With origins dating back to the 1500s, endless horizons of archetypal neighborhoods exploding with color and twisting alleyways revealing the city one sublime step at a time, Guanajuato is unlike anywhere else in the world. While it is a frequent tourist destination for Mexican locals, it remains underrated on the world stage, something that is sure to change in time.
Days can be spent exploring the incomparably delightful streets under the Mexican sun before preparing for the party atmosphere under the stars that Guanajuato provides each and every evening. This is a city that allows visitors to do as much or as little as they want because simply being in Guanajuato is a completely transformative experience.
One of the most reliable signs that a city is worth visiting is the ability to have an emotional reaction by simply walking its streets. Guanajuato is one of the best examples of this.
The center of the city is marvelously pedestrian-friendly, which just a few streets allowing motorized traffic and most allowing freedom to roam for all using only their own energy as transport. Within minutes you will be joyously lost in a labyrinth of color and delight featuring local shops and vendors of every kind. Leave the map behind as you follow nothing more than your instinct and perhaps the smell of a particularly delicious taco emporium.
The Museo de las Momias, or ‘mummy museum,’ is one of the main attractions in Guanajuato and its existence is owed to a gruesome set of events from the city’s past. During a cholera outbreak in the 1800s, there was a rapid rise in deaths and therefore burials and as a result, a cemetery tax came into effect which was unable to be paid by many of the poorer members of society.
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This led to many entombed bodies being exhumed and the discovery was made that the area contained a natural mummification process. When it became clear that morbid tourists were interested in the phenomenon, cemetery workers began charging for the right to view them and a museum was born.
For those not easily shaken, viewing the time-preserved deceased is a perfectly strange way to spend an afternoon in this perfectly intriguing city.
There is no missing this towering red and yellow structure that sits triumphantly in Plaza de la Paz. Constructed all the way back in 1671 and taking 25 years to complete, it is one of the most striking buildings you are ever likely to see.
Open to the public, don’t miss the chance to gaze in wonder at the design miracles inside the basilica and for a truly local experience, attend a Sunday mass in this church that residents of this remarkable city truly adore.
It is also an absolute necessity to view the basilica at night when it is lit up to somehow look even more majestic and ethereal than it does during the day. You certainly don’t need to be religious to feel something moving about this grand building.
While you are in the area of the Grand Basilica, take the opportunity to just sit down and let Guanajuato come to you. Lined with several affordable restaurants, cafes, ice creameries, and cantinas with outdoor seating, there are countless spots to sit in the sun and give yourself a pat on the back for deciding to visit.
Over a cervesa and some guacamole, you can practice your Spanish, befriend the local dogs that roam in groups, listen to the romantic music of mariachis, read a book, or just watch as the day-to-day life of a beautifully unique city flows around you.
Extremely prominent painter Diego Rivera lived from 1886 - 1957 and was born in Guanajuato into a beautiful stately house that now serves as a tribute to his life. Walk the halls that a young Rivera once roamed as he began working on his art at the tender age of just three.
During his life, Rivera painted murals in some of the most historic buildings in Mexico City, Chapingo, Cuernavaca, San Francisco, and New York City that can still be seen today. This beautiful home-turned-museum is extremely cheap to enter and is filled with examples of the revolutionary artists’ work from each stage of his life. Here you are bound to be filled with inspiration as you spill back out onto the historic streets of Guanajuato.
The only way to sample the best views of the city is via a 102-meter ride in the funicular that will astound even the most hardened traveler. Begin the photo frenzy on the slow journey up as the city reveals itself to you well before you reach the climax of the journey.
Those feeling energetic are best served with a one-way ticket that will then allow them the freedom to walk back down via a path comprised of several unique alleyways otherwise invisible to the eye. Here you will see every available view of this historic city and it will somehow still not be enough, such is the majesty of Guanajuato.
The largest indoor market in the city, Mercado Hidalgo has everything you could possibly need when it comes to souvenirs, presents for loved ones and of course, local food specialties.
From fresh vegetables to artisanal crafts, piñatas, clothes, and home-cooked meals, the market is a destination all on its own even if you walk away without purchasing anything. Once you work up an appetite, head to the far end of the market where proprietors from three stories of restaurants will compete for your custom while hanging from balconies. The choice may be difficult but whatever the final decision, you are guaranteed plenty of delicious food.
One specific awe-inspiring alleyway not to be missed is the Callejón Del Beso, a true Guanajuato tradition. The local legend speaks of a young girl from a rich family who fell hopelessly in love with a poor miner against the wishes of her parents.
In an act of supreme romance, the young miner rented the room directly across from his love’s room and as darkness engulfed the city they would stand on their balconies and kiss above the alleyway. As with all urban legends, there may be some truth and some exaggeration to the story but what is concrete is that tourists can visit the very spot spoken of in the tale and share a kiss of their own.
Heading back to the center of town now, don’t miss the famed Juarez Theatre, topped with stunning bronze statues representing the nine muses of Greek mythology.
Built in the late 1800s, the theatre brings some European flair to a city that overflows with Mexican beauty and transports the viewer back in time through its ancient performances sprinkled with a modern flavor. Shows are fairly regular so should you be lucky enough to be in town when one is showing, it is simply not to be missed.
Callejoneadas has been an evening tradition in Guanajuato for over 50 years. A mix of comedy, culture, and music, these interactive tours take place during the retreat of every Mexican sun and are the perfect way to get involved in the local culture.
Musicians dressed in gloriously meticulous period costumes lead the way and provide the soundtrack with live music while slowly cruising around the Old Town and regaling visitors with stories of a time long gone. Each tour is different due to the improvisation from each performer and is conducted in Spanish so non-speakers will need to focus on body language to understand many of the jokes.