If visitors to Mexico were asked to name the best known colonial silver city, it is likely they would choose San Miguel de Allende. If asked to describe San Miguel, they probably would use words such as picturesque, appealing and friendly. They also may mention that the town attracts ‘artistic’ tourists, many of whom attend classes in painting, ceramics or language studies and who sometimes are so smitten by its charms that they decide to settle in for 2-3 months a year. Other visitors commit money as well as time. They buy land, renovate old homes or build new ones, making San Miguel their permanent residence and English a frequently heard second language.
Less than a one hour bus ride to the west lies another colonial silver town that offers the beauty and the charm of San Miguel but in a somewhat different package. Whereas San Miguel sooths the visitor with a comfortable and rather familiar environment, Guanajuato demands a greater level of adventure. In return, it rewards tourists with an authentic and complex experience.
Located in a steep river valley, Guanajuato is a city of narrow, twisting streets, subterranean tunnels, soaring Baroque churches, pastel painted houses, charming and intimate plazas and cobblestone streets. The presence of thousands of university students—walking to class, studying in the parks or chatting in cafés and bars—creates a sense of youth and vitality even though the city is imbued with the feel of history. This feeling is especially strong when viewing the statues and plaques commemorating fallen leaders, and wall murals depicting stunning and grotesque scenes from revolutions and revolts.
Riding the buses to Mexico’s colonial cities
Lively and cultural Guanajuato, Mexico
Guanajuato’s appeal takes on more significance when the visitor realizes that it is a city that has risen from ruins. Declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1988, the city attracted a stream of funding to restore its collapsing churches and shabby pueblos and to burrow a tunnel network under the city to help overcome its flooding and traffic problems. The unique result is a compact city center devoid of traffic lights and neon signs.
Guanajuato is a city for walking and there is plenty to see. When your legs get tired you can arrange for a driver to take you to the silver mine, the pottery studios, hacienda gardens and/or the mummy museum.
San Miguel has many attractions but Guanajuato is the more romantic, intriguing and genuinely Mexican travel destination.
By Barbara Reinhardus
Photo credits Barbara Reinhardus
© Riding the buses 2012