Mexico Travel

Guanajuato: The Most Beautiful City in Mexico?

November 10, 2014

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.

Guanajuato, Mexico

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).

Pípila - Guanajuato, Mexico


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.

Guanajuato, Mexico

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.

Guanajuato, Mexico

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.

Guanajuato, Mexico

Guanajuato, Mexico

Guanajuato, Mexico


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.)

Guanajuato, Mexico

Guanajuato, Mexico

Guanajuato, Mexico

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.

Guanajuato, Mexico

Basílica de Nuestra Señora de Guanajuato – We peeked into this famous church one night only to find they were actually having mass, and anyone was welcome.

Guanajuato, Mexico

Um yeah, we bought hats. 80 pesos? Why not?!

Guanajuato, Mexico

Guanajuato, Mexico

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.

Guanajuato, Mexico

Guanajuato, Mexico - Cervantino

Cervantes is responding to Shakespeare to tell him, “Don’t forget to put it on Facebook.” I had to ask a Mexican friend about the word “Feis” and he explained it was “Face” spelled phonetically in Spanish.

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.

Guanajuato, Mexico

Guanajuato, Mexico

Universidad de Guanajuato – Pretty impressive architecture, huh? The building was actually controversial when it was first built (and still is, to some) as many think it dominates over the surrounding historic, colonial style of the city.

Guanajuato, Mexico

“Between 1554 and 1557, silver was found in abundance and Guanajuato was born” … like I said.

Guanajuato, Mexico

Guanajuato, Mexico

Templo de la Compañía de Jesus – A huge cathedral built by the Jesuits in the 18th century

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.

Guanajuato, Mexico

Guanajuato, Mexico

Looks a bit like Italy, right?

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.

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  • Reply Jordan November 10, 2014 at 9:19 pm

    Incredible pictures! You really have a great eye- and the colors, wow! Can’t wait to hear about what you ate!!

  • Reply Rachel G November 12, 2014 at 10:34 pm

    I love all of the colors of the buildings! And i’m so intrigued by the fact that there’s a system of tunnels underground for cars–sounds like walking around would be so much nicer without cars in the way!
    Rachel G recently posted…A Serious Discussion of the Awesomeness of Theme ParksMy Profile

    • Reply Rachel November 13, 2014 at 3:24 am

      It definitely is much better for walking and exploring! I’m pretty sure the owner of our B&B told us there were only four main streets throughout the city for cars. When directing cabs, you often have to use the nearest monument or focal point rather than the actual address because they can’t go down many of the callejones.
      Rachel recently posted…Food and Drinking in GuanajuatoMy Profile

  • Reply Marcella @ WhatAWonderfulWorld November 12, 2014 at 10:43 pm

    Oh my gosh! I can’t stop staring at that first photograph. Those colours are mesmerising, you have totally sold this city to me! 🙂

    • Reply Rachel November 13, 2014 at 3:27 am

      Thanks! When we first arrived, it was pretty amazing that it looked as great as we’d heard. I highly recommend a visit! It would be a great city to photograph, especially by someone with actual knowledge of photography and a good camera.
      Rachel recently posted…Food and Drinking in GuanajuatoMy Profile

  • Reply Cynthia November 14, 2014 at 2:18 pm

    Stunning photos! I have been hoping for weeks that someone would post for Travel Tuesday about Mexico so I am sooo happy to see this. My friend lived there for awhile with a host family and have heard nothing but incredible things about Guanajuato. I would love to see it for myself someday 🙂
    Cynthia recently posted…living without stuff, pt. IIMy Profile

    • Reply Rachel November 17, 2014 at 8:39 pm

      Thanks so much! It was really incredible to wake up to these views in the morning. It’s like they weren’t even real. I hear lots of people choose Guanajuato to study Spanish and it’s also home to a lot of retirees. I definitely recommend a visit!

  • Reply Yalanda @ Laugh Anyway November 15, 2014 at 3:31 pm

    What a gorgeous city! I love how all the houses appear stacked in the hills and the colors are so beautiful!
    Yalanda @ Laugh Anyway recently posted…ABCs of TravelMy Profile

    • Reply Rachel November 17, 2014 at 8:42 pm

      Thanks! Most of the homes were concrete and I do think several of them were built into the sides of the hills… and painted apparently whatever color you decide! I love that they’re so bright… not at all like the generic brick, beiges and I see at home.

  • Reply Courtney November 16, 2014 at 8:29 pm

    I am so floored by your gorgeous photos! Guanajuato looks beyond stunning. When I think of traveling to Mexico, my mind immediately goes to coastal beach vacations – but it looks like I have to give inland Mexico a chance now! I’m obsessed with those eye-popping colors and the contrast of the mountains!
    Courtney recently posted…One Year ExpatversaryMy Profile

    • Reply Rachel November 17, 2014 at 8:44 pm

      Thanks! The colors are crazy and everything there really is so picturesque. It was really cool to get away from the typical tourist destinations and beach resorts and see more culture. (And if I took these photos with an iPhone, just imagine what a real fancy camera could do!)

  • Reply Julie (The Red Headed Traveler) November 17, 2014 at 2:17 am

    This post is one of the many reasons I want to go to Guanajuato! I’ve been to Queretaro and San Miguel de Allende but didn’t make it here and I’m so sad! And yes, so much of Mexico (and other Latin American cities) feel “so “European which does make sense and all 🙂 But it’s a terrific lower costing alternative, and one with less jet lag too! That first photo does look photo shopped, so gorgeous!
    Julie (The Red Headed Traveler) recently posted…The Best Of-PeruMy Profile

    • Reply Rachel November 19, 2014 at 1:24 am

      Thanks so much! We met some girls on our flight who were heading to San Miguel and some expats at breakfast who lived there. I wish I could have visited! I feel like so many people miss out on this side of Mexico!

  • Reply phyllis November 20, 2014 at 8:43 pm

    wow, what a visual feast! I love the crumbling purple & green wall… something about it sticks… decaying Barney? lol

    • Reply Rachel November 20, 2014 at 10:22 pm

      Haha, totally a Barney motif, that’s true! Thanks so much, it was a super impressive place.

  • Reply Diana @ Life in German. November 26, 2014 at 4:40 pm

    My brother in law got married in the “Basílica de Nuestra Señora de Guanajuato”, I didn’t get to go though, because my daughter was just 10 days old… did you get to visit el callejon del beso?
    Diana @ Life in German. recently posted…Hospital or Travel Entertainment?My Profile

  • Reply Walt August 27, 2015 at 12:14 am

    Love your photos. I have been living in Guanajuato for about a year and a half now, a transplant from NC. I wake up every morning to this beautiful, panoramic view of the city. My family and I feel truly blessed living here.

    • Reply Rachel August 27, 2015 at 7:50 am

      I LOVED Guanajuato and could definitely see myself living there. It’s so beautiful and colorful (and the food is great). That’s awesome that you’re from NC! Very cool.

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  • Reply Guanajuato: The Most Beautiful City In Mexico? | Let's Go Away! Travel Blog October 30, 2016 at 10:44 am

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  • Reply Isa Nu November 24, 2017 at 1:23 pm

    Thank you for this beautiful post! Amazing pictures!! Loved your blog! You are welcome anytime to Guanajuato!

    • Reply Rachel December 1, 2017 at 1:24 pm

      Thanks so much Isa! Guanajuato is SO amazing. I’d love to get back there soon! I love Mexico.

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