Guanajuato City Guide
Guanajuato Location: Central Mexico
Looking at Guanajuato from a distant hillside you’ll see a panorama of colored houses layered on the sides of ravines. This charming setting, together with its history, tradition, culture, gorgeous architecture and mild climate make Guanajuato for many, Mexico’s finest colonial city. Founded in 1557, Guanajuato – derived from the Tarascan Quanax-huato, meaning ‘Place of Frogs’ – was declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1988.
The best way to see the city, absorb its distinctive atmosphere and appreciate the colonial architecture is on foot. This is especially true given that much of the private traffic is carried below ground in tunnels – originally built to prevent the Guanajuato River from flooding the city. The river now runs deeper below ground but the networks of underground roadways are an essential part of Guanajuato’s originality. Above the ground, many of Guanajuato’s streets end suddenly in quaint plazas or at the base of steps rising up as a narrow alleyway – a callejón.
A great way to pass an hour or two is to tag along with one of the organized walking tours called Callejoneadas – these tours wind along the twisting back alleys following a student minstrel group known as Estudiantinas. Some of these groups have existed for many years, such as ‘La Tuna Provincial’, formed during the 1970s. You can usually identify which Estudiantina it is that you are following by looking at the collar on the costume that they are wearing.
The Estudiantinas leave every evening during the summer months and the Festival Cervantino (Friday and Saturday nights at any other time) from outside the Teatro Juárez or in front of San Diego overlooking the Jardín de la Unión. You can get details from any of the information booths, but you could simply hang around the Jardín around 9:00pm and you’re bound to hear singing or laughing. You’ll be invited to share some wine – just buy one of the peculiar ceramic jugs (called a ‘porrón’), then just follow the crowd through the twisting callejónes. Sooner or later, all these promenades reach the narrowest of all the alleys – only 23 inches wide at its narrowest point – the famous Callejón del Beso. You are told that couples smooching on the third step will be guaranteed everlasting happiness – and if you are alone, after a little wine you might just kiss anyone!
For centuries Guanajuato was the most important silver city in Mexico, more recently it is better known as a university city. The extravagant State University is now one of the most prestigious in Mexico and during school time; the student population makes the city a vibrant place. The structure itself was completely remodeled in the 1950s from a Jesuit seminary – designed to blend in with nearby buildings. A climb to the top of the broad steps offers a fine view of the surrounding rooftops.
Undoubtedly, one of Guanajuato’s most famous sons is the painter and muralist Diego Rivera. He was born in the house located at Pocitos 47 in 1886, now the Museo Casa Diego Rivera, displaying some of his family’s household possessions, including the bed where Diego’s mother gave birth to him. The collection of paintings and sketches on the upper floors mark his changing styles. There is a detailed biography on the wall of the top floor and a small gift shop to the left of the entrance hall selling postcards, posters and T-shirts.
Between Juárez and Pocitos stands the forbidding Alhóndiga de Granaditas (Tues-Sat, 10:00-1:30, 4:00-5:30, Sun, 10:00-2:30), originally built as a granary and finished in 1809, it is the most important of all the historical monuments in the city. Within a year of its completion it came under siege, following the 1810 proclamation of Independence by Father Miguel Hidalgo in nearby Dolores. A young miner named José de los Reyes set the great wooden doors ablaze with a shield of stone and a flaming torch, martyring himself in the process, but permitting the Mexican insurgents to storm the building and rout the Spanish garrison held up inside. The hero miner — known thereafter as ‘El Pípila’ – is honored with a monument that crowns a hill overlooking the city. Although the struggle for Independence had been ignited, this particular triumph was short-lived; the severed heads of the rebel leaders were suspended from baskets from the four corners of the building as a gruesome lesson to the city’s inhabitants. The hooks from which the baskets were hung are still visible. Later converted from a prison into a museum, there is a fascinating collection of exhibits – mostly historical documents, objects and paintings from the period around Mexican Independence.
South of the Alhóndiga, along Juárez, is the Mercado Hidalgo – a huge iron-framed structure resembling a Victorian railway station dating from 1910. The market stalls are filled to overflowing with neat mounds of fruit and vegetables – the greatest selection in the whole region, due to the fact that the state of Guanajuato is the breadbasket of Mexico. A section attached to the main market sells cheap comida corrida.
The International Festival Cervantino is definitely Latin America’s most important arts festival, attracting around 150,000 visitors annually. It has been held in Guanajuato every October since 1972 as a homage to the Spanish writer Miguel de Cervantes (who wrote Don Quixote). Artists converge from all over the world to perform in recitals, concerts, plays, ballet, contemporary dance and opera in the city’s wonderful colonial buildings and plazas (especially the gilded Teatro Juárez). There are also many art exhibitions.
As many as 50,000 tickets go on sale a few days before the festival starts. Tickets are available from the main ticket office located on the south side of the Teatro Juárez from mid-August – and from Ticketmaster (Mexico). The most expensive tickets (for a performance in the Teatro Juárez, for example) can cost $250 pesos with the cheapest about $15 pesos.
Things To See And Do In The Area
- Explore the city on foot
- Enjoy nightly live music in the city center
- Visit some fascinating local museums
- Enjoy wonderful weather
- Visit some great cafes, restaurants and bars
- Visit the surrounding area.
- And much…much…more!
We are confident that learning Spanish at the Guanajuato Spanish School will be a wonderful experience!
Getting To Guanajuato, Mexico
- You can fly into Leon and then take a bus or taxi to Guanajuato (50 miles)
- We can arrange airport pickup from Leon if desired
- Take a bus from Guadalajara (3.5 hours) or Mexico City (4 hours)
If you have questions about how to arrive into Guanajuato, Mexico please do not hesitate to contact us.