A charming colonial city, Guanajuato in Mexico, was founded by the Spanish in 1548 as Real de Minas de Guanajuato. It became the world’s leading silver extraction center in the 18th century. Its captivating colonial architecture in the charming historical center makes it one of the most interesting cities to visit in Mexico. I have been to Guanajuato more than once and, like anybody else, I fell in love. The last time I stayed for 3 weeks in a cute Airbnb and explored as much as I could. In this post, I will share my favorite things to do in Guanajuato.
The majestic churches, beautiful examples of the Baroque architectures, and the neoclassical buildings are a witness of a glorious past from the mining industry.
Glorious for the mine and land owner, less glorious for the enslaved miners who were forced to work in very poor and dangerous condition.
This is part of the history and we should not forget, while enjoying our strolls in the narrow roads through the beautiful colonial buildings.
Guanajuato has also been home to important events in the history and culture of Mexico including being the hometown of the world-famous painter Diego Rivera. Before digging into the best things to do in Guanajuato I believe we should know a little bit of its history in order to appreciate more what we will see.
- SOME HISTORY OF GUANAJUATO
- AMAZING THINGS TO DO IN GUANAJUATO MEXICO
- KISS IN THE CALLEJON DEL BESO
- GET LOST IN THE HISTORICAL CENTER
- VISIT DIEGO DE RIVERA HOUSE
- HIKE TO EL PIPILA STATUE
- WALK AROUND MERCADO HIDALGO
- ALHONDIGA GRANADITAS
- VISIT THE MUMMY MUSEUM
- THE BASILICA
- WALK BY THE JARDIN DE LA UNIÓN
- VISIT PLAZA SAN FERNANDO
- TAKE A DAY TRIP TO THE VALENCIANA MINE
- TEATRO JUAREZ
- TAKE A WALK AROUND THE UNIVERSITY OF GUANAJUATO
- PARTICIPATE TO A CALLEJONEADAS
- GO TO GUANAJUATO DURING THE INTERNATIONAL FESTIVAL CERVANTINO EVENT
- MAP OF GUANAJUATO
- FOR FURTHER READING
- LIKED IT? SAVE IT FOR LATER
SOME HISTORY OF GUANAJUATO
The name Guanajuato comes from its original name Kuanasïuatu, in Purepecha language, which means “Hilly place of many frogs”. It was founded in the XVI centuries by the Spaniards which made the city one of the most important mine settlements of the New Spain.
Thanks to the mining industry many families and landowners made their fortune during those years and we can see their heritage reflecting in the beautiful neoclassical architecture of their opulent houses in the historical center.
Some of them have been refurbished in many different ways and styles and turned into hotels. In fact, there are a few remarkable luxury properties that are really worth a visit or a stay. I will talk about it in my post on the best luxury hotels in Guanajuato.
For the popularity of the city and his historical importance, it was made a World Heritage site by UNESCO in 1988. And of course, it is one of the most visited cities in Mexico, both by local and international tourists.
FACTS OF GUANAJUATO
- Capital City of the State of Guanajuato
- Population: 171,709
- Area: Km2 72.54
- Elevation: 2000mt
- Foundation year: 1548
AMAZING THINGS TO DO IN GUANAJUATO MEXICO
KISS IN THE CALLEJON DEL BESO
It’s not what I consider the most important, but it’s definitely the most popular place in Guanajuato. It’s a tiny lane where two opposite balconies almost touch. A popular legend has some of the tragic story of Romeo and Juliet. Here we are in the 18th century when a poor miner and the daughter of a rich mine owner fell in love with each other’s and used to meet on the balconies and share words of love, dreams, and kisses. When her father found out, in a fit of rage, stabbed her. Needless to say, the young lover couldn’t take the pain and killed himself as well.
Now, it is a tradition that if you kiss your sweetheart on those stairs below the balconies you gain 7 years of love and luck. Apparently to have your luck renewed after 7 years you would need to go back to Guanajuato and kiss each other (or somebody else) again. 😉
GET LOST IN THE HISTORICAL CENTER
I always love to do it in cities, especially in historical centers. I wander around without a map and trust my feelings. I usually find amazing corners, beautiful old doors, interesting old buildings and churches, cute little cafes. Or maybe nothing but it just makes me feel like a local.
Guanajuato is a great place for that, especially for its typical narrow roads, full of art galleries, colonial buildings, street artists, markets and street food. You never know what you will encounter in your wandering.
VISIT DIEGO DE RIVERA HOUSE
Diego Rivera is one of Mexico’s most prominent artists, especially known for his spectacular murals, but also for being the most significant man in Frida Kahlo’s life. Although his art has been talked about as quite controversial, he’s now considered one of the greatest artist of Latin America. The building that was his birthplace and home has now be converted into a museum displaying his less popular works and, on the ground floor, a recreation of what was his house at the time of his birth.
The visit doesn’t require a long time, but if you like art and culture this is a very interesting visit.
Cost 20 MXN (1USD)
In the museum you can also find a lovely bookshop specialized in Mexican history and literature, they also have nice mini-guides of Guanajuato and an entire room with kids books.
Right in front of the Museum, there is my favorite vegan-friendly restaurant in Guanajuato.
HIKE TO EL PIPILA STATUE
You should go up to the statue to watch the sun that sets beyond the multicolored city from the Pipila enlightening the old buildings with the perfect light.
The Pipila statue has been build in memories of a brave miner who despite his fragile health conditions set Guanajuato free from the Spaniards, while they were finding refuge in the Alhóndiga de Granaditas. Historians don’t know yet if this is a legend or true story, but it’s a lovely tale.
The news of his brave action spread out quickly all around Mexico and it was one of the first battles of the Mexican revolution and one of the triggers. You can read the full story here.
You can also get a ride with the funicular for 50 mxn (return ticket) if you don’t feel like walking.
- Monday to Friday 8 am- 9.50 pm
- Saturday 9 am-9.50 pm
- Sunday 10 am-9.50pm
WALK AROUND MERCADO HIDALGO
Going to markets is one of my favorite things to do in a city. Mercado Hidalgo in Guanajuato is definitely a place that you shouldn’t skip. Not only you can find great fruits and veggies, local food, and all sort of objects, but it is also an example of the architecture of the industrial times.
The building is, in fact, a mixture of different styles and ideas and was originally constructed to become a major central station. It seems that the great Alexandre Gustave Eifel was also being involved in the project. However, the railway never happened, and when the building was finally completed it coincided with the 100 years celebration of Mexican independence. Therefore Porfirio Diaz named the building after one of the heroes of the Mexican independence, Miguel Idalgo, and transformed this failed project into a place that all the Guanajuato residents would use a market.
Miguel Hidalgo was, in fact, a Mexican priest who together with a few others instigated the first victory of the Mexican revolution, the storming of the “Alhóndiga de Granaditas”, right a few blocks from the market.
Inside the building, the market is made of three levels and hosts small restaurants with local dishes at a very cheap price, great for breakfast or a quick lunch. Other stalls sell clothes, local arts, and many other different items, it’s a great place to shop for your souvenirs or just browse and watch the local life going by.
Even if you are not fond of museums and prefer open-air activity, I believe that Alhóndiga de Granaditas is still worth a visit. It’s a regional museum of the local history and it tells you all about the steps of the Mexican revolution and the historical events that characterize the Guanajuato region but also all the Mexican Republic.
The building in itself has historical importance because it is where the locals used to store their grains to supply the population in less productive seasons. However, the most significant use of the building was in 1810 when the Spaniards were hiding while waiting for reinforcement. It was there when the inhabitants of Guanajuato, enhanced by the local hero El Pipila (see above story) raised up against the Spaniards. That’s where the first battle of the war of independence took place. Needless to say, it was the first Mexican victory and the Spaniards were defeated.
The Regional Museum of Guanajuato is open Tuesday to Saturday (between 10:00 am and 6:00 pm), Sunday (between 10:00 am and 3:00 pm), and it’s closed on Mondays.
The entrance fee is $30.00 pesos.
Unfortunately, there is no English translation of the Exhibits.
I would suggest to pay a visit anyway as the interior of the building in itself makes it worth the 30pesos (1, 5 USD)
The exterior and the famous door can be viewed at any time from the main street. I
t’s located right in the parallel street to Miguel Hidalgo Market.
VISIT THE MUMMY MUSEUM
To be honest I don’t really understand what’s so interesting in watching creepy mummified bodies which are a little over 100 years old and most of the time with gruesome and horrifying expressions on their face.
I don’t see the attraction in it but, apparently, The Mummy Museum of Guanajuato is one of the most visited museums in Guanajuato and I felt like I should put it on the list of the things you could do, just for the sake of information. I didn’t go there, though.
I intentionally avoid a more detailed description and the creepy pictures, as it doesn’t really make me feel good about it.
I am sure if you are interested in this kind of things you will find all the information about the history and the installation within the premises of the museum.
The entrance costs $50.00 pesos and the museum is open from 9:00 am to 6:00 pm daily.
In Guanajuato there are more than 20 Churches of which the Nuestra Señora de Guanajuato or simply called the Guanajuato Basilica is the most significative for the history of the beautiful colonial city. The exterior walls are painted in yellow and red just like the main colors in the entire historical center.
The main portal is surrounded by a decorative pink sandstone formation of stepped layers with carvings of the saints.
The peculiar location of the Basilica is also part of its charm as it’s right in the middle of the city on the main square, in between two main streets converging into Plaza La Paz. The building is also on a slight hill so that when you see it from a distance it makes it towering over the other beautiful surrounding buildings.
The basilica was initially constructed in 1671 but was remodeled upon demand of the leading silver Baron’s after the independence of Mexico from Spain, as a demonstration of wealth.
The Basilica was named after the patron saint and protector of the city, Our Lady of Guanajuato (Nuestra Señora de Guanajuato).
WALK BY THE JARDIN DE LA UNIÓN
Jardin de la Union is a triangle shaped Plaza (square) right in the middle of town, behind the Basilica and in front of the Teatro Juarez. Its main features are the perfectly squared shaped trees wonderfully trimmed to form a square box running around the entire perimeter of the Jardin Union.
These trees were originally planted in 1836 and by 1860 they have become the most popular feature of the square.
Below their shade, you can find comfortable and stylish french iron bench for you to take a peaceful rest from your walks. Or you could dine or have a drink in one of the fancy restaurants located around the plaza. They are of course a little touristic and overpriced, while not necessarily the best restaurants in town. I haven’t tried yet cause I tend to avoid restaurants that are in such touristic areas.
In the night this is the place where students gather to offer their callejonadas, painters display their works, musicians play and other artists come out there in search of a temporary fame.
One of my favourite hotels is right there. I will tell you all about it in another post.
The area is very safe in any time of the day or night.
VISIT PLAZA SAN FERNANDO
Located in the heart of town, even though a little off from the busier roads, this is a lovely peaceful corner where to hang out and relax, go for dinner or lunch or a coffee’. It’s the typical square, made of cobblestones and a fountain in the middle, surrounded by lovely bars, restaurants and coffee shops in a bohemian atmosphere. Local artists are occasionally playing or selling their works. I particularly loved this spot.
Also, I would suggest you explore the roads around the plaza as they will take you to other special corners of the city.
TAKE A DAY TRIP TO THE VALENCIANA MINE
Unfortunately, I didn’t go and visit. My bad. I got lazy. However, it must have been a lovely day tour of the town. You can go on an organized tour or on your own. Buses leave from town, right behind the Alondhiga close to the Miguel Hidalgo Market. Or there is a little tour Kiosk just outside Mercado Hidalgo where you can buy a tour for about 300 pesos. It’s about 30 minutes drive.
As I was mentioning before Guanajuato built its fortunes with the mining industry when the Spanish discovered that underneath the city and on the surrounding hills there was a silver fortune.
The Valenciana Mine was the biggest, deepest, and most extensive mining network of the region that extracted vast amounts of silver. The buildings of the main mining area were restored mimicking the old construction and structure of the 17th century and visitors can descend the first 60 meters of the mineshaft.
The visit is not suggested if you are not claustrophobic or if you suffer from heart/back conditions. Some of the tunnels to access the mine are in fact very tiny and obscure and in some parts, it is required to crawl down.
The visit takes just about 30 minutes to 1 hour and can be combined with a stop to the church “Templo La Valenciana” (Valenciana Temple).
You can also visit a small exhibition of tools and equipment that were being used at the time. Also, a mummified body of a miner is displayed there, which can be a disturbing sight for many ( me included) Unfortunately, the descriptions are not in English.
In our history where there was wealth there was also exploitation. And that was the case also for the mining industry, as you can imagine. La Valenciana Mine was one of the most important in Mexico and in the World as they provide the 30% of the total world yearly silver vein.
However, somebody had to pay for this fortune.
Underneath the surface, up to 3,300 indigenous Mexicans were enslaved and forced to work for the rich landowners and ultimately for the Spanish Crown. The only consolation was La ValencianaTemple, which was built for them to pray in their newly converted religion.
Although after the independence of Mexico in 1821, miners started to get paid minimum wages, the mine became even more dangerous as they had to dig deeper and deeper to find more silver and the security measures were not ideal.
There is a small figure of Mary carved into the stone on the way down. The miners used to pray before descending and thank upon a safe return.
You can see the statue at the bottom of the first flight of stairs on the right side.
For sure if you take the visit and descend the mine even at fewer meters you will have the feeling of depth and obscurity. I can’t even imagine being there for the entire day not knowing if you would make it out alive.
Inaugurated in 1903 by President Porfirio Diaz it was considered one of the most prestigious theatres of entire Mexico and it’s now the main focus of the International Cervantes Festival where all the activities converge.
Beyond the historical significance and quality of the performance, the Theatre definitely catches your eyes for the stunning building that reminds you of ancient Roman architecture.
It was designed by the architect Jose’ Noriega inspired by the stories of ancient Rome and Greece. The glorious entrance resembles, in fact, the Pantheon of Rome while at the rooftop 8 bronze statues are inspired by Greek mythology.
Certainly a unique building in Guanajuato, massive and majestic.
TAKE A WALK AROUND THE UNIVERSITY OF GUANAJUATO
The University of Guanajuato attracts students from all over the Republic and plays an important role in the cultural life of the city, full of events, like festivals, art, and a vibrant social atmosphere.
The main campus building of Guanajuato University is located right in the heart of the city, just a block from the Basilica of Guanajuato. The beautiful white building is one of the most photographed construction in Guanajuato and it’s definitely worth a visit.
The origins of the university are related to the Jesuits which have been all over Mexico during the Spanish colonization, building beautiful churches and organizing education. In fact, the building incorporates an important church, Templo de los Hospitales, which caused a little controversy when it was built.
Curious fact: the University of Guanajuato was founded in 1945 and one of the promoters of its foundation was Armando Olivares, a literate who played an important role in the cultural growth of Guanajuato. The house where he lived has now become one of my favorite luxury hotels in the city, just a few steps from the University.
PARTICIPATE TO A CALLEJONEADAS
If you speak Spanish you should not miss the Callejonada.
Guanajuato is a university city full of traditions, legends, and culture. The callejoneada is one of those traditions, where very well prepared students, dressed in ancient elegant clothes, will take you around the most historic corners of the city while telling stories singing songs, and telling jokes. They make you interact and participate in singing and playing if you want. It costs about 150 pesos and it’s all worth it, better if you speak Spanish otherwise you can just enjoy the music.
The guys are really great performers and they put a lot of work and time in this show. It’s also a nice way to support their studies.
GO TO GUANAJUATO DURING THE INTERNATIONAL FESTIVAL CERVANTINO EVENT
The first time I went to Guanajuato was 15 years ago and I was traveling on a budget and I couldn’t find a place where to stay. I couldn’t understand why. How is it possible? then I found a bed in the aisle of a random house and it was explained to me. Those were hot dates due to the Festival Cervantino and I didn’t know. I was excited. How lucky I was to be there right for those dates without even knowing it. But I also thought: how can I be so dumb that I don’t research before visiting a place? Anyway, I was there. The whole town was a big cultural party. Music, poetry, paintings, food, all over the city. It was a joy, even for somebody like me who doesn’t love crowds.
Walking around those same streets I have walked after 15 years, just full of people playing singing, reading, it was just a huge cultural show with the beautiful colonial city as the open-air theatre.
The tradition started in 1953 and it is continuing so far, every year richer and better. More international artists, more venues and events and more days.
It’s normally in October so if you are around I wouldn’t miss it. You can check out this site to see the updated news.
TAKE A DAY TRIP TO SAN MIGUEL DE ALLENDE
The elegant colonial town of San Miguel de Allende has become a USA colony, for the number of expatriates from the US that you can find here. Despite of the heavy presence of foreigners, the beautiful city hasn’t lost its charm. Walking around the pretty historical center, you will be mesmerized by the spectacular colonial building, art shops and galleries. It’s one of my favorite cities in Mexico. If you don’t have time to include it in your Mexican itinerary you could still take a day trip from Guanajuato.