Exploring Guanajuato, Mexico
As week two of our seven week adventure in Mexico came to an end, we took a day trip to Guanajuato, Mexico. It’s only an hour and a half from San Miguel de Allende (where we are staying for two weeks) so it makes for a perfect destination for the day.
To summarize: the city was beautiful. Founded in the 1500’s by the wealth extracted from the town’s silver mines, the town still retains it’s charm today even though silver production has tapered off.
Our trip to Guanajuato was the busiest day we’ve had in Mexico so far, but well worth it. The bus to Guanajuato carried us through arid, rolling mountainous terrain dotted with cacti and scrubby trees. The “rolling mountainous terrain” part of the trip, while scenic, proved troubling for the stomach contents of two of our children who are prone to motion sickness. We paid the very slight $10 USD premium for round trip first class passage which meant the bus had not one but two (!!) bathrooms. One kid spent essentially the whole trip inside the bathroom (the bus line did not assess an additional charge for usage of the second seat). The other kid alternated between napping and barfing up the free cookies they gave us as we boarded the bus.
The rest of the day and the return trip to San Miguel de Allende proved much more successful for all of us (and all of our stomach contents).
We decided to skip the $400 price tag for the five of us to go on a guided tour to Guanajuato and instead spent about $86 USD on a roll-your-own adventure up the hillsides of the town. Here’s the cost breakdown for all five of us:
- First class round trip bus tickets – $53 USD
- 3 taxis around town – $11 USD
- Lunch – $4 USD
- Diego Rivera museum admission – $3 USD
- Silver mine admission – $11 USD
- Funicular ride up the mountain – $4 USD
For lunch, we skipped the $50 USD price tag for a family meal at a sit down restaurant on the plaza and opted for quick slices of take out pizza totaling $4 USD. Yeah, it’s not authentic traditional Mexican food, nor was it gourmet. Toppings include what I assume to be bologna and hot dogs for the kids and peppers, onions, and chorizo for the adults.
We have kids, and sometimes that means you eat bologna and hot dog pizza covered in hot sauce and you like it (it was pretty good, actually). And we didn’t want to spend a quarter of our time in Guanajuato eating lunch at a sit down place with so much other stuff to see.
That’s the only food picture this week, but if you are craving some legit Mexican food, check out last week’s post where we’re basically eating our way through Mexico.
After a short taxi ride from the main bus station, we hopped into the center of town and began our sightseeing. First up, we rode the funicular railroad up the side of the mountain to a scenic overlook of the whole town.
After descending the mountainside on those slippery sloped steps, we strolled through one of the many carefully manicured plazas.
Next up was a brief detour up the steps of the University of Guanajuato.
I’m a big fan of the muralist Diego Rivera (and so are the kids apparently) so we chose the Museo Casa Diego Rivera as our one museum visit for the day. Phenomenal museum that far exceeded my admittedly low expectations. Not huge, but well laid out inside. This is the house where Diego was born and raised. Inside you’ll find art work from Diego, his contemporaries and other more modern artists.
The downtown area of Guanajuato was really scenic and offered convenient wayfinding signs like this one to help those tourists who lack GPS on their phones:
We continued our stroll through town…
And eventually reached this little gem. The Alleyway of Kisses. At two feet wide, rumor has it that some young lady leaned over her balcony and kissed a lad on the other side of the alley and started a duel between their two families a la Romeo and Juliet.
Adding to the quaintness of Guanajuato are the tunnels perforating the subterranean space beneath the city. What looks like a dungeon entrance is really a doorway to a shortcut (if you know your way around the underground labyrinth).
Our taxi drivers took us through a few tunnels. Nothing like disappearing into the hillside of an unknown town and hoping you come out in the right place.
Since we had no fixed itinerary and no tour group to stick with, we decided to explore one of the tunnels to see where it goes.
And found this recessed courtyard a story below the main street level.
The local markets in Mexico are such combinations of colors, smells (good and bad), and noises. The Hidalgo Market in Guanajuato did not deviate from the norm. It’s also the first market that I have seen with a second story of stalls overlooking the ground floor action.
After visiting the market, we jumped in another taxi and headed a few miles north of town to the Valenciana area of Guanajuato. This area is silver mine central. We visited the Boca Mina San Ramon where we donned hard hats and descended hundreds of feet into the earth in an old mine shaft. The mine was over 400 years old, however this particular shaft probably wasn’t that old.
Next door to the silver mines is the ornately decorated La Valenciana church. The local silver barons dumped a lot of wealth into building this church and it shows on this facade.
We skipped the creepy and crappy Mummy Museum based on the trip report on Guanajuato from ours friends at Go Curry Cracker. This museum was promoted all over town but sounded like a tourist trap to me. Since we only had a day in Guanajuato, we didn’t want to waste it at a sub-par museum when there were so many more interesting attractions vying for our attention.
Though I’ve never been to Europe, the winding, narrow cobblestone streets and alleyways of Guanajuato remind me of various places in southern Europe like Granada in Spain and generic postcard towns in Italy. Definitely worth a day trip to Guanajuato if you’re in the area, and it might be a good home base for a longer stay when we return to Mexico in the future.
Next up, we’re headed to Mexico City for another two weeks.