Guanajuato and San Miguel de Allende – México’s Colourful Towns

Guanajuato is a very pretty town in central Mexico. Before we arrived, I was picturing us leisurely strolling along its colourful streets and getting lost in its alleyways and of course taking hundreds of photos. As it got closer to our arrival date we realised that the city would be hosting  Festival Internacional Cervantino during our stay. As this yearly festival is renowed across Latin America we expected Guanajuato to be busy but we were not prepared for the craziness that awaited us. The festival coupled with our visit falling on the weekend meant that Guanajuato was heaving with people. The streets, plazas and alleyways were full of street performers, vendors, visitors and locals drinking, eating, dancing and singing.  This made for an amazing atmosphere and we definitely got caught up in the excitement and the festivities. 

One of the pretty streets of Guanajuato. Don’t be fooled by the lack of people – this was not the norm!

In preparation for Dia de los Muertos (Day of the Dead) there were many stalls across the city selling sugar skulls and other colourful decorations.

The festival takes place in October and celebrates Latin American arts and culture with music, dance and theatre performances.  Whilst we didn’t have any tickets to any of the performances, there were plenty of free things to keep us entertained. We watched elderly couples show off some pretty fancy dance moves in one of the plazas – this may not have been festival related but great to watch nonetheless. Our favourite was a very well dressed gentleman – complete with shiny shoes – dancing up a storm and twirling around while his partner stood almost motionless – he definitely stole the show.  With giant cups of micheladas in hand we joined a singing conga line weaving its way through the town – we assumed this to be part of the festival but later discovered it to be a Guanajuato tradition called Callejoneadas. Finally (and this was definitely part of the festival), we stumbled upon a free gig of a local rock band called DLD (but apparently formerly known as Dildo). Although the gig was ticketed, being open-air meant you could see the performance from the street or better yet from one of the nearby roof tops (for a small fee). This meant that a huge crowd gathered just outside the venue. As we walked by we had no idea what everyone was waiting for but decided from the volume of the people that it must be something good so we joined the hordes. As it turned out, the band wasn’t bad and having not been to a gig for some time we loved listening to live music. 

Our singing conga line.
The band formerly known as Dildo.

A desperate need for the toilet also led us to a cool local bar. Unfortunately we didn’t get the name as we were planning to sneak in and out but the place had a really fun vibe and we ended up staying for hours listening to a cover band (playing both local and English music) and drinking with some friendly locals.

After many cervezas and micheladas. No idea where the hats came from?!

Apart from enjoying the festival and nightlife, we visited the Diego Rivera Museum and House which to be honest was quite small and underwhelming.  There was not much of Diego’s work on display and whilst the museum included works by other artists these were not particularly to our taste.

Frida and Diego at the Diego Rivera Museum and House.

We also walked up to El Pipila View Point for some great views of the city. But decided to skip Museo de las Momias de Guanajuato (Museum of the Mummies) as it sounded very morbid – neither of us felt that we would enjoy seeing children mummies. 

Amazing view from El Pipila View point.  

Although Guanajuato is not known for its food, we ate really well.  We had a delicious lunch of enchiladas mineras, a local Guanajuato dish, and chicken with mole at a food stall near Mercado Hidalgo and tasty fish and prawn tacos and burgers at Pacífico Surf.  We also liked Fonda de Frida, popular for huaraches (a popular Mexican dish with a fried maize base and a variety of toppings) but we had the meat tacos. For a break from Mexican food, we had falafel at Habibti.

A Guanajuato dish, enchiladas mineras.

Although we loved the buzzy atmosphere in Guanajuato, the crowds did get tiring and we were glad that we had our quiet Airbnb in the hills above the town to escape to. We don’t regret visiting during the festival but it also would have been great to enjoy a more peaceful version of the Guanajuato. 

From Guanajuato we caught a bus to San Miguel de Allende, which has recently been voted by readers of Travel + Leisure magazine as the World’s top city. Whilst we only had one night in San Miguel, we definitely wouldn’t say it was the best city we ever visited (and it probably wouldn’t make our top 10) but it was very pretty and we enjoyed our very brief stay.

We have read that San Miguel is home to many expats in particular retirees from the US. Whilst we can’t really comment on this after a very brief visit, we did feel that the number of foreigners in this small town was disproportionately high. So in that sense the city may not be particular representative of Mexico but in our view this should not deter visitors. With its picture perfect colonial architecture, boutiques, galleries, and many restaurants San Miguel is more than worth a visit. 

Whilst the main plaza and surrounding streets are beautiful, our favourite part of the San Miguel was Colonia Guadalupe. A little bit away from the centre, this little neighbourhood was full of amazing street art and pretty buildings. I could have spent hours there. 

Next: Mexico City and Formula One! 

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