January 4 to January 10, 2010
Looking for a fun overnight RVing destination in the Guadalajara region. Here's an idea!
The following story was researched and written by Jane Hogle and Ray Talley, two of the most experienced and active Mexico RVers around.
A note of caution. We haven't done this but it looks to us like you'd want to have a little Mexico experience under your belt before trying it. Definitely not something for your first trip to the interior!
We have always loved going to Tonala, a suburb of Guadalajara, and shopping. It is said, and it’s true, that if it’s for sale in Tlaquepaque, it’s made in Tonala! The only problem with shopping in either place is the distance from a place to stay. The nearest real RV park is San Jose del Tajo. Even though they readily provide maps of the bus routes to and from Tonala and Tlaquepaque, it’s a 1.5+ hour bus ride each way, or a 45 minute drive if you have a tow. Just not a fun way to shop, especially if you are tempted by some of the larger items!
In January of 2009, we decided that there must be a place to stay right in Tonala, so decided to explore. We had a wonderful time, and it worked SO well, that we doubted our luck. We just did the same little jaunt last week, January 2010, with the same fabulous results, so it’s time to share!
Tonala is known for great shopping, especially glass, metal artwork/yard art, ceramics, and some high-end specialty stuff: Ken Edwards ceramics are there, as is the quality paper mache art of Sermel. There is a tremendous amount to see and do and shop for in Tonala. Use your favorite Mexico guide book.
Tonala has market days on Thursday and Sunday. The crowds are huge, the selection even larger and the place is a fun madhouse. We actively chose to spend our nights in Tonala not on market days to make things easy on us. Realistically, there is no reason to avoid the market days, as long as you know what you are getting into!
OK, here is the scoop: The vendors need a place that is open early and stays open late for them to set up, drive in from distances, and be ready to set up early the next morning.
Logic dictated that the main parking lot should be open for over night parking, right? So in ‘09 we entered the main parking lot on a Tuesday afternoon to see how it worked. First thing we learned was that the main entrance is designed for small vehicles, NOT motorhomes!!! Took us forever, with vendors moving their product, awnings, anchors, everything for us to get into the parking area with great humor expressed by all. The entrance guys told us how to leave in the morning and approach in the future, where the bathrooms were, night security was based, and the best place to park. We returned this year, 2010, following their advice, using the “large vehicle” entrance on the side street. We were charged the same both years for our night, 56p, when we left.
Here are the details:
Take the Tonala exit off of the periferico. It is a regular overpass/exit configuration like you see in the US and Canada. You will immediately come to a stop light, Avenida Tonala. At the light, the street will break into 8 lanes, 4 in the middle with a median and 2-lane laterals for heavy traffic on each side, also separated by medians from the central lanes. Technically you should take the lateral for the first block and then merge back into the center lanes far left--you will be turning left in another block at Calle Matamoros. Turn left, carefully, across the 4 oncoming lanes of traffic. You are entering a 2-way street. In less than 100 meters, there will be a driveway on the right labeled Estacionamiento (big E with a circle around it). Pull right in if the gate is open, or pull in as close as you can if the wrought iron gate is locked (it will not be closed on market days). If the gate is locked you will be blocking traffic, but this is a regular occurrence, and the light traffic will go around you.
Here you have choices: Get out and duck through the missing bars of the gate and ask the vendors in front of you to unlock the gate for you (this is the fastest and easiest on the stress of your driver); or walk straight ahead across the parking lot to the car entrance--you’ll see the shack--and ask or point to the gate you want opened (this is time consuming and adds to the stress of your driver blocking traffic but may be necessary if the nearest vendor with a key is busy); or walk on the sidewalk around the parking area to the car entrance and ask or point to where you are waiting (this would be the most time consuming and frankly not a choice I would make).
Finally, drive in this entrance, good for any size/height vehicle, and park. We had suggested to us both times to park about 3 rows in from the main street for its access to the bathrooms and security. We backed in, and spent fascinating nights people watching. We felt very secure both times, partially because there is security at night, and many vendors leave their stock there, simply wrapped in plastic, or tarps, with people sleeping nearby. It was quiet, too!
When it’s time to leave, if the exit gate that is next to the gate you entered isn’t open, just walk back over to the car entrance and ask/point, and they will let you out. This is when you will pay for your night. If you pay when you come in, they have to write you a receipt, and that’s not the way it’s done.
Things that we have figured out to make this user friendly for everyone include the following:
Hours, for store fronts and vendors are 10-6, 7 days a week. No afternoon break. There’s lots of great food and drink widely available, from the lady with several insulated containers of hot beverages at 6:30 in the morning to the little restaurants scattered throughout the town. The people love having a motorhome there, we are shoppers, and interesting, although they never approached us directly, just looked us over as they went about their business. We backed into where we parked for the night, and had lots of space. If it was market day the next day, we would have parked at an angle just to make sure we wouldn’t get hemmed in.
We really enjoyed being able to arrive mid-afternoon, shop some, look lots, sleep on what we saw, and return mid-morning to shop more, and pick up or reject items we had seen the day before.
Another great thing???? If you are out of Tonala by 1 or so, you can still easily make Villa Corona, San Jose del Tajo, or our choice, Tepic for the night!
Tlaquepaque is a short bus or taxi ride too, so you can stay a couple of nights and do both!
Tonala and Tlaquepaque are great places to visit and shop, and finally there is a way to do it!