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.

A great lunch spot until the homeowner asked us to let her out her front door.

A great lunch spot until the homeowner asked us to let her out her front door.  She didn’t mind us borrowing her doorstep temporarily.

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.

sloped-steps-down

The sloped steps on the path back down the mountain. This can’t be safe.

After descending the mountainside on those slippery sloped steps, we strolled through one of the many carefully manicured plazas.

downtown-guanajuato-plaza-1

Jardin de la Union

Next up was a brief detour up the steps of the University of Guanajuato.

Guanajuato, one of the steepest cities I've ever seen.

Guanajuato, one of the steepest cities I’ve ever seen.

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.

museo-casa-diego-rivera

Nothing dehydrates you as much as an art museum where drinking is prohibited.

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:

streets-of-guanajuato

We continued our stroll through town…

downtown-guanajuato-plaza-2

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.

alleyway-of-kisses

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).

guanajuato-tunnel-1

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.

guanajuato-tunnel-2

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.

guanajuato-tunnel-3

And found this recessed courtyard a story below the main street level.

guanajuato-tunnel-4

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.

hidalgo-market-guanajuato

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.

san-ramon-silver-mine-guanajuato

Guanajuato, city of many steps

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.

valenciana-church

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.

 

 

28 comments

  • Guanajuato is a beautiful town, one of our favorites. The tunnels, plazas, and steep hillsides are a lot of fun to explore.

    • I loved it. If we end up back in the area I think we’ll stay in Guanajuato instead of San Miguel de Allende.

      SMA was definitely cool too though. We never made it to Cafe Contento, mostly due to finding the awesome Panaderia Espiga the last few days and eating way too many breads and pastries from there. 🙂

  • Mr. Budgets and I are planning a trip to Mexico next year. We really appreciate all the insights and beautiful pictures you’re sharing on your blog.

    • No problem! I definitely recommend the central part of Mexico within 4 hours or so of Mexico City. Great weather nearly year round, beautiful colonial cities and it’s the “real” Mexico unlike Cancun, Puerto Vallarta and other resort cities (though they are beautiful too just in a different way.)

  • You commented that “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.”

    This is exactly what I thought when I was looking at the pictures in your post. At least from the pictures, it sure looked like this could be a city in Europe. I spent a lot of my time in my youth visiting Western Europe – since half of my family is from Germany. Glad you and your family are having a great time!

    BTW – was the $4 USD for lunch per person?

    • I love finding these colonial gems that look like Europe. Buenos Aires is another good one – kind of like Paris (not that I’ve ever been there either!). But these cities in Latin America fit my budget a lot better than Paris and the food is probably more to my liking too. 🙂

      That $4 USD for lunch is the total cost for the whole family. 6 slices of pizza for $0.65 USD each (10 pesos per slice). We wanted to eat light due to the motion sickness issues on the bus ride to Guanajuato in the morning. We probably could have eaten a whole $7-8 worth if we really wanted to pig out. I almost got some more pizza because it was pretty delicious and had an awesome creamy fiery sauce on the side.

      • It is amazing that it only costs $4 USD to feed the whole family for lunch. Geo arbitrage at work for sure. 🙂

        • It certainly is amazing. Although I think we were staying in a house in San Miguel de Allende with a price tag a few multiples of our Raleigh NC home. And I asked our landlord in Mexico City what the smallish 2 BR apartment is worth and it’s almost as much as our 4 BR 1800 s.f. single family house on a 1/3 acre in Raleigh. I guess we’re staying in some high cost real estate areas but everything else seems to be cheap (and rent is cheap).

  • Great pictures. Thanks for sharing. Time is really flying by for you guys.

  • Pretty little town. If/when we get to Mexico it will have to be added to the agenda. Stay safe.

  • Awesome photos guys. I’ve been around Mexico quite a bit but that is not a city I’ve made it to.

  • Wow, looks incredibly beautiful. Whenever I think of Mexico, I think of beaches and cocktails. It also reminds me a lot of Europe. Maybe, I should be adding this to my list of places I’d like to visit.

    • This is about as far as you can get from the beaches in Mexico, but cocktails aren’t hard to find in Guanajuato. 🙂 Very different vibe from the standard Cabo/Mazatlan/Puerto Vallarta/Cancun/Cozumel resorts though, that’s for sure.

  • Puking kids – sounds terrific 🙂 Looks like even with some little bumps, you guys are still having a blast. Keep the stories and pictures coming.

    • In hindsight, that was the worst part of the day and it only got better from there. And we were very fortunate that the kids took the motion sickness like champs. Very little mess with either kid and we learned to eat light so that any issues on the return trip would be limited too. In the grand scheme of things, I think everyone was happy to make the trip to Guanajuato.

  • I spent a bit of time in Mexico, as my mother lived in Chapala and Mazatlan. I have not been to Mexico for a few years, but it is a different mindset there, especially away from the tourist towns.

    The food can be real good, and sometimes it might be great, but you are just not used to it…

    • We are enjoying the food so far but have also eaten “regular” American food like pizza and fried chicken. Although it’s been “Mexican” style toppings like chorizo, jalapenos, etc on the pizza and the fried chicken came with various spicy sauces and one variety was covered in chimichurri sauce.

  • This was a good post, and awesome pics of the random spots you visited. It is worth it to just take the time to explore and capture moments. My family remembers more the unique experiences on travels rather than just sitting in a resort. Good Luck

    • This is especially true for kids. Rarely do they remember the amazing impressive museums along the way, but they remember silly stuff like seeing random animals (“look! A prairie dog!” as we rest in the shadow of the largest climbable pyramid in the world 🙂 ). So we try to mix it up and visit parks, lakes, nature, and walk all over just to see what we stumble upon.

  • Wow looks like your family is having a great time – the countryside is usually the most beautiful place in foreign countries and the locals can be so charming. Wish you a continued safe journey.
    -Rich

  • Awesome pictures. Great cultural experience for the kids at a great budget. Great reminder that you can have a great time without breaking the budget.

    Enjoy the rest of your trip!

    • Some of the best things in life are in fact free or very close to it. 🙂 And many things that the kids love are completely free. Water puddles, rocks, playgrounds, etc.

  • Looks like some great cities to add to our list when we can FIRE in about 5 years! I’m sure I’ll be referring back to your and GCC’s posts someday for planning.
    At the time you were in the Diego Rivera museum last year, the Detroit Institute of Arts (DIA) was having an exhibit of his and Frida Kahlo’s work. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Detroit_Industry_Murals
    He was commissioned in the 1930’s for 27 mural panels depicting Ford’s manufacturing prowess of the day and many (or all?) still reside there. I’m curious if the Guanajuato museum showed any of his Detroit influence.

    • We didn’t spend a ton of time in that Diego Rivera museum. They had a lot of other works of his beyond just murals. Some early stuff too. Elsewhere in Mexico (such as Mexico City) you can see the 1930’s industrial elements in his murals (lots of working class struggle/strife going on). Palacio de Bellas Artes and the Palacio Nacional are both free to get into and have some nice Rivera murals (the later spans a huge entryway staircase).

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