A WEEKEND IN MEXICO’S MOST BEAUTIFUL CITY
When I was working in Berkeley, California between 2005 and 2008, I often took advantage of cheap weekend flights to Mexico City ($300 RT / 3 hours each way). Taking Friday or Monday off would give me three nights and days to explore a little bit of Mexico City (“the DF”) and to discover a new city in central Mexico (thanks, cheap rental cars).
I took about five of these weekend trips down to Mexico City and I was able to explore the central colonial cities of San Miguel de Allende, Zacatecas, San Luis Potosi, Querétaro and the most beautiful of all, Guanajuanto. Guanajuato is a six hour, 390km drive northwest of Mexico City.
I would recommend taking side roads to see the little towns between. Each town has its own little zocolo (town square) and cathedral. Remember that Mexican tolls are high and you must pay each time to exit (tolls not based on distance). Choose your exits carefully.
From a map, or flying above, the streets and alleys of Guanajuato look like a big bowl of spaghetti. The city sits in a spectacular location nested in a bowllike canyon in the high semi-desert. In the 1500s, silver was discovered here and the city grew around the mining industry. Over the next couple hundred years, Guanajuato produced a third of the world’s silver. It became a rich city and much money and effort was put into creating beautiful parks, theaters, museums and universities. These institutions still exist today. Due to the spectacular landscape and colorful cityscape, Guanajuato was named a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1987.
A weekend is a short time to spend in Guanajuato, but the city is small and most of the neighborhoods and sights can be taken in with just a few days. A week is a better time to devote to the city. It gives you time to relax on the rooftop of your hotel and spend evenings in the Jardin de la Union listening to mariachi music. Guanajuato is a romantic and spectacular place, so give yourself as much time as possible here.
We started our first evening here by exploring the side streets of the central city. Carrying around my tripod and DSLR, I was not keen to exploring the outer neighborhoods, which can get a bit dangerous at night. One evening, on the way back to the apartment I had rented here I walked into a gunfight. But, that’s a whole different story.
The alleys of Guanajuato are endlessly fascinating. They are easy to explore without getting lost, due to the small size of the city and the bowllike topography, which always pushes you back downhill to the center when they get too steep. Once you hit the top of the alley, the street turns into a simple staircase which leads to more homes and pedestrian alleys.
When you’ve reached the top of the street, the alleyway may likely turn into a crooked staircase which takes you to more homes and even more radiating stairways. Be careful, as some residents take suspicion to someone snooping about the further up you go. If you want to explore even further into the landscape, literally, you can push into the city’s maze of underground roadways, which have evolved from the purposes of mining to the purposes of automobile traffic. Today, there is not one road that goes into or out of Guanajuato overland. There is only one way in and one way out and they both poke through Earth. Driving in the city is not recommended, but you an pay a taxi $5-10 to take you around town for 30 minutes to get a glimpse of the awesome tunnels.
For accommodation, we stayed in an apartment I found on Guanajuato’s craigslist page. It cost $50 usd a night and had two bedrooms, two floors and an incredible view. It was a good place to come home to, but considering that the true attraction is the city, not the roof over your head, I’d highly recommend one of the $20 pensions (simple hotel) around town. The best hotels have rooftop gardens from which you can have your morning coffee and take in the colorful cityscape. For a stay of a week or longer I’d recommend apartment rental, as it’ll give you a more “local” feel and a place to catch your breath.
Most tourists come from Mexico City. A bus ride takes 5-6 hours ($35). A rental car is a good option and costs around $15/day (excl. insurance) from Mexico City International Airport. Guanajuato does have an international airport but fares are much higher than in and out of the DF.
I have stayed here and highly recommend it. Great rooftop area to hang out and fun international crowd. Private rooms around $35 and dorms at $14.
Climb to the top of Mount Pipila for an amazing view of the city.
Museo de la Mumia – macabre mummy museum
Teatro Juarez – spectacular Greek and Moorish theater centrally located in the Jardin de la Union