Guanajuato Travel Guide


Guanajuato is often referred to as the prettiest city in Mexico. Filled with history, magic, colorful homes, and winding alleys, this has long been a popular place for weekend vacationers from Mexico City and Guadalajara.

From afar, Guanajuato’s skyline looks like a rainbow nestled in a valley surrounded by the Sierra Madre mountains. The essence of warmth, life, music, and laughter constantly flows through these streets. 

Recognized as a UNESCO Heritage Site, it has become an important, culturally rich and lively college town filled with history, music, colonial architecture, colors, and even mystery.

Image: Polaroid of Saya and Beto with the Guanajuato skyline while standing at the top of the Pípila. | Photo By: Saya Des Marais​​
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Who are we

We are Saya and Beto, a cross-cultural married couple who live in Guanajuato.

Beto was born and raised in the city. His grandparents migrated from small pueblos in the nearby Sierra, and today almost all of his extended family still lives here. He graduated from the city’s university, La Universidad de Guanajuato, with an environmental engineering degree, but has been teaching Spanish for nearly 10 years.

Image: Saya and Beto in Guanajuato. | Source: Saya Des Marais​​
Saya was born in Tokyo and grew up in Los Angeles. She is a social worker by trade and now works remotely in virtual mental health. She is a lifelong traveler and spent the summer of 2015 studying Spanish in Guanajuato—guess who was her Spanish teacher? She moved here a year later and has been living in Guanajuato ever since.
Image: Saya and Beto on their wedding day in Guanajuato. | Photo By: Gabriel Gasca​​

We got married at the Spanish school where we met in 2017. The school is actually located in a gorgeous ex-hacienda, so we got lucky. We kept it super intimate and simple (which is unlike typical weddings in Mexico, we know) and we celebrated with our loved ones from all around the world. For food, we served a cultural mish-mash buffet—carnitas, Beto’s mom’s pozole, sushi rolls, and fried chicken—representing the coming together of our cultures.

Obviously, Saya has learned so much about Guanajuato and Mexico in general from Beto, who has spent his entire life here. And, surprisingly, Saya’s newcomer’s curiosity has taken Beto to new places he’d never been to before he met her.

In this guide, we’ll take you through both of our favorite places and share some exclusive insider tips if you subscribe to the email newsletter below.

But first, Beto will give you a quick introduction (with a history lesson) to his hometown.

Image: Guanajuato skyline. | Photo By: Saya Des Marais​​

The History of Guanajuato

This beautiful city was originally a Chichimeca settlement and was founded officially as “Santa Fe de Guanajuato” in 1570 as a mining town. During the 16th century, the discovery of huge mineral (mainly silver) deposits in the surrounding hills propelled the mining industry, and Guanajuato, to become one of the principal economies in the country. However, the only people who benefited from this activity were the Spanish colonizers who exploited both the natural resources of the city as well as the local people. Keep in mind: silver mines in the city are still in operation, and many continue to be owned by foreign entities.
Image: El Pípila statue that looks down over Guanajuato. | Photo By: Saya Des Marais​​
Many years later, in 1810, during the Revolutionary War, a great battle took place in the Alhondigas de Granaditas grain warehouse which still stands today. With the help of the miner known as “El Pípila”, the city’s hero, who legend says burned down the fortress door, Miguel Hidalgo’s Mexican insurgents were able to miraculously win the battle against the Spanish army—marking one of the most important moments in Mexico’s fight for independence.
Image: El Pípila statue at a distance | Photo By: Susan Metenosky Ripley​​
Taking a walk through Guanajuato is like taking a walk through a living, colorful history museum. The most remarkable thing about the city is that these monuments still exist and that visitors and locals alike can experience history by visiting the Valenciana mine (previously one of the most productive mines in the world, accounting for 30% of New Spain’s silver; visitors can take a tour of a defunct mine) the Alhóndiga warehouse; old mining haciendas and the Basilica de Guanajuato, built by the Spanish in the 1600s.
Image: Plaza de la Paz and La Basilica de Guanajuato | Photo By: Saya Des Marais​​
A Local Perspective

For people like Beto who grew up here, Guanajuato is special because of the abundance of culture that can be found on every corner, the friendly people, and the slow pace of life. There is always something to do or an event going on. 

The city is less modern than most larger cities, and most people still do their shopping at small corner tienditas (small shops) that sell daily necessities. But, that’s what makes it charming. Because it is such a small city, it has the feel of a small village in which everyone knows each other. Guanajuatenses (wana-huan-ten-ses) are proud of their rich heritage and local history that plays such a huge role in the history of the nation.

Image: A classic Guanajuato facade in Plaza San Roque. | Photo By: Saya Des Marais​​
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Things to do in Guanajuato

We think that the very best thing to do in Guanajuato City is to wander aimlessly through the colorful callejónes (alleyways) and discover the secrets that are tucked away. If you get lost, simply walk downhill until you get back to a main road!
Image: 86 steps at the Universidad de Guanajuato | Photo By: Susan Metenosky Ripley​​
Down in el centro, walk the main streets and marvel at the beautiful architecture. Visit historic buildings and monuments like the aforementioned Alhóndiga de Granaditas, the Mercado Hidalgo (set in what was originally a train station built in the early 1900s), or the majestic Teatro Juarez theater, built in the late 16th century. Visit one of the dozens of beautiful churches that are scattered all through the city, a reminder of the deep extent to which Catholicism is an important part of guanajuatenses’ lives. Take the funicular up to the monument to the great Pípila, where you can enjoy the best view of the city. For different views, you can climb the 86 steps at the Universidad de Guanajuato or dare to traverse the mysterious tunnels that zig zag below the streets.
Image: Beto and Saya give each other a kiss at Callejón del Beso. | Source: Saya Des Marais​​
Earlier, we spoke of Guanajuato’s legends—listen to the tragic love story of Carmen and Don Carlos (a Mexican Romeo and Juliet) at el Callejón del Beso, or explore the Casa de Leyendas, an entire museum dedicated to Guanajuato’s mysteries. 
Image: San Gabriel Hacienda | Photo By: Susan Metenosky Ripley​​
Las Plazas

When you’re tired of walking around the busier Guanajuato attractions, take a break in one of the many shady plazas, each different from the rest. 

Plaza de la Paz is at the very heart of Guanajuato, watched over by the enormous and bright yellow Basilica church that we’re sure you’ve seen on postcards. 

Plaza de Baratillo, with its impressive fountain, is home to many local businesses including a beloved frutería, Torres Hnos El Moreno, and Babu Te Bar,  a boba shop (yes, we have boba).

Plaza de San Fernando is one of our favorites because of the abundance of outdoor seating that the restaurants offer—sitting under the trees with an espresso and the melodies of the roaming musicians in the air, is undoubtedly one of the best things to do in Guanajuato.

Image: Skyline of Guanajuato | Photo By: Susan Metenosky Ripley​​
Night Life

At night, don’t miss exploring the narrow and colorful alleyways with an estudiantina (student) musical group who guide callejoneadas (buy tickets in front of Teatro Juarez) during which, on top of singing along to Mexican classics of the likes of “Cielito Lindo” at the top of your lungs, you’ll also be treated to history lessons, comedy routines, and a tour of the city.

If you’re not in the mood for singing, take in a performance by the symphonic orchestra, considered one of the best in the nation, from the balcony of Teatro Juarez.

Best Museums in Guanajuato

Guanajuato, as we mentioned, is a city filled with art and history, and it doesn’t disappoint when it comes to museums.
Museo de las Momias
Let’s just get this one out of the way. We were ambivalent about including this on our list because we feel creeped out every time we visit (okay… it’s Saya who feels creeped out), but it’s definitely unique and one of the top Guanajuato tourist attractions. The bodies displayed were found to be naturally mummified, due to minerals in the soil, after being evicted from their tombs due to a failure to pay the burial tax. Yikes. It’s a huge climb to get here; this is one of the few places in town that we recommend getting a cab.
Alhóndiga de las Granaditas
We already told you about the important battle that took place here, and at this museum you can learn more about the story! The Alhóndiga de Granaditas is a massive fortress and an impressive standing commemoration of Mexican history. Inside of the fortress is a museum with both permanent exhibitions on the Revolution and other moments in Mexican history, as well as temporary exhibitions on rotating topics. The outside steps are now used as bleachers for huge events during the Festival de Cervantino, an annual event that features dance, theater, music, and art from all around the world. Just a note that many of the historical exhibits only have descriptions in Spanish, so we suggest either snapping a photo of the text and using Google translate or you can visit the centro and find a tour guide who speaks English.
Museo Iconográfico de Quijote
Speaking of Cervantino, you may notice as you walk around the city that Guanajuato is somewhat obsessed with Miguel Cervantes, and Don Quijote in particular. One of the results of the fanaticism is an entire museum with over 800 portraits, statues, and other depictions of Don Quijote himself; quite impressive! Even if this doesn’t interest you, the cafe inside of the museum (Sette 7 Caffe) is worth entering for, and they often have free music and film events.
Image: Ofrenda for Diego Rivera at Casa Diego Rivera | Source: Saya Des Marais​​
Casa Diego Rivera
Even if you’re not an art expert, you’ve probably heard of Mexico’s famous painter, Frida Kahlo. Her husband, Diego Rivera, was also a very famous painter, who was well-established in Mexico’s art scene. He was born in Guanajuato, and you can visit his family home, now a museum, on Positos street. Although Mexico City is a better place to view Rivera’s famous murals, this small museum is one of the top things to do in Guanajuato for art lovers.
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Image: The Roman Garden at Ex-Hacienda San Gabriel de Barrera. | Photo By: Saya Des Marais​​
Ex-hacienda San Gabriel de Barrera
Image: Ex-Hacienda San Gabriel de Barrera. | Photo By: Saya Des Marais​​

This is one of Saya’s absolute favorite places to visit in Guanajuato. For less than 40 pesos, you can have access to the 17th century hacienda with antique furniture of that era and expansive gardens with different themes like a Roman garden with stained glass windows and a Mexican garden filled with cactus varieties. 

Some things to note: This place, like all haciendas in Mexico, has a brutal history of oppression; we aren’t big tour people but we highly recommend a tour with the guide stationed outside of the old residence for context. This museum is located in the Marfil neighborhood outside of town and we recommend taking a taxi.

Image: Quesadilla de Huitlacoche at La Cocina de Laura | Photo By: Saya Des Marais​​

Best Restaurants

A visit to any Mexican city is not complete until you stuff your face! Since no Guanajuato travel guide would be complete without where to eat, we’ve collated our top food recommendations, broken down into sit-down restaurants and street food.

For the sake of transparency, the food is exponentially better (and cheaper) at any of the options in the street food category. The restaurants in the sit-down category were chosen because of their above-average food and, more importantly, a unique ambiance or spectacular view that really makes you feel the magic of Guanajuato.

Sit-down Restaurants

As you walk around Guanajuato, you will notice an abundance of restaurants in every plaza. Be careful—some are tourist traps with overpriced and mediocre food. That being said, we can’t argue against the fact that it’s always a super fun experience to be serenaded by mariachi. 

We recommend that you go for dinner at one of our recommended restaurants, then hop into one of the touristy spots in Jardín de la Unión or Plaza de la Paz for an after-dinner drink or dessert and to enjoy the music.

For local food, we like Truco 7—a funky little classic with portraits of Enrique Iglesias and the pope on the walls and the best Sopa Azteca (in Saya’s opinion) in town. It is also a great place to try enchiladas mineras, Guanajuato’s traditional miner’s enchiladas topped with carrots and potatoes (although we think the best enchiladas are served on the street). Las Cruces is also a good hometown place with a delicious and cheap daily comida corrida and cute decor. Although not strictly Mexican food, Santo Cafe is absolutely a Guanajuato classic and a student favorite—you may have seen photos of the charming seating on Campanero bridge. Santo also has the best Sopa Azteca in town (in Beto’s opinion).

If you’re starting to get tired of Mexican food (Saya never thought it would happen to her, but it did—gasp—around year two of living here), don’t fret! Guanajuato is a college town with lots of international options.

Image: Templo de San Francisco Church | Photo By: Susan Metenosky Ripley​​

One of our favorite restaurants is Delica Mitsu, an authentic Japanese restaurant that serves up bentos with different small dishes daily. Habibti Falafel has the best falafel that either of us have ever had. La Santurrona has amazing burgers and outside seating in front of Templo de San Francisco church.

Although, yes, it’s always full of tourists and expats (we joke every time we go that Beto is the only Guanajuatense in the whole place!), we’d be remiss to leave Los Campos off this list. Tucked in a corner of Plaza Baratillo, this small romantic hideaway serves Mexican food with a twist —our favorite thing on the menu is the jalapeño and maíz fritters. This is the only restaurant on our list that we recommend making a reservation for.

We can’t personally vouch for either of these because fancy restaurants aren’t our scene, but for fine dining options, we’ve heard great things about Mestizo and Casa Mercedes.

And, of course, the views! Dinner with a view is a must-do in Guanajuato. Our favorite restaurants include: El Gallo Pitagórico, an above-average Italian place, which in our opinion has the most romantic view in town— climb a lot of stairs behind the Teatro Juarez to get here; Metate, a gourmet taco restaurant owned by the same couple that owns Los Campos (climb up to their roof bar for views); and Restaurante Corazón Mexicano on Alonso street, a concept restaurant with four levels (the top one being a terraza that looks out over the city). 

Image: Tacos del pastor at El Paisa. | Photo By: Saya Des Marais​​
Beto's Favorite Street Food Stands

If there’s one thing that Beto has become an expert in throughout his life, it’s cheap food on the street, and he has introduced Saya to some of the best of the best around town. Here are some of our favorite street food stands and fonditas and where you can find them.

Starting with tacos—a necessity when you visit Mexico. Our favorite tacos al pastor can be found at El Paisa I (El Paisa II is right next door; avoid confusion and make sure you enter the door with the trompo de pastor outside), across the street from the Hidalgo market. The menus and tables make it easy for taco beginners, and the food is fantastic (but please, you have to order al pastor). Beto also loves the tacos de asada at the street stand across the street from the primary school Montes de Oca on Calle Alhóndiga; like most street taco stands, it doesn’t come out until late evening, so take note.

We love tacos al vapor or steamed tacos (called “tacos de canasta” in other parts of the country), and our favorites are found in Jardín Embajadoras at Tacos al Vapor Baez. Note that tacos al vapor are an early day thing, so get there before 1 or 2PM. While you’re at Embajadoras, also make sure to get some handmade mantecado ice cream (or any of their other 20+ flavors) at the Nieves Aguilar stand (right behind the mariscos place).

For carnitas, hands-down, go to Carnitas Patlan—they have stands inside both Mercado Hidalgo and Mercado Embajadoras. Beto loves these carnitas so much that we served them at our wedding! Order the meat “surtida” so you get bits of greasy skin in there, too. Both stands close around 2PM usually, so don’t sleep in too late!

Our favorite daily home-cooked food is found at fondita La Cocina de Laura on Paseo de la Presa. She makes various guisado dishes every day like pork in chile pasilla and mole that you can order on a plate with rice and beans. Make sure to ask if she has quesadillas de huitlacoche or flor de calabaza with handmade tortillas—the absolute best! 

Another great place for handmade quesadillas and gorditas is the little stand next to the bridge on Calle Puertecito by Embajadoras garden— it’s the only gorditas stand we’ve found in town that consistently uses blue corn tortillas. On the other side of town, try the gorditas stand in plaza San Roque, right next to Estación Gelato.  

Guacamayas, sort of a chicharron sandwich, are a Guanajuato classic that originate from the neighboring city of León. You will see people selling baskets of them throughout the city; Beto’s recommendation is to buy from the man who is stationed right across the street from Mercado Hidalgo (you’ll see his huge basket and usually a crowd⁠—he’s very popular!).

Image: Saya stands outside one of her favorite coffee shop Bossa Nova, which was decorated with flowers that day because they were shooting a commercial. | Source: Saya Des Marais​​
Saya's Favorite Coffee Shops

Now for Saya’s area of expertise—coffee and chill. There are few better things to do in Guanajuato than lazily playing dominos at different coffee shops, so we’ve built up quite a repertoire of cozy places to hang out which we’re happy to share with you.

Image: Cueva Café coffee grounds | Photo By: Saya Des Marais​​

First, the Guanajuato classic—Cafe Tal. Cafe Tal roasts their own beans and has the best coffee in town, hands down. It’s also open almost all day long and its cozy atmosphere attracts local students and expats alike. The coffee shop that wins our best ambiance award is Café Bossanova at the back of San Fernando Plaza—sit outside in their cute yellow chairs and take in the music and the breeze. Right around the corner is Estacion Gelato in Plaza San Roque, with fantastic gelato to go with your cappuccino and a terrace that looks out at the Pipila statue. Cafe Carcamanes, up the street from Plaza Baratillo, has a shady courtyard and quaint atmosphere. 

On the other side of town, Cueva Caffe on Paseo de la Presa is a tiny little place that serves a mean cappuccino, and El Gregario Coffee House’s peaceful terrace looks out over a tree-filled park. La Casa de la Presa, a beautiful old mansion turned concept house with many different businesses, is home to La Victoriana, a cafe-slash-restaurant that has an excellent cake selection and a European feel.

Image: Guanajuato Talavera | Photo By: Saya Des Marais​​

Where to Shop

The Mercado Hidalgo is a great one-stop shop for both food items and cheap souvenirs, although you won’t find anything particularly unique here in the latter category. What you will find is bottles of fresh cajeta, a delectable goat milk caramel that originated in the nearby city of Celaya —don’t leave Guanajuato without trying some!

In terms of crafts, Guanajuato is most famous for its hand-painted talavera pottery. An unmissable place to visit in Guanajuato for craft lovers is Alfareria y Artesanias Vasquez on Cantarranas street, with an almost overwhelming abundance of rainbow-colored plates, bowls, cups, and incredibly affordable prices (walking down Cantarranas, you’ll notice it immediately). Right next door is a small store, Cuerpo Vitreo, that sells more subdued but just as beautiful type of hand-painted pottery.

There is a big art culture in Guanajuato. To browse local artists’ work, your best bet is to stroll down Calle Positos and peek into its many galleries. Print-making is particularly popular here; our recommendation for buying locally made prints is the gallery right between Plaza San Roque and Jardín de Reforma. 

Image: Huaraches in Guanajuato | Photo By: Saya Des Marais​​

Given that nearby city Leon is known as the shoe capital of the world, Guanajuato is a great place to stock up on handmade leather sandals, referred to here as huaraches. The shops specializing in huaraches are hard to miss; there are at least two stores in Plaza de la Paz, and one near El Callejon del Beso.

The Wixáritari (also known as Huichol) people are not native to Guanajuato, but there is a Wixáritari family who runs a tiny shop right around the corner from Plaza San Roque where they sell their incredibly intricate beaded jewelry and art. You’ll know they are open by the “Arte Huichol” sign they place outside of their door. 

If you don’t have a lot of time (or if you just want a wider variety in one place), we recommend sweeping through La Casa de las Artesanias in Plaza de la Paz, where you can quickly browse different types of Mexican handicrafts and choose what looks good for friends and family back home.

Where to Stay

There is an abundance of excellent Airbnb options in the city for all budgets, which is what we usually recommend to our visitors. Just make sure to check how far up the hill the places are located—Guanajuato is hilly, to say the least, and many residences are located at the top of brutally steep climbs. 

Since we live here, we have personally never stayed in a hotel, but there are a couple of options that come highly recommended by friends. Hotel Villa Maria Cristina is regarded as one of the most exclusive options in the city. We once had a spa day here, and were blown away by how beautiful it was. El Mesón de las Poetas, right next to Cafe Conquistador in the heart of el centro, feels like a grand, historic mansion and has rooms with balconies overlooking Positos street. Casa de Pita near Plaza Baratillo is a quaint and affordable bed-and-breakfast that gets consistently stellar reviews.

Image: View from The Pipila | Photo By: Susan Metenosky Ripley​​

How Long to Spend in Guanajuato

There are some folks who say that one day is enough to spend in Guanajuato to see all there is to see. We suppose they’re not wrong— the city is small enough to see the main Guanajuato tourist attractions (Teatro Juarez, Plaza de la Paz, Las Momias, Callejón del Beso, Pipila) in one or two days.

Are we biased? Obviously. And the small size is part of what we both love about little Guanajuatito. But we feel that the longer you spend in Guanajuato, the more hidden secrets you will discover—random pop-up orchestra concerts and coffee shops tucked away in narrow alleys. Our recommendation is to stay for at least 3 days, more if you plan on making a day trip to nearby San Miguel de Allende (which we recommend as one of the best places to visit in Guanajuato state).

Image: San Gabriel Hacienda | Photo By: Susan Metenosky Ripley​​

Getting Around

The most delightful thing to do in Guanajuato is to walk around on your own two feet, admiring the architecture and discovering secrets in hidden corners. From almost any point in the city, you can walk to any attraction in 20 minutes or less. Some Guanajuato attractions, like the Mummy Museum and Ex-Hacienda San Gabriel, you will want to take a taxi to, although there are also local buses available. You can easily hail a cab on any street; expect a fare between 50 and 80 pesos. First and second-class buses run from the Central de Autobúses (another place you will need to take a taxi to) to nearby towns like San Miguel de Allende. Uber is also available, but note that it’s not nearly as widely used as in larger cities and sometimes you may not be able to find a ride.

To get to Guanajuato, fly into El Bajío airport (alternatively and confusingly called, Silao airport, Leon airport, and Guanajuato airport—the code is BJX). If options from your city are limited, you can also fly into the Guadalajara or Mexico City airports and take a Primera Plus bus to Guanajuato; this takes around 4 or 6 hours, respectively.

Guanajuato is a one-of-a-kind destination and an excellent introduction to Mexican culture. We hope you enjoyed our Guanajuato travel guide!

Beto Carrillo 

Beto is an environmental engineer, private Spanish teacher, and (very) amateur soccer player. He was born and raised in Guanajuato city, graduated from the local university, and is very proud of where he's from. He loves extreme sports and any sort of outdoor activity, and after spending 5 years with his half-Japanese wife has learned to love Japanese food as much as he loves tacos

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About the Author

Saya Des Marais

Saya is a social worker, traveler, and part-time writer. She was born in Tokyo, lived in California for most of her life, and moved to Guanajuato, Mexico in 2016, where she has lived since with her handsome husband Beto and their rescue pup, Jane. She calls all three countries home. You can usually find her on a sunny rooftop somewhere with her ukulele, a cup of coffee, and a good book.

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