Sunday, February 16, 2014

The Essential Guanajuato Travel Guide - Discovering Mexico's City of Frogs

Guanajuato derives its name from the indigenous language to "Quanax huato", which means "hilly place of frogs".

guanajuato city of frogs


I've had an exciting few days wandering around this charming city, taking tours and sampling the local cuisine. I thought it only natural to commemorate my time here by writing a travel guide on the best things to do in Guanajuato. First things first. To get into the Guanajuato valley you must go through the Guanajuato tunnels. You can truly get lost in this compact city with its hundreds of cobblestone passages and underground tunnels. In fact, one of the most striking features of this city is the network of underground tunnels that connect Guanajuato to the outside world. Since Guanajuato is built into a valley, the only feasible mode of transport is using the tunnels built under the mountains. Everywhere you walk in the city, you will see tunnels just like this one. In fact, this one was right next door to my hotel.

guanajuato mexico tunnels


Guanajuato's Baroque influence can be observed around the many churches and main squares of the city. My first recommendation of Guanajuato places to visit is the Basilica of Our Lady of Guanajuato, located in the main plaza of the city. Surrounding this square are charming little restaurants and souvenir shops, and if you're lucky you'll see a group of Mariachi wandering around looking for customers. And if you are keen on sampling some authentic Guanajuato street food at night the atmosphere changes and vendors come out and start selling their handicrafts and cups of buttered corn.

basilica of our lady of guanajuato
basilica of our lady of guanajuato
basilica of our lady of guanajuato


The other main square of the city, Jardin de la Union is the centre of social activities of the city. This square is littered with bustling restaurants, bars and outdoor TVs. The Teatro Juarez, is also easily accessible which is beautifully constructed and meticulously preserved. The theatre is still in use today and you can purchase a ticket to watch a concert or opera. We missed the times for casual viewing but as its only $2 for a general tour its a reasonably priced Guanajuato attraction.

jardin de la union and teatro juarez guanajuato
teatro juarez guanajuato


One of our favourite things to do in Guanajuato was get lost in the twisting and turning cobblestone streets and alleyways. These are just a few of the typical streets I saw wandering around. All the buildings seemingly conform to a set of standard colours which makes for a really nice effect. I think because it is a UNESCO site the landowners are only allowed to paint their properties a certain colour.

guanajuato street


Visiting the Pipila monument at the main lookout is probably the top Guanajuato tourist attraction (and my personal favourite). To get to the top you can take either the funicular or drive. El Pipila is the legend of one of Mexico's first heroes that bravely fought for independence. His monument overlooks the city at its most beautiful lookout. The panoramic view was bustling with tourists and vendors, and everyone trying to get to the front for a clear photo.

guanajuato mirador el pipla
guanajuato mirador el pipla


This is, without a doubt, the best museum in Guanajuato. A little bit morbid but definitely unique this is the most unusual thing to do in Guanajuato. All the mummies were bodies found buried around the city. Due to the lack of humidity in the air, many bodies which are buried here mummified instead of decomposing normally. We saw mummies of normal people, babies and people who had died of unnatural causes. The most significant mummy of the museum was a 6 month old foetus and is the smallest mummy in the world. A little creepy, but very interesting.

museum of the mummies of guanajuato


Since Guanajuato is a mining town there are many mines you can visit. Another unusual thing to do in Guanajuato is visit the Mine of Valencia, which is still used today. Our guide took us right down into the mine, 60 meters underground. He turned off the lights to show us what it was like when there was no light and it was pitch black. Soo scary.

valencian mines guanajuato


Foodie lovers unite. Next on my Guanajuato travel guide is a mecca for street food enthusiats - originally intended to be a train station, this grand building is now the main market of Guanajuato. So many treats can be found in this 2 storey indoor market. Fresh produce, breads, cheeses, seafood and souvenir shops. It's a great way to enjoy local foods with reasonable prices and buy some authentic souvenirs. If you're feeling brave and want to practise your Spanish you can try haggling down the prices too.

hidalgo markets guanajuato


My top rated thing to do in Guanajuato is visit the house and museum of Diego Riviera located in a three story collection. Deceptively modest from the outside, it is a well documented museum with some of the most important pieces of art in Mexico, including works by other contemporary artists. We spent well over an hour here (and if you're a fan I'm sure you could spend a lot longer). Not like your usual museum, part of the museum is his childhood home restored.

museo casa diego rivera guanajuato museum


The Museum of the Inquisition showcased the many torture devices used in Guanajuato during the Holy Inquisition. Another unusual thing to do in Guanajuato that would fly under most peoples radars, it's a small museum, but our guide was lively and entertaining demonstrating to us a vast array of torture devices. We were told that the Inquisition did indeed happen in Guanajuato with the goal of purifying souls and converting them to Christianity.

museum of the inqusition guanajuato

Image attribution:
"Guanajuato from the El Pipila monument" by Jiuguang Wang // CC BY-SA 2.0 * ; "Arquitectura Mercado Hidalgo en Guanajuato" by JoAnto. // CC BY 2.0 *
* changes were made to the original materials

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