Guanajuato is a highly photogenic city that sprawls up the sides of a mountain gorge.
Tucked into the Sierra Madre Occidental, or the western of Mexico’s twin mountain ranges, Guanajuato may be hard to pronounce (wah-na-WHA-toh) but easy to like.
Although the inhabitants of this state capital at 2,015 meters (6,611 feet) above sea level are friendly,
their city has only so-so restaurants that for reasons unknown are generally served by indifferent waiters.
Perhaps these descendents of the Spanish conquerors (who founded this town and established mining operations about 1559)
don’t like to be bossed. Or perhaps the waiters are overextended university students seriously lacking in sleep.
Guanajuato has one of Mexico’s oldest and most venerable institutions of higher learning, the Universidad de Guanajuato,
with colleges of mine engineering, law, and theatrical arts.
If restaurants aren’t Guanajuato’s strong suit and the narrow streets as often as not head uphill,
perhaps travel agents should sell it as a dieter’s paradise.
And this colonial city has so many beautiful churches and churrigueresque, baroque,
and neoclassic facades that walking here is a pleasure. Outdoor cafes teem with people talking politics and fashion.
Crooked alleys lead to dead ends drenched in flowering vines and washing strung high above the cobblestones from third-story windows,
or to stairs leading to more twisty streets faced with colorful buildings. El Callejón del Beso is a famous lane so narrow that lovers
can smooch from balconies on either side of the street.
There’s a youthful air that perfumes the city, and plenty for visitors to do.
Weekend nights you might luck into a callejoneada, a moveable,
musical party that wind through the streets, often with a little donkey to carry the hooch,
and bards dressed in medieval costume to entertain. Some are private, others put on by the tourism department,
but it’s almost always possible to tag along. Another unique activity is a visit to the Museo de las Momias,
where some of the town’s own citizens---exhumed from burial plots after their families stop paying a yearly fee---form a macabre display.
More conventional than the Mummy Museum is the Casa-Museo Diego Rivera,
where some of the paintings and sketches of one of Mexico’s top muralists are on display.
Other museums include the Museo del Pueblo de Guanajuato, with several centuries of art in a
venerable old mansion, and the Museo de Don Quijote, which displays exclusively graphics,
statues and other items related to the characters Don Quijote and Sancho Panza.
But one of the nicest things to do in Guanajuato is simply to wander the streets.
Cafes seem to crop up right when you need a break, often as not in one of Guanajuato’s
many lovely plazas. Take a cable car behind Teatro Juárez (the town’s ornate theater,
which regularly hosts theater and concerts) for great views of the city below. The bar there dispenses libations along with the views.
For more exercise, head outside the city to visit
the Mina La Valenciana, the powerhouse mine that for centuries produced a significant percentage of the world’s gold and silver.
It continues operating today on a smaller scale, producing gold, silver, lead, and nickel.
You can take a guided tour, although not into the mine itself.
The dazzling Templo La Valenciana puts to use gold and silver extracted from the nearby mine in a surfeit of churrigueresque flourishes.
Also on the outskirts of town, Ex-Hacienda San Gabriel de Barrera has extensive gardens that can be toured, and the refurbished hacienda houses period European furnishings.