Although we have traveled extensively through Mexico over the past few years and have visited most of the major cities in this massive country, somehow the UNESCO World Heritage City of Guanajuato had escaped our attention. As the saying goes, it seems we saved the best for last.
There are so many great things to do in Guanajuato!
Within hours of our arrival, we knew we were somewhere special. After a far too short stay of ten days in this charming colonial city, we were madly in love and never wanted to leave. The European-esque cobblestone streets and narrow callejons (alleyways), the tree shaded squares full of sidewalk cafes, the beautiful colonial architecture and the obvious appreciation of the arts is enough to win anyone’s heart, but that is just the beginning of the seduction.
We have to admit that part of the charm for us was the lack of masses of tourists. For this reason, we almost hesitate to share our admiration of the city. Of course, we can’t really do that since it’s our job to share our experiences. Plus as with any new love, it’s really hard to keep it to yourself as you want to shout it from the mountain tops…which Guanajuato has btw!
Our Favorite Things to do in Guanajuato
Now, just because Guanajuato city isn’t at the top of every guide book list of Mexican tourist destinations, doesn’t mean there isn’t plenty to wow and entertain visitors from around the world. In fact, even with ten days in the city we still have plenty more to look forward to on our return (which will be asap).
So, now that we’ve professed our undying love, we will share with you all some of our favorite things to do in Guanajuato, Mexico…the land of legends.
Go on a Food & City Tour
We think the first thing you should do in any city is to take a tour, get your bearings, and then plan out the rest of your stay. The Guanajuato Mexico Street Food Tour is our first choice for this beautiful city. Don’t let the name fool you, this is so much more than an introduction to the street food of Guanajuato. Although you do get a very thorough overview and come away with a deliciously full stomach.
The Mexico Street Food Tour does a brilliant job of combining local tastings with a really good overview of the city, its culture, and its history. Imagine sipping a freshly squeezed juice from the local market as you stroll the narrow cobblestone callejones, enjoying a moist and delicious tamale while hearing the tragic love story of Callejon del Besso or crunching on a quitla colche sope (sort of a Mexican pizza) while overlooking the city at the giant foot of Monumento El Pipila. This is just a taste of what you will get with The Mexico Street Food Tour.
Kiss at Callejon del Beso
Speaking of love, you really must visit the romantic spot of Callejon del Beso. If you are with your significant other, or someone you wish were, share a kiss on the third step of this impossibly narrow street and it is said that your love will last forever.
The local legend says that a young well to do girl lived in one of the houses and she fell in love with a common miner at church, who later rented a room across the street to be close to her. The balconies of the two houses practically touched and the young lovers were able to share a nightly kiss. One night her greedy father, who wanted her to marry a rich Spaniard, caught them and in his rage plunged a dagger into her heart. The young miner later jumped to his death at the mine not willing to live without his beloved.
Take the Funicular to the Monumento a El Pipila
You can see the giant statue of El Pipila rising high above the historic center of Guanajuato. Although you can hike up the steep steps to reach him the funicular is much more fun. We advise that you then take the steps back down to see a lovely mural depicting some of the city’s historic events.
El Pipila is the nickname given to a miner named Juan José de los Reyes Martínez. He was given the name after an uprising, led by the famous independence leader Hidalgo, against the Governor. Pipila is said to have carried a massive flagstone on his back to shield him from the barrage of arrows as he crawled to the Corm Exchange where the Governor had a stronghold. He then lit the door on fire allowing the people to storm the building and take control. They say that if it wasn’t for his heroic act, it would have been much longer before Mexico achieved independence.
*Tip: This is also a great spot to watch the sunset and then view the city as it lights up for the evening.
Visit the Museo de las Momias (Mummy Museum)
This morbid mummy museum is not for everybody…forgive the pun…but it is hugely popular with the Mexican people. We would normally caution against bringing kids but on the day we visited there was a school field trip and there were about 60 kids ranging in age from 4-14 who were just loving it.
There are dozens of mummies on display here including babies, which to me was the most horrific. These bodies were naturally mummified due to the specific climate in Guanajuato and were exhumed between 1870 and 1958 when the “perpetual” burial tax was not paid. The mummified bodies were stored in a building next to the cemetery and in the early 1900’s workers decided to start charging a fee to see them. The fact that these are not the ancient Egyptian type of mummies that we are used to seeing but rather people who live in the 1800’s somehow makes it even more macabre.
They are not wrapped in cloth so what you see is their shriveled but preserved skin. Some even still have facial and pubic hair! But one of the creepiest things may be the descriptions of their life and death written in the first person as if they are talking to you. The story of poor Ignacia Aguilar who was buried alive after a strange sickness led her family to believe her heart had stopped may be the worst.
Head out of town to the Tequilera Corralejo Tour
You may be familiar with Corralejo tequila which is most commonly sold in a distinct, tall, blue bottle. Well it turns out the Corralejo distillery is only a two-hour drive from Guanajuato city and makes for a great day trip even if you’re not a big tequila fan…don’t tell the Mexicans that though.
Although the Corralejo brand is just barely over 20 years old, the distillery is housed in a gorgeous hacienda from the 1700’s which makes the tour fun for the whole family. Entrance and tour (in Spanish) is completely free and you should plan to spend a couple of hours exploring the beautiful barrel rooms, roasting ovens, stills, liquor museum and hacienda grounds. The tour winds up in a large gift shop and tasting room where you can taste any and all of the Corralejo tequilas and also their vodka and rum. Be sure to try the delicious and creamy chocolate vodka.
Visit the Templo de San Cayetano de la Valenciana
The Templo de San Cayetano looks down on the city of Guanajuato from high up on a hill in the village of Valenciana. The intricate pink stone facade is just a taste of the splendor inside where the walls and ceilings are adorned with gold, silver and filigree details and massive religious paintings.
As with many sights in Guanajuato there is a legend attached to the church. It is said that the Spaniard who started the Valenciana silver mine promised the saint, San Cayetano, that if he struck rich he would build a lavish church in the saints name.
Tip: You can also go on a tour of the Valenciana mine which is very close to the church.
Attend an event at Teatro Juarez
Our first sighting of Teatro Juarez took us a bit by surprise due to the location, tucked away among the narrow cobblestone streets in the historic area, and the unexpected architectural style. The exterior is inspired by a Greek temple with 12 columns, brass capitals and eight massive bronze sculptures depicting the Greek muses. However, the lavish interior is more Oriental or Moorish in style creating a rather eclectic overall impression.
If there happens to be a performance at the beautiful Teatro Juarez during your visit don’t miss the opportunity to attend. We were able to see a performance by the Guanajuato symphony for just 100 pesos and it was wonderful! On non-performance days the theater is open to public viewing.
People watch at a sidewalk cafe
The combination of a European feel, the wonderful festive Mexican atmosphere and year round pleasant temperatures make Guanajuato a perfect place to spend some time at a sidewalk cafe. Luckily they are in abundance here.
All along the charming streets and callejons of the historic center and in the numerous squares and plazas you will find restaurants, cafes, and bars with inviting al fresco tables. Take a seat and order a meal, a refreshing drink or maybe some Mezcal and take your time savoring life going on all around you. One of the great things about Mexico is that you will never be rushed off in order to free up a seat. Once you’ve purchased something that seat is your for as long as you wish.
Get lost in the windy cobblestone streets
One of our most favorite things to do in Guanajuato is simply to wander. The narrow, cobblestone streets of the historic city invite you to just enjoy getting lost. They wind around and go up and down with many pedestrian areas, plazas, and squares to explore.
It seems that around every corner you find some new and awesome building or sight that will have you pulling out your camera or searching for a spot to sit and just soak it all in. Plus there are the street stands of enticing treats. Ice cream, donuts, fruit, tacos, tamales, fresh juice… the city is a feast for all the senses.
Explore and eat at the Mercado Hidalgo
The main market in Guanajuato is the Mercado Hidalgo and it is housed in a classical iron building from the Industrial era that was originally meant to be a train station. Inside you will find a mishmash of stalls selling almost anything you can imagine from clothing to food to grilled insects. As with most Mexican markets, it can get pretty busy so plan to take your time jostling with the locals as you shop and taste your way around.
If you’re hungry you are definitely in a good place. Within the market, you can choose from lots of stalls selling tortas, tacos, seafood…pretty much any type of Mexican tasties you may want. Just pull up a stool at the counter and enjoy. Outside Hidalgo is Gavira market which is three levels full of small restaurants selling local meals at great prices. If you haven’t tried cochinita yet, one of our favorite items, the market area is a good place for it.
Interesting fact: The lattice steel structure housing the clock tower was designed by Alexandre Gustave Eiffel (creator of the famous Eiffel Tower).
Go Bar Hopping
Guanajuato is a University town so there are plenty of funky little bars, lounges, and cafes to explore in the evening. You can splurge on a fancy cocktail at a swanky rooftop lounge, enjoy a glass of wine at a sidewalk cafe, sip on a flavored mezcal at a cool hole in the wall bar or show off your dance moves at a salsa club. Oh, and if you’re a man, you can try out one of the traditional cantinas…just watch out for the machismo that often shows up.
We really enjoyed the dark and tiny hole in the wall bars but they can be hard to find if you don’t have a local to show you around. A good option is to do as we did and join the Bars and Tacos Night Tour. We spent an evening with a fun and knowledgeable guide who took us to several great little bars where we sampled mezcal, pulque and other local favorites with a couple of stops for some taco sustenance. It was a great night!
Tip: If you only go to one bar make it the eclectic, Bohemian style La Clave Azul, but plan to go early as they are more of an afternoon, early evening hangout.
As we mentioned, these are just a few of the things to do in Guanajuato, we have plenty more that we’ve saved for our next visit. We want to take a Spanish Langauge course, do the pilgrimage to Christ the King, join a Callejoneada (walking serenade) and visit the Don Quixote and Diego Rivera museums, to name just a few. Truth be told Guanajuato is a city that we could see ourselves setting up home for a few months. So stay tuned, our next post on Guanajuato could well be our tips for finding a home! But then again, maybe we’ll just keep that to ourselves.