Guanajuato: A Vacation to the Heart of Mexico
I always say that the mark of a good vacation is when you start looking at the “For Sale” signs on the homes. No matter how much a traveler loves her job, her hometown, her native country, the temptation to pull up roots and plant a flag somewhere new is always there. And the more I like a destination, the more detailed my Run Away From It All scenario gets. During my trip to Guanajuato, Mexico I had all but called up the airline and asked what would happen if I didn’t show up for my return flight home.
I first fell in love with Guanajuato by reading Tony Cohan’s travel memoir Mexican Days. A Los Angeles native, Tony fled the hectic pace of big city life for San Miguel de Allende. But when the gringos began to arrive in droves, he decided to move again, this time to a new town that was still mostly undiscovered by foreign tourists: Guanajuato.
Guanajuato is the name of the state in the geographic center of Mexico and the city that is its crown jewel. The city was once the center of the silver mining industry and wealthy barons from Spain settled here, building soaring cathedrals, cobblestone streets, and stately mansions.
The mines are still active today, producing gorgeous silver jewelry, but thanks to a revolution or two, the colonial settlers have gone home. But the most interesting aspect of the city is not, for a change, the gorgeous architecture or cobblestone streets. I would argue that title goes to the tunelas, hands down.
The city was built on the Guanajuato River and an elaborate network of tunnels or tunelas were constructed to keep it from flooding. Eventually nature proved too difficult to master and the river was diverted away from the city. Instead of filling in the tunelas, the city paved them with cobblestones and today cars use them to zip around. Not only do they keep the narrow above-ground streets fairly free of traffic, the tunelas give the whole city a somewhat eerie medieval feel, as though there’s a secret labyrinth beneath.
Much like San Miguel, the actual city is the attraction here, but unlike its more famous neighbor, Guanajuato has not been overrun with foreign tourists. In fact it is primarily a college town, thanks to the University of Guanajuato. But one attraction you shouldn’t miss is the childhood home of Diego Rivera, which has been turned into a small but charming museum. Another is El Callejon del Besos, or the Alley of Kisses. This tiny alley is named after Guanajuato’s own Romeo and Juliet, who, legend has it, were forbidden to be together. At night they would meet on their separate balconies and lean across to share an illicit kiss.
There’s also the (in)famous Mummy Museum but my husband outright refused to go upon hearing that the mummies were, ahem, rather recently dead and not ancient people.
If you tackle that small handful of attractions, you’ve pretty much seen the sights. But the real joy of visiting Guanajuato is being in Guanajuato. We spent our days strolling the Jardin de la Union, dining on the incredible enchiladas and tamales, sipping margaritas on sunny terraces, and relaxing, reveling in being just one of tiny handful of Americans in town.
In fact, everywhere we went, people would call out to us saying, Hola, jovenes! trying to get us to notice their street wares: delicious churros, fresh-cut fruit, and handicrafts. (For those who don’t speak Spanish, they were saying, Hey there, young people!)
And always, the sounds of Mexico followed us. The mariachis were at the ready to play a happy tune while you sipped your margarita. Here, I recorded a song for you:
And while I never found a hotel that I truly loved (please, leave a comment if you know a good one) we did ultimately settle on a very unique place to stay that charmed me in spite of its faults. It was nestled at the top of Guanajuato’s funicular and we enjoyed free tickets on the wacky little cable car for our entire trip.
Plus, it afforded sweeping views like this.
And all of this was enjoyed for pennies on the dollar, thanks to the exchange rate. Ready to pack your bags? Pop over to our Mexico deals page and see what you can find. You won’t be sorry.
My name: Alison Presley
Nickname: Presbo, because I'm good police.
How I earn my keep: I'm the manager of Travelocity's Travel for Good program. Visit Travel for Good to learn more about our green travel and voluntourism initiatives!
What kind of traveler am I: I'm an intrepid food explorer. I usually starve myself on the plane (not that that's too hard to do) so that the moment my toes touch foreign soil I'm ready to sample new and exciting cuisine. I like to dine everywhere from hole-in-the-wall local secrets to Michelin Guide gems. Cannelés, poi, boiled peanuts, oxtail soup, poutine--there's no stopping this adventurous palate.
Greatest travel lesson I've learned: It doesn't cost a lot of money to do good. Offsetting your carbon impact only adds a few bucks to your trip, green hotels are very affordable, and volunteering locally during your vacation is a great way to give back and learn about the culture.