Guanajuato: The Most Beautiful City in Mexico

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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.

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Guanajuato, Mexico

 

Exploring Guanajuato

We 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 de la Paz, Guanajuato

Plaza de la Paz

Plaza in Guanajuato, Mexico

Another cute plaza

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.

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 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, Mexico

 

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.

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Things to Do in Guanajuato

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.

Goats on the Road have more suggestions for things to do in Guanajuato.

Jacaranda tree, Guanajuato

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

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Where to Stay in Guanajuato

Booking.com lists hotels and guesthouses for every budget such as Hotel Boutique 1850, a beautiful high-end hotel, and Casa Tepozanes, an inexpensive, friendly and charming guesthouse.

Airbnb is a good place to find private rooms and apartments—perfect for living like a local and for longer stays. Get $39 off your first stay by signing up here.

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Where to Eat in Guanajuato

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.

If you’re not vegetarian, The Luxury Latin America blog has shared their favourite restaurants in Guanajuato.

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How to Get to Guanajuato

Bus

We arrived and left on very comfortable Primera Plus buses. From Mexico City (Mexico Norte station) to Guanajuato it takes five hours and costs 513 pesos/ $28 (plus a small fee for buying at an Oxxo store rather than going to the bus station). To Puerto Vallarta on the coast, the overnight bus takes nine hours and costs 893 pesos/$49.

Plane

Guanajuato’s nearest international airport is Del Bajío (BJX) in Silao 30 minutes away. Search for cheap deals on Kiwi.com, which offers a lot of flexibility (choose a date range to find the cheapest day to fly). From the US it could be cheaper to fly to Mexico City and take the bus. 

Interjet flies from Mexico City to Del Bajío airport if you don’t want to take the bus. 

Budget airlines charge for checking in luggage. To avoid these fees, pack light and travel with just carry-on luggage. My book, The Carry-On Traveller: The Ultimate Guide to Packing Light, shows you how.

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Resources for Planning a Trip to Guanajuato

  • Travel insurance— Don’t travel without it. We use and recommend True Traveller (UK/EU citizens) and World Nomads (US and worldwide). 
  • Guidebook – Lonely Planet Mexico is my favourite guidebook and was updated in 2016 (I buy the Kindle version). 
  • Expense tracker app – To track your travel expenses use our iOS app Trail Wallet, which will help you stay on budget and know how much you’re spending in both Mexican pesos and your home currency.
  • Travel resources page – For more tools and gear recommendations to help you plan your trip.
Guanajuato, Mexico

Guanajuato has been called the most beautiful city in Mexico and it’s definitely the most attractive city we’ve visited with its colourful buildings, tree-lined streets, lovely plazas, and easy escape to the mountains.

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Is Guanajuato the most beautiful city in Mexico? Take a look at our photo essay and decide for yourself.

Are you looking for Christmas gift ideas? See our guide to the 50 Best Gifts for Travelers. They are ideal for travel lovers who want to pack light and include something for every budget.

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202 Comments (13 pingbacks)

  1. Hi, I saw a post where one woman said that the air-quality was very bad there. Is that true? From the photos it looks like the sky is blue and I don’t see smogy air but photos can be deceptive. I would really appreciate an answer.. thank you in advance, Robin

    Reply

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