Guanajuato is a colonial mountain town in the central highlands of Mexico. There are many charming plazas full of trees, flowers and perfectly shaped hedges. It seems there is a church on every corner and colorful architecture every where you look. Vehicles are prohibited in many areas of the historic town, making it very pedestrian friendly.
The town was originally built over the Guanajuato river which flowed through tunnels underneath the city. After years of flooding a dam was built to redirect the water. Today the tunnels serve as an underground road network that handles the majority of the traffic.
The Plaza de la Paz is one of the main squares in the city. It is dedicated to peace, in the center is a beautiful sculpture called Monumento a la Paz (monument to peace) It’s a picturesque setting with colorful cafes lining the street across from the Basilica de Nuestro Senora.
Guanajuato is a foodies delight. You can find anything from authentic Mexican eateries, vegetarian resturants, and high quality sushi. For grabbing some quick food on the go check out the Mercado Hidalgo or adjacent Gavira Market. The Jardin de la Union, Avendia de Juarez and Plazeula San Fernando are full of restaurant and cafe choices.
The town is set in a deep ravine. It’s not uncommon to encounter dozens or even hundreds of stairs when trying to reach a specific destination or shop. At times you might as well render a map as useless as you try to make your way through the maze of narrow streets and steep alleys. If you keep in mind that the city center is always downhill from where ever you are you should be able to keep your bearings. The hillsides are a spectacle for the eye. Brightly coloured houses trimmed with flower filled window boxes sit almost on top of each other.
The city has a slogan of “The old city with a young heart”. The influence of the university students can not go unnoticed, it is lively with trendy nightclubs, restaurants and bars. We never imagined a place in Mexico where you would see students sitting around sipping on cappuccinos. When school lets out in the afternoon you’ll see students congregating on the steps of the beautiful Teatro Juarez.
The University of Guanajuato is one of oldest in Mexico, dating back to the eighteenth century. It has over 8000 students and is one of the largest places in Mexico for mathematical research.
Guanajuato was one of the richest cities in all of Mexico. This was due to the areas large sliver deposits, which emain as a major export today. The Valenciana silver mine once produced an astonishing one fifth of the world’s silver. The abundance of wealth in Guanjuato has made it well known for its extravagant colonial architecture.
Many of the churches were built with the riches of the mines allowing them to be extremely lavish. The Church of San Cayetano or Valenciana below is said to be on the most beautiful in all of Mexico.
Jardin de la Union
This is a bustling square and the heart of the city. It is gathering place for both locals and tourists. There are plenty of benches to sit on and enjoy the manicured gardens and shade of the laurel trees. It is the perfect spot for relaxing and people watching. There are several cafes with outdoor seating around the Jardin and in the evening don’t be surprised if you encountered a Mariachi band.
A Ride Up The Funicular Is A Must
A trip to the city would not be complete with out riding the funicular, the views of the city are amazing. The funicular runs from the Juarez Theater to El Pipila monument. The cost is 20 pesos round trip. We went up twice, once in the daytime and another time to see the beautiful glow cast over houses and mountains as the sun was setting.
Alley Of The Kiss
The Alley Of The Kiss was a bit difficult to find. It is located near the Plazuela de los Angeles, if in doubt ask a local to point you in the right direction to Callejon del Beso. It is a narrow alley which has a famous point so narrow that balconies from opposing dwellings are just 27 inches apart. There is a romantic legend of the Alley Of The Kiss, a tragic story of two young lovers forbidden to be with each other.
Alhondiga de Granaditas
Guanajuato is famous for one of the most important battles in the push for Mexican independence. In 1810, Miguel Hidalgo led his army to the rich city. He and three other revolutionary leaders were caught and executed. Their heads were placed in iron cages and hung at the four corners of a public building as a warning to the population. The iron hooks that the cages hung from remain today. The building is now a state museum called the Alhondiga de Granaditas
The museum has exhibition halls full of archaeological items from many different periods. There are paintings, sculptures and photographs on display. Ceramics, photographs and murals of renowned local artist Jose Chavez Morado are also on display and there are several rooms dedicated to temporary artistic exhibitions.
The Hidalgo market is the main market for the city of Guanajuato. You can find anything from regional candy to pottery. It was built to celebrate the 100th anniversary of Mexico’s Independence. The facade of the building is made of pink quarry stones. In the center is an iron tower with a four faced clock. A beautiful dome allows light to enter through its large windows. The Mercado is located a few steps away from the intersection of Juarez Avenue and Mendizabel Street.
Museo Casa Diego Rivera
Guanajuato is where artist Diego Rivera was born and spent his youth. This beautiful 18th century house where he lived has been restored to the looked of when his family lived there. In addition to containing many of the original furnishings and family portraits it is now a museum that houses more than one hundred of his original works.
Don Quixote Museum (Museo Iconografico del Quijote)
The story of Don Quixote is a classic. My husband Jack traveled to Mexico with his family when he was younger. He often told me about this fictional character named Don Quixote who rode a horse and attacked evil windmills. I honestly wondered if someone taking too much Mexican peyote had written these stories. There are all kinds of items on display that are dedicated to Don Quixote, including paintings, drawings, tapestries, sculptures and coins. The Museo Iconografico del Quijote also houses some work of Salvidor Dali. Dali had a very bizarre imagination and some of his work is quite disturbing. Work of the Mexican artist Jose Luis Cuevas is also on display.
Christo Rey is the second largest monument of Jesus in the world, the biggest one being in Brazil. The monument and shrine are situated on a mountain called Cerro del Cuilete.
I think something got lost in translation when we asked how long the bus ride to Christo Rey was. The gentleman at the tourist office said no longer than half an hour. Perhaps that is how long the tourist bus takes to go out to the site. We took a local bus that made many stops at small villages to pick up and drop off people. The trip ended up being an hour and a half in each direction, at least it was scenic. As we got closer to the shrine we got an expansive view of the high Sierra de Guanajuato mountains and the farmland down below.
Museo de los Momias (Mummy Museum)
We did not personally go the the Museo de los Momias, the thought of viewing a bunch of mummified bodies was a bit disturbing, but many people find it fascinating.
The first mummy was accidentally discovered in 1865 when a local law was implemented. It required relatives to pay a grave tax. If people could not afford to pay the body was exhumed and stored. Over one hundred mummies were exhumed from their tombs until 1958 when the law was changed. A combination of the soil conditions and dry climate caused the bodies in the cemetery to dry out naturally before they could decompose, therefore creating mummies.
We Fell In Love With The Dulceria La Catrina (Candy Store)
We fell in love with this store that features traditional candies of Mexico. Along with the overwhelming smell of sugar when you walk into the store, it is also a visual delight for the senses. Wooden shelves line the walls displaying hundreds of colorful packages. We have never seen so many unique candies. They incorporate fruits, nuts and flavours that we had never heard of, along with the familiar tastes of caramel and chocolate. Each time we looked at a candy inquisitively a friendly staff member came to our side and asked if we would like to try a sample. Some of the tastes were a bit too strange for our liking. We did end up with a selection that we liked and a good size sack of it to bring home for family and friends to try.
The store is located at Plazuela de Los Angeles No. 74 in the historic downtown area.