With impressive displays of color, artsy culture, intriguing history, and breath of romance, the quaint city of Guanajuato leaves a big impression on those who visit it.
Easily accessed by public bus, it’s a convenient and noteworthy destination in its own right… or can easily be enjoyed as an extension to any trip in the central region of Mexico.
Guanajuato, the capital of the state which shares its name, once lured in the Spanish searching for luxurious minerals, like silver. Mining shaped its development into a hub of economic, political, and social importance.
It eventually became the temporary capital of Mexico and was later named a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Host to a fair share of war battles and revolutionary movements, the city’s dark past is monumentally outweighed by its expressions of beauty.
To appreciate the city to its fullest, here are the top things to see and do in Guanajuato.
Things to do in Guanajuato
Explore Guanajuato’s warren of tunnels
A proper introduction to Guanajuato starts with entry into the city via a series of tunnels.
Initially serving to divert waters of Rio Guanajuato to prevent flooding during the mining era, these tunnels now serve to manage traffic flow in an ever-growing city.
Though tunnels don’t typically conjure up excitement, this system of tunnels is unique because of the sheer number of them.
Varied routes can be enjoyed navigating the city underground and many of the tunnels offer pedestrian walkways connecting you between top attractions.
Romantic, thrilling, or eerie… that’s for you to decide.
Alhóndiga de Granaditas
This neoclassical building once served as a public grain exchange or warehouse. It was here that hundreds of Spanish loyals locked themselves inside trying to evade thousands of insurgents led by Miguel Hidalgo during the Mexican War of Independence. That day, all those in hiding were massacred and the building burned.
Later, the Alhóndiga served as a prison for roughly a century.
Though it carries a turbulent past, this building memorializes heroes and leaders of the Mexican Independence and now serves as The Regional Museum of Guanajuato.
Walking through the Alhóndiga, various exhibits showcase stories, art, and relics of the Independence in addition to a small collection of Pre-Hispanic art.
Take the funicular up the hills
I was a bit skeptical of this attraction as it seemed to be most obviously some sort of tourist ride…but actually, this turned out to be one of the most memorable experiences I had while in Guanajuato.
Without a doubt, your visit to Guanajuato should include this trip up to the top of the hills via this cable car. There, you’ll be greeted by the iconic El Pilipa statue and hands down the best view over Guanajuato.
Tip: make the trip at least 30 minutes before sunset to secure a good view and watch as the lights turn on over the city… it’s an unforgettable experience.
See the Juarez Theatre
An intriguing venue for enthusiasts of performing arts and flamboyant neoclassical architecture, Juarez Theatre is a perfect pit stop during your daytime walk or for an evening out.
Juarez Theatre hosts a variety of entertainment including dance performances, concerts, plays, and film screenings. It is typically open to the public for walk-through 10am-1:45 pm daily.
If you’re hoping to catch a show, make sure to purchase tickets ahead of time at the box office.
Get a load of history on a walking tour
It’s already been said that Guanajuato is very much a walking city. With plenty of interesting historic landmarks found throughout the city, taking a local walking tour can be a great way to see the sights and get familiarized with the city.
The city center and its adjacent mines are UNESCO World Heritage Sites and they are well preserved to maintain their cultural value. There is a lot of history packed into Guanajuato and checking out the city streets with a local who knows the ins and outs is ideal for people who really want to get the local feel.
See Diego Rivera’s childhood home
Husband to the illustrious Frida Khalo, Diego Rivera was a powerhouse artist in his own right. While most probably associate Rivera with La Casa Azul in Mexico City where he lived and worked in Khalo, Rivera’s humble beginnings started in downtown Guanajuato.
Born in 1886, Rivera was born into a well-to-do family and at the age of three, one year after his twin brother died, he began writing and drawing on the walls. Instead of punishing him, his parents put up chalkboards to encourage his artistic endeavor.
The Diego Rivera home in Guanajuato is a museum dedicated to preserving the space as it was when he was born. The site includes his and others’ works which influenced his art and life.
The tiny alleyway of Callejón del Beso
Callejón del Beso, or Alley of the Kiss, is the smallest of the tiny alleyways in Guanajuato.
As with many great things in Mexico, it gained popularity as an attraction by means of tragic legend.
On one side, a wealthy young lady once lived. In love with a poor miner, she would lean out of her window to kiss her forbidden lover on the other side. Her controlling and jealous father discovered her and killed her with a dagger… and the miner then took his own life later at the mine. The alleyway is now said to bestow good luck to lovers who visit and kiss on its steps.
It’s definitely a worthwhile romantic stop, but avoid locals trying to sell you their hand-drawn pictures of the alleyway—within seconds and without permission they try to write your name on the art, guilting you into a purchase.
Visit the dead at the Mummy Museum
If you’re a fan of the macabre, this museum will surely be a weird highlight for you.
The Guanajuato Mummy Museum is home to a few dozen mummies. From 1865 to 1958 the city of Guanajuato required people to pay a grave tax. When their living relatives couldn’t pay, the bodies were simply put elsewhere. Due to the dry conditions of the soil in the area, many of those bodies were naturally mummified.
When a large number of mummies were eventually collected over time, interest in seeing them grew and the museum opened.
Because they formed naturally, the displays here are a little more gruesome than your average Egyptian-mummy, with twisted and contorted features and gaunt faces.
Eat at the Mercado Hidalgo
In comparison to other major tourist hubs, Guanajuato has a smaller, emerging culinary scene. Still, there is a nice balance of cheap, affordable local plates and restaurants featuring global or contemporary cuisine.
For quick and cheap eats, check out Mercado Hidalgo, a large central market that offers a good variety of local foods.
The peaceful yet gruesome gardens of Cochero
Covered in lush greenery and picturesque views, the Hacienda del Cochero is a beautiful spot outside the city offering a nice respite from the close quarters of downtown Guanajuato.
The hacienda is covered with vines, left green plants, and vibrantly coloured flowers. The outside of the hacienda is a sight in itself but what lies beneath definitely doesn’t reflect the beauty of what is above.
The tunnel-like entrance that leads under the gardens leads to a maze of corridors and a museum filled with grim displays and exhibitions of torture devices. According to the museum, the Hacienda del Cochero served as a torture complex during the Spanish Inquisition.
Torturing Natives and locals until they renounced their religion for Christianity. General law-breakers and ne’er-do-wells were also subject to punishment too.
Explore the mines with the experts
In the 1540s, the Spanish found large deposits of gold in the area, followed by silver and other minerals. Mines were dug and forts were built as, naturally, the Spanish wanted to protect their investment.
Currently, there are two mines open to the public for tours. It goes without saying that maybe if you’re claustrophobic, you might want to sit this one out.
The El Nopal mine is the closest to the city and has tour guides offered by local students for as low as 1.50$ USD. The second and larger mine is La Valenciana, which during the 17th century was the deepest mine in the area. Guests can descend into the 60m long mineshaft and get an up-close look at what makes Guanajuato the place it is today.
Discover nearby San Miguel De Allende by horse
Located about 74 miles east of the city of Guanajuato, San Miguel de Allende is another little colonial-era town filled with gorgeous baroque architecture. Its location in the central highlands means that access to the road is a little sparse but the paths are perfect for horseback riding.
Plenty of tours offer guests the chance to learn to ride a horse, where they will then explore the highlands and desert paths before riding into the city of San Miguel de Allende. Discover the urban landscape of the city from horseback and admire its ornate baroque architecture, old cobblestone streets, and finish off your journey with a stop in a local cantina.
For more, see these things to see and do in San Miguel de Allende.
Savor the local wine
While the Mexican region of Baja Peninsula is most known for growing and producing good wine, Guanajuato’s wine industry is also quite booming. If you fancy yourself a wine aficionado, consider checking out the wineries and sampling the local varieties.
There are roughly 25 wineries around the Guanajuato and San Miguel de Allende area so there’s no shortage of places to choose from. Hacienda San José Lavista, Dos Búhos, and Rancho Toyan are regarded as some of the best.
You may need a car to get here, but tours are widely available to book as well.
Catch the International Cervantino Festival
Guanajuato has an unwavering obsession over Miguel Cervantes, the famous Spanish writer of influential novels such as Don Quixote.
The legend goes that in 1939 a young refugee made it to Mexico after fleeing a French Concentration Camp, bringing with him Don Quixote, a book he had gained by trading a pack of cigarettes. Finding relief through reading and connection with Don Quixote’s human fight for justice, he began collecting Don Quixote art, amassing a large collection that he later donated for public enjoyment as a gesture of thanks to Mexico. This collection has now become the Don Quixote Iconographic Museum.
Traveling to Guanajuato mid to late October, you can experience the International Cervantino Festival, honoring a tradition started in the 1970s of performing short plays by Cervantes in the public squares. Now, world-class artists and performers join from around the globe offering plays, dance, operas, folk and contemporary music, visual arts, workshops and classes. Throughout the year, you’ll likely run into street performers dressed in Cervantino garb reciting plays throughout the day.
Getting to Guanajuato
Guanajuato is easily accessed via public bus from Mexico City or neighboring towns, such as San Miguel de Allende. First class buses from Mexico City provide impressive comforts for an affordable price—a great opportunity for a little luxury for the budget-minded traveler.
Leon International airport is about 45 minutes away and shuttles can be arranged cheaply to and from Guanajuato. Shuttles provide more comfort, but also a bit more safety in this area over a regional taxi.
Once in Guanajuato, walking is the easiest way to get around, but Ubers and taxis are also available. Though taxis are relatively safe, the rates are not well regulated and the vehicles are typically quite worn, sometimes without a working meter.
Original article by Tiffany Mead. Updated by the Indie Traveller team.