With the ongoing pandemic and cold weather, I decamped to the Mexican city of Guanajuato for a week to work remotely. While I couldn't fully enjoy everything that the city had to offer, I have to say that this may be my favorite place in Mexico so far, because it is so unique.
Guanajuato is the capital of the state of the same name, and is located at about 6,800 ft (2,000 m) elevation surrounded by hills. In fact, the city itself is in the hills too. There is little flat land, with narrow passageways that meander through the city, up steep slopes. The streets are such a maze of ribbons that it is easy for even the least directionally challenged person to get completely lost after just a few minutes. There are roads that cut through troughs below street level and several tunnels completely out of sight. There are beautiful courtyards and plazas with manicured trees that almost resemble topiary. At night, mariachi bands and people dressed in Spanish colonial garb vie for your attention as they play music and tell stories.
The city has a rich history, the site of several mines, lavish architecture, and an insurrection against Spanish troops during the struggle for independence.
Jardin de la Union at the center of town. You can stroll and dine under large manicured trees where mariachi bands will play you a song for 200 pesos.
Elsewhere there were manicured trees, too. They really try to keep up appearances here!
On the right is the Mercado Hidalgo, originally built to be a train station in Antwerp, Belgium. Note the manicured trees in front.
Mining wealth allowed the construction of lavish buildings like the Teatro Juarez and the basilica in the Plaza de la Paz.
The coolest thing about Guanajuato is what makes it so different from other towns. You can get lost for hours in the callejones (alleys) that wend their way through the city. Many are narrow with frequent turns and stairs when it gets steep. So it was hard to really capture these in photos. But they were also beautiful because so many residents painted their buildings with bright colors!
As you can see, many of the alleys feature views of the valley above or below. As a kid I used to explore my neighborhood for trees to hide in and trails through the forest. But here, kids have an endless playground of passageways!
Just one of the ways that Guanajuato is confusing to get around: Do I go straight and up (which connects to an alley off to the right) or straight and down?
I also stumbled onto this pretty courtyard
And the maze isn't just above ground. Streets (and sidewalks) also travel below ground to create shortcuts between two places where the topography doesn't exactly cooperate.
This is just one of the roads that travels below street level and eventually through tunnels under the city.
Of course, being a city from the colonial era there is plenty of colonial architecture to enjoy.
But there are also colonial reenactors, as you can see in the picture on the left above in front of the church. They run "callejoneadas" nightly, where they take groups of people around the city, drinks in hand, as they play music and tell stories about the places they visit. On the right you can see a picture of them leading a group on the steps of one of the alleys. Because of COVID, I did not want to be in close proximity to so many people, so I took this picture from a distance and watched for a few minutes before moving on. But post-pandemic I'll have to check this out for sure.
This is the view from my $10/night Airbnb, which overlooks the one flat part of the city, filled with a baseball stadium. Sadly, because of COVID there were no games I could watch from my porch. Also, the catch for such a cheap place to stay was that it required a climb of about 150 steps from the street to my front door. But the view was really something:
You can climb (or take a funicular) up to the large statue of El Pipila, an independence hero who enabled fellow colonists to overrun a granary and set fire to it while Spanish troops were trapped inside. The statue overlooks the city center and affords some pretty views. I went at night and it was cool to see everything lit up.
Unfortunately, on my last day (and the only full day that I had planed to explore more), I was sick in bed with food poisoning. The (Mexican) food was excellent, and ironically it was on the one day that I ate non-Mexican food that I got sick. I think it was a poke restaurant I visited (where the poke was dry and mediocre) that probably got me sick. So stick to the Mexican food and you'll hopefully be fine!
From the BJX Airport To Guanajuto by Public Transportation:
I flew into the Leon/Guanajuato airport (BJX) and did not want to take a taxi (500 pesos) or a motor coach bus in the wrong direction to Leon, which are the only two options from the airport. Fortunately, I discovered that there is a way to get to Guanajuato via public transportation:
From the airport, walk to the highway and use the yellow bridge to pass over the highway to the other side. Just south of the bridge, you'll see a bus stop area. Look for a bus that is heading for Silao, which should run every 15-20 minutes or so. Board the bus and tell the driver you're going to the center of Silao. This should cost 16 pesos (US $0.80). Once at the Silao bus station, exit and board the bus for Guanajuato - Centro. For me, it was the same bus I just got off. This bus cost 30 pesos (US $1.50) but made several stops. I was told that there is another bus from Silao to Guanajuato centro that is direct and costs just a bit more. But since the local bus was leaving immediately, I just jumped on it.
My total travel time from boarding the bus on the highway in front of the airport, to being dropped off in Guanajuato was about 1.5 hours.
The bus drops you off on Route 110, about 1.5 km (1 mile) west of the Jardin de la Union, so you will need to walk about 20 minutes or take city transportation from there. But this is still far cheaper than the 500 pesos that a taxi will charge you from the airport! In theory this should also work when traveling from Guanajuato to the airport, but the bus to Silao doesn't start running until 6am. And I had a 7:30am flight from BJX so I had to take a taxi. This cost me 400 pesos, plus 33 pesos for the toll plaza on the highway.