Colour in the Desert: Guanajuato
Updated: Sep 18, 2019
The Cradle of Independence. El Bajio. Central Mexico. La Ruta Plata. The highlands running through the center of Mexico above Mexico City go by several names, many of which reference the fact that in former times this region blossomed due to vast loads of silver buried beneath it’s dusty mountains. The discovery of silver in this region was a mixed blessing. Thanks to the staggering profits of the many silver mines, there was money aplenty to build gorgeous cathedrals and sprawling cities. However, the blood and sweat that was spent extracting the silver came almost entirely from the local indigenous population, who were forced to toil in dark misery far below the earth.
Loosely composed today of the states of Guanajuato, Queretaro and San Luis Potosi, this area of Mexico is highly regarded by Mexicans for it’s deep history, beautiful towns and exciting landscape but is nearly ignored by foreign travellers. This oversight benefits travellers who do venture here, however, as prices remain relatively low and you will often find yourself the only foreigner around. There are a long list of cities to see and places to explore once you set foot here. We will be giving you a peek at some of our favourite spots. The first destination is Guanajuato.
The riches drawn from the silver mines that burrow into the mountains of the region have made the city of Guanajuato one of the most lovely in all of Mexico. The capital city of the state called, you guessed it, Guanajuato, this town is famed throughout Mexico for its beauty but somehow has managed to dodge almost all of the foreign tourists that descend upon Mexico’s coasts. If you enjoy a city where every building is soaked in history and where church bells and traditional music fill the air, you cannot miss Guanajuato.
Guanajuato is a piece of urban eye candy. Colonial buildings, painted in every colour and shade of the rainbow, splash out of the city center and into the steep hills that cocoon Guanajuato. Indeed, Guanajuato is a city of hills, or at least of inclines. Tunnels through the hills allow cars to travel beneath the town above, which is largely pedestrianized due to the narrow and steep nature of the streets. Compared to the clean grid lines of most North American cities, a map of Guanajuato shows a twisted tangle of streets, alleyways and plazas. In fact, you may as well toss that map aside as this is a city for getting lost in. Our favourite activity here was wandering around the town, strolling through centuries old streets and admiring how each home attempts to outdo the other in riots of colour. Getting lost is no problem as shady plazas lie in wait around every corner.
While Guanajuato’s sights are fantastic, its sounds are just as unique. One of the integral parts of daily life in Guanajuato is the callejoneada. This is a traditional mix of mini-parade, street party and marching band in which bands of students from the local university kit themselves up in various historical costumes, group together and march around the town all through dusk into the night. The students play various instruments and sing traditional Mexican ballads, which they intersperse with jokes and anecdotes. You’ll read in guide books that tourists are supposed to pay a fee to join these roving bands of troubadours and you will definitely see groups of Mexican tourists trailing behind the students, singing along (poorly) and drinking wine. However, unless you speak Spanish fluently and have a passing familiarity with the ballads being sung, you’ll be fine just walking along various groups or sipping drinks in a plaza and watching the countless bands go by. Guanajuato is, in our opinion, the best city in the Bajio.