I knew Guanajuato, a colonial city in central Mexico, was going to be filled with colorful buildings, great views, and steep cobblestone streets, but I don’t think I was prepared for how impressively beautiful the city was going to be. Guanajuato looks like it was surgically removed from Europe and dropped in the middle of rugged, mountainous Mexican desert. Since Bertha was in the midst of wedding
chaos preparations, she suggested we take the bus to Guanajuato for a couple nights. Turns out two days was just enough time to experience the city.
Yeah, that picture is for real.
I pretty much rocked the reservations for our accommodations in Guanajuato (more on our B&B later) and got us a place that overlooked the entire city, allowing us to wake up to views like this each morning. A quick thirty-second walk over to the Pípila, a monument to the historic hero of Guanajuato, allowed us more great views and the opportunity to walk down to the city if we didn’t feel like taking the funicular (my first funicular and the only one in all of Mexico by the way).
History Lesson: The Spanish took interest in Guanajuato when huge amounts of silver were found in the area, and the city was colonized in the 1500’s. When the local Mexicans rose up to fight for independence in the 1800’s, Guanajuato (in addition to nearby Dolores and San Miguel de Allende) became a center for revolutionary action. The Spanish barricaded themselves in the stone granary (the “alhóndiga”) along with lots of silver and riches, when Pípila (some say alone, some say leading other revolutionaries) took a torch and burned the down its wooden door, the only entrance to the alhóndiga, allowing the Mexican revolutionaries to break in, kill the Spanish, and take the building and later the city.
The inscription on the monument above (which contemplates that Pípila lived through the incident) says, “There are still other alhóndigas to burn.” Pretty romantic. Pretty badass.
One day we chose to walk down the hills to the city center rather than take the funicular, based on the recommendation of a fellow B&B guest at breakfast. Their advice of “When in doubt, go left” was helpful and the colorful buildings we saw on the way down were well worth the steep walk, heavy breathing, and shaking muscles that overcame us even though we were walking downhill. What?! Yeah, I get really out of shape while traveling.
There are very few streets for cars throughout Guanajuato as the city is comprised of an collection of side streets and narrow winding alleys (“callejónes”) that only pedestrians can use. However, there is an intricate system of tunnels underneath the city for cars. Aside from our trips to and from the bus station upon arrival and departure, we didn’t need to take cabs the whole time we were there. The city is super walkable.
Now I totally get that Mexico is huge and has lots of natural wonders, brilliant Caribbean beaches with palm trees, regions of mountains, and tons of ancient ruins. But for an interior city, hell for any city, Guanajuato’s architecture, colors, hills, and winding cobblestone streets are really hard to beat. It’s f’n beautiful and you can’t beat these views anywhere. I kept looking out at the views of the city and trying to decide what outrageous color I would paint my house if I lived here. (I’m thinking bright royal blue or coral at the moment.)
Even Charlie was
blown away impressed by the beauty of Guanajuato and I was happy that I’d resisted the urge to make any strict plans for us while we were there. Instead we just wandered (with no maps) relying on the occasional signs with points of interest labelled on them. The next day I got a little smarter and took some screenshots of Google Maps on my phone to find some of the local spots we wanted to hit.
Besides checking out all the street food and markets (don’t worry, I’m saving the food of Guanajuato for a later post), we also saw churches, fountains, the inside of some bars (obviously), and the museum that was once Diego Rivera’s childhood home. We even talked to a few locals and were stopped by some university students for a quick interview and a photo.
Aside from the colorful buildings and wandering, it was also the Festival Internacional Cervantino, a three week long festival of art, dance, music, and theater attracting artists from all over- Japan was actually a big participant. The city was packed with Mexican and international tourists there for the events. There were shows daily and nightly, free entertainment in the street, music, mimes, and stages with everything from pop and classical to heavy metal bands.
The students from the nearby University of Guanajuato (those who weren’t actively protesting the recent disappearance of 43 Mexican students in Guerrero) we’re participating in the festivities, dressed in Renaissance ensembles, selling tickets to shows all over the place and offering to take pictures with eager tourists. We may or may not have bought tickets for a show… then we may or may not have consumed Coronas and tequilas all afternoon and become unable to find said show despite asking several locals, Renaissance people, and police for directions.
There were so many open plazas lined with restaurants, trees, and fountains where you and your entire family could sit for drinks, coffee, or a meal. It all felt so European with the pigeons, gardens, and tiny tables… you know, give or take the 18,000 different mariachis who would approach and ask if you wanted a song during your dinner or afternoon drinks. There were whole bands of mariachis, and then there were soloists, guitarists, saxophonists, and even accordionists (which I LOVE by the way,).
A simple “no, gracias” would send them away quickly, but we did get in the mood for a few songs at the bar one afternoon, despite the fact that until then I’d thought being serenaded would be the most awkward shit ever. Well, my friends, it is not. In fact, it is kind of awesome.
I gotta give it to em though, the town was full of hustlers. Our favorite mariachis were the guys who would just walk up to a restaurant or bar and start playing, not to anyone in particular, without asking. At the end of the song, they would walk around to each of the tables and were sure to make a few bucks from the people who had been sitting there listening and enjoying. Thanks bro, I’ll throw a few pesos at that.
Several times I thought (and said out loud to Charlie each time), “You know, if people are looking for a nice, European feel with cheaper prices and a much cheaper plane ticket, I would totally send them to Guanajuato.” Of course the local people, food, and mariachis are distinctly Mexican and it’s the mix of these things that make Guanajuato so intriguing and fun, without being super intimidating to the average tourist. Of course, a little basic Spanish would help anyone!
And per usual, everyone and their mother wants to you eat at their restaurant and buy their souvenirs (and spend your pesos at their shop on their fedoras), but they are so welcoming and friendly about it that we were happy to oblige way too often. This was a theme that continued throughout our whole trip through Mexico (and that might be why we have presently vowed to be cheap and maybe not go out quite so much these next few weeks back in Raleigh).
The nearest airport to Guanajuato is Del Bajío International Airport (BJX). The airport isn’t actually located in Guanajuato (affectionately known as GTO), so it’s about a 40 minute cab ride into the city (400-450 pesos). There are also buses to GTO from nearby Silao or León. Since we were in Celaya, we took a PrimeraPlus bus to the GTO bus station and then a 50 peso cab to our B&B. Any cab rides throughout the city should be 35-40 pesos. During Cervantino, hotels and any shows should be booked well in advance. The city is small and fills up fast.