Hola, I can say that with a little more confidence now.
From Puerto Vallarta we had a long trip back to Guadalajara bus station and onwards to Guanajuato, about eight hours in total with no travel sickness to be seen (I dozed most of it). We had booked four nights in an Air Bnb house and arrived in darkness. The taxi to meet our host seemed surreal with the street lights illuminating the crazy steep streets before plunging into multiple tunnels which thread their way underneath the city. We soon learnt that the city is built in a valley on an old silver mining area which once produced a third of all the worlds silver. An impressive history alone without adding that it is very important place for Mexican independence (apologies if I summarised the history badly, I’m not much of a historian).
Our days here went quick, the city has a small town vibe which livens up when the students are not on semester breaks. It’s hard to believe that it has a similar population to my home town of Dunedin. We walked a lot! As the city is built in a valley the few main streets are on the flat but everywhere else quickly turns into a slope up the hills. I think to live here you probably need to be at least half mountain goat. The lovely thing about the layout of the town is the amount of callejones (alleys) which are pedestrian only, so walking is the only way to reach a lot of places.
On our first day we covered most of the main town area, visited the statue of Pipilla; a Mexican hero in the war for independence, marvelled at the brightly coloured houses and got incredibly lost in the callejones on our way back to our accomodation. I swear the callejones teleport you into other locations in opposite directions than the one you think you are walking in. The best way to describe getting around in Guanajuato is ‘urban hiking’ a term I have borrowed from Katie who works at the language school we studied at, it is very apt, if you visit bring appropriate footwear.
So far with our time in Mexico (two and half weeks at this point) we had been finding life a little difficult and at times un-enjoyable due to our lack of Spanish. While cruising through the Trip Advisor page for Guanajuato I came across a highly recommended language school called Escuela Falcon; it had (and still has) one of the highest rated and best reviewed pages I have come across. We located it and ventured in to discuss our options and were immediately sold; one month of classes and accommodation booked! Our main reason for signing on for what looks like quite some time when we could have just done a week and continued on our adventures around Mexico was the price. It was a pretty cheap way to spend a month while gaining important and useful Spanish. The accommodation was very close, very comfy, had a kitchen for us to cook meals in and the owners were fantastic (and have become good friends).
Each day turned into a routine very quickly: wake up, have breakfast, walk to school, four hours of classes with a 30 minute lunch break, walk the city, buy food, cook dinner etc. etc.. And so passed our month (which turned into five weeks (which turned into six weeks)) in Guanajuato.
But that’s overly simplifying our time here.
We celebrated Christmas and New Years Eve, we made a heap of new friends, took a day trip to Leon (link to post on Leon here), climbed La Bufa a mountain in the area, took Salsa classes, learnt to cook some Mexican food, visited quite a few museos, ventured up to Valenciana mines, got lost on local buses and walked…a lot! Oh and discovered flavoured Mezcal… and drank far too much of it. But with flavours such as coconut, apple cinnamon, chocolate, pina colada, vanilla, blackcurrent, banana, cherry, peach, lemon, coffee, almond, pandito (gummy bear), peanut, mango, peppermint, guava, strawberry kiwifruit, orange, chocolate mint, chilli, lemon pie and so many I have forgotten, how could you blame us for wanting to try as many as possible. My personal favourite was the coconut and Tom’s was anything weird but topping that list for him was the strawberry kiwi, which I agree was pretty tasty.
Here’s a bit more detail on some of that:
MUSEOS. We slowly worked our way through most of the local museums in the area. They are quite impressive and varied from ones that are more like art galleries, regional history, mining, houses of important artists, haciendas and more. As you can see by the list below there is quite a few, I won’t go into detail on all of them.
- Alhondiga – the regional museum. There was a great exhibit on photography when we visited, it showcased photos from the 60’s – 80’s that had a theme of war and anti-US Imperialism from all over Central and South America.
- Museo Casa Diego Rivera
- Museo del Pueblo de Guanajuato
- Museo Exhacienda San Gabriel de Barrera – This hacienda has one of the most beautiful gardens I have been to, all enclosed within high stone walls. We made quite a large detour by local bus before we finally made it here, but with time on our side it’s fun to take the wrong bus once in a while.
- Museo Iconografico del Quiote – A great collection of paintings and sculpture all themed around Don Quiote inside a stunning old building. We by chance picked the right day and it was free (Tuesday I think) but I would definitely pay to see it. Best gallery style museo we have seen so far.
- Museo Casa Olga Costa
- Casa Museo Gene Byron
- Museo de los Momias. A mummy museum which is kind of creepy but worth seeing. I don’t think I would want to visit multiple times but it’s worth while ticking this one off in the guidebook. I can now say that I have seen the smallest mummy in the world, or so the sign claimed.
LA BUFA. After staring at the mountain for the majority of the time we stayed in Guanajuato we had the opportunity to walk to the top with our new friends and their perros (dogs). It’s a medium intensity walk for the most part; you can take it easy and follow the dirt road or go off road like we did for a more direct but steeper route. On the way there is a rock overhang which forms a cave and is used for a makeshift chapel once a year (I have forgotten who the saint it is dedicated to is). Once you have followed the road to the base of the summit there are two choice; easy where you continue to follow the road or hard, scaling a steep rocky slope to the top. Of course we scrambled up the harder way which seemed to be the more popular option as we passed other people descending, they had small chihuahua like dogs with them as well so it can’t have been too difficult. All in all it’s not too hard a walk, it was great to have the company of our friends as finding the road could have been difficult alone. The view from the top is great, you can see the whole area but be careful as there are some severe drops as well.
VALENCIANA: One weekend day we visited Valenciana with two others who were also staying in the same house as us. It’s an old mining area up the hill from Centro and is a walk-able distance but would be time consuming and tiring. The church was funded by the mine owners and is very ornate on the inside. We went inside an old mine next to the church and were surprised at how deep we descended, it was all stairs so returning was full of huffing and puffing people (including us). It was mid-afternoon and after a quick snack we decided to wander the area, potentially walking back to Centro. On the way we found ourselves at the old and no longer in use Valenciana mine site, you can’t go underground anywhere but it’s been opened as a sort of open-air museum. Tom was in his element and loved all the old machinery, insisting I wasn’t taking enough photos of the place. In the middle is the old mine shaft, it’s all walled off but has windows at intervals around it so you can check out how deep it is. From all vantage points you cannot see the bottom which is a bit disconcerting, I struggled with wanting to find a rock and throw it in to see if I could hear it hit the bottom but restrained myself.
In the city itself there are countless plazas, just sitting and relaxing in one is a nice way to catch your breath. Especially if you pair that with a $10 peso slice of pizza or a sweet bread from a nearby panaderia. Each plaza has something different to offer and a slightly differing scene depending on the stores which are around it and the proximity to the main roads. My favourite was Plaza Baratillo which was close to both the school and our home for the time we were in Guanajuato. It had everything you could need in stores, a beautiful fountain in the centre and interesting old buildings surrounding it. This plaza is one of the main ones in the city and became our meeting point, both purposely and accidently, for seeing the friends we made while in the area.
During the day we had beautiful sunshine but this area can be chilly as well in winter. We were both very glad that we had packed for all weather and most days we didn’t leave the house without at least one layer of thermal (merino) clothing on. I feel the cold so some days I was bundled up in about three layers of merino, a puffa (goose-down) jacket, scarf and was still a little cold, but maybe I’m just a wuss.
With accommodation which had a very functional kitchen we found that we cooked most days. The supermarket was a 20 minute walk away and local grocery stores, fruit and vegetable vendors, tortillerias and bakeries even closer so we had no problems finding ingredients for our meals. I want to write a future post on how we have been cooking for ourselves while backpacking so I won’t go too much in-depth now, but needless to say we definitely do not stave. I will give you a teaser now and say that during our stay in Guanajuato I baked not once, not twice but three times. YUM! Those sweet treats hit the spot after a day of exploring a city.
All in all this is a relaxing and pretty city with lots of history and things to occupy yourself with. The view from all sides of the valley displays the multi-coloured houses that appear to be stacked on top of each other in a chaotic but vivid manner which you can only hope your camera catches successfully. It’s a great base for venturing out and seeing other places such as Leon, San Miguel de Allende, Dolores Hidalgo, La Cañada de Virgin (an archeological site) amongst others. This part of Mexico is at quite a high altitude so make sure you bring good clothes for layering and as I mentioned earlier; sensible shoes for all the urban hiking you will do.
Thanks for reading.