After Guadalajara, I made my way to the state of Guanajuato with my friend Tonio. Our main point of interest was the old colonial city Guanajuato (same name as the state), but first decided to stop in León since it was on the way and had a hostel. Some people in Guadalajara had warned us to skip León, saying that there was nothing to do or see there. Well, whatever. We went.
Okay, turns out they were actually kind of right about that.
The cathedral was about the only cool thing there. A city of a million and a half people, and nothing to do. Tonio and I were the only people in the hostel too. The hostel was right off the main square and it had a sweet roof terrace. At least we got to watch some street comedy from the roof while drinking some beer.
After a few hours we were ready to leave. Onto the main attraction, Guanajuato!
Guanajuato is one of those beautiful picturesque colonial towns, nestled in the mountains, with narrow cobblestone streets that wind up and around the hills. The town is filled with tiny alleys that seem like stairmasters that plow up mountain hills and fork into seventeen other alleys, hiding hole in the wall homes. Even the old women are still walking up these alleys every day. It’s impressive!
Before I go any further, a quick note about legends in Mexico. Mexico, more than other places I’ve traveled to, have a legend to accompany seemingly everything that has a name: streets, buildings, canyons, etc. Guanajuato is no different, and for whatever reason it seemed like there were far more legends. The most famous legend from Guanajuato was definitely El Pípila. As the story goes (although I heard several versions of the story), early in the Mexican Revolution, Spanish troops fortified themselves in a big stone building in Guanajuato called the Alhóndiga de Granaditas. Pípila supposedly strapped a large flat rock to the back of his back to prevent gunfire from killing him, and made his way to the wooden door of the building, which he set on fire. Then the rebels killed all of the Spanish soldiers inside. Here’s the Alhóndiga de Granaditas from the inside:
Anyway, Pípila now has a big monument at the coolest part of the city. There’s a lookout spot that gives a fantastic view over the old colonial city:
Guanajuato is such a unique place. It’s a college town, so it’s bustling with young students. The old, winding roads weren’t intended for cars when they were built, so they’re really narrow and in general it’s quicker to get anywhere by foot. They actually built a series of tunnels underneath the city to move car traffic around quicker. You can walk through some of the tunnels, and it’s definitely a little creepy at times. Here’s the university:
I spent about a week and a half in Guanajuato and three separate times I saw a crazy parade. There were people wearing indigenous-looking outfits dancing around. There were about a thousand people playing drums. It took at least an hour to walk through the main road, effectively blocking all traffic through the center of the city. I walked past the traffic that was sitting there waiting for the parade to end and the people in cars looked like they were just dying of boredom. Can you imagine sitting for hours in one place on the road every few days because there were parades? Here are some of the drummers. They were organized into different sections, and they played different rhythms:
Here were some of the dancers. I’m not exactly sure what they’re wearing!
I don’t know if this parade is something they do year-long or not, but I saw it several times.
Every night a group of people (who were obviously dressed very oddly) performed music and comedy through the streets and alleys of the city. They led you through the city, singing songs, telling jokes, and recounting legends of the streets.
This was seriously awesome. The main guy who led everyone was funny and charismatic, and did a wonderful job. It’s only in Spanish though, so to get the most out of it you’ll want to speak Spanish.
As I mentioned earlier, everything that has a name has a legend. One of the most famous is the Callejón del Beso (Alley of the Kiss). In this alley there are two balconies that are so close that you can lean over and touch the other one. The story goes (or at least the one I heard) like this: in one of the houses lived a girl who fell in love with a boy who lived in the house on the other side of the alley. The boy was poor, though, and the girl’s father, decided to marry her off to a rich man. One day, when the two were on the balconies together, the father came up and found them there. In his anger, he stabbed his daughter, and she died while holding the boy’s hand, which he kissed. And so it’s called the Callejón del Beso!
Is the story true? Ehhhh. But the alley does exist, and there are two balconies very close to each other. It’s cool to think about anyway. :)
The other legend about an alleyway that stuck out to me was the Callejón de Cabecita. Admittedly, I don’t remember all the details to this one. The general idea is that a man was executed for stealing something. His head was this hung in this alleyway. After awhile, his head shrunk, which gave way to the name Cabecita, or small head. True story? Ehhhh. :)
Tonio had some friends in town who got an AirBnB for a couple nights. They had a sweet view. Seeing the city at night was priceless. See that big square building? That’s the Alhóndiga de Granaditas:
Guanajuato was just a fun city. It had great nightlife, and we met lots of cool people our age. After a week and a half I felt like a regular at the bars and like I knew everyone. Very cool place!
San Miguel de Allende
After Guanajuato, I didn’t have super high hopes for San Miguel. I figured it would be more of the same. And well, honestly it was. But it seemed like life moved a little slower in San Miguel, without all the partying and noise until 5 in the morning. It was a really nice change of pace, and I enjoyed my stay there a lot.
One of the coolest things I went to in San Miguel was the botanical gardens. I’ve been to a lot of botanical gardens, and it’s typically a whole bunch of pretty plants and flowers. This is the first time where the garden was significantly different than what I was used to. Instead of flowers, there were innumerable species of cacti! Pretty cool.
There was a reservoir and some cliffs too.
The gardens offered the best vista of the city too:
Like every decent Mexican city, San Miguel has a chill plaza outside the cathedral.
I had been wanting to see a concert in Mexico ever since I arrived. As it turned out, there was a free concert happening in this plaza in front of the cathedral! The band was called Camila and they were more or less a Mexican boy band, haha. Okay, they didn’t really dance around and stuff like the Backstreet Boys, but every song was the same slow ballad that every girl in the audience sang every word to. Lily, a girl I met in the hostel, and I snuck up to a rooftop to snap a picture before getting yelled at:
And of course this is Mexico, so just randomly throughout the day you’ll find people dancing in a city square wearing weird shit:
Seriously, the weird costume dancing is everywhere. What are they doing!?!?!
That’s about it for my stay in Guanajuato. Cool places. León can be skipped but otherwise, spend some time in Guanajuato and San Miguel for a nice colonial experience!
Penned on June 20, 2015 by Kevin Sweet.