Have you ever arrived in a foreign place and instantly felt a shift in your mindset? As if the air was filled with a magical buzz enticing you to discover and soak in everything around you in the best possible way?
Welcome to Guanajuato. A city full of colorful homes with potted plants hanging from wrought-iron balconies and narrow pedestrian-only streets leading to views that will take your breath away.
As soon as Brad and I arrived in Guanajuato we felt an instant spark. The colonial architecture, outdoor cafés, and lush plazas transported us to memories of Europe. It was hard to believe we were in Mexico!
The allure of Guanajuato is two-fold. It's walkable beauty is enough of a reason to visit, but there is also plenty of unique things to see and do. Don't forget to check out the underground tunnels while you're there!
Basílica Colegiata de Nuestra Señora de Guanajuato
Begin your visit in the main square, Plaza de la Paz, to see the iconic golden yellow church with red accents. Built in the 17th Century, with the wealth generated from the local silver mines, this basilica features elements of baroque and neoclassical architecture. The wooden sculpture of the Virgin Mary and Child above the altar dates to the 8th Century!
Funicular & El Pípila Monument
Take your perspective of the city to new heights with a ride up the funicular for only $35 pesos ($1.75 USD). Vendors will greet you with snacks and souvenirs beneath the massive pink sandstone statue of El Pípila; a local miner who became a hero of the Mexican War of Independence.
Hungry? Don't miss out on a trip to the main market to sample affordable Mexican dishes. Brad and I looked for the longest line of locals before we ended up with a couple of the most delicious pork carnitas tortas (sandwiches) topped with fresh salsas. The chaotic market has an assortment of fruits, vegetables, snacks, juices, and desserts.
Museo Iconográfico del Quijote
There are a variety of museums in Guanajuato to satisfy art, history, and cultural interests. One of my favorites was the two-level Quixote Iconographic Museum. The only prerequisite for the art inside is that it must feature Miguel de Cervantes' beloved characters from his famous novel Don Quixote. Admission is $30 pesos ($1.50 USD).
El Cerro De La Bufa Hike
Work up a sweat with this 3-mile loop hike complete with caves, rock formations, and goats! Some parts of the unmarked trail were a bit tricky, but reaching the summit cross was worth every step. I recommend hiking shoes, sunscreen, and plenty of water. The trailhead is the path on the far left near the electric station.
Ex-Hacienda San Gabriel de Barrera Museum
Step back in time to see a restored hacienda with 17 magnificent gardens, antique furnishings, and grand architecture. Built in the late 17th Century, Barrera's involvement with the silver industry produced a vast amount of wealth resulting in an impressive estate. It's a photographer's dream! Admission is $50 pesos ($2.50 USD).
As you walk around the city near the main squares you will be approached by men in tights with colorful puffy sleeves asking if you would like to join a night tour. Callejoneadas are bohemian musicians who will lead you through alleyways while sharing the history of Guanajuato. Although the entire event was in Spanish, we had a lot of laughs and enjoyed the tradition.
Runner Up - San Miguel de Allende
Perhaps Guanajuato is still under the radar since its neighbor, San Miguel de Allende, lures most of the tourists with high-end dining and posh shopping. The popular settlement for ex-pats is an easy roadtrip from both Guanajuato (1.5 hours) and Mexico City (3 hours). One or two days is all you need to see the sights.
Having experienced both cities back-to-back each for one-week visits, I can tell you Guanajuato will warm your heart while San Miguel de Allende will put a dent in your wallet. Just saying!
Parroquia de San Miguel Arcángel
One of the most unique buildings I have ever seen is the pink neo-Gothic church nearby the El Jardín main plaza. Grab a nearby seat and gaze upon its beauty while the bells ring and the sun sets. Aldama Street is just around the corner and is equally enchanting with its colorful homes.
Fabrica La Aurora
If you are in the market for one-of-a-kind pieces be sure to include this attraction in your itinerary. The Cultural Center of Art and Design, La Aurora, has numerous galleries, boutiques, and restaurants. Weave your way between open air gardens and peek inside studios to see artists at work.
Having zero expectations for Guanajuato and high expectations for San Miguel de Allende turned out to be a travel wake up call. Sometimes the most hyped-up destination doesn't turn out the way you thought. I knew nothing about Guanajuato going in, but it ended up being one of my favorite cities in the world and the clear winner between the two colonial neighbors.