There’s something about the light in Guanajauto, Mexico.

Situated in a deep valley with colorful and picturesque colonial houses perched on the surrounding hills, Guanajuato is  positively luminous at any time of the day. When we arrived after driving all day from Mexico City, the city was aglow in the late afternoon sun.

Guanajuato isn’t just beautiful, it was also ground zero in Mexico’s struggle for independence from Spain in the 19th century. The sense of history here is palpable – just visit the Alhóndiga de Granaditas to understand Guanajuato’s key role in shaking off Spanish colonial rule. Guanajuato is also a city shaped by mining; at one time in the 18th century, it was known as the silver mining capital of the world. Today’s Guanajuato hosts several universities and a large student population, which gives the town a youthful and lively feel (especially during Holy Week, when we were there!).

Our four-day visit to Guanajuato was a huge highlight of our April trip to Mexico, bookended by stays in Mexico City and also including a couple of days in San Miguel de Allende (post coming up!). Here are our favorite things to see and do  there. As usual, some photos are in galleries – just click the first one to view each in sequence.

Just . . . walk

There’s no better way to catch the vibe of a city than to explore it on foot, and Guanajuato is an incredibly walkable town. Over our four days there, we walked almost 40 miles! Our first night, we lost ourselves in the narrow, cobbled streets and alleys in the shadow of colorful old homes, watching the light play over the surrounding hillsides as the sun went down.

Soak up the history

To begin your Mexican history lesson, start with the Alhóndiga de Granaditas – also known as the Regional Museum of Guanajuato. Completed in 1809 as a grain storage facility, the monumental building has also served as a warehouse, military barracks, and prison. But the Alhóndiga’s stately appearance belies its rather grisly role in the Mexican War of Independence, beginning with the events of September 1810.

Then, about 300 Spanish loyalists took refuge inside the building when Father Miguel Hidalgo y Costilla’s insurgent troops arrived in Guanajuato. Later, in the first battle of the war, the insurgents stormed the building and killed everyone inside. But their victory was short-lived. The Spanish authorities rounded up the four insurgent leaders – Hidalgo, along with Ignacio Allende, Juan Aldama, and José Mariano Jimenez – shot and decapitated them, and then hung their heads from the four corners of the Alhóndiga to discourage any other would-be rebels. Those pitiful heads hung there for 10 years (eww!!) until Mexico achieved its independence in 1821.

Today, the Alhóndiga is an impressive museum with 14 permanent exhibition rooms covering Mexico’s pre-colonial, colonial, and national eras.  

Another very interesting historic site is the Museo Palacio de los Poderes, a beautiful neoclassical building that served as the seat of government for Guanajuato state until 2016.

Tip: These and most other Guanajuato museums are closed on Mondays.

Experience Las Momias

We’re a bit conflicted about Guanajuato’s famous mummies. On the one hand, the Museo de Momias is fascinating, and it’s also Guanajuato’s most-visited tourist attraction. On the other hand, upon leaving we couldn’t help but feel sad. The mummies are displayed beautifully and with dignity, but the museum still felt a little exploitive. I wonder what the people who originally occupied those bodies would think, if they could see themselves like this with tourist after tourist gawking at them?

The museum displays 57 mummified bodies, remains of people who died during a cholera outbreak in 1833. The mummies were disinterred between 1870 and 1958, apparently because no one had paid a tax on their behalf for perpetual burial. The evicted mummies were stored for many years in a building that eventually became today’s Museum of Mummies. It’s well worth a visit, albeit unsettling.

Walk up to El Pipila – or take the Funicular

It’s hard to miss the El Pipila Monument, looming high on a hill overlooking Guanajuato. Completed in 1939, the monument honors a mine worker who played a key role in the insurgents’ taking of the Alhóndiga de Granaditas in 1810. To reach the top, you can walk up the scenic, mural-festooned path or take the Funicular, a quaint rail car pulled up the mountain by motorized cables. We took the Funicular up and then walked down.

Tip: Look for the Funicular station located behind the Teatro Juarez; it opens at 8 a.m. on weekdays and 9 a.m. on weekends. Beware of weekends and holiday weeks, because it can be a mob scene. We arrived right as it opened at 8 a.m. and were the first ones up. Later, the line of Holy Week vacationers waiting to ride was snaking around the block.

Explore Diego Rivera’s roots 

The world-famous muralist Diego Rivera was born in Guanajuato in 1886 and spent the first few years of his life there. His family home was turned into a museum in the 1970s, the Museo Casa Diego Rivera. If you’re a fan of Rivera’s work, and that of his legendary wife Frida Kahlo, this small museum is a must. Its permanent exhibits include Rivera’s early drawings and paintings.

When we were there, the museum featured a temporary exhibit of photographs by the famed Colombian photographer Leo Matiz, a contemporary of Diego and Frida’s.

Tip: The Museo Casa Diego Rivera is only open Tuesday-Saturday.

Take a day trip to Dolores Hidalgo

The nearby town of Dolores Hidalgo is much more than a pretty Mexican pueblo – it’s known as the birthplace of Mexican independence. Here, on September 16, 1810, Father Miguel Hidalgo y Costilla issued his famous Grito de Dolores, a call to arms that triggered the war for independence from Spain. Yup,  the same Father Hidalgo whose followers would storm the Alhondiga in Guanajuato a little over a week later.

Today Dolores Hidalgo is also known for its ceramics industry. You’ll find workshop after workshop selling colorful and beautiful ceramics items in the talavera style, and at very reasonable prices.

Tips: Dolores Hidalgo is about an hour’s drive from Guanajuato through some very pretty, rugged and mountainous desert terrain. We had our rental car, but Unebus offers bus service every two hours from the Guanajuato central bus terminal. For lunch, check out Da Monica for excellent Italian food.

More cool things about Guanajuato

  • Check out El Callejon del Beso, the Alley of the Kiss. One of the city’s narrowest alleys terminates at a spot where two balconies are just a few feet apart. The story goes that two young lovers living in the opposing apartments met on the balconies to kiss on the sly, although the girl’s father forbade the relationship. There’s more to the story, which is supposedly true and tragic in a Shakespearean way. The alley is kitschy but fun and worth a stop.
  • Guanajuato is famous for its tunnels. This network of subterranean roadways was originally designed to support the mining industry and to prevent flooding from the nearby Guanajuato River. Today, the tunnels are effective in keeping  most traffic off the surface streets and making the city even more pedestrian-friendly.
  • Guanajuato is a college town, anchored by the monumental Universidad de Guanajuato. Two examples of Guanajuato’s collegiate influence are the International Cervantes Festival and the Callejoneadas, groups of strolling minstrels (primarily U of G students) who traverse the streets every night playing music and telling jokes and stories. We didn’t join a group this time – just too much Holy week craziness – but we heard them come by our street almost every night. Tip: To join a Callejoneada group, you can buy a ticket from one of the costumed musicians who hang out at the Plaza de la Paz in the afternoons. There are typically two tours each evening.

Other Tips

  • We rented a car at the Mexico City airport from MEX Rent-a-Car and drove to Guanajuato, about a four-hour trip. We were happy with the car and the rental company; however, we would hire a driver or take a bus next time (the many tolls and cost of gas really added up!).
  • In hindsight, it probably wasn’t the best idea to come to Guanajuato during Holy Week. The city was bursting at the seams with tourists, mostly Mexicans from Mexico City and other larger cities nearby. On one memorable afternoon, after driving back from Dolores Hidalgo, we spent a couple of hours stuck in near-standstill traffic in the tunnels. Our advice: Avoid major holidays; even normal weekends can also be crowded.
  • We had a lovely stay at the Antiguo Vapor Hotel. Our room was spacious and comfortable and featured panoramic views of the city.
    Expansive city views from our room at the Antiguo Vapor

    My favorite – an Aperol spritz – at Bartolo
  • Bartola is a fabulous rooftop bar in the Casa del Rector, a beautiful boutique hotel. Bartola is a great place to watch the sun go down and take in fabulous views of Guanajuato.
  • Guanajuato is filled with outstanding restaurants. Our favorites were: La Bohemia, Mestizo (we loved Mestizo so much that we went twice), La Tasca for excellent sangria and people-watching on the Plaza de la Paz, La Vela for tacos near the Funicular, and Santo Café for breakfast.

Coming Next: San Miguel de Allende and Wine Country – Our Final Mexico Post (For Now)!

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  1. G Phillips Reply

    Beautiful pictures! I love all the history of this area. My Uncle was instrumental in establishing The English Library there and lived there as an American expat until his death recently. I hope to go visit at some point. Thanks for yr post!

    • John and Susan Pazera Reply

      Thanks so much! We hope you get to visit Guanajuato someday and trace your uncle’s footsteps. It’s such a beautiful city!

  2. Stunning photos! I visited that area of Mexico in 1981. Great to see your photos and hear your tales. I felt the same way about the mummies, that I was intruding into their afterlife. I would repeat the trip except for that museum. Buen viaje!

    • John and Susan Pazera Reply

      Thank you, Rebecca! Yes, I think we’ll let those mummies rest in peace next time we visit Guanajuato. Glad you enjoyed the post!

  3. A great summation of your trip to Guanajuato and Dolores. The first time I went to the mummy museum, it was still in its old, sort of run-down building, the day after a friend had died. I’ve been to the new building several times since then, and I find it an oddly healing experience, not unsettling at all. The mummies depict what we leave behind when we depart the physical world.

    Try and watch the film El Estudiante, which is one of the greatest Mexican movies ever made. It will take you right back to Guanajuato.

    • John and Susan Pazera Reply

      Thank you, Jennifer! That’s an interesting take on the mummies – makes me see them from another angle. If anything, the mummies remind us how transitory life is. We’ll check out El Estudiante if we can find a place to stream it. Thanks for the recc!
      – Susan

  4. Guanajuato is such a beautiful and historic city. I love the bright colors! Thank you again for taking us along on your amazing trip!

    • John and Susan Pazera Reply

      Thanks for your kind comment, Mimi! Glad you enjoyed the post (and lots of love)! 🙂

  5. You captured it perfectly! We had one day there a few years back (a day trip from SMA) and loved it. Who would not love such a vibrant and colourful place?! It must have been wonderful to have four days there.
    I love Mexico!

    • John and Susan Pazera Reply

      Thank you, Alison! Now that I’m retired, we’re enjoying having the time to really get to know a place. That said, we really want to get back to Guanajuato – there’s so much more to see. Hope you get back to Mexico someday!
      – Susan

  6. What a stunning, colorful city! There’s so much to Mexico that I’ve yet to explore, and Guanajuato is definitely on my list! A beautiful place just to wander and get lost in!

    • John and Susan Pazera Reply

      You would love Guanajuato, Rebecca! Hope you make it there one of these days.

    • John and Susan Pazera Reply

      Thanks so much for reading! Hope you can visit Guanajuato someday – it’s unforgettable.

  7. Great post, what a beautiful and engaging city – and so archetypically Mexican. Good timing on this post – we arrived in Mexico just last night and are so excited about seeing new parts of this colourful country. Really enjoyed this read.

    • John and Susan Pazera Reply

      Oh, great!! Looking forward to your Mexico posts. We hope to see a lot more of that amazing country. Have a lovely journey!

  8. I think I could happily spend weeks here just wandering through those beautiful colorful streets. The mummies would be really interesting to see. I wonder if they people would be happier knowing that they were remembered in a museum more than thinking no one cared enough to pay for their continuous burial. Great post covering so much of this beautiful city 🙂

    • John and Susan Pazera Reply

      That’s a good way to think about the mummies! Glad you enjoyed the post 🙂

  9. Patricia Powers Reply

    Once again, an excellent post! Gracias for sharing & stay safe, Susan & John❣️

    • John and Susan Pazera Reply

      Thanks so much, Patty! Hope you and Dennis are well 🙂

  10. Excellent and timely post! We spent a few days in Guanajuato ourselves back in May but will be using some of your recommendations for when we return this November. Especially the food & drink part! Like you, I was in two minds about the Mummy Museum experience – and I felt awkward taking photos of the exhibits. But, as you say, it’s fascinating all the same.

    • John and Susan Pazera Reply

      I’m glad you two are headed back to Guanajuato! We could easily spend at least another week there – so much to see and do. It would be nice to be there during a less frantic period that Holy Week – ha! Looking forward to seeing more of your Mexico posts, amigo 🙂

  11. Guanajuato looks beautiful like a place I would love to visit, so much history and looks very romantic with those narrow alleys and colorful murals. I’ve never been there and now I would love to visit, it’s not too far from San Luis Potosí. I really enjoyed reading the history of Alhóndiga de Granaditas, so sad that these revolutionaries ended up executed this way, yet their memory and brave acts will live on forever.

    • John and Susan Pazera Reply

      I hope you can visit Guanajuato, Liz! The sense of history there really is profound. You probably learned all about this in school. Thanks for reading!

  12. What a fabulously colourful city and so full of interesting history! Do you feel safe driving around? I have just finished reading American Dirt and it has frightened the pants off me! Surely the whole country can’t be so unsafe? I would be interested in your thoughts. Mel

    • John and Susan Pazera Reply

      Hi Mel! I have not read American Dirt (yet) but I’m aware of the story. We felt completely safe driving in Mexico, but we’ll probably leave the driving to someone else next time. I think Mexico for the most part is very safe for tourists. Of course there are parts of the country that are no-gos, but the country wants to protect its tourism industry. We have been traveling there for years, and have never had a problem. I hope you can visit Mexico someday!

  13. Guanajuato is such a beautiful town! One of my favourites of the towns I’ve seen in Mexico. I didn’t get to visit the Las Momias though as the line was so long when I was there.

    • John and Susan Pazera Reply

      Glad you got to see Guanajuato – it really is a spectacular place! Thanks for visiting our blog 🙂

  14. You walked a lot! Which is nice because I think it really is the best way to know a city. I remember the first time I learned about Guanajuato from a blog post a few years ago I was instantly captivated. But what I wasn’t aware of is the role this city played in Mexico’s struggle for independence. That makes it even more appealing as a destination. And thanks for introducing Dolores Hidalgo to us as well!

    • John and Susan Pazera Reply

      We agree – we see so much more on foot! Thanks, Bama – glad you enjoyed the post and I hope you can visit Mexico someday.

  15. I love cities that are very walkable, it is great to see everything on foot. This is such a colourful, vibrant, fun place and you have captured it beautifully with all your photos. The Mummies Museum is a little disturbing, but I can see why it would be fascinating to visit…once is probably enough.
    Thank you for all your tips, I hope to return to Mexico in the near future.

    • John and Susan Pazera Reply

      Thanks so much, Gilda! Hope you can visit Mexico soon. And thanks for paving the way for us in Brazil – we’re headed there in October!

  16. What a colourful city, even the churches are colourful. I’m not sure I’d want to see the mummies, it does eem a bit invasive. Thanks for the tour. Maggie

    • John and Susan Pazera Reply

      Glad you enjoyed it, Maggie! Guanajuato really is a feast for the senses 🙂

    • John and Susan Pazera Reply

      Hi Muriel! Hope you’re having a great summer and it’s not too hot up there in Vancouver. Well, Guanajuato and CDMX were such different experiences that it’s hard to compare. Guanajuato is a fairly large city but still has the approachable feel of a small town. Mexico City can be overwhelming unless you take it in chunks and give yourself plenty of time, like we did. To answer your question, I think I preferred Guanajuato because it’s just easier – so walkable, and so easy to see everything on foot. But our time in CDMX was an unforgettable adventure, to be sure!

  17. Such gorgeous and vibrant shades. Appreciate your special tips should we ever visit.

  18. San Miguel de Allende looks beautiful, I can’t wait to visit! It’s interesting to hear that SMA has gotten expensive and very touristy, it doesn’t surprise me, growing up in Mexico, SMA started becoming popular with tourists and it was also ‘the place to be’ for many young people. I don’t think that’s the case now.

    • John and Susan Pazera Reply

      Guanajuato is all that! We hope to return someday. Thanks!

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