Charming Retreat in Mexico

<i> Merin is a New York City free-lance writer</i> .

From the turn of the century to the 1950s the town of Tlaquepaque (TLA-kay-pah-kay), about three miles from downtown Guadalajara, was a suburban retreat for wealthy citizens who wanted to escape from the bustle of city life to idyllic country weekends.

It was also an escape for artists who wanted space, privacy and a peaceful environment in which to establish their studios. Although expanding Guadalajara engulfed Tlaquepaque decades ago, the town has retained its charm and calm, its pretty tree-lined streets and old pastel-colored buildings.

During the mid-1970s buildings, parks and streets were refurbished, several pedestrian-only promenades were established and chic galleries and boutiques moved into converted colonial mansions. Tlaquepaque became one of Mexico’s most famous shopping districts.

It has more than 200 shops, with the biggest concentration of boutiques, featuring tempting displays of clothing and crafts, on Avenida Independencia, a pedestrian-only street that extends for about five blocks between Ninos Heroes and Obregon.


Leather Goods

Lower street numbers are closer to Tlaquepaque’s main square, known as El Parian or the zocalo . Here are some highlights:

Leo e Hijos (Independencia 150) sells leather clothes and accessories, including soft leather trousers ($134), bomber jackets ($243), desert boots in neutral leather ($40), wallets ($7) and oversize carryalls ($45). Craftsmanship is excellent and the variety of styles and colors is impressive.

Caoba (Independencia 156) features fine home accessories, including unusual vases shaped like lizards ($15), giant clay pots with a finish that makes them look like rusted metal ($30 and up), brown ceramics accented with a bright green glaze ($25 and up) and ceramic and carved napkin rings ($50 each).


Caoba also has an appealing selection of rustic-looking furniture, including armoires ($200 and up), tables ($175 and up) and chairs ($75 and up).

Bazar Hecht (Independencia 158) sells a variety of clothing and personal accessories as well as home items. Featured are Diane Martin’s Opus One designer line in colorful cotton, with contrasting appliques of geometric and animal motifs as well as traditional embroidered blouses and dresses.

There are attractive Guatemalan-style woven carryalls ($10) and pretty beads ($20 and up), plus elaborate dolls ($24), solid brass apples ($23) and candlestick holder sets that stack into a tree for storage ($22).

Designs for the Home

Mis Ochos Reales Bazar (Independencia 173) has terrific furniture. Beautifully upholstered couches have hand-carved wooden frames with baroque floral motifs ($800 and up) or delicate rattan frames with lots of curlicues ($300 and up).

Tables have hand-carved wooden bases that look like racing horses or other animals ($500 and up), and there are many glazed ceramic pineapple-shaped water jugs in various sizes ($40 and up).

Bazar Barrera (Independencia 205) is a menagerie of ceramic, brass, papier-mache, straw and wooden birds. Many species (including some fantasy breeds) are represented, but the parrot is clearly this shop’s favorite feathered friend.

The birds are realistic or stylized, very colorful and attractive. They sell for about $10 and up. Especially appealing are the brass and ceramic ducks ($18 and up), with pretty flowers painted on their ceramic wings.


Dramatic and Colorful

Irene Pulos (Independencia 210B) designs and makes dramatic and colorful caftans, long and short dresses and pantsuits with appliqued flowers and embroidered geometric patterns. They are about $225 and up.

The shop’s accessories include Tuya & Mia’s hand-painted folk bracelets ($18), embroidered pocketbooks ($17), charming necklaces made of hundreds of tiny ceramic cups ($14) and Huichole beaded bowls and bags. Pulos is a terrific find for anyone who likes unusual, distinctive and beautiful wearables.

Plateria Tlaquepaque (Independencia 211) is a series of small silver shops with a good selection of earrings ($8 and up), bracelets ($14 and up) and necklaces ($20 and up). It also has some picture frames, candlestick holders and platters. The styles are not that unusual, but the quality is good.

La Rosa de Cristal (Independencia 232) makes and sells hand-blown glass. The shop is filled with reasonably priced blue or red glass goblets and tumblers ($2 and up per glass), with matching pitchers ($15 and up).

Also the shop shows dozens of glittering glass animals in all shapes and colors ($2 and up). The shop carries stoneware dishes and serving bowls with pretty floral motifs (five-piece place settings cost $23 and up).

House of an Artist

Sergio Bustamente Gallery (Independencia 236) shows this Mexican surrealist sculptor’s latest works, in addition to the limited editions of his well-known pieces, including rabbits hatching out of eggs, lizards emerging from shells and other intriguing subjects. This was Bustamente’s first gallery and it remains his headquarters, with a more complete selection of his work than is available elsewhere.


Casa Canela (Independencia 258) is a gallery of exclusive and expensive colonial antiques, art and hand-carved stone artifacts as well as ceramics from Puebla and other regions of Mexico.

Casas de Mexico (Independencia 393) has its own line of Southwest-style furniture, including bed headboards, tables, chairs, chests and armoires, with rough-finished blond wood. The shop designs and manufactures its own upholstery fabrics, mostly heavy hand-woven cottons in pastel geometric patterns that are also used to decorate traditional equipales (chairs made of logs with leather seats and backs).

Tlaquepaque’s Museo Regional de la Ceramica (Independencia 237) offers an overview of local crafts, with an emphasis on antique and modern pottery from towns surrounding Guadalajara. Exhibitions include original pieces by highly acclaimed ceramists from Tonala and other towns, and photographs of master craftsmen at work. Huichole Indian crafts are also shown.

The museum occupies a wonderful colonial building with a lovely courtyard and garden, and is open, free, Tuesday through Saturday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. and Sunday from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m.

Boutiques Galore

Avenida Juarez, a street one block south of Independencia and parallel to it, is also lined with boutiques featuring casual clothes and craft items. Of special interest are Tete (Juarez 173) for high-quality crafts, Puente Viejo (Juarez 159) for a charming selection of painted tin fish and butterflies and El Aguila Descalza (Juarez 120) for colorful cotton dresses and blouses.

However, Juarez usually has heavy and somewhat aggressive traffic. Be careful as you zigzag from one side to the other to look in windows.

Avenidas Independencia and Juarez begin (or end) at the lively main plaza, El Parian, which is filled with kids playing games and with mariachis. El Parian is lined with sidewalk cafes, bars and souvenir shops, and there are always street vendors hawking blankets, sweaters, straw hats and silver.

Prices are negotiable, so you can get some good buys. But beware the possibility (or should I say probability ?) of buying “100% wool” sweaters that are really synthetics, or “silver” that’s less than sterling.

It’s easy to get to Tlaquepaque from downtown Guadalajara. Taxis are available, but public buses are almost as convenient and much cheaper. Buses marked “Tlaquepaque” or “San Juan de Dios-San Pedro-Tonala” run along Calzada Independencia. The trip takes about half an hour, maximum.

If you’re driving, go south on Calzada Independencia Sur and turn left (east) on Avenida Revolucion, which takes you into Tlaquepaque. A public parking garage is at the corner of Obregon and Morelos, about a block from El Parian.

Prices quoted in this article reflect currency exchange rates at the time of writing .