Guanajuato: The Most Beautiful City in Mexico?

The houses of Guanajuato tumble down the hills that surround it in every imaginable colour. There’s no subtle, complementary colour scheme—fuchsia pink mingles with pillar box red, saffron yellow, baby blue, and lime green. We like the city better for its discordance. Despite its beauty it’s not perfectly restored and retains a gritty realness—it’s a city where people live, work, study, and play, not a museum piece for tourists.

This colonial city in the mountains of central Mexico was once a silver mining town and although it’s a UNESCO World Heritage Site strangely it’s not very popular with foreign tourists, who prefer San Miguel de Allende just an hour away. The small group of foreigners in Guanajuato tend to be expats or long stay visitors, here to take Spanish classes. It’s certainly a better place to learn Spanish than the Mexican coast where we were frustrated by our Spanish being responded to with English by staff keen to please vacationers from north of the border. In Guanajuato locals spoke to us in Spanish and we appreciated it.

Guanajuato, MexicoWe soon fell for Guanajuato—its colours, graceful churches, shady plazas, and lively atmosphere. It’s a compact, walkable city but the large student population means there’s plenty going on with many cafes, bars, street food stalls, markets, and art galleries. It was the perfect place to indulge our favourite slow travel activity of aimless wandering, and it’s easy to get pleasantly lost in the cobblestone lanes that climb steeply from the centre, turning a corner to find yet another tiny plaza with locals chatting on benches shaded by manicured trees. It’s definitely a walking city as the narrow streets are a nightmare for cars and one of the city’s unique features is a network of underground tunnels that are used as roads.

Teatro Cervantes, Guanajuato, Mexico

Pink bougainvillea outside the tiny Teatro Cervantes. The city has a Cervantes obsession, despite the fact he never visited, and hosts a large cultural festival each October called the International Cervantino Festival

Guanajuato, Mexico

Guanajuato has lots of manicured trees like this one

Plaza in Guanajuato, Mexico

Another cute plaza

Plaza de la Paz, Guanajuato

Plaza de la Paz

Plaza San Fernando, Guanajuato

Plaza San Fernando, probably our favourite plaza in Guanajuato

Fine baroque and neoclassical buildings are the result of the prosperity of the silver mines in the 18th century and there are many churches. We were visiting during Semana Santa (the week before Easter Sunday) a popular time for Mexican tourists to visit the city. In Guanajuato Holy Thursday is celebrated with the Visita a los 7 Templos, a pilgrimage to seven churches, although for many it’s more a social than religious activity. We opted out but did manage to walk past six of them as we wandered around town and saw the queues snaking out of the churches.

Basilica of our Lady of Guanajuato

Basilica of our Lady of Guanajuato

Templo de la Compañía, Guanajuato

Templo de la Compañía – considered one of finest examples of baroque in Latin America

San Roque Church in Guanajuato, Mexico

San Roque Church

The heart of the city is the main plaza Jardin de la Union. Indian laurel trees have been trimmed to create a dense canopy shading the craft stalls and benches, and it’s surrounded by bars and restaurants whose outside seating is a prime location for people watching. The area is lively in the evenings with mariachi bands and street performers.

Jardin de la Union, Guanajuato

Jardin de la Union

Teatro Juarez, Guanajuato

Teatro Juarez, near the Jardin. Street performers often perform on its steps in the evenings.

Statues outside Teatro Juarez, Guanajuato

Statues outside Teatro Juarez

El Pipila, Guanajuato

Statue of independence hero El Pipila (Juan Jose Martinez) from the church next to Teatro Juarez.

View from La Bufa, Guanajuato

View from La Bufa

We were staying with our friends Warren and Betsy of Married with Luggage who got us up at 6.30am to take advantage of the cool mornings for hikes up to the crosses that top many of the surrounding hills, scorched brown at the end of the dry season, but with sweeping views of the city.

View of Guanajuato

Erin and Simon at Guanajuato cross

Us enjoying the view from the cross on top of one of the hills overlooking Guanajuato (Thanks Warren for the photo).

One of our hikes was particularly challenging as Warren took us off trail and we ended up fighting our way through brush and clambering down steep rock faces using bridging techniques. But one of the best things about hiking is the satisfaction you feel when it’s over as with aching limbs you relax and reward yourself for a challenge overcome with tacos, beer, and Guanajuato’s excellent street ice-cream.

Things to Do

Alhondiga de Granaditas, Guanajuato

Alhondiga de Granaditas—this old grain storage building was the site of the first major victory over the Spanish in the independence movement

Our favourite activity in Guanajuato was walking, both through the centre’s streets and the hills outside it. We didn’t visit many of the tourist attractions but there are a couple of art galleries we recommend:

  • Don Quixote Iconographic Museum— We weren’t sure about this one as we haven’t read the book, but as it was free on Tuesdays we gave it a go and are really glad we did. It’s a diverse collection of paintings, murals, and sculptures depicting the character in different styles. Manuel Doblado 1, closed Mondays and Sunday mornings.
  • Casa Diego Rivera—While you need to go to Mexico City to see Rivera’s famous murals the house where he was born is worth a visit and it’s only 20 pesos. It contains some of Rivera’s early works so you can see the development of his style, as well as a gallery for contemporary artists. Positos No 47, closed Mondays.
Jacaranda tree, Guanajuato

The purple blossoms of the jacaranda trees in spring add to an already colourful city.

Where to Eat

There are plenty of street food stands and two excellent vegetarian restaurants if you want a break from Mexican:

  • Habibi Falafel—We loved the falafel wraps (with chipotle sauce for a Mexican twist) and you can also get mixed plates of falafel, hummus, tabbouleh, and vine leaves. Sostenes Rocha 18 C
  • Centro Bharati—The set menu changes daily at this Indian restaurant but is always healthy and flavourful. Plazuela del Baratillo 11.

How to Get to Guanajuato

We arrived and left on very comfortable Primera Plus buses. From Mexico City it took five hours and cost 440 pesos/ $33 (including a small fee for buying at an Oxxo store rather than going to the bus station), and to Puerto Vallarta the overnight bus was nine hours and cost 775 pesos/$58.

Guanajuato, MexicoGuanajuato has been called the most beautiful city in Mexico. We haven’t explored the country enough to comment on whether that’s true, but it definitely is the most attractive city we visited—for its colourful buildings, tree-lined streets, lovely plazas, and easy escape to the mountains, as much as for its architecture.

Trail Wallet

Have you been to Guanajuato? Leave a comment and let us know your tips.

58 thoughts on Guanajuato: The Most Beautiful City in Mexico?

    • It is strange that it isn’t better known amongst foreign tourists. I guess it just doesn’t have as many big name attractions or beaches of other places. Hope you make it there!

      • Hi I’m married to a Norwegian man( I’m mexican myself) but believe it or not I’ve never been to Guanajuato :/. I saw your pictures and the place looks beautiful!!!! And since right now we are traveling around Mexico I thought that Guanajuato could be the perfect place to visit next, but I was just wondering if you think there are many tourist in the area. My husband loves the real Mexico he is not so fan of the touristic places. Do you think that place would be cool for him? I’m sure that it is perfect for me :) looks great!

        • There aren’t that many tourists in Guanajuato. We were there at Easter and there were quite a few Mexican tourists but not many foreigners at all. I think it’d be great for you.

        • We are Canadians and visited the city by bus from Puerto Vallarta as part of our trip to see the monarch butterflies near Morelia. We’re loved it, and there were few tourists. We walked around by ourselves and walked around —just the two of us–with a very knowledgeable guide one day. I recommend a visit!

  1. We love Guanajuato and have visited many times. We never get tired of the place. Just walking the streets – especially in the central district – is fun as you never know what you will run across. We haven’t been everywhere in Mexico either, but this is our favorite city so far. We look forward to visiting during the Cervantes Festival.

    • I’m sure it’d be crazy but so much fun to visit during the festival. I entirely agree that just walking the streets is enough entertainment there.

    • I have about 10-14 days for my first trip to Guanajuato with my adult daughter. To really get to know the place, would you suggest we stay the whole time there. I am still a little reluctant of travel in Mexico so I thought better to stay there. Also, IS the bus safe to travel with from the airport in Mexico City?

      Thank you for these wonderful posts. I am happy to have found your website. I also do like to incorporate a little bit of swimming/water in vacations. Are there any swimming pools you suggest? I believe there are some hot springs near by? Has anyone visited them?

      I really appreciate your answers.

      Claudia

      • You definitely could spend the whole time there and use it as a base for day trips to places like San Miguel de Allende (where I think there are hot springs). The buses are actually really nice in Mexico and we felt very safe. Have a great trip!

      • You will not go wrong wiht this one on where to stay! Hands down Casa Zuniga! Rick and his Wife Carmen will take very good care of you!

  2. Great post and wonderful pictures! You have me aching to go back. We ate or sat at the lively, yet peaceful Plaza San Fernando many times, but we never could remember the name of it to share. Thanks for that! It’s neat to hear that it was one of your favorite spots too. We can’t say enough about Guanajuato and appreciated the quick trip through memory lane today!

  3. Guanajuato looks seriously beautiful, which is saying something since you didn’t even include food photos in this post! ;) I love the riot of colors that seem to infect Spanish-speaking countries and cities, though I admit my experience with them is limited to Puerto Rico at this point. It’s pretty magical how all of those hues don’t seem to clash but rather create an idyllic little place where it seems impossible to be sad. One day we’ll make it to Mexico, and Guanajuato will certainly be getting a visit from us! :D

  4. I am surprised that why I did not hear about Guanajuato City before?? This city looks like a riot of colors being thrown into a valley. And its houses, streets and sculptures carry that old world Spanish colonial charm.

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  6. These photos are amazing. I’ve never considered visiting Mexico before you started posting about it! Seems like the country have lots of amazing things to see and experience! :)

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  8. Yes, Guanajuato is a very beautiful city. I personally think that it has a lot more energy than San Miguel, especially at night. I think it has to do with the all the young students attending the nearby university. My best advice is to befriend some of the local students so they can show you the best hang outs. Worked great for my wife and I. Very friendly there.

    Just got back from Playa de Carmen and was thinking about you, even though I don’t know you. Kept thinking I might run into you on the streets. :)

    Man, I love Mexico. If you are looking for another cool place to visit I would suggest Veracruz “El Puerto”. Things have calmed down now (some drug violence). This is a beautiful city with a rich culture and wonderful food!

  9. This city looks amazing and I plan to visit it on my next trip to Mexico. I was wondering if there are any beautiful lakes or rivers for swimming?

    • I’m not sure as when we were there in March the rivers were dried up. It might be different at other times of the year (during/after the summer rainy season).

  10. I spent a month in GTO in 2006. I’ve never enjoyed a city as much. I did plenty of walking in the hills but probably walked half of the callejones as well. A beautiful, safe, city with much to see. I could easily spend another month there. January was cool in the evenings but warmed into the 70′s during the day; perfect in my estimation. It was low season, so fairly quiet.

  11. Guanajuato is incredible! I noticed you missed a couple of places in your commentary. The indoor market is a great place for fuit, crafts and people watching. The “Mummy Museum” is a bit of a tourist trap, but an interesting place to visit if you don’t mind a long winding drive up the hillside to reach it. It has an amazing story and the displays are respectfully presented.

    The mix of colours is very eye-catching! Coming from Canada where everything is a “shade of beige” this was a refreshing find. This palce is on my list to visit again if the opportunity presents itself! Great article :-)

  12. I was in Guanajuato about 10 years ago for one day. I’ve always wanted to go back and am planning to do so next month!
    Just saw your post while doing some research. Glad to see it’s as I remember it. :)

  13. I was just wondering what your opinion on living there for a month would be. I have the choice of Guanajuato or Galway, Ireland. I don’t know which to choose!

  14. Thanks for this wonderful photo compilation about Guanajuato! I’ve been looking into Guanajuato a lot, and this is one of the most helpful posts I’ve seen. Hopefully, I will be study abroad there next school year.

  15. Enjoying your blog, thankyou. My husband and I plan to spend six weeks in Guanajuato this summer. We avoid resorts because we like to enjoy the local color and practice speaking Spanish. I thought I would try to volunteering a school to keep myself busy. Any ideas? Also, I am. Hoping that we will be safe. We are looking at a place on the San Fernando Plaza.

  16. i really enjoyed all the great photos in your collection. i personally know how special Guanajuato is and i also know how almost impossible it is to explain and describe to others that haven’t been there how truly unique and extraordinary it is. they just all give me that same slightly puzzled and agreeable expression on there faces when i attempt to explain. i’ve spent some time there off and on since 1997 . my parents purchased a home there in the housing community known as Noria Alta. Sadly i havent been able to visit the home for the last 6 years because of so many family matters directly involving the passing of my parents as well others. i look forward to visiting soon with a close friend and plan to do some much needed maintenance on the home while im there and also have some dental work performed which alone will pay for the entire trip there in the amount of savings i’ll earn. i hope you enjoy your next visit. mario depalma sacramento california u.s.a.

  17. I rented a home in Guanajuato for 1 month back in July 2010 for my family and loved it. Your beautiful photos capture many of the sights we remember and hope to return to someday again. The summer weather is very enjoyable and the city depends upon the rains to fill the local reservoirs at this time of year. I really enjoyed hiking and mountain biking the back hills surrounding the city and wandering through the endless alleys and side streets each day to find another hidden plaza with a fountain. I hope to return again soon.

  18. I absolutely adore Mexico, my husband happens to be from the state of Guanajuato. So, two years ago, almost three now, we also visited during Semana Santa. We stayed at a hacienda turned hotel named Hotel Real de Mina. It was amazing! We actually drive from Idaho, through San Antonio, Texas, and into the heart of Mexico. It was an amazing and wonderful adventure. The streets are very narrow in Guanajuato, we drive a suburban and add you climb the hills towards the Museo de Mumeo, it becomes a but tricky to navigate yourself around. So, we opted to take a bus with a guide. They drive us through all of the city and tunnels and told us about the amazing cities history with multiple stops at too many amazing attractions to even begin with. After visiting Guanajuato, we took a short drive to Leon. Leon was also amazing. We went to the zona de piel, or the leather district. The pieces were absolutely amazing and the prices shoo cheap, that bartering didn’t even cross your mind! Not to forget that also close by is Silao with their denim… But outside of doing, the culture, history, ambiance, and energy of Guanajuato is amazing. I am blessed to have safely driven through Mexico, visited and stayed in many beautiful cities, and came back with an even greater appreciation than the one I had already garnered through visiting the beach resort towns up and down the coasts a half a dozen times. As far as safety goes, I took my one year old, and my in-laws as well. Never once did we ever come up against any uncomfortable situations. If anything, being a guera with a guerito baby (white lady with a white, although he is half Mexican, son) was an honor for them to us host us in their country, states, cities, and homes… Although I am the one that is truly honored to have walked with, mingled with, observed, and fallen in love with a very kind, caring, beautiful, and humble race. The Mexican race is absolutely amazing! I am truly honored to have been accepted by then so lovingly. I long desperately to go back, as Mexico as a whole has captured my heart and soul!

    • Hi Elisha,

      I have tears in my eyes from reading what you feel about Mexico…. I was born in Argentina but I feel Mexico is the home of my soul, the humbleness and warmth of the people is a feeling you can’t forget or find in many other places.
      Thank you for posting it in such beautiful way!

  19. Hi! I live in Mexico. If you liked Guanajuato you should also visit San Cristobal de las Casas if you haven’t, it’s beautiful.

    • Hola Anna, yo nunca he estado en Guanajuato, pero si en San Cristobal y me encanto el lugar, pero sinceramente esta lleno de turistas y eso es algo que en lo particular no me gusta. Es Guanajuato tan lleno de turistas como San Cristobal? Espero Me puedas responer. :)

      • Hola Hill, vivo en Guanajuato y te puedo decir que sólo en temporadas altas y fines de semana (sobre todo cuando hay puentes) la ciudad está llena de turistas, te puedo decir que el exceso de turistas no es el problema en la ciudad, si algún día llegas a venir, permíteme hacerte las siguientes recomendaciones: ten mucho cuidado con los “guías de turistas” son un monserga, muchos de ellos no tienen autorización del municipio y lo que hacen es estafar a los turistas, engañarlos y llevarlos sólo a esos lugares en donde les dan comisión. La ciudad aunque de apariencia tranquila, tiene puntos muy conflictivos, por ejemplo los callejones que llevan al monumento del pípila, hay mucho vándalo. Asegúrate de conseguir un hotel con estacionamiento, es poco seguro dejar el coche en la calle, verifica antes de venir los precios y paquetes que te ofrecen los hoteles, que dicho sea de paso son carísimos. La ciudad es hermosa si, pero si te aturden las multitudes, mejor no lo visites durante el festival cervantino que es cuando más afluencia de turistas tiene la ciudad.

  20. Hi…I am travelling to Guanajuato for my first time in March. Thank you for your beautiful website…I can hardly wait to get there. One question I have is when the locals are selling crafts etc in the market places, is it common practice to barter as in many of the beach resorts? I would not want to insult anyone and would like to be prepared. Gracias !

  21. I love Guanajuato!! My husband or kids had never visited Mexico outside of Tijuana :) and I am lucky to have family in Leon Guanajuato. We went to Guanajuato and they fell in love with it, so much that my husband wants us to eventually retire there! We visited El Callejon del Beso (alley of the kiss) and strolled through the beautiful streets, visited the Momias and ate the best tortas ever! My kids loved it as well…they came home back sharing everthing detail to Grandparents, family and friends. I encourange everyone to visit at least once in their life. Thanks for sharing your pics. My husband and I are going back next month…without kids :)

  22. We just returned from visiting Guanajuato (along with the other Mexican colonial towns of San Miguel de Allende and Morelia). And it is beautiful! We just wish we could have stayed longer in Guanajuato than the few days we did. And we would have liked to have done some hiking, as you did :-). Maybe we’ll just have to go back?

  23. Thanks for the post. I really enjoyed it- especially the photos! I completely agree with you- one of my favorite activities is also aimless wandering! Actually while studying abroad here two years ago, my friends and I gave it a name- urban hiking! I never get bored of it and even two years later, it is still one of my favorite activities here. I hope you don’t mind that I shared your blog on the facebook page of the language school where I work (http://escuelafalcon.com/). I think our students will really enjoy it. Thanks so much for a great post!

  24. We are going to Gaunajuato tomorrow, we are currently in Celaya. And have ridden a motorcycle from Seattle, WA, to this point. I have found that the diversity of Mexico is so amazing and the people have been so welcoming as we travel through cities, desserts, towns, and mountains. Thanks for your site Im excited about Gaunajuato !

    • I’ve only just seen this post. I live in G’to and accept CouchSurfers. I don’t have my ‘available’ sign up at the moment because I’ve been away and will leave again soon but I’m here fora few days. Contact me if you are interested.

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