Guanajuato is a World Heritage Site. // © 2013 Thinkstock
At dusk, they arrived in a swarm of knickers and impossibly ruffled shirts — some with capes and most with lutes, guitars or drums. The street performers were dressed like old-fashioned troubadours, ranging in age from teens to seniors, and they gathered on the steps of Teatro Juarez in Guanajuato, Mexico. They played songs and told stories to entertain an enthusiastic crowd. Every so often, a troubadour would lead a group of visitors on a tour through the winding streets of Guanajuato City, eventually stopping at the “Alley of the Kiss,” the site of the classic tragic story of two star-crossed lovers, Dona Carmen and Don Luis. The performance was equal parts musical, tragedy and comedy and, although the minstrels perform only in Spanish, as this gringo discovered, the show is still great fun.
Since 1988, Guanajuato has been a World Heritage Site, and for good reason. The city is a maze of narrow cobblestone streets, colonial architecture, historic churches and plazas and is the location of the first battle along the road toward Mexico’s Independence. The city has a European flavor that helps make it one of the most unique and beautiful cities in all of Mexico.
Beyond the central city, there are scenic mountainsides with incredible views of Guanajuato. Visitors should take the funicular behind Teatro Juarez to see the best views of the city. This is an ideal spot for picnicking and the scenery cannot be beat.
Guanajuato is also the birthplace of Mexico’s most famous painter, Diego Rivera. His home is now a museum with original furniture and family portraits, as well as upper floors featuring many of Rivera’s original works. The Diego Rivera House and Museum is open from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m., Tuesday to Saturday.
The Mercado Hidalgo is a festive indoor flea market. Visitors can expect huge piles of fresh chilies, singing cowboys, baubles and traditional lunches made by local senoras. Visitors should climb to the second level to get an impressive view of this lively scene. Admission is free.
On the outskirts of Guanajuato is Mina el Nopal, a huge mine that is open to the public. For several hundred years, Guanajuato was one of the leading producers of silver for the world, and Mina el Nopal provides a closer look at how the industry worked. It has been estimated that only 20 percent of the Guanajuato’s silver has been mined. The area is also home to one of the more famous churches in town, el Templo de San Cayetano de Valencia, known for its high, vaulted ceilings and impressive grandeur.
Agents should note that although Guanajuato is a well-traveled city, it is visited by Mexican travelers more than Americans, making it feel less touristy. Guanajuato is also a perfect starting point for other small-town destinations. San Miguel Allende, also a World Heritage Site, is known for its charm and large ex-pat population. The nearby town of Dolores Hidalgo, which has the official designation of being a Pueblos Magicos, is the site where Father Miguel Hidalgo advocated for Mexican Independence.
Guanajuato, and the surrounding region, is an especially great choice for cultural travelers looking to get a taste of the charm and history of old-world Mexico.