Day Trip: Guanajuato Wonders

With our daily life in Querétaro now pretty much dialed in, I find that I am once again finding myself face-to-face with my old nemesis: Routine.

For most people, routine is just a part of daily life.  Many people value routine to keep them focused and productive.  I personally avoid it at all costs.  Routine and I have never been on friendly terms.  In fact, I will often go out of my way to avoid repetitively doing the same thing over and over again.  As you can imagine, this makes may parts of life difficult.  Let’s face it: There are a lot of things in our regular daily lives that require sticking to a routine.

One goal in moving to Mexico was to change things up in a way that would allow me to be more creative and productive.  Yet somehow, with the passing of six months living in Mexico, I find that a lot of things are settling back into a routine again.

In order to break up the routine, I decided to take the family and some friends on a road trip to a nearby city called Guanajuato (Whan-a What-o).

We picked a day when everyone was free to make the trip, loaded up the Nissan, and hit the road.

Google informed us that the trip should take about an hour and three-quarters from our home in Querétaro to the historic downtown of Guanajuato.

diners Guanajuato downtown cafe
Diners enjoying the afternoon breeze on a second story cafe patio.

What Google failed to tell us, however, was that the route it proposed was going to take us way off the beaten path.  The state of Guanajuato (yes, the state has the same name as its capital city) has some excellent toll roads, which makes the trip fast and efficient.   Google’s route selection will always pick the quickest route to a destination.  Google does not care if that route is more crooked than a dog’s hind leg.  It does not care if the narrow goat trail it proposes is also occupied by large trucks, slow sections through rural towns and long stretches of road filled with pointless speed-bumps.

child escape through balcony railing
Child attempts an escape from a second floor apartment.

As a result of Google’s route planning, we had a very interesting drive, to say the least.  For much of the trip there is no cellular coverage, so we were left in the dark as to exactly where we were.  We saw a lot of cactus, some goats and on one occasion, a farmer riding a burro.  Apart from those events, punctuated by a couple of small pueblas, there wasn’t much else in the way of civilization along the route.  If we’d realized that the route was the best way to get to Guanajuato we might have been able to relax a bit more, but as with all things new, it was a bit daunting.

When several passengers needed to make a pit stop for a bio-break, we decided to stop in a tiny little puebla and use the facilities at a roadside restaurant that was serving fresh gorditas.  As it turned out, the food was excellent as well, so we had a

Guanajuato street
Back streets of Guanajuato are quiet, stone-paved avenues perfect for exploring the city.

snack and asked the woman running the shop how much farther it was to Guanajuato.  From that point, we were just 30 minutes from our goal.

Guanajuato is a beautiful city that exhibits the best of the colonial Spanish period as well as fascinating newer architecture from the turn of the 20th century.

Busy Guanajuato street scene near Jardín de la Unión.

As with most cities in Mexico, parking is always a problem.  We finally found a pay parking garage (possibly the only one in Guanajuato) to leave the car, and spent the afternoon exploring the narrow stone-paved streets and curio shops on foot.  Many of the quaint by-ways are narrow, stone-paved streets that aren’t even wide enough for two vehicles to pass.  Since much of the traffic keeps to the wider, more modern roadways, it makes for a nice pedestrian experience.

guanajuato funicular
The Funicular is a steep-angle tram that takes you to the top of the lookout above the city.

The city is also unique in that many of the roads that lead into the historic downtown must do so via a series of tunnels as a result of the steep hills that surround the city.  These same hills, however, provide spectacular vantage points to see the city in all of its multi-coloured splendor.

Guanajuato Funicular window view
View from the Funicular window while ascending the mountain over Guanajuato.

After wandering through the streets for a while to soak up the ambiance of the old city, we built up quite an appetite that needed to be satisfied.   Just off one of the central plazas (Jardín de la Unión) we found a charming restaurant called ‘La Bohemia’, which seemed to be popular with tourists, expats and locals alike.  The cuisine was largely Mexican, but there were dishes offered that I associated with other latin-american countries.  For my entree I chose a fresh ceviche, which was possibly the best I have ever tasted.

Teatro Juarez diner
A balcony diner enjoys the view. Teatro Juarez, background, is an imposing building.

After our lunch break, we carried on with our exploration of the city.  Unfortunately, the sky had clouded over at that point, with the threat of rain on the horizon.

One outstanding feature of the area is the many vantage points on the hills surrounding the city.  In the south-central part of the city is an elevation of land

independence memorial Guanajuato
Monument on the hill commemorates the heroes of Mexican independence.

serviced by a steep-angle tram called the Funicular.  Since 2001 this tram has been hauling tourists from the city level up the hill so that the view can be appreciated without requiring a grueling climb.  For $50 pesos per-person (about $3.30 CAD) you can ride the tram up the steep mountainside to a viewpoint situated beneath an imposing monument dedicated to heroes of Mexico’s war of independence.  (At the time, I was thinking the tram ride was horribly expensive.  Then I reflected on the fact that taking the elevator to the observation deck of the Calgary Tower costs $18 CAD, and I didn’t feel so bad about the cost anymore.)

Guanajuato city view from the hill
View from the top of the Funicular hill, Guanajuato, Mexico.

The view from the top of the hill is spectacular.  Guanajuato’s old city sprawls around the hill like a multi-coloured quilt, punctuated by key buildings that exhibit the best of colonial Spanish and turn-of-the-century architecture.  One especially beautiful building located right near the foot of the Funicular is the Teatro Juarez.  When we had previously visited the city, this classical 19th century theatre was opened for tours.  Regrettably, it was closed during this visit.

Guanajuato light standard wall repair
Ancient wall repair shows the old and the new construction.

After spending some time snapping pictures and drinking in the atmosphere of the city below, we walked back down the winding roadway and rode the Funicular back to the bottom of the valley.

The threatening sky delivered on its promise, and a light rain started falling.  Undeterred, we explored some of the shops, most of which featured an array of local pottery, jewelry and packaged foods.

pigeon building facade Guanajuato
Pigeon takes shelter on a building façade near the central plaza.

As the afternoon extended into early evening, we decided to grab a quick snack before making our way home.  A convenient churro-seller we stumbled across on the walk back to the car was offering the sugary deep-fried snacks filled with a flavour sauce of our choice.  The fresa (strawberry) was delicious, but a bit too sweet for my liking.  Churros are a bit heavy due to the frying, but it was still an authentic taste of Mexico to enjoy as we discussed the option of getting back on the road.

boy public square with cellular phone
Child plays on his phone in a public square in downtown Guanajuato.

As the roads in Mexico can be dangerous after dark, we opted to leave the city early enough that we would complete most of our return trip to Querétaro before nightfall.

The drive home was a bit easier than the incoming trip, as Google directed us

ceramic shop downtown Guanajuato
Ceramic shop on a quiet street in the historic downtown area.

along more major highways.  Although the driving time was no shorter, we arrived more relaxed than on the inbound trip.

Overall, Guanajuato is a wonderful place to spend a few days exploring.  The city itself is a wonderful blend of old and new, with narrow back avenues filled with archaic doors and charming window boxes, to vibrant plazas filled with music and the bustle of people on the move, all against a backdrop of colonial buildings.  The strong art culture of the city is evident everywhere, from murals and statuary throughout the city, to the common sight of art students carrying easels and paint pallets.

If you visit the central Mexico area and want to experience a scenic  and historical town that is well off the regular tourist circuit, Guanajuato may be exactly what you are looking for!




2 Replies to “Day Trip: Guanajuato Wonders”

    1. Puerto Vallarta is about 8 hours driving from Querétaro! So a bit of a long haul for a quick meet up. Maybe when we are back in Canada we will have a chance to see you guys. Thanks for posting!

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