This trip was a very last minute affair, as ‘C’ only realised he had the day off towards the end of last week, and he phoned me up from work and asked if I wanted to go away for the weekend? Mmm..of course!! So we quickly did a bit of research, booked our hotel and by 8 o’clock on Saturday morning we were on the road to Guanajuato.
What an incredible weekend we had! Guanajuato is actually a UNESCO world heritage site and considered one of the most beautiful cities in Mexico. It is an incredibly charming colonial city that is filled with opulent colonial buildings, peaceful tree filled plaza’s and multi-coloured houses perching on the steep slopes of a ravine. The city was one of the most important cities during the Spanish rule as the surrounding hills and mountains were rich with minerals. In fact for over two hundred years, the mines surrounding Guanajuato supplied 20% of the world’s silver!
Not only was it an incredibly important city in regards to its wealth – but the city has a significant place in Mexico’s history as well. In 1810, it’s citizens joined the independence fighters and defeated the Spanish loyalists, seizing the city of Guanajuato in the rebellion’s first military victory. Unfortunately however, when the Spanish re-took the city they brutally retaliated with the infamous ‘lottery of death’ where by the names of Guanajuato’s citizens were picked at random, and the so called ‘winners’ were tortured and hanged.
Today however, Guanajuato is far cry from its bloody past and is much better known for its acclaimed annual international arts festival called the festival Cervantino, its interesting museums and beautiful theatre. There is also an infectious youthful vibrancy to the city which most likely is attributed to the 20,000 or-so students, whom attend the city’s university.
For me what I really loved about this city, was its twisting streets and its narrow winding alleyways or callejones as they are called. You can stroll around them for hours getting lost and finding yourself again, looking at the beautiful coloured houses and architecture, and catching a fleeting glimpse into the lives of people who live there.
What I really noticed most about this city – is how quite and calm it is for a Mexican city! There is hardly any traffic, as most of the city is for pedestrians only. Apart from one or two main roads, the majority of the roads have been constructed underground in an ingenious tunnel network that runs underneath the city, hence there are no traffic lights, no direct carbon dioxide emission and no incessant honking of the horn (something I feel haunts me here in Mexico).
As it is the rainy season here in Mexico, it more or less rained the entire time we were in Guanjuato. Well, almost the entire time, on our last morning – we woke up to glorious sunshine! But, you know what? the rain did not bother us at all, in fact it was the perfect weather to go look at museums and explore a city. Somehow it gave the whole weekend this incredibly cosy and intimate atmosphere; huddled under our umbrellas, taking refuge under a doorway when the rain got too heavy, sitting in a little cafe drinking our hot lattes, going back to the hotel in the afternoon slightly cold and damp, drying off and taking an afternoon nap before going down to the plaza for dinner. It just couldn’t get any better!
This will be a weekend I will remember for a long time to come!
If you are ever planning on visiting Guanajuato, here are a few recommendations that I hope you enjoy as much as we did.
Hotel: El Meson de Las Poetas
We stayed at El Meson de Las Poetas (http://www.mesondelospoetas.com/v2/home.html) which was an incredibly quaint mid-range hotel, located in the middle of town. It really is a fantastic spot for sight-seeing, as the majority of the sites are all located in the city centre. The hotel itself is incredibly quirky in both design and architecture, which for me was part of its charm. Looking from the front of the hotel you would have no idea how deep and high this hotel actually is, and the rooms are spread throughout the building a bit like a rabbit warren.
The staff were incredibly friendly and hospitable and the rooms were spotless and our sheets smelled clean and fresh, which for me is an instant indicator of what the quality of the hotel is like – am I the only person who smells the pillow when they enter the room?
Each room is named after a famous poet and apparently decorated with that Poet in mind (according to the website) I don’t think that is necessarily the case, but the rooms were very well equipped, although slightly dark, but as we were out sight-seeing the whole day this did not bother us and made for very cosy sleeping! The only aspect that you should be aware of is that the walls are very thin and you can hear people shuffling about in the corridors.
If you are planning on driving it should be noted noted that you cannot park near the hotel but rather in a parking house about two or three blocks away. However the hotel covers the cost of that parking during your stay, and as Guanajuato is a walking city we did not use our car again until we left.
Restaurant Casa Valdaz
This is a great restaurant right on the corner of Jardin de La Union, which is a lovely tree covered plaza where you
can see people milling about, mariachi’s playing music and people in general bustling around and enjoying their evening, We enjoyed this restaurant so much we actually went back the following evening as well.
The location is excellent and it has a lovely outdoor seating area where you can see part of Teatro Juarez as well as feel the vibe of the city. We sat outside both evenings, but indoors is very elegant too – for me it had a very 1920s feel to it, and I can imagine
that due to its proximity to the theatre this would be ‘the’ place come before or after a show for a bite to eat.
Its a predominantly European restaurant, which naturally has a few Mexican dishes and Mexican flare. This suited us
perfectly as we get a bit bored of eating the local cuisine all the time, its nice to spice it up slightly! The first night we had a rather light meal and shared a few starters, a desert and lots of tequila :) the following night, we shared a salad and one of the steaks -which was fantastic, and really is their speciality. However their deserts are rather uninspiring – but as I’m not really a desert person, that really did not bother me.
We had lovely service both nights we were there, served by two different waiters but overseen by the maître de. The only slight disappointment I had, was that they are not open on New Years Eve – as we are going back Guanajuato with my family, and I thought this would be the perfect place to celebrate in the New Years!
This is a large indoor market that was not only designed (apparently) by Alexander Gustave Eiffel himself (yes, the very same Mr Eiffel) but a fantastic place for having lunch! There are lots of little food stalls you can choose between, but there is a woman there who has stolen ‘C’s’ heart as she makes the best roast pork sandwhiches in town. C has talked so much about these sandwhiches since he was fist in Guanajuato over a year ago, so I had pretty high expectations, and they definitely lived up to them. Her name is Senora Olivia and she is located roughly on the left hand side of the Market if you were to enter through the main door way, very close to the man who sells chillies (you can’t miss him!)
Museo Incografico del Quijote
This is an art museum dedicated entirely to the legendary literary figure Don Quijote. To be fair I had no idea who Don Quijote was until I met ‘C’, but I have now grown to realise what an important figure he actually is in the literary world. In the museum which is an old house, there is every media of art imaginable, from paintings, to sculptures, to tapestry, all done by various artists through out different time periods. According to the guide book the museum includes pieces from Dali, Picasso and Baumier, but I did not see them, despite keeping my eye-out. None the less, this is a really lovely and well curated museum and definitely worth a visit.
Casa Diego Riviera
This must have been my absolute favourite museum in all of Guanajuato. The museum was in fact Diego Riviera’s birthplace,
and his family home until they moved to Mexico City when he was 6 years old. The first floor of the house is the family home, where you can get an idea of how they lived and the beutiful antique furniture they had. But it really is the second and third floor which was of interest to me as this is where a collection of his paintings and art work are displayed, some of which he had made when he was no more than 10 years old! Definitely one of the highlights for me and a place that must be visited if you are in Guanajuato whether you like Diego’s art or not.
Another must go to site! . This is the kind of place you really need a tour guide so that you can fully appreciate the immense work that went into this theatre and the history that goes with it. Teatro Juares is amazingly beautiful and intricate, and how it appear on the outside does not prepare you on how lavish and opulent it is on the inside. The theatre itself indicates how rich Guanajuato must have been during its hay day.
Museo Del Pueblo
Not one of my favourite museums but worth a quick look around if you have the time (or if it is raining!). It is in the former home of a wealthy mine owner and it now exhibits art pieces from pre-colombian to modern times. There was a photography exhibition on while we were there which was quite interesting to look at, but I probably would not go back if I were to visit Guanajuato again.
Alhondiga De Granaditas
The Alhondiga was originally a massive grain-and-seed store house, however in 1810 it became site of the first major rebel victory. The Spanish troops and loyalist leaders apparently baracaded themselves inside the Alhondiga when the rebels, led by Miguel Hidalgo attempted to take over Guanajuato. However a young miner called Juan Jose de Los Reyes Martinez (aka El Pipila) under orders from Hidalgo tied a stone slab on his back, and crawled towards the main gates of The Alhondiga. Protected from the Spaniards bullets, he managed to reach the gates and set them ablaze, allowing the rebels to move in and kill most of those inside.
Today the structure still stands and you are still able to see the bullet-scarred walls from the outside. However the inside has now been converted into a regional museum covering art, ethnography and archaeology, there is also an incredible mural depicting the city’s history done by Chavez Morado covering the stairways. For me, this was the best part of the museum and well worth to visit just to look at them, as they are incredibly moving and it really gives you a visual understanding of the history.
Monumento A el Pipila
This monument is dedicated to El Pipila (the young miner whom I just mentioned). It is situated quite high up on one of the city’s surrounding hill so it is an excellent vantage point of the entire city. As it was raining when we went up, it lost some of its charm, but I can imagine it would be absolutely beutiful to be up there on a clear day or even at sun set. There is a big statue there
which depicts El Pipila holding is famous torch high over the city – apparently you can even walk up the statue..but neither ‘C’ nor I had any desire to do so. Going up to the statue is quite fun too as there is a little funicular that will bring you up the steep slope.
So there you have it! This is theperfect place to go to for a long weekend. You can pretty much see everything there is to see in a day or two, but it really is the atmosphere of Guanajuato which I found the most appealing. As I previously mentioned we are planning on coming out here with my family when they come to visit at Christmas and I really can’t wait to show them such a quaint little Mexican City – I hope that they enjoy it as much as we did!