La Casa de Sueños
It’s the end of April, and soon the dried out river in front of my house will swell, the sound of streaming water drowning out the incessant dog barks. Each secluded to their individual rooftops throughout the city, their ferocious calls are an infinite domino effect. I still prefer this to the noise of traffic you’d hear in any city that isn’t pedestrian-ruled.
Cacti are bouncing back and I am becoming increasingly happy with the sight of life all around. Spring time is the ideal time to visit Guanajuato, Mexico.
The house is a part of an authentic hacienda, a large estate that used to be a ranch. I’ve coined my house la casa de sueños (the house of dreams) because of it’s incredible style. With its stone walls and unique colors, it resembles most of the establishments here in Guanajuato.
The Heart of The City
A few times a week, I head toward the center of the city, el Jardin de Union (The Garden of Union). As my legs work up and down hills, I travel by way of narrow cobble-stone streets and underground tunnels. Occasionally, drum beats lead my way, echoing against the surrounding Sierra Madre mountain ranges.
I could never get lost here, for the option to climb a narrow staircase to a vantage point of the entire layout of Guanajuato is always near. I can follow any of the city’s pedestrian-ruled streets that wind through the hills and create a seemingly endless maze. In fact, the structure of this unique city calls for days spent wandering it’s hidden nooks.
The main calles (streets) are lined with tiendas (shops), restaurants, museums, and churches.
Break off the main course onto the alleyways or callejones, to wander amongst a labyrinth of colorful houses.
Choose a stone staircase that leads down from street level into the underground tunnels to explore alternate routes.
A warning I never had: Stay aware of what’s above you. This city is layered, and barking dogs are kept on rooftops just a few feet above your head!
The Native Name
Long before the Spanish infiltration, indigenous tribes roamed Mexico. The nomadic Purépecha Indians wandered north of the Lerma River, Mexico’s second largest river, in search of minerals. When their eyes met the mountains of Guanajuato, they thought the sight resembled frogs. They coined the area “Cuanaxhuato,” which means mountainous place of frogs.
The Purépecha were spot on in their hunt. In the mid-16th century (around 1540) the Spanish discovered the mineral-filled mountains that make up Guanajuato. They set up shop around the area to excavate. One mineral in particular changed everything: silver. By the 18th century, Guanajuato became the world’s largest silver-extraction location, producing 1/3 of the world’s silver for over 250 years.
Every time I glance out my front windows I catch a glimpse of the mine that lays atop the nearest mountain. This one in particular is still active, and you can tour it! During a tour, you can descend through old shafts and see a gallery of the minerals discovered there.
The crumbling ruins scattered along the mountainsides of Guanajuato evoke a sense of mystery and power.
If you Crave a Taste of Nature
If you visit Guanajuato, you will spend the majority of your time in the city, passing only neatly manicured trees (with white painted trunks- supposedly for pest control). If you enjoy the outdoors and veering off the beaten path, I suggest a trip out onto calle Panorámica on the East side of the city.
Follow Panorámica long enough and you reach a lake called Presa de Mata, nestled within the mountains.
Check out the location on Google Maps. At some point in the treck, you’ll lose phone service. Make note of the route ahead of time.
Bring a water bottle, a camera, and a tapestry or blanket.
To shorten the walking distance: hop in the truck bed of a local who’s driving in that direction!
Buildings That Beckon For Your Heart
Every square inch of Guanajuato is made up of stones whispering secrets of the past. When you’re here, you become part of their story.
I continuously notice new spectacular intricacies of the buildings that make up this city. The Baroque style they were designed with originated in Italy and later spread throughout Europe and Latin America. This style has an evident dramatic intensity, which, to this day, makes a statement that leaves onlookers feeling fresh
La Valenciana Church, the Basilica of Guanajuato, and the Templo de San Diego de Alcantara are a few of the most impressive Baroque style buildings.
Neoclassical style took over soon after, replacing many Baroque buildings with ones more relevant to the Age of Enlightenment.
You’re Going to Want To Eat
Most people are filled with stigmas about Mexico. Whether you’ve heard it’s dangerous, or dirty, you can forget about that when you visit Guanajuato.
For safety, there’s one main rule: after dark, stick to the streets that are lit up. Stay aware, like you would in any city.
The best news: the street food is safe, too. I’ve probably eaten at every street corner in Guanajuato. Don’t run from the hotdogs and definitely don’t run from the gorditas. Stands remain open past midnight, so if you’re craving a late-night snack, you’re taken care of.
- Piazetta Piazetta: The best pizza. Note: they deliver!
- The señoritas at the corner of Mercado Embajadora: Savor the most delicious quesadillas around
- Jugo fresca: Fresh juice squeezed right in front of you. A large is about 30 pesos ($1.75 USD) and the perfect additive to the typical Mexican cuisine that can lack fruits & veggies
- Horchata: You’ll recognize this beverage by it’s white color. It’s made from rice, almonds, cinammon, and sugar. Don’t leave without trying it.
Amigos Are Everywhere
In Guanajuato, you find friendliness within nearly every face you turn to. Many of the people in this city are tourists, whether they are foreigners or Mexicans visiting from other parts of Mexico. Still, I advise you to always reach out and ask for recommendations, directions, or whatever it is you are seeking. Ask where the hot local spots are and what the traditional celebrations of that season are to create the best possible experience for yourself.
Even if you don’t speak fluent Spanish, the locals appreciate when you put in an effort.
Unpack Your Suitcase, Pack Up Your Time
- Pipila: Ride up the mountain on a Funicular or climb up the steep staircase to reach the statue who overlooks the city.
- Casa Diego Rivera: The very house that Mexican muralist and husband to Frida Kahlo lived in, renovated into an art museum.
- Museo de las Momias: A collection of over 100 mummies, excavated locally between the years of 1865 and 1989.
- Salsa: Classes held every Monday-Thursday at 7:00, 8:00, and 9:00 pm. Beginner friendly. You have to cut through a café to find it. Ask the locals.
- Orquesta Sinfónica– The resident symphonic orchestra of the University of Guanajuato, as well as the state orchestra, founded in 1952.
Hostels Are Home
I hostel-hopped for two weeks in Guanajuato. This the method of accommodation I recommend, especially if you’re on a budget.
- Many are not advertised online. You must explore the city to find them.
- If they do have an online website, it is most likely running through a third party host. The hostel itself could be unaware of your booking. I only experienced this once. The issue can be resolved easily with a phone call to ensure the reservation is acknowledged.
- You need to be able to speak sufficient Spanish to book over the phone.
- Locations- make sure you know the name of the calle or callejone (street or alleyway) in order to communicate properly for directions.
- Lack of hot water
Dorm room (you’ll share the room with other people): ~$250 pesos/night
Private room: ~$500 pesos/night
Manage the obstacles and you will be satisfied with your stay! I’ve met some lifelong friends at hostels.
Your Main Goal…
while your visiting what’s been known as the most beautiful city in Mexico:
Pause, as often as you can, to appreciate and revel in the beauty around you.
"Whether crafted by nature or by a human hand-
beauty adds a magical element to life" -Jonathan Lockwood