Guanajuato, the capital of the central Mexican state of the same name, is not like many of the other places in Mexico we visited. Built in a valley surrounded by hills, it’s made up of narrow, winding streets and as such feels a lot more like an old European city than a Mexican one. Built on the success of the silver mines that lay beneath the city, its economy mainly relies on tourism nowadays, though compared to nearby San Miguel de Allende, it definitely doesn’t feel like it.
The hills covered in colourful buildings are what first strike you when you arrive in Guanajuato. Nothing is dull: everything is painted in bright colours, with seemingly no regard for coordinating with neighbours. Somehow, it works though!
The landscape of the city reminded me of Lisbon, though without the sea. Everywhere you go in the town is either up or down hill, and even though the distances are not large, it may take some time since Guanajuato sits at 2000 metres above sea level, so walking up an incline can quickly leave you out of breath.
Almost any point above the centre of the city offers impressive views of the surrounding area, so just walking uphill and then turning around to see how far you’ve climbed can be quite rewarding.
One of the most expansive views, and without the climb, can be had from the Monumento al Pípila, reachable by the town’s only funicular railway, which costs M$25 each way.
The ride up is quite lovely, and the views from both the viewing terrace at the top and the monument just a few stairs away are quite spectacular. Seeing it from above like this is also a good way to orient yourself in the town.
Back at street level, just wandering around the town, you’ll stumble across many gems of colonial architecture, especially the multiple squares. The cute and diminutive Plazuela del Baratillo and the larger and grander Plaza de la Paz with its manicured garden and imposing yellow church were favourites of ours.
Interestingly, Guanajuato was the birthplace of famous Mexican muralist and husband of Frida Kahlo, Diego Rivera. The Museo Casa Diego Rivera occupies the house where he was born and raised, and great care has been taken to recreate how it would’ve looked at that time. There are a few pieces of his early work, but mostly it is interesting to visit for a glimpse into his life. And these so-bad-they’re-good papier mâché statues of him and Frida!
Its closeness to nature is another thing that makes Guanajuato so appealing. Since the town is in a valley, you can get some even more expansive and panoramic views if you climb a bit out of town and into the surrounding mountains. Cerro de la Bufa, roughly 4 kilometres to the south of downtown Guanajuato offers a pleasant hike out of town and easy access to the countryside.
Getting out of the town requires some pretty steep ascents, though these are all on paved streets, and some even with steps so it’s relatively easy. I managed to hike there and back into town in around 2 hours using nothing more than Google Maps to guide me.
This fully vegetarian falafel restaurant is actually almost 100% vegan, except they have an option for garlic or chipotle yoghurt dressing with most meals: the tahini alternative is vegan, though. With perfectly crispy falafel, smooth hummus and filling stuffed vine leaves, it’s ideal for a comforting and filling meal. They also have soup and most dishes can be served as a plate or in a sandwich. Being Mexico, everything is served with fresh limes and the aguas frescas as on point. It gets busy at lunchtime, so come early (1-2pm) to get a seat.
We ate churros almost every night we were in Guanajuato at this place on Plazuela del Baratillo! I double checked, and their batter is vegan, though nothing else they serve (except espresso) is: the hot chocolate already contains milk as do all of the possible fillings for the churros and they don’t have any alternative milks. The location is nothing special, but it’s clean and bright. The plain churros rolled in sugar, are worth visiting for though!
With simple but tasty food, this place marks its vegan options clearly on the menu and the location just across the street from the Museo Casa Diego Rivera has a relaxing ambiance with a great view. Dishes are a mix of typical Mexican fare such as tacos, and more general items such as sandwiches, soups and burgers. It’s nothing amazing, but is a decent lunch option and everything was served with a smile.
With a few fruit sorbets, but unfortunately no non-dairy milk based ice creams, this place is still worth a visit for the hipster design and pleasantly odd roof terrace with views up towards the funicular.
Where to Stay in Guanajuato
Part of the charm of Guanajuato is that it is so walkable: even staying outside of the centre proper, you can easily get around everywhere by foot. We stayed in a very pleasant Airbnb apartment (use this link to get £17/€20/$25 off your first booking!) just a five minute walk from the centre of town. If you’re looking for something even more central and with more extras included, try Edelmira Hotel Boutique with its cosy, modern rooms and an indoor pool, Hotel Alonso 10 Boutique & Arte for some old-world decadence or the super fancy and sleek Hotel Boutique 1850 right in the heart of Guanajuato.
Here’s a handy map showing the places mentioned in this post.
Have you been to Guanajuato? What do you think makes it special?