Guanajuato Is a Culture-Rich Departure From Mexico’s Coasts
Destinations to Travel Travel

Travelers have long appreciated Mexico’s beaches. From Cancun and Tulum in the east to Puerto Vallarta and Los Cabos in the west, there are endless options at every price point—not to mention great choices for singles, couples, and family travel. But for a taste of authentic culture and some outdoor adventure, Guanajuato, in the country’s mountainous interior, is a breath of fresh air.

Guanajuato is a Mexican state that encompasses two stunning and travel-worthy cities, Guanajuato City and San Miguel de Allende. They are separated by about an hour’s drive, with San Miguel located further east. The region’s airport, near the city of Leon, is about 30 minutes from Guanajuato City and 1.5 hours from San Miguel. Direct air service from California, Texas and Illinois makes Leon easily accessible from most of the U.S.


San Miguel de Allende is the more well-known of the two cities, with a history of attracting American retirees, as well as the LGBTQ crowd. Americans have been driving up the price of real estate in this artist’s hub, famous for its iconic neo-Gothic church, La Parroquia de San Miguel Arcángel.

There are 60 different nationalities living here, so it’s a very international community. Much of the tourism comes from the U.S. and Canada, as well as elsewhere in Mexico—roughly eight million people live within a two-hour drive. The city has received many “top destination” type honors over the past few years, and it’s struggled a bit with the associated influx of visitors.

We stayed in the lovely Hilo Rojo Hotel Boutique, located in the hills above the city. Suites here are incredibly spacious and comfortable, with modern design and nice luxuries such as heated bathroom floors. Most come with extensive private patio areas with views down toward the city and beyond. Breakfast is included.

Guanajuato City was, to me, a surprising delight. While San Miguel felt a bit more spread out, the sharp hills and valleys here made for a European flavor. The city is full of gorgeous boutique hotels, such as the charming Edelmira Hotel Boutique, right in the heart of downtown. This is one of the only hotels in the city with a pool, which was an unexpected bonus.

Make sure to take the Funicular, a short walk away from the hotel’s front door, to travel 300 feet up one of the city’s steep hillsides. At the top, you’ll find shops, the enormous statue of El Pipila (a local hero) and an awe-inspiring view of the entire city, nestled across the valley. There’s a ton of history all around, tied to the city’s beginnings as a silver mine town, and the extensive (and architecturally stunning) system of arched tunnels underneath the entire city is well worth exploring.

Here are five other things to do in these fascinating cities.

1. Discover the culture here. You’ll find plenty of surprises walking around these cities. Guanajuato has a history of celebrating Don Quixote (and hosts a huge festival every October), and the Museo Iconografico del Quijote is a fascinating look at how different artists look at a singular character. There’s also a Mummy Museum, a regional history museum and a major market downtown with ironwork from the one and only Gustave Eiffel. Touring by foot or bicycle is a splendid way to experience Guanajuato City, whether on your own or with several local guide companies.

Coyote Canyon Adventures
Coyote Canyon Adventures runs a wide range of horseback riding activities, including riding through downtown San Miguel de Allende. (Photo by Paul Heney)

2. Horseback ride through town. In San Miguel de Allende, Coyote Canyon Adventures offers numerous adventures, including a three-hour horseback ride through the backcountry and into town, where you’ll stop at a few old-fashioned western-style bars for a beer. And yes, they even have the dual swinging doors. The horses were incredibly tame, and Coyote Canyon takes kids as young as 1.5 years old on the rides with them. (They told me that they’ve also had cowgirls up to 84 years old on the rides!)

3. Eat up! There’s great food to be had in both cities, including a wide variety of cuisine, but of course we focused on traditional Mexican. I loved the “Divorciadas” enchiladas at Casa Valadez in Guanajuato, which are served separated by a bowl of refried beans. Enchiladas on one side were covered in a nice smoky mole sauce, and on the other side by a tasty green sauce. Other great restaurants to sample include La Virgen de la Cueva, Casa Mercedes, Amatxi, Fatima 7, Nomada and ZIBU.

The “Divorciadas” enchiladas at Casa Valadez in Guanajuato proved that being apart can sometimes be quite delicious. (Photo by Paul Heney)

4. Adventure can be had just outside of town at the mountain peak known as El Cerro de la Bufa. With a height of 8,770 feet, hiking to the top provides about a 500-foot elevation gain and will definitely work off some of that delicious Mexican food. The view back toward the city was breathtaking, and the view in every other direction, of distant mountains and rocky outcroppings, was equally satisfying. We tried our hand at rappelling down a 100-foot sheer cliff near the top, guided by local experts, who put us at ease.

Toy museum
Unexpected delights, such as this toy museum, abound in the city of San Miguel de Allende, Mexico. (Photo by Paul Heney)

5. Back in town, don’t forget shopping. You’ll find everything here from cannabis-infused mezcal (!) to a local specialty, Cajeta de Celaya, a sort of dulce de leche that’s made with goat’s milk. You’ll find good buys on leather goods, especially shoes, as well as handicrafts. This area produces a lot of the handmade souvenirs that you’ll find in that other Mexico—the heavily visited coastal resort cities. One more reason to skip them entirely and come straight to the source.

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