This was our favorite “hang out” town on our last Mexico trip. Guanajuato has just the right mix of colonial architecture, varied geography, great climate, interesting sites, and just enough tourists to make it a fun place to spend a few days (or more.)
I realize it’s been quite some time since my last blog post. About two days after we got back from Mexico, we were both laid low by a horrible flu. I don’t know if we got in when we were in Mexico or on the plane ride back, but this thing hit us both like a ton of bricks (and I did get a flu shot in October!) We are just now coming out of the fog, and this is the first time in a long time that I’ve felt like doing any writing or thinking about travel.
This was our favorite stop on our “Ghost Towns and World Heritage Sites in the Mexican Sierra” trip we did over the holidays. Guanajuato, is a medium-sized town in the silver mining district of the Mexican Sierra Orientale. After silver was discovered here in the late 16th century, the town was built on a series of ravines. The cobbled streets are twisted and narrow and there is a network of subterranean roads to help bigger vehicles navigate the city. It’s at an altitude of about 6000 feet, so it can be chilly. But when we visited there for a few days after New Year’s, the weather was absolutely perfect–in the sunny 70’s during the day, and 50’s at night.
We arrived at the intercity bus station a few miles out-of-town. We then got on a local bus to the Centro. We were surprised when the bus let us off at an underground intersection. We followed the other passengers up a flight of stairs and found ourselves right outside the Central Market.
We walked up the main street to the eastern part of town near the University and found the Hostal Bertha–we stayed here to take advantage of their rooftop terrace with views. At this time of year especially, the streets were jammed with tourists moving east and west along the main boulevard from beautiful plaza to beautiful plaza. Here is the small plaza that was near our hotel.
My favorite hang-out place was in the dense shade of the Plaza de la Union–which was filled with fountains and flowers.
We only spent two nights in Guanajuato, but we were able to pack in a lot of sights. Here are the highlights of what we saw there:
Museo de las Momias
Space is at a premium in Guanajuato. The town is built on several levels and the main graveyard is also. Most of the deceased are interred above ground in multi level mausoleums. These bodies become well-preserved mummies due to the extremely dry air and cool temperatures. If the deceased’s family does not pay the rent on the mausoleum space, then the body is removed. If it has become a mummy and is in good condition, it may be put on display in the macabre and fascinating Museo de las Momias. It is located on the west side of town and most people take a taxi or a bus, but we took the long trudge uphill to the museum to get some morning exercise. The mummies on display are in surprisingly good condition.
The museum contains the “world’s smallest mummy” which is a four-month-old fetus. It is displayed with its mother. The plaque on the display says that the mother was in her 40’s and displayed signs of malnutrition, which may explain her early death.
The Valenciana Mine
We took a local bus up out of the Guanajuato Valley to the town of La Valenciana, the site of a beautiful cathedral and the site of the main mine shaft of the historic La Valenciana mine. You can take a guided tour of the shaft but a guide is not needed to navigate the well-lighted steps down into the mine. Hard hats are provided but are superfluous–I’m wearing mine just to look cool. The mine is not that interesting geologically (We’ve visited tons of mines in our lifetimes) but has been an important historic site in the area for many years.
The first rebel victory in the War of Mexican Independence was fought here at this massive grain warehouse. The Spanish were garrisoned here when a miner nicknamed “El Papila” supposedly strapped a large stone on his back for protection and set fire to the gates. The rebels rushed in and killed most of the Spanish soldiers. In reprisal the Spanish later hung the heads of the rebel leaders Aldama, Allende, Hidalgo, and Jimenez for 10 years from metal cages attached to the four corners of the Alhondiga. We visited the museum in the hopes of seeing the gruesome cages which were supposed to be on display, but alas they were not there!
We lucked out when we sat down for a rest on the stone steps of the Teatro Juarez one evening. A group of singers and musicians dressed in festive medieval costumes began serenading and joking with the crowd that was gathered on the steps. After about 10 minutes we were all on the move through the streets, singing along with the performers as they wound their way uphill. After about 30 minutes, they started selling tickets to continue past a certain point. We had had enough of trying to follow along (it’s all in Spanish!) but the party continued on! The origins of this tradition are unknown.
Diego Rivera House and Museum
This house is where the famous muralist Diego Rivera grew up. It has been restored with period furnishings, and a modern annex has been added to house art exhibits. We had seen the modern house that Diego Rivera and Frido Kahlo had shared in Mexico City a few year ago, and this more traditional house served as nice counterpoint. No pictures were allowed!
Guanajuato, Mexico–Our Kind of Party Town
When we were traveling in our 20’s and 30’s we avoided tourist towns like the plague. Now I’ve come to appreciate the ambiance that a certain number of tourists lends to a town. I’m talking about towns where the majority of the population are natives, but there is a critical mass of tourists that support restaurants, coffee shops and bars! Towns like Banos, Ecuador and Jackson Hole, Wyoming. These are towns to linger in a little longer when you are on the trail–to relax and do nothing, or party!