After a long overnight bus journey from Puerto Vallarta, we had finally made it to Guanajuato. Too early to check it, we dragged our tired bodies to a small restaurant for a filling breakfast of ‘chilaquiles’. Of course it wasn’t the healthiest of choices, but not too many Mexican staples are. Still, like almost everything we ate in Mexico, it was mouth-wateringly delicious.
Needing to burn off breakfast, we decided to walk to where we’d be staying, a beautiful three-story home-turned-hostel on a hillside. As we trekked through the city center, I was instantly reminded of Spain. The narrow alleys, winding paths and cobblestone roads were almost too much to handle. Once we past the main Cathedral and saw the restaurants putting their tables and chairs in the street for sunny dining, for a moment, I could have been back in Madrid.
Built in a narrow valley, walking around Guanajuato takes some serious calf work. As we made our way up the hillside, the views only got more colorful and more impressive. I couldn’t believe I hadn’t heard of this city before researching our trip to Mexico. Just after our first morning, I was enamored.
We eventually made it to our hostel, Casa de Dante, where we were greeted with the owner’s mother. It was too early to check in, but too late for breakfast. She sat us down in the kitchen and brought us coffee and a basket of bread. As we chatted, she rolled thick pieces of cheese into rolled tacos for the following mornings’ breakfast. She told us about the city, Mexican politics and the devastating standard of living for most Mexicans. She never paused from rolling tacos as she chatted, and continuously pressed us if we needed more to eat or drink.
Living the good life in Guanajuato
For four sweet nights we enjoyed the good life in Guanajuato. Some days we’d visit whatever sites we had on our list, take photos of the beautiful views and get lost and wander around. On other days, we’d be a bit lazy and cozy up in our colorful and comfortable room and watch Netflix. Chilly, mountain towns and home-like accommodation can do that to you.
At night we’d explore the bar scene with friends. Since it was December, the temperatures would drop drastically at night and somehow I forgot to consider this when packing. Isn’t everywhere in Mexico supposed to stay warm? In fear of freezing, socks under sandals became my no-shame shoe style of choice.
While every day in Guanajuato was pleasant, it was the breakfasts that we looked forward to every morning. In fact, we stayed another night at Casa de Dante solely for the breakfast.
Every morning, ‘abuela’ and her small team would bring out a vast array of goodies to our table. Fresh squeezed juice from lesser-known fruits, a basket of Mexican sweet breads, a jug of coffee and a fruit plate cut into the form of something cute, like a reindeer or smiley face. After that, the main breakfast course would come out, always modifiable for diets. From eggs to quesadillas with toppings galore, it was always good.
My favorite was probably the rolled tacos. Three corn rolled tacos topped with shredded chicken, pomegranate seeds, salsa, sour creme and queso fresco. They always asked if we wanted seconds, and we always had to say yes.
Taking joy rides in the tunnels
One of the most fascinating things about Guanajuato, to me, was the interconnected system of tunnels hidden beneath the city. A mining town itself, the people of Guanajuato know how to use dynamite. When traffic became too much for the city which is surrounded by steep mountain slopes, the only direction to go was down. Nowadays, most of the city’s traffic is diverted to this maze of underground tunnels.
Complete with underground intersections and all, it was a blast riding around within them. Unlike tunnels in most cities, these were dimly lit and still jagged from the dynamite. It gave the tunnels a whole special atmosphere, somewhat creepy and mysterious. The roads would divert in all directions, and it was a wonder to me how any of the drivers knew which way to go.
Picture-perfect San Miguel de Allende
Not wanting to miss a breakfast, we decided to head to San Miguel de Allende just for the day rather than stay overnight. While Guanajuato was rough around the edges and a bit off the beaten path, San Miguel was full-blown tourist mania. Still, it was extremely beautiful and we could see why so many expats had decided to buy up small houses and relocate for the winter.
Only an hour and a half by car from Guanajuato, it’s almost too convenient that these two pleasant Mexican cities are right next to each other. And while Guanajuato has a fair bit of hustle bustle and chaos typical of many cities in Latin America, San Miguel seems to have turned to dial down.
Cosmopolitan but still quaint, San Miguel began its history of wealth in the late 16th century when it found itself on the silver route between Zacatecas and Mexico City. That, along with a popular textile industry, helped create the large mansions, leafy courtyards, cobblestone streets, palaces and churches which still remain.
After exploring the main sites and streets, I suggested we get a bit higher in elevation to escape the Sunday crowds and enjoy the sun. Luckily, the rooftop bar trend was already in full swing in San Miguel. We spent the rest of the day ordering fancy mezcal cocktails, beers and ‘micheladas’.
Looking back after spending six weeks all around Mexico, Guanajuato and San Miguel de Allende remain as two of my favorite places. It was everything I wanted from colonial Mexico– colorful, cozy, friendly and picturesque. Not to mention, it was also my favorite accommodation too. It’s not very often that you can feel a bit at home while still on the road.
Info: If you’re going to Guanajuato, you must stay at Casa de Dante. It’s hands down one of the best hostels in Mexico. While we stayed in a private room, there are also dorm rooms available. Be advised, the hostel is only reachable by stairs, 150 from the bottom of the staircase to be exact. The city center is about a 10-15 minute walk, but with the view on the terrace and the amazing included breakfast, the stairs and location are well worth it.