National Tequila Day is on July 24. As you enjoy this popular spirit neat or mixed in your margaritas, perhaps you would curious about its origin. Last year, I took a trip to Tequila Town, Mexico – the birthplace of tequila, and learned firsthand about the art of making, drinking and using by-products of tequila.

Jimador working on Jose Cuervo’s agave fields near Tequila, Mexico

Making Tequila

Made from blue agave, Tequila, also known as Azul Tequilana Weber, is a plant that comes from the states of Jalisco, Colima, Nayarit and Aguascalientes in Mexico. The plant grows in semi arid climates at specific altitudes. Agave means admirable in Greek, and there are more than 136 species. In order to be sold as tequila, the beverage must be distilled from agave grown in certain regions of Mexico. Such areas are mainly Tequila and surrounding municipalities. 

Use organic, GMO-free agave to naturally sweeten desserts and teas

In addition, the plants take an average of seven years to reach maturity. The piña, or pineapple, of the agave plant is roasted for 36 hours. Once sugars and juices are released, it is distilled and stored in barrels.

Merida is another must-see magic town in Mexico.

Pueblo Mágico (Magic Town)

Tequila is a fun, little, tourist town located 45 miles northwest of Guadalajara, in the Mexican state of Jalisco. In this UNESCO World Heritage site appointed town, you will find colorful shops, cobblestone buildings, authentic Mexican restaurants, and over 22 tequila distillers. Most travelers come to Tequila for a day trip, but if you really want to enjoy the town, stay for the evening. After the party crowds thin out, local Mexicans gather in the main square, often performing live music and dance. Not to mention, outdoor markets sell handmade jewelry, bags, souvenirs and agave honey.

There is also a tequila museum where you can see paintings, handlooms, costumes, and exhibits by Mexican artists. Also, you can walk around the town and truly enjoy its charming architecture and unique art. Tequila hides incredible legends and stories wherever you look! The Lavaderos de Tequila remain exactly as they were hundreds of years ago. During that time women washed their garments over the stone basins. In addition, Centro Cultural Juan Beckmann Gallardo shared the national sport (no, it’s not soccer) of charrería (Mexican style horseback riding).

These Mexican clay pots are great for serving cocktails, tea or water.

Grab a cocktail served in a cantaritos (clay pot), and watch voladores, or “flying” dancers perform in the main square.

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Mexican snacks are served on board The Jose Cuervo Express.

Tequila Train

Take the 2-hour train ride on The José Cuervo Express from Guadalajara to Tequila, also known as the “tequila train.” You will not only enjoy sweeping views of agave fields, Rio Grande Canyon, and Tequila volcano (standing at 9,580 feet above sea level), but also get to taste Jose Cuervo tequila brands on board. Depending on the experience you book, you will be served authentic Mexican snacks. Such dishes are tamales, guacamole and frijoles. Cocktails prepared use tequila Traditional® and Jose Cuervo® Especial. Enjoy our Premium Bar: Maestro Tequilero®, Centenario®, 1800®, Rum, Vodka and Whisky, onboard Jose Cuervo Express®.

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Endless blue agave fields make for a picturesque sight.

Agave Fields

I have visited small agave fields in the Caribbean but nothing as vast and scenic as the blue-green Jose Cuervo fields outside of Tequila. I watched how men and women grew, harvested and pruned agave plants in the hot and dry climate. Many of them have been working in the same fields for generations, which they’ve passed on the knowledge of how to care for these delicate plants. The man in charge of cultivating agave is called a Jimador. He is easily recognizable by his traditional attire and swift strong hand movements that remind you of a cowboy.

Read my feature on the women of tequila on CNN Travel.

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Board the Jose Cuervo Express in Guadalajara.

La Rojeña Distillery

La Fábrica La Riojeña is located in the town of Tequila. Established in 1795, it is the oldest active distillery in Latin America. Also, here you can take a guided tour to see the production process from agave roasting in the brick oven to the clear spirit storing in the cellars. Jose Cuervo’s Tradicional Añejo’s distillation process follows Cuervo’s original recipe. First, after aged for 12 months, they are stored in New American oak barrels. Second, Irish single malt whiskey barrels are used to finish them afterward.

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Learn to taste tequila using all your senses

Don’t miss Jose Cuervo’s premium tequila tasting experience where you will learn the proper way to sip tequila (it’s similar to wine tasting), what notes to look for when tasting tequila (nuts, vanilla, figs, cinnamon, caramel), and the best way to serve tequila (hint: it’s plain up, in a flute).

Invest in special glasses and a decanter to serve tequila

Mexican Folk Show

Guests of the tequila train get to experience a colorful cultural music and dance show in the late afternoon. Also, watch tap dancing men and long skirted women light up the stage with energy as the crowd sings along to popular Mexican songs.

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Mexican folklore performance is part of your experience in Tequila

Overnight at Hotel Solar de las Ánimas

Overlooking the main square, so you stay amidst the culture and heritage of the area, is the town’s only luxury hotel – Solar de las Ánimas. From the rooftop bar and pool area, you can see the church of Santiago Apostol (St. James the Apostle), which is the heart of the town of Tequila and the foot of the great volcano.

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Stay in the heart of the city of Tequila.

The hotel’s design is based on a Creole colonial house. Also, the structure is typical of Mexican architecture from the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries.

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Traditional Mexican decor combine with luxurious amenities at Hotel Solar de las Animas.

Spacious rooms and courtyards equipped with modern amenities make you feel you are at the private estate home of a Mexican family. Here you can also get a relaxing massage at the spa. You can also lay by the pool, rent bikes to explore the surroundings, and taste many flavors of margaritas. In addition, my personal favorite is the Pineapple and Chili Express. Also, it’s an infusion of tequila Traditional Plata, pineapple, Serrano chili, lemon juice, agave syrup, angostura and egg whites. 

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Take an afternoon break at restaurant La Antigua Casona with fresh-made churros and hot chocolate.

Restaurant La Antigua Casona serves scrumptious breakfasts. The restaurant also has a floral courtyard while naturally lit and colorfully tiled. Try huevos rancheroschilaquiles, or the signature weekend breakfast buffets that include local specialties such as posole, maduros, and pan dulce.

Stay Safe at Mundo Cuervo

On June 15, 2020, the destination team of Mundo Cuervo – covering six exceptional experiences in Tequila, Jalisco, Mexico – announced the reopening of the Relais & Chateaux Solar de las Animas Hotel, the La Antigua Casona Restaurant, and the Jose Cuervo Stores, following a comprehensive safety protocol designed to ensure the safety of all guests and staff during COVID-19.

Following recommendations by the World Health Organization (WHO) and the Federal, State and Local Health authorities, some key changes include limiting capacity to 50% at the hotel, restaurant and Jose Cuervo Express Train. Further, all pools and gyms are reduced to 25% capacity. There is also 24-hour room service, antibacterial gel dispensers with sensor activation, temperature measurement at entry points, obligatory use of face-masks, industry-specific cleaning and disinfection protocols, enforced physical distancing in all common areas, QR codes to verify capacity before entry, and payment only by credit/debit cards.

Groups at La Rojeña Distillery and JBG Cultural Center Tours are limited to 20 people. Face masks are required, and social distancing is enforced.

Here’s an easy Agave Way cocktail recipe from the Historic Hotel St. Francis in Santa Fe, New Mexico that you can try on National Tequila Day!

Just add this margarita mix to tequila for your homemade cocktail