Last year I spent a month in Guanajuato City, and I loved every minute of it. When you are inside the historic centre it feels like a little story book town but with a grungy edge. Street parades seem to spontaneously combust onto the streets and I am still unsure how everyone knows where to be and at what time. It is like someone sends out a mystery text, telling everyone its time to party.
One of the parades that came out of nowhere featured a hot air balloon procession (without the balloon part on) firing their gas cylinders into the sky. This was to celebrate a hot air balloon festival in a near by town. It looked amazing but if you have seen Guanajuato, you will know that the streets are super skinny and tall and a big blast of fire might just set a building a light. But hey, that is why I love Mexico. Not a rule in sight.
My time in Guanajuato was a huge part great, due to my accommodation and hosts. I stayed in an AirBnb hosted buy some amazing people who I am happy to say are my friends to this day. This is one of the things I love most about travelling with AirBnb, you make connections all around the world with fantastic humans. Having local hosts is the best way to get a great insight of the town you are staying in and also if your lucky, a tour guide every now and then.
Being a uni town, the weekends got pretty wild with the youngsters having a few drinks at the bars and a couple clubs in town. It was cool to see a young and vibrant night life and the energy of the crowds just add to the atmosphere.
Guanajuato, Mexico History
Guanajuato City is not only full of a fun and vibrant vibes, it is also chock full of history. I am a bit of a history buff, I love the age of Mexico and hearing the stories of the past and how resilient the country has been over the years. On September 16, 1810, The "Grito de Dolores" (Cry of Dolores/Pain, Cry of Independence) a very famous speech given by Miguel Hidalgo y Costilla urging revolt and for Mexico to separate from Spanish control is considered to be the start of the Mexican War of Independence. The 'Grito' was made in a town just out of Guanajuato called Dolores Hidalgo. Every year the event is celebrated on the night of September 15th around 11pm when the President of Mexico rings the bell of the National Palace and recites a version of the "Grito" celebrating Mexico's independence. The same celebration continues through many towns of Mexico on the 15th and 16th of September and parades and parties ensue.¡Viva México!
Other little chunks of history I love are the old Cantinas. These are bars where the miners in GTO used to have a drink back in the day. If you have ever seen an old western movie with bars that have those swinging saloon doors, old photos and memorabilia piled high, this is what I am talking about. These cantinas are not limited to Guanajuato City but the town has a few historic ones in the centre that are worth a mezcal or three. I am told the general rule back in the day for these miner hangouts was "No women, no dogs and no police". I am glad that this has changed! But one very visually apparent fixture in a few of the Cantinas I visited (which may of dismayed women from visiting back in the day) was a long drain at the foot of the bar where the men stand to drink. When you gotta go, you gotta go I guess! The bar "wee troughs" are no longer is use and serves as a reminder of the old days now. (I hope)
During your stay I suggest a day trip or night stay to San Miguel de Allende. Trips by bus cost you $124 MXN and takes about an hour and a half. The trip is worth it to take a few photos of the beautiful streets and maybe have a nice lunch. It is a bit overpriced in San Miguel, as it is more of a "luxury" Mexican town, with many expats settling here. After spending a night here I was feeling a little overwhelmed by the, I want to say "fake-ness" of the town. I hadn't experienced a location in Mexico like it really. If you don't dig the perfectness then head back to GTO for a more authentic Mexican experience.
What to Explore, Eat & Drink in Guanajuato City
There are so many places to explore, eat, drink and party in GTO and I am happy to share my favourites with you guys:
Eat / Coffee
Habibti Falafel - Delicious middle eastern food, cheap as hell, small menu, great falafel, tasty tabouleh. The fit out is small and cozy, if its full just grab your order for takeaway, find a seat on a near by bench and enjoy.
Delica Mitsu - These guys have two locations but the one I visited on the regular was on Del Campanero. I had been craving good Japanese food for a very long time and that is exactly what I got. Fresh selections of bento available daily in the deli window and a great menu to order from too. I wish they would open up a spot here in Oaxaca City!
Santo Café - Located on Del Campanero, Santo Cafe is a bit of a tourist attraction because they have a really cute foot bridge for an entrance. I liked this place for an afternoon beer or coffee on the bridge in the sun. They have a good selection of veggie options too.
Cafe Tal - Great little coffee shop with a nice variety of beans. They roast and grind in house and the smell drifting onto the street of the process is enough to draw you in. You can buy your coffee grinds here too, which is super convenient.
Aguamiel Café - This place has great sandwiches and juices for a tasty and cheap lunch. Heaps of veg options that are easily modified to vegan if needed. The space is very cute two, located on the second floor of an old building with the doors opening out for a great view of the street below.
La Norteña - Located right next to the Embajadoras, this little cantina is the one I was talking about in my spiel above. It has the wee drain! Also, when you grab a drink when it isn't busy the bartender will bring you some complimentary snacks, like chopped up jícama or some tostadas. Yes! Everyone is winning with free snacks. Also, take your time to check out all the old photos of the towns baseball teams.
Bar El Incendio - Probably the most famous cantina in GTO. The walls are covered in awesome murals based on Mexican history and it also has the old wee trough at the bottom of the front bar from the old days. They offer some great mezcal and the jukebox will most likely be blasting.
La Clave Azul - Find this place no matter what, it is a bit tricky but don't let this dismay you. Your visit to GTO is not complete without coming here. They serve you old school Mexican style, by that I mean when you order drinks, they bring little plates of food. I let the awesome bartender know I was vegan and he modified a few dishes for me which were all really tasty.
La Inundación de 1905 - With over 50 different types of mezcal and a great selection of craft beers you really can't go wrong, can you? I love the location of this bar too, it is in the sunny Plaza de San Fernando and it is a relaxing spot to have a drink and people watch.
La Madera - This place is a little posh, especially on the top outdoor deck. I liked it for the fact you can get a glass of champagne and I hadn't had the chance to sip some bubbles in a while. But, it gets packed full of people and you may find yourself searching for a breath of fresh air outside. Great for a glass of bubbles but not too great if you can't stand crowds.
Golem Bar - My friends from GTO took me here and I loved it. There is a rooftop area is great for a beer and some tacos, also the space has a whisky bar and a burger bar downstairs. There is some pretty cool art throughout and the entire space has a great laid back vibe.
Las Callejoneadas - Groups of musicians dressed in 17th century costumes will guide you around the cities alley ways whilst playing music and giving you some mezcal to sip. It is a fun way to explore the streets. You can jump on one of these tours from Teatro Juarez as it starts to get dark. They cost around $100 MXN per person.
Teatro Juarez - This beautiful theatre is a main tourist attraction. Just the architecture alone is worth the visit, but there are many shows and events here each month so I am sure you will be able to catch something you like here.
Teatro Principal - Another great, but smaller theatre in town. The theatre is managed by the University of Guanajuato and plays host to many cultural events, plays and contemporary dance.
Monumento al Pípila - You can't walk around GTO without spotting the monument to Juan José de los Reyes Martínez “el Pípila” a local hero and miner. To see the monument and the amazing views from the top you can take the Funicular or many steep staircases if you are looking for a good workout.
Callejón del Beso - Another awesome piece of history lies here is the "Alley of the Kiss". Legend has it that Doña Carmen and only daughter of a pretty overbearing and crazy father who in a nut shell wanted her to marry into money and high class, but instead she found love with a poor miner called Don Luis. She was locked away by her father in her house on this skinny alley after he discovered her relationship with the poor miner. Her lover Don Luis brought the house next door that was super close to her window where he could keep in contact with her. Any way, they swore their eternal love from their adjacent balconies, the story has a bit of a tragic ending and I will leave it up to you to find out more. But, apparently you are supposed to kiss your lover on the third step in the 27-inch wide alley to ensure internal love. How cute.
Plaza de La Paz - A beautiful plaza in the middle of GTO city. It is in the shape of a triangle many restaurants and lovely 18th century buildings on the edges and a pretty garden in the middle. Also, the Basilica of Guanajuato is the main feature of the plaza too.
Museo de Las Momias - This museum is not for everyone. At the end of my visit, even though it was really fascinating I had the realisation that I had just spent an hour or so staring at dead bodies. But, check it out if it sparks your fancy. The stories behind each body are very interesting.
Presa de La Olla - This is a beautiful place to walk to and around. It is pretty much a large body of water with a nice park called Florencio Antillon Park. But it is a great spot for a picnic or lunch on a sunny day. Also, every first Monday of July there is a party called The Dia de la Apertura de la Presa de la Olla or The Opening of the Floodgates, has its origins in the 18th century when the custom was to clean the dam.
You have a few options in GTO for accommodation. There are fancy hotels, budget hostels and also many great Airbnb's popping up around town.
Hostel & Bar Encounter - This hostel is located right above Delica Mitsu (The Japanese eatery I mentioned before). So you will be close to all the attractions and great food. They have a selection of mixed dorms from $240 MXN and private rooms from $600 MXN.
Centro Bharati - Located in Plaza Baratillo, right in the heart of things. The have a vegetarian restaurant on site as well as a yoga studio and free breakfast. They have mixed dorms on offer, starting at $189 MXN.
Corral De Comedias - Free breakfast, great location, communal kitchen and dorms starting from $240 MXN and privates from $660 MXN.
Middle Ground $$
For mid tiered travellers looking for their own space, I suggest checking out Airbnb for a great home or private room, depending on your travel style.
Here is where I stayed with AirBnb, I can't recommend the location and hosts enough.
Hey big spender, here are the most luxurious forms of accommodation in GTO. No need for descriptions, if you are going to spend the big bucks you will choose the right hotel for you.
Handy Info about Guanajuato, Mexico:
Language spoken: Spanish
Travel costs: Cheap $
Best coffee spot: Cafe Tal
Favorite bar: Golem Bar
Best way to get around town: Walking