ($4-5) per person.  Once we arrive at the airport we’ll get everyone registered for a visa (about 300 pesos, or $25) and then head over to the departure gate.

We’ll take the 1:30 Volaris afternoon flight direct to Guadalajara.  (Volaris is like the Southwest of Mexico and has a modern fleet of well maintained planes.)  This flight is available on-line at volaris.com for about $85 each way but just like in the states, prices do fluctuate.  I will send an email with easy, step-by-step info on how to purchase tickets on-line to everyone who registers for this trip.  The flight down is just under three hours but we gain two time zones so when we touch down in Guadalajara local time will be close to 6:30.

From the Guadalajara airport (GDL) we’ll take taxis to Hotel Morales in the historical central downtown district.  The taxi ride will cost 300 pesos so here again, if 3-4 people share a taxi we’ll get the cost down to 75-100 pesos ($7-9) per person.  (You’ll get good at doing “taxi math” by the end of the trip!)  Hotel Morales is a beautifully restored old hotel right next to the famous Plaza and within easy walking distance to many of the centuries old cathedrals and museums.

After checking in and freshening up for a few minutes we’ll hit the ground running for one of our now legendary horse-drawn carriage cocktail rides through the city.  Those of you who went on our New Orleans Cocktail Tours a couple of years ago will know exactly what I’m talking about.  (And for everyone who enjoys an occasional cigar or two, we’ll designate a couple of the carriages as smoking carriages.  You can bring your own cigars from home or there’s an excellent cigar shop less than three blocks from the hotel with an impressive walk-in humidor that no doubt has some real Cubans.)  We’ll enjoy some fine sipping Tequila along with cold cervezas on board each carriage as we meander through the streets of Guadalajara en route to my favorite restaurant, Cocina 88, for an amazing multi-course dinner where we’ll be greeted with a “real” Margarita as we enter.  Tentative menu is salmon carpaccio, mango ceviche, vacio (a thick, Argentina-style cut of super-premium flank steak), tequila shrimp, fish with a dry chile rub and crème brûlée.  After dinner we’ll walk off the calories back to the hotel (about 15 minutes) or catch a cab for, you guessed it, about $2-3pp.  It will be close to midnight local time but we’re going to try to keep everyone on “San Diego” time by going to bed late and getting up late every day so it will really only feel like a little after 9:30.

After a good night’s sleep we’ll wake up refreshed and enjoy breakfast either at the hotel or at my favorite spot, La Gorda, a block and a half down the street.  Coffee, a big glass of orange juice squeezed to order and huevos rancheros with made-to-order tortillas will set you back about seven bucks.

After breakfast we’ll check out of the hotel and grab a taxi (about $2 pp) to the train station where we’ll board the Jose Cuervo Express, a meticulously restored vintage train with coach cars, a dining car and a luxury club car.  Our group will take over the club car (duh) where we’ll enjoy unlimited (yikes) premium Cuervo tequilas and tequila-based cocktails and appetizers during the leisurely paced, two-and-a-half-hour ride from Guadalajara to the magic town of Tequila.  Along the way we’ll pass through the towns of El Arenal and Amatitan where endless vistas of agave plants will replace the usual grape vines we’re so used to seeing on our wine tours.

Once in the town of Tequila we’ll make a five minute transfer from the train to a bus that will take us directly to the Cuervo Distillery.  Conveniently located one block from our hotel, we’ll make a quick detour to the hotel to drop off our bags so we don’t have to lug them around on the tour, and then high tail it back to the distillery for the premium Cuervo tour … including a finale visit before lunch to the legendary “Reserva de la Famalia” caves for barrel tastings of this ultra-premium aged tequila.

After the tour and tasting we’ll meet in the Cuervo gardens for a huge traditional Mexican lunch and fiesta with, you guessed it, unlimited tequila, tequila-based cocktails and cervezas.  After lunch we’ll walk (stagger?) back to the hotel to freshen up and relax before dinner.  We’ll have a couple hours free time to explore the plaza or to just rest in the hotel to re-energize for the evening’s festivities.  For the adventuresome I’ll take whoever wants to join me to La Capilla, the oldest bar in Tequila.  There we’ll meet Javier who owns and has been pouring drinks there for almost 70 years.  Lots of history there (and strong drinks, too) but we’ll go easy on the tequila because we want to be in prime form for the rest of the evening.

After re-energizing for a couple of hours we’ll all meet up early in the evening and shuttle everyone over to La Cofradia, an absolutely stunning distillery off the beaten path on the outskirts of town where we’ll be greeted with a welcome cocktail as we step off the shuttle.  La Cofradia bottles their tequila in exquisite, hand painted, porcelain bottles so, in addition to producing tequila, they also have a full-time ceramic making facility on site which we’ll be able to visit after the distillery tour.  We’ll also visit their agave fields and watch a “jimador” prepare a “pina” (the heart of the agave used to make tequila) by trimming the leaves with a “coa” (a sharp, spade-like tool).  After the tour we’ll go to La Taberna del Cofrade, their cavernous restaurant located completely underground below the barrel room.  Dinner will be a huge assortment of “build-your-own” tacos with all the traditional accompaniments plus a cocktail of your choice.  After dinner we’ll shuttle everyone back to the hotel for the night … unless, of course, you want to enjoy just one last tequila at the outdoor bar overlooking the plaza and the old cathedral just around the corner from the hotel …

After what will no doubt be a satisfyingly comatose sleep we’ll wake up raring to go Monday morning.  There are half dozen places within a block of the hotel to enjoy a traditional Mexican breakfast or just some fresh fruits if you want to eat something lighter.  My only complaint is that I have yet to find a great cup of coffee here, so if you’re used to your triple shot Starbucks latte every morning, be prepared to go through withdrawals.

After breakfast we’ll take a very interesting walk down the cobblestone streets to the oldest part of town where some of the original distilleries are located.  Some have long been abandoned, some have been restored and are still producing tequila the old school way, and some have been renovated and are producing tequila with modern equipment and methods.

First stop will be Fortaleza, one of the original Sauza distilleries constructed 135 years ago.  With the advent of modern equipment and distilling processes, Fortaleza sat dormant for almost 40 years and was eventually turned into a museum before being restored back to its original state in 2000.  The first batch of tequila was bottled in 2002 and was produced exactly the way it was 135 years ago using the same meter-thick brick ovens, the same stone mill and the same copper pot stills.  With any luck we’ll also be able to sample their tequilas in their private bar in the back of their caves.

Next stop will be a walk through time.  But not before we enjoy a “Cantarito” at Los Lavaderos.  Los Lavaderos is the old stone washing trough diverted off the river where villagers used to wash their clothes years ago.  A Cantarito is a super refreshing, icy cold, tequila-based drink made with freshly squeezed grapefruit, lime and orange juices plus lime soda (usually Sprite), salt and chile.  There’s a little stand at Los Lavaderos where a lady makes these to order and gives them to you in a clay mug for you to take home if you wish.

So after everyone gets their Cantarito we’ll take a walk along an elevated bridge alongside the river that provides an excellent view into the backsides of several ancient abandoned distilleries.  El Martineno is another “semi-abandoned” distillery within a block of here that we should be able to actually get inside of to see some of the old equipment up close.  I’m told that this distillery still occasionally produces tequila but from the shape of the equipment I can’t figure out for the life of me how.  Definitely an eerie walk through time.

After this tequila “history lesson” we’ll walk a couple blocks back towards town to Distillery El Llano where the premium Arette tequilas are made.  This is definitely one of the older distilleries but has been gradually modernized throughout the years so it makes for a good “crossover” example.  With any luck you’ll be able to see the autoclaves (huge cylindrical steam ovens) being loaded with pinas (the heart of the agave plant) where they will be steam roasted for up to two days.  Then we’ll see the shredders, fermentation tanks and stills before heading across the street to their little corner bar to sample the finished product and have a cocktail.

By now you’ll have worked up a big appetite after all this walking (and drinking before noon) so we’ve got a very special but relaxingly low key lunch in store.  We’ll shuttle everyone across town and up to the top of a hill to Tequila Mirador, an outdoor restaurant with sweeping views of the entire town of Tequila.  Here we’re going to enjoy a spectacular menu featuring camarones (shrimp) prepared five different ways in five different courses.  After the obligatory welcome Margaritas and cervezas we’ll enjoy: Camarones Agua Chile (cold shrimp cocktail in a spicy citrus broth), Molcajete Camarones (a brothy, hot seafood soup with shrimp served in a molcajete – volcanic rock mortars), Camarones a la Ajillo (shrimp served with non-spicy, garlicky chiles), Camarones Diablo (shrimp served with a sweet/spicy sauce) and Camarones a la Ajo (garlic shrimp).  Shrimp lovers rejoice!  (We’ll have menu options for anyone with shellfish allergies.)

After lunch we’ll shuttle everyone back to the hotel for about two and a half hours of down time to relax or do some shopping or exploring on your own.

After re-energizing for a couple of hours we’ll all meet up again in the evening and take a shuttle to Distiladora Rubio for a sensory exercise in smelling and tasting tequila.  This eye-opening experience will forever change the way you smell and taste tequila … or any spirit for that matter.  You’ll be taught firsthand how to pick out some of the several hundred different aroma and flavor components in Blanco, Reposado and Anejo tequilas by comparing and combining various ingredients like rose petals, quince, strawberries, nuts, citrus skin, chocolate, coffee, vanilla, etc., etc.  We’ll split the group in two here so while half of you are doing the sensory exercise, the other half will be doing a distillery tour and then vice versa.  Distiladora Rubio is a ginormous facility that makes tequila for many other brands including Cuervo’s 1800.

After Distiladora Rubio we’ll walk a couple blocks to La Posta for dinner where we’ll be greeted with a welcome shot, an agua fresca and a cold cerveza at the door.  Tentative menu is salsa made to order in molcajetes with tortillas to start, Steak Tequileno (grilled steak marinated in tequila and spices), Brocheta Agaveras de Res y Pollo (beef and chicken kabobs skewered on agave needles), Chamorro La Posta de Puerco (whole pork shank slow-cooked in a tomato/chipotle sauce), a seasonal vegetarian and seafood dish plus flan for dessert along with a mug of tequila and Kahlua laced Mexican coffee.  After dinner we’ll take a shuttle back to the hotel for the night.

(Tuesday is purposely designed to be a low-key day with all visits within walking distance to the hotel in case anyone needs to duck out and get back to Guadalajara for an earlier flight out … or to perhaps extend your vacation to other cities in Mexico.  Volaris has extremely affordable direct flights out of Guadalajara to Mexico City, Cabo, La Paz and Cancun to name a few.  For example, the first time I went down I flew from TIJ to GDL, then GDL to Mexico City to visit the pyramids, etc., and then Mexico City back to TIJ for $220 total for three one-way flights!)

So anyway, Tuesday morning after breakfast we’ll walk to La Alborada, a micro distillery about five minutes from the hotel.  We’ll tour this tiny distillery and then head over to their tasting room to sample some of their premium tequilas.  Most people think that lime and salt is the perfect accompaniment for tequila but here we’ll learn why orange and cinnamon actually works infinitely better.  And we’ll also sample some of their delicious tequila-based liqueurs.

From there we’ll walk another 5-10 minutes to La Tequileña, the distillery that produces the super-premium Don Fulano tequilas among others.  After a short distillery tour we’ll visit their vast underground barrel aging room, reputed to be the largest in Tequila.  Then we’ll obviously sample the Don Fulano tequilas plus some of the other super-premiums they make like Lapis, AsomBroso and Tres Quatro Cinco.

After this final distillery we’ll walk to Real Marinero, a great seafood restaurant halfway between La Tequileña and the hotel for lunch on your own.  From there it’s back to the hotel to check out and then catch a cab to GDL.  The taxi will take about an hour and a half and the cost will be around 600 pesos (about $13-25 pp depending how many people share the cab).

We’re currently planning to take the 5:10 flight out of GDL back to TIJ … but as I mentioned above, you’re welcome to arrive earlier or later if you want to extend your vacation or fly to another city in Mexico.  Because we’ll pick up two time zones flying back, the 5:10 flight will actually get us into TIJ at 6:13.  From there it’s normally a short two to two-and-a-half hours to cab it to the border, walk through customs, and take the trolley back to downtown San Diego.  Whew!

HOUR BY HOUR ITINERARY

SATURDAY ~ February 22, 2014 and March 1, 2014
09:45 AM arrive downtown to purchase trolley tickets
10:00 AM depart downtown via trolley
11:00 AM arrive border via trolley
11:15 AM exchange currency at border
11:30 AM depart border via taxi
12:00 noon arrive TIJ airport via taxi
12:30 PM get visas at airport
01:38 PM depart TIJ via Volaris
06:28 PM arrive GDL via Volaris (2 hour time difference)
07:15 PM taxi to Hotel Morales
08:15 PM depart hotel via horse-drawn carriage
09:15 PM arrive Cocina 88 for dinner
11:15 PM walk back to hotel from Cocina 88
11:30 PM arrive hotel for the night

SUNDAY ~ February 23, 2014 and March 2, 2014
08:00 AM breakfast on your own
10:00 AM taxi to train station
10:30 AM board train
11:00 AM train departs GDL
01:15 PM train arrives TEQ; get on bus
01:30 PM bus arrives Cuervo
01:45 PM walk to Hotel Plaza Jardin to drop off luggage and then return to Cuervo
02:00 PM Cuervo premium tour and lunch
04:30 PM walk back to Plaza Jardin ~ 1.75 hours free time
06:15 PM shuttle to La Cofradia
06:30 PM La Cofradia tour
08:00 PM dinner at La Cofradia
10:00 PM taxi back to Plaza Jardin
10:15 PM Plaza Jardin for the night

MONDAY ~ February 24, 2014 and March 3, 2014
08:00 AM breakfast on your own
09:30 AM walk to Fortaleza
09:45 AM Fortaleza tour
10:45 AM leave Fortaleza; walk to end of road
11:00 AM have a Cantarito at Los Lavaderos
11:30 AM ancient abandoned distilleries walk
12:00 noon arrive El Llano (Arette) for tour and drink at bar across street
12:45 PM shuttle to Tequila Mirador for lunch
01:00 PM lunch at Tequila Mirador
03:00 PM shuttle back to hotel ~ 2.5 hours free time
05:30 PM shuttle leaves hotel for Distiladora Rubio
05:45 PM arrive Distiladora Rubio
06:00 PM smell / taste Tequila sensory exercise at Distiladora Rubio
07:15 PM distillery tour at Distiladora Rubio
08:00 PM depart Distiladora Rubio; walk to
08:15 PM dinner at La Posta
10:15 PM shuttle back to Plaza Jardin
10:30 PM Plaza Jardin for the night

TUESDAY ~ February 25, 2014 and March 4, 2014
08:00 AM breakfast on your own
10:00 AM walk to La Alborada
10:15 AM arrive La Alborada for boutique tour and tasting
11:15 AM depart La Alborada and walk to Don Fulano
11:30 AM arrive Don Fulano for tour and tasting
12:30 PM depart Don Fulano and walk to Real Marinero for lunch on your own
02:00 PM walk back to hotel; check out; taxi to GDL
03:45 PM arrive GDL
05:10 PM depart GDL via Volaris
06:13 PM arrive TIJ via Volaris (gain 2 time zones)
06:30 PM depart TIJ for border via taxi
07:00 PM arrive border; stand in line for 45 minutes + / –
07:45 PM cross border
08:00 PM trolley to downtown
08:45 PM arrive downtown San Diego

COST:
$725 per person based on double occupancy.  The single occupancy upcharge is $110.  If you’re a single traveling with another single there are also rooms with two beds at no additional charge.  We reserve the right to adjust the final price accordingly if the exchange rate drops below 11.75 pesos to the US dollar.  It’s currently trading in the 12.5 range and rarely drops into the 11’s so I don’t think this will be an issue.

DEPOSITS:
Reservations will not be guaranteed until a deposit of $225.00 per person is received.  Deposits become non-refundable 75 days prior to each trip.  The balance due of $500 per person will be charged 45 days before the trip and becomes non-refundable at that point.

INCLUDED IN COST:
1. All lodging
2. All lunches except Tuesday
3. All dinners
4. All distillery tour fees
5. All cocktails listed above
6. All hotels
7. Train fare for the Cuervo Express

NOT INCLUDED IN COST:
1. Trolley fares to and from the border (plan on $5 per person)
2. Visa (plan on $25 per person)
3. Taxi fares (plan on $40-50 per person)
4. All breakfasts (plan on $20-35 per person)
5. Lunch on Tuesday (plan on $5-15 per person)
6. Air fare to and from GDL from TIJ (plan on about $200 per person)
7. Additional cocktails beyond those included above (plan on $0-50 per person)

MISCELLANEOUS NOTES
1. You MUST have a current passport to get back into the US!

2. You can bring ONE bottle of tequila back into the states.

3. Please note that this is a physical tour that involves lots of walking.  Make sure to wear comfortable walking shoes.  Flip-flops are OK but make sure they have a thick sole as the rough cobblestone streets of Tequila will otherwise wreck havoc on your feet.  High heels?  Don’t even go there.

4. The weather should be fantastic with daytime highs in the 84-89 range and nighttime lows in the 51-54 range with virtually a zero percent chance of rain.