While planning our trip through Mexico, Guanajuato wasn’t really on our radar. However, after seeing a few pictures of the city, we decided to make a pit stop for a day or two. Guanajuato is considered Mexico’s “Crown Jewel” by most and, once we got there, we could see why.
The city sits in a narrow valley in the mountains at about 6,600 feet and has a very European feel. The streets are all cobble stone and everything is arranged on steep hills, sprawling out and up from the city center. The town is full of bright colored houses and winding, narrow, walkways and stairways, that lead up to them. Very visually pleasing and romantic.
We rolled into town, driving through those narrow streets, and set up camp at the “RV Park”. What they call an RV Park is really just some guy’s back yard with a few sketchy electric hook-ups and cold showers. But he was nice and offered us a small discount for the lack of hot water.
It was early November and, in Mexico, the first night of their Dia de los Muertos (Day of the Dead) celebrations. So we walked down the incredibly steep hill that the campground sits on top of, to find hundreds of people gathered at the center of town. Everywhere, there were children and adults with face paint, some in full costume. There was live music from mariachis and venders selling “dulces” (sweet treats) in booths that lined the streets. It was enchanting and magical. We couldn’t believe where we were standing.
After spending months on the road, and being totally swept off our feet by this charming town, we knew we wanted to spend some time exploring the city. We spent the next few days at coffee shops, searching craigslist, airbnb and flipkey for apartments. After looking at about a dozen places, we finally found one in the Presa district that couldn’t have been more perfect. We wanted to stay a month, but this particular apartment, The Old Main at Quinta Zaragoza, was only available for two weeks. Bill, the owner, was incredibly flexible and allowed us to pay for one week while we searched for something else.
Feeling quite lucky already, we found a place on airbnb: a guesthouse of sorts called The Golden Bee. The owner, Sara, who lives in Washington State, needed someone to live in the house and feed her two dogs. A “housesitting” position, if you will. Her place was amazing and was just about a hundred yards up the hill from the RV Park we stayed at originally. Perfect!
[The view from our porch]
So we moved in and proceeded to get to know Guanajuato. We tried our best to immerse ourselves in the city. Guanajuato has a major university in the center of town and is known for it's focus on the arts. There are countless Museums, galleries, and theaters to explore and experience. Our personal checklist included the "Museo de las Momias" (a large and rather macabre collection of local mummies), the "Casa Diego Rivera" (birthplace and boyhood home of the famed artist),and a dance performance at the "Teatro Juarez" put on by the university (a highlight of our time in town) among others.
Every day we would walk down the narrow callejons (alleys) and through the many tunnels that have been built under the city to accommodate the growing traffic concerns that didn't exist hundreds of years ago when the city was built. We would spend time people watching from the steps of the Teatro Juarez or in one of the counless beautiful Plazas that dot the city.
Guanajuato is truly a pedestrian city, and most days, the Centro is closed to vehiclular traffic to accomodate the frequent festivals held in town. We rarely went more than a couple of days without seeing a festival or large celebration. In our month in a half in the city, there wasn't a day that went by that we couldn't hear fireworks going off, or live outdoor music in the distance.
[Madonnori Street Painting Festival]
We're now in San Miguel de Allende, which is east of Guanajuato and is a very pleasant city. Beautiful churches, cobble stone streets and great shops and restaurants. There is a huge community of ex-pats from the States and Canada, which means that most of the people here speak English. It's a great city to introduce yourself to Mexico. Very safe and just as enchanting as Guanajuato. However, since it has such a large "gringo" population, things are a bit more pricey here than anywhere else we've been in Mexico.
We are camped at the San Miguel RV Park and Tennis Club. It's a very well kept, and secure campground, with nice restrooms and hot showers. It's also right in the middle of town, which is great for eploring the city and not having to worry about driving at night back to camp. The downside to being right in the middle of town, is the fact that you are right in the middle of town. Mexico is not a quiet country, dogs barking, live music at all hours regardless of the day of the week, fireworks everyday at any hour (seriously any hour, 4 am on tuesday is as good as any) and church bells. The church bells near the campground in SMA are unlike anything we've ever experienced. With seemingly no rhyme or reason, no schedule to speak of, it's obvious that they are not automated. They may clank away at 3:17 am for 8 minutes (not an exagerration) or one solitary clank at 4 pm. Sometimes they will ring for 3 minutes, and then 30 seconds afterwards ring twice again just for good measure. You can picture San Miguels very own Alzheimic Quasimodo clanging away, only to return 12 minutes later to ring again. And they're not some pleasant church songy type of ringing. No, this is more like a manual fire alarm ringing, frantically banging away. This may not be the norm, as we are here for a festival weekend, but it has been our experience for the past 3 days. We will be glad to sleep in the middle of nowhere again, onward to Grutas Tolantongo!
Side Note: Watch out for these little bastards. They hurt, just ask Carley!