Sasha and I spend part of the year living in Mexico, so we we have thoroughly enjoyed exploring all that this beautiful and vast country has to offer! In this blog post I’ll detail how to spend a weekend in Guanajuato, one of Mexico’s most colorful cities.
In 1560, Spaniards learned of silver in Guanajuato and shortly thereafter established the town’s first mines. The Spaniards brought four indigenous groups to work on the mines and built a church for each group to keep them separated. The silver mines brought wealth to the city, and thus, put Guanajuato on the map.
To this day you’ll see many signs reminiscent of mining days; even the town’s popular food is called enchiladas mineras (miner’s enchiladas). Sitting at an elevation of 2,045 meters (6,700′), this quaint town is nestled in a valley, its vibrantly colored homes dotting the hillsides with cobblestone streets leading to the multiple plazas throughout the city.
In this blog post, I’ll provide a little history of Guanajuato, and outline the Top 14 Things To See and Do in Guanajuato. Let’s jump in!
Guanajuato is extremely dense, with buildings nearly touching one another. Parts of this city reminded us of the colorful cliffside of Cinque Terre in Italy. Due to Guanajuato’s narrow streets, they had to figure out a way for cars to come in and out of the city, so their solution was to go underground where the Rio Guanajuato used to flow! With the river flowing just beneath the city, after heavy rains there would be frequent flooding, with the worst flood occurring in 1905:
See that blue sign in the photo above? That’s where the water level rose up to! After this terrible flood, it was decided to build an underground tunnel system. Even though the bulk of traffic is routed into the tunnels underground, car traffic is still allowed in the main part of the city, but you will see zero traffic lights! Walking through the narrow alleyways was so much fun and part of the charm of this beautiful city, reminding us of wandering in Venice.
TOP 14 THINGS TO DO IN GUANAJUATO
- Take a free walking tour or hire a private guide
- Try a Oaxacan mocha from Cafe Tal
- Check out the stellar view of the funicular and Pipila from Oajillo Cafe (inside the Carcamanes 17 Hotel)
- Take the funicular up to the mirador to see the statue of Pipila
- Kiss your lover at the Callejon del Beso (the alley of the kiss)
- Hidalgo Market
- University of Guanajuato
- Teatro Juarez
- Visit all the plazas (there are over 15!!)
- Join a night time Callejoneada – night time walking tours led by musicians
- Take a day trip to San Miguel de Allende
- Diego Rivera’s home
- Mummy Museum
- Cubilete Hill & Christ the King Monument
- Hike Cerro De La Bufa
Exploring Mexico during this time has been such a unique experience. Whilst we have enjoyed having streets to ourselves and full attention from waitstaff and a plethora of accommodation options with the ability to book last minute, it also makes us sad to not be able to experience a city how it normally is; buzzing with University students and filled with international tourists.
TAKE A WALKING TOUR
One of the greatest charms of this city is walking along the cobblestone streets and getting lost in maze of narrow alleyways that seem to all lead to a beautiful plaza. Fun fact: there are over 15 plazas in the city center alone!, which gives this town a really cozy feeling because you feel enveloped each time you pass a new plaza. At each plaza, there are usually restaurants, shops, or shady covered benches with beautiful manicured trees.
Don’t miss the chocolate shop called Xocola-t, inside the Plaza Fuente del Baratillo. They make everything by hand and have unique flavors to the region like maracuya (passion fruit), mezcal, and tamarind pop rocks that crackle when you bite into them.
The first thing you should do prior to setting out on exploring the city by foot, is stop by Cafe Tal for a mocha; they make their chocolate sauce in house with pure ground cacao, milk, sugar and cinnamon. It was one of the best mochas I’ve had in my life (and we live in Seattle, so that’s a huge statement!) It’s a tiny window off the street just across from La Iglesia de la Compania en Puebla (the pink church). They have alternative milk options available.
The first thing Sasha and I do whenever we visit a new city, is take a free walking tour. However, because Guanajuato is a University town and all the students are back home distance learning and (foreign) tourism is virtually non-existent, unfortunately they weren’t running the free walking tours. However, we luckily stumbled upon a delicious restaurant called Oajillo Cafe inside the Carcamanes 17 Hotel, who highly recommended a private guide named Susana, so we hired her for three hours to show us around. Susana was a wealth of knowledge, and I highly recommend reaching out to her! You can book your tour here.
Oajillo Cafe has a downstairs area, which was perfect for a half day of working, and an upstairs terraza (terrace), perched atop a hill with the most picture perfect view of the funicular and Pipila with El Cerro de la Bufa mountains in the distance. It looked like a painting.
This place is great for breakfast, and they serve THE BEST drinks! Try their agua del dia (water of the day) and their house-made specialty coffee drinks with whiskey and mezcal! They also hold mezcal tastings.
If you’re looking for a reasonably priced hotel, you really can’t beat the location of Carcamanes 17. The only negative reviews I saw on Booking.com were that the beds were not so comfortable. But the staff was very friendly and the space is chic and filled with light.
TAKE THE FUNICULAR UP TO THE MIRADOR PIPILA
This is where you’ll find the famous views of Guanajuato that you’ll see on all the magazine covers and blog posts. You can either take the funicular up (a fun experience) or walk up, or do a combination of both. We took the funicular up and walked down.
So, who is Pipila? A local miner whose real name is Juan José de los Reyes Martínez Amaro, rose to fame in 1810. During this time, Spanish rulers had barricaded themselves inside a granary to protect themselves from local revolutionaries. In order to break down a heavy wooden door, Pipila strapped a huge rock to his back to protect himself, and set fire to the wooden door, allowing the revolutionaries to quickly enter and overrun the Spaniards inside the building.
KISS YOUR LOVER AT THE CALLEON DEL BESO (ALLEY OF THE KISS)
Legend has it that Guanajuato has their very own Romeo and Juliet love story, though this whole city is filled with leyendas (legends), so nobody has verified if this story is actually true. The story is about a girl who came from a wealthy family and lived with her family in this apartment. She fell in love with a boy who was from a poor family, but her parents prohibited her from seeing him. So that they could be closer, the boy rented the apartment just across from hers, and the balconies are so close that every night they would kiss each other from their balcony. One evening the girl’s father saw her kissing the poor boy, and he killed his own daughter. The boy was so distraught he committed suicide.
(I already see flaws in this story; how would a poor boy be able to afford a nice apartment right next door to where a wealthy family lives?) But alas, allow me not to ruin it for you. If you kiss your partner here, you will seal an ever-lasting love (Sasha and I already have an everlasting love, but to heck with it, we did it anyway just to not have bad luck.) 😉
This is a stunning market inside the architecture of an old train station where you can find anything from fresh local produce, to artisanal crafts, to Mexican candy, smoothies, and fresh tacos!
I bought a beautiful leather purse for $11 USD and really unique dia de los muertos leather shoes for $20 USD.
VISIT THE UNIVERSITY OF GUANAJUATO
The University of Guanajuato was founded in the middle of the 18th century, and the building was constructed from limestone, which comes from the hills of Guanajuato.
Right in the main city center you will find the beautiful Juarez Theatre. Atop the theatre you will find the 9 muses of Greek mythology.
I love the juxtaposition of this next photo because you’ll see Pipila on the far left top, two statues in front of the theatre, and a student dressed in a costume (he’s a salesman for the Callejoneada, while I’ll explain a bit later.) The costumed student is on his cell phone, whilst the statue just to his right is playing an instrument; ahh, ’tis the juxtaposition of classic and modern societies.
VISIT ALL THE PLAZAS!
There are over 15 plazas in the city center alone! One of our favorite slow-travel things to do is aimlessly wandering, being surprised and delighted at each turn, each alley, and each cobblestone street leading to something wonderful.
JOIN A CALLEJONEADA
A Callejoneada is a night time walking tour led by musicians. It’s basically a drunken party on the streets and wasn’t really our cup of tea, but I’m glad we tried it anyway! You’ll see “getters” all over the streets at all hours of the day. These men are dressed in costumes and they are the salesmen to get you to sign up for the tour (it’s around $8 USD per person.) You’ll meet in one of the central plazas at a designated time, and a group of singing and dancing men will lead you around the streets and tell you some history of the city. Something to note is that the tour is entirely led in Spanish. Even though I speak Spanish, he spoke so quickly and because it was so noisy I wasn’t able to understand, so we left the tour early.
TAKE A DAY TRIP TO SAN MIGUEL DE ALLENDE
San Miguel de Allende is just a 1.5-hour drive from Guanajuato, and there are several ways to get there. You can rent a car, take a bus, or take a taxi. Sasha and I found out the hard way that Uber drivers do not prefer to go on long trips because they get paid so little that it barely covers the cost of their petrol. This is opposite in the U.S. because longer trips typically mean more money, but not in Mexico. We waited cumulatively over 30 minutes and had two Uber drivers cancel our trips without understanding why. Then one finally picked us up and informed us that they won’t take the trip unless we pay extra to cover their gas. We thought this was completely fair so we cancelled the Uber ride and paid directly in cash (650 pesos each way, or $32 USD.) Taxis charge a bit more, and we didn’t want to take a bus with other people on board, so this was our best option. You can read more about San Miguel De Allende in my blog post here.
The last four things on my list unfortunately we did not have time to do, but they are highly recommended by other bloggers. During the pandemic, unfortunately Diego Rivera’s home is closed. The Museo de Momias (Mummy Museum) houses bodies that were dug up between 1870 and 1958 and were said to be people who perished during a cholera outbreak. Guanajuato’s climate is said to be conducive to natural mummification, however, these bodies were also embalmed.
Located one hour from the city is Cubilete Hill & Christ the King Monument, which provides sweeping views of the city from a bird’s eye view. If you’re feeling adventurous and want a great sweat, you can also hike Cerro de la Bufa, the mountains just above the city of Guanajuato. Be sure to take a lot of water, wear a hat and go early because you’ll be hiking. at over 7,000′ elevation.
I hope you found this post on Best Things to Do in Guanajuato, to be helpful! Buen Viaje!
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Moani HoodFebruary 23, 2021 at 9:46 am
I just cannot get over how colorful things are there! Love how European things look there.
Good tip on the Uber driver too for the extra trip. I always worry about not pre-arranging transportation and relying on Uber when we travel.
culturalfoodiesFebruary 23, 2021 at 11:18 am
Thanks Moani! Yeah, Uber is really different here than it is in the U.S.!
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Stephen D LappinMarch 31, 2021 at 9:42 pm
The Callejoneadeas aren’t drunken parties. No alcohol is offered, although I’m sure you could bring your own. They do give you a traditional drinking vessel as a souvenir but nothing to put in it. We have attended one an observed many, and there is no alcohol in sight. They are worthwhile because they tour you to areas near El Centro that you may have otherwise missed, and tell you the history of Guanajuato as they go. You can ask around for an english speaking guide to walk with you, for a small fee.
I was impressed by your beautiful photography and your description of Guanajuato.
culturalfoodiesApril 1, 2021 at 9:05 pm
Hi Stephen, yes you are correct that they don’t serve alcohol at these night walks, but everybody had drunk before hand, so they were “bien borracho” by the time the tour started! lol. I’m sure they’re not all like this, but we’re here during a unique time when nearly 100% of the visitors are local Mexican tourists (which I love to see!) so I’m sure it’s a different vibe when there’s a mixture of locals and tourists in these groups.
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