As the city of San Miguel de Allende continues to win awards from consumer media, the Mexican state of Guanajuato has landed on the radars of international travelers. But San Miguel is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to exploring the state’s many pleasures.
Located in the central Mexico region of El Bajio, the state of Guanajuato has lots to brag about; it’s home to five archeological zones, two cities that are UNESCO World Heritage sites and six Pueblos Magicos (Magical Towns, officially designated in recognition of their cultural and historical significance).
During my most recent visit, I followed an itinerary that showcased the region’s two biggest tourism destinations — San Miguel de Allende and the capital city of Guanajuato — as well as some lesser-known areas that are also rewarding places to visit.
Here are a few of the most interesting experiences I enjoyed.
Things to Do in Guanajuato City
The city of Guanajuato offers a landscape like no other in Mexico, with picturesque winding streets, romantic narrow alleys (one is even called the Alley of the Kiss), hillsides dotted with colorful architecture and dramatic subterranean roadways and tunnels that keep most traffic away from the UNESCO-recognized historic downtown.
Noteworthy attractions in Guanajuato include the Alhondiga de Granaditas, a regional museum set in an 18th-century grain storehouse; the Quijote Iconographic Museum, which centers on the city’s love for all things related to the Spanish writer Miguel de Cervantes; and the Pipila monument, which is set on a hilltop that offers spectacular city views. Even the city’s legendary Mummy Museum is surprisingly more interesting and less sensationalized than you might expect.
The city’s largest annual event, the Festival Cervantino, features live music, dance and theater. I had the good fortune to attend an open-air show by a Cuban band, as well as a French orchestra performance in the Teatro Juarez, a gorgeous theater built between 1873 and 1903.
Fans of unique accommodations will find lots to love in Guanajuato. I stayed at Villa Maria Cristina, a member of Small Luxury Hotels of the World that’s graced with classic 19th-century architecture, appropriately conservative decor and an excellent restaurant. For a more modern vibe in the historic city center, I recommend the 13-room Casa del Rector, a decidedly hip boutique hotel with a rooftop bar that offers photo-worthy city views.
Things to Do in San Miguel de Allende
The much-lauded city of San Miguel de Allende is popular with upscale international travelers and expats, and with good reason. It has one of the largest concentrations of luxury hotels and trendy boutique hotels in all of Mexico, as well as countless gourmet eateries, art galleries and unique experiences.
It’s easy to immerse yourself in San Miguel’s relaxing and indulgent ambiance. I spent a blissfully relaxing afternoon at Nirvana Restaurant & Retreat, a lovely, nine-room hotel set on nearly 22 acres outside of town. I enjoyed the swimming pool, which is fed by hot springs, and the sophisticated cuisine (I especially liked the wonton made with cochinita pibil and sopes made with ostrich meat). I also experienced the property’s new equine therapy sessions, which were created for corporate team building as well as to help people deal with grief, divorce and pandemic-related stress.
Nirvana is just one of San Miguel’s noteworthy hotels. I was thrilled to stay at Hotel Matilda, a stylish member of Design Hotels with spacious guestrooms, excellent cuisine and an extensive menu of spa treatments. During previous visits, I relished my stays at the Rosewood San Miguel de Allende and Live Aqua San Miguel de Allende Urban Resort. Travelers who favor larger international brands, meanwhile, may gravitate toward new hotels in the works that will fly the flags of Hilton and Hyatt.
Exploring Other Regions in Guanajuato
I’ve found interesting ways to connect with local culture, cuisine and history in various parts of the state — and no destination is ever more than 2.5 hours from anywhere else in the state. Travelers looking to explore beyond the main cities may want to hire a private driver or check the offerings of tour operators like Vibe Adventures and Mexcellence Travel.
Among the highlights of my foray into the countryside were a temazcal experience provided by Ce-Kalli Temazcal & Spa at Mision Comajilla, an attractive, mid-priced hotel in the countryside near the city of Silao. In the municipality of Penjamo, I learned about the tequila-making process during a guided tour of Hacienda El Corralejo, followed by a memorable visit to Rancho El Coyote, a family-owned agave plantation that produces Orgullo de Penjamo, a brand of tequila sold only in the state of Guanajuato. Nearby, I sampled tasty local cuisine at El Alma de la Cocina, an open-air restaurant, set in the owner’s backyard, that’s part of a collective dedicated to preserving and promoting local culinary traditions.
When it came time to rest, I found a wonderful oasis of design-conscious sophistication at Hotel Real de Piedra, a boutique property in Penjamo that would be ideal for a romantic getaway (although families are welcome, too).
My itinerary provided just a small sampling of the possibilities that await in Guanajuato; I didn’t even have time on this trip to visit Leon (the state’s largest city), the five pre-Hispanic archeological sites or the smaller Pueblos Magicos, each of which has its own unique charms.
In a state as richly diverse as Guanajuato, there’s always a reason to go back.
Guanajuato Ministry of Tourism