Guanajuato: The Prettiest City in Mexico


Guanajuato from above

After spending three months in the little surfing beach town of Sayulita, I was ready for a change. I was ready for more food options; to be able to step outside without breaking into a sweat; to no longer have to reside within a cloud of DEET because dengue rates were terrifyingly high. I always write about how I’m not much of a city girl, but after a few months spent living on a beach in Mexico, I was craving somewhere bigger. Somewhere… colder.

And bloody hell, was Guanajuato cold.

Views of Guanajuato

It may look sunny in the photos, but it was freezing.

Dave and I arrived in our new home on an overnight bus, eyes twinkling with wonder as we gazed up at the colourful buildings. Our journey had been one of luxury and, after spending the night snoozing on comfortable leather seats that fully reclined, I was eager to explore.

Except there was this strange stabbing pain in my head and a few hours after checking in to our Airbnb apartment, I was throwing up in the bathroom. Dengue was obviously my first thought, given that three people I knew in Sayulita had contracted it during the time I’d been there. Or could it be food poisoning? I spent my first day in Guanajuato alternating between lying in bed and running to the bathroom.

“How high up are we?” I asked Dave, hit by an epiphany.

“High, I think,” he replied, rubbing his temples. He was looking as bad as I felt.

A quick google told me we were 2,000 metres above sea level, roughly a mile and a quarter up. Was this altitude sickness? Could it really be this bad?

It was then that I started worry about what lay ahead for my time in South America. Some of the places I was planning on visiting were well over 3,000 metres high. Some of my friends were currently in those places and were laughing at me reacting so strongly.

Needless to say, I arrived in Guanajuato feeling a little bit pathetic.

Yellow church in Guanajuato

Fast forward a few days filled with non-stop gulping of water and my headache had faded and I was stepping outside with a grin plastered across my face.

This city was crazy-beautiful and, even better, IT WAS ALMOST CHRISTMAS!

Nativity lorry in Guanajuato

There was a nativity lorry and everything.

One of the first things I love to do when I arrive in a new city (after a nap) is find higher ground, so I made my first port of call El Pipila, the red-stone monument that towers over the city, celebrating the local hero of Guanajuato. El Pipila helped Mexico gain independence!

El Papila statue

The walking was surprisingly tough going, thanks to the altitude and my lack of fitness. But when I finally reached the top, breathless and sweaty?

It was all worth it.

Lauren in Guanajuato

Guanajuato close up

Guanajuato Mountain view

Damn.

Guanajuato was seriously gorgeous, and I immediately decided I wanted to make it my home base, altitude sickness or not. I visited Chefchaouen a few years ago and declared it to be the most photogenic city in the world. Suddenly, I wasn’t so sure.

Lauren cooking Christmas dinner

The apartment we were staying in has to be one of my favourite Airbnb apartments ever. For just under $40 a night, we had a beautiful apartment with a large kitchen, and a roof terrace overlooking the colourful city. Dave and I spend so much of our time staying in guesthouses that simple things like an oven or a sofa or not having to work in bed fills us with euphoria.

In fact, the only thing I was struggling with in Guanajuato was the food. A lot of the restaurants in town had closed for Christmas and finding somewhere to eat usually involved a half an hour walk down a load of alleyways until we ended up at a tourist restaurant eating a bland cheese sandwich. Breakfast was especially hard because we couldn’t find anywhere that opened before 11 a.m.

We did manage to find an amazing taco stand close to our apartment where we had brain tacos, but other than that, it was a bit tricky finding decent food.

Fortunately, we found an enormous Mega supermarket, which meant we could cook and not have to worry about the lack of restaurants. And because Guanajuato is surrounded by mountains, our walk involved passing through tunnels like these.

Tunnels in Guanajuato

Speaking of tunnels, we wandered through them once more several days later on our way to visit Guanajuato’s biggest tourist attraction: El Museo De Las Momias — the Museum of the Mummies. All I knew was that every article I’d read about Guanajuato had told me I had to visit, and, well, that there’d be mummies.

But I left feeling conflicted and uncomfortable. I know Mexicans have a relaxed attitude to death — I loved the joyful way the Day of the Dead was celebrated in Sayulita — but something about this museum felt ethically dubious.

In the early-1800’s, there was a huge cholera outbreak in Guanajuato. It killed so many people that the city began to run out of space in their cemeteries. In an attempt to solve this, a local tax was introduced, requiring relatives to pay a yearly fee in order to keep the bodies buried. If the tax wasn’t paid, the bodies were dug up and removed from the cemetery. As the bodies were exhumed, the cemetery workers discovered that some of the bodies had been naturally mummified. The bodies were kept in storage until the workers realised they could charge people to check out the mummies. Now it’s a museum.

The room filled with mummified children hit me hardest. Tiny babies wearing dresses and lying in glass cases with their mouths stretched open. There was even a woman who died while giving birth and her mummified foetus was about six inches tall. There was a person who had been buried alive, found with her hands held over her face. A guy who’d been stabbed to death, with a large wound in his stomach. We were encouraged to take photos, but it all felt a bit weird.

What do you think? Am I just too sensitive and awkward when it comes to death? Is it ethically sound? After my visit, I wouldn’t call it a top tourist attraction or tell anyone to visit. I found the whole thing incredibly uncomfortable.

It feels a bit weird for me to post any photos here, but if you want to check them out, here’s a Daily Mail article with some.

Christmas tree in Guanajuato

Back to a more cheerful topic: Christmas! Christmas is always a funny time of year to be away from home, and when I’m hanging out in a different country, it always ends up feeling like just another day.

Dave was struggling to deal with homesickness this year. In fact, it was the first time I’d ever seen him homesick. He wanted to be with friends and family; to be hanging out with his nephew. He didn’t want to be in Mexico eating a poorly-cooked Christmas dinner. Especially one he was allergic to.

Yep, in true Lauren fashion, I ran to the supermarket to buy a huge joint of meat, only to realise a few days later that it was stuffed with bell peppers.

Dave is allergic to bell peppers.

Christmas dinner

Merry Christmas, baby! Here, have some stomach cramps.

Despite Dave’s homesickness and despite my best efforts to poison him, we ended up having a lovely Christmas that was full of cliches.

I rocked out to Christmas tunes all day and we ate far too much food. I forced Dave to watch Home Alone and Pirates of the Caribbean while snuggled up on the sofa, and we finished off the evening watching the sunset from our roof terrace, glass of wine in hand.

I was loving Guanajuato.

Guanajuato streets

Then we made a big mistake and changed apartments. I’m a firm believer that the location of your accommodation can make or break your stay — it’s why I ended up feeling ambivalent about Prague, but fell in love with Raglan — and our second apartment was almost an hour’s walk out of the centre.

In different circumstances it would have been lovely. It had a stunning view of the city from way up in the hills, and it felt like the perfect writing retreat — peaceful and isolated with few distractions. With Guanajuato currently experiencing the lowest temperatures it’d had in years, the apartment turned out to be the coldest I’ve ever stayed in. The freezing temperatures were all the locals were talking about, and they repeatedly told us it wasn’t normal. My problem: I don’t own any winter clothes!

Even worse than shivering while wearing the contents of my backpack: everything had closed for Christmas and the only place open was a tiny store that sold potatoes, eggs, and not much else. We survived on omelettes for a week.

And it was a shame, because our apartment owners were so incredibly lovely. When they saw how cold we were, they brought us a warm stewed fruit punch, they invited us into their home to have breakfast with them, and they even lent us their cat to play with. They were so kind, but I was so goddamn cold.

Guanajuato cathedral

So, overall, a mixed experience from my time in Guanajuato. It’s the prettiest city I’ve ever been to, I loved our first apartment, and I enjoying getting lost down colourful alleyways. Since leaving, I regularly talk about heading back in the summer to base myself there for a month or two. For this trip, though, it was time to leave. I wasn’t prepared for the cold, I wasn’t enjoying living off of eggs, and, once again, I was craving somewhere new.

We had grand plans for the rest of our time in Mexico. We were going to base ourselves in Oaxaca for a month; we were going to eat all the food in Puebla; we were going to explore Mexico City; we were going to head south to clamber over obscure Mayan ruins.

Instead, from our bed, beneath piles of blankets, we booked a flight to Cancun.

We were in need of some warmth.

We were heading straight back to the beach.

Where’s the prettiest city you’ve ever been to?

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The most beautiful place in Mexico is Guanajuato. This colourful city is located in the mountains and provides spectacular views no matter where you are.

Guanajuato, Mexico. I love the colourful buildings!

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42 Comments

  1. Jenia from HTL
    June 27, 2015
    Reply

    SO.MUCH.COLOR! Even in your AirBNB apartment ;) Looks like a neat little stay – despite the food issues and all.

    • Lauren
      June 30, 2015
      Reply

      So much! :-) I still dream of that apartment — it was the perfect size and so cute!

  2. Camille
    June 27, 2015
    Reply

    A bit cliche, but I think Venice is still the prettiest city I’ve been to. But oh my, Guanajuato looks so stunning. I was looking at the first pictures, thinking it looked so sunny and warm… haha, I guess not!

    • Lauren
      June 30, 2015
      Reply

      Can you believe I still haven’t been to Venice? Such an oversight!

      Yeah, Guanajuato wasn’t so warm, but I definitely prefer blue skies and cold weather to warm temperatures and a grey sky :-)

      • soph
        May 17, 2020
        Reply

        Hi Lauren, you traveled all over the world. Would guanjuato be a place you could live permanetly? Favorite place in Mexico? Other global towns that you absolutely adored? best,soph

  3. Scott
    June 27, 2015
    Reply

    I wish the US was more colorful like this city! Great photos!

    • Lauren
      June 30, 2015
      Reply

      Right? I loved all of the vibrant colours in Mexico!

  4. Angie
    June 28, 2015
    Reply

    Thank you SO much for this post! Guanajuato sounds amazing. My great-grandmother was born there and I am embarrassed to say I do not know much about it. It looks like somewhere I should definitely visit someday.

    • Lauren
      June 30, 2015
      Reply

      Ah, amazing! :-) You should definitely get around to visiting — it’s a gorgeous place.

  5. Miriam of Adventurous Miriam
    July 1, 2015
    Reply

    You’re right – Guanajuato looks like the prettiest city in Mexico. When it comes to colorful houses, I was most impressed by San Cristobal de la Casas. That, and I absolutely loved the mountain feeling.

    • Lauren
      November 26, 2015
      Reply

      That’s definitely on my list for my next visit — in just a few months, yay!

  6. Atanas
    July 4, 2015
    Reply

    Amazingly beautiful! I`ve never heard about that town in Mexico, but looks like a nice off the beaten path gem.

    • Lauren
      November 26, 2015
      Reply

      It can still be pretty touristy with locals, but yep, not many Westerners around! Or at least, not during the winter!

  7. Michelle | Lights Camera Travel
    July 7, 2015
    Reply

    Wow I had no idea it was so colourful there! I’d say Singapore is the most colourful city I’ve ever been. I love European cities for the architecture though!

    • Lauren
      November 26, 2015
      Reply

      I loved Little India in Singapore. So many colours! :-)

  8. Carly
    January 4, 2016
    Reply

    I LOVE reading these long posts! Thanks for the colorful details- I will be using this as a resource for when I visit Mexico this February! How much time would you recommend staying in Guanajato for?

  9. Jaime Campos
    July 26, 2016
    Reply

    Where were you standing with that amazing view? Was it a restaurant? I would not mind going to Guanajuato in the spring.

    • Lauren
      July 26, 2016
      Reply

      It’s the main viewpoint of the city — just hike up to Monumento al Pípila!

  10. Melissa
    December 14, 2016
    Reply

    Lauren, I don’t know you but I am a fellow Blogger in Dallas (melgarvey.com). I recently lost my Lita (grandmother) last Friday and she was born in Guanajuato. I randomly start searching for pictures from her hometown and it brought me to your blog. My mother really wanted to take a trip down to visit one last time before my grandmothers passing but was worried about safety. How did you feel down in Guanajuato? I would love to go someday. I saved your AirBNB info so hopefully to use your stay because it sounds like it was beautiful.

    • Lauren
      December 15, 2016
      Reply

      I felt super-safe in Guanajuato. Way more safe than I do when I’m walking around in the U.S., even. So yep, definitely don’t let that stop you from going — I felt fine wandering around on my own, and everyone was so friendly and lovely there.

  11. Kristen
    December 14, 2016
    Reply

    Hi Lauren,

    I love the post and remembered it as I was deciding where to base myself for a couple of months in Mexico. Guanajuato seems perfect. Do you remember the internet being very available/reliable there? I’m wondering if I’ll be able to do Skype video calls/screen shares with clients on a regular basis. Any insight is much appreciated!

    • Lauren
      December 14, 2016
      Reply

      Well, the internet in our apartment was something like 20mb/s. I don’t know about anywhere else, but the internet has always been fine for Skype for me no matter where I’ve been in Mexico. If you’ll be renting an apartment from Airbnb, you could ask the owner to use speedtest.net to tell you the internet speeds, or if you’ll be showing up and finding somewhere then, you can just do it yourself before you commit to anywhere.

  12. Richard
    January 22, 2017
    Reply

    Just read your post Lauren. I’m British and married…my wife is Mexican…we visited Guanauato 15 years ago and would love to return sometime. Our plan is to retire to Mexico in a few years, splitting time between UK and there. We are thinking Sayulita, have you been to San Pancho? What were your thoughts about the Pacific west coast? Still travelling? All best.

    • Lauren
      January 24, 2017
      Reply

      I’ve been to San Pancho and personally preferred Sayulita. The beach in San Pancho isn’t as nice, because the waves are so rough that it’s impossible to swim in the ocean. It was also a little too small and quiet for my liking. Sayulita would be a good spot for making friends as so many people do opt to retire there. I loved the west coast of Mexico!

      Still travelling, but found a base in Lisbon, Portugal to return to between trips :-)

  13. Valeria
    March 13, 2017
    Reply

    Have you been to San Miguel Allende, Guanajuato? Is a couple hours from Guanajuato City and is a truly beautiful town! I highly recommend it for your next visit!

    • Lauren
      March 21, 2017
      Reply

      I haven’t! It’s definitely on my list for next time though.

  14. Mauricio Gonzalez
    May 19, 2017
    Reply

    I loved your piece. I haven’t been to Guanajuato since the early 1990s when I visited my ancestors’ homeland for the first time. I went to several places, but Guanajuato was the prettiest. The view of the city from the Pipila was truly memorable. Since I wrote a book about my family history and my travels to the state of Guanajuato (Tracing my Roots in Guanajuato, Leon, and Silao’s Haciendas and Ranchos (1734-1945), I have been thinking of returning, but I am afraid it may not be safe. I want to visit and promote my book there in person. I have been interchanging emails with Rachel Laudan (do you know her?), who lives or has lived in Guanajuato, but have not asked her about safety in the city.

    • Lauren
      June 9, 2017
      Reply

      Guanajuato is incredibly safe! I felt far safer there than I do in the U.S. :-)

  15. Colleen Willians
    July 17, 2017
    Reply

    Hi there–just read your great post-
    i will be traveling from Sayulita to Guanajuato in september for a wedding. you mentioned very comfortable bus trip–was this from Sayulita? any info would be appreciated. Gracias, Colleena

    • Lauren
      July 18, 2017
      Reply

      Hi Colleen! I took this trip five years ago, but from memory, we had to get a bus to PV, and then another bus to Guanajuato. It was with ADO, who have kickass buses!

  16. MIYUKI
    January 5, 2018
    Reply

    Thank you for sharing your experience.
    I am planning to go there soon and looking for accommodation.
    Would you be kind to tell me which Airbnb place you stayed in Guanajuato.
    I’ve been checking on Airbnb site but it’s hard to see which place has great terrace view.
    Thank you ?

  17. Anthony
    February 21, 2018
    Reply

    Hello Lauren, you are right on about Guanajuato, My wife and i were there a couple weeks ago and it was the most amazing place I have ever been. As far as the museum of the mummies, we went to the Museo de la Inquisicion before our planned mummy visit and that really was depressing and sad, enough so that we didn’t go to the mummy museum.
    I can’t wait for a return visit to this city, we stayed in Guanajuato for 3 days and then stayed at San Miguel de Allende for 3 more.

    • Lauren
      February 25, 2018
      Reply

      I can’t believe I didn’t get to San Miguel de Allende while I was in Guanajuato! That’s definitely on my list for a return visit to Mexico :-)

  18. Katie Fawcett
    May 2, 2018
    Reply

    Guanajuato is one of my favorite cities in the world! It reminds me of Italian hill towns. It’s such a shame restaurants were closed during your visit as there are some great little places to eat. And the weather, too — unlucky. I’ve been to Guanajuato during winter, spring, and fall and never been cold. At night, however, it’s good to have a sweater or jacket during the winter months. Dia de los Muertos both in Guanajuato and in San Miguel de Allende are alone worth a visit. So, too, the Fiesta Patronales in September in San Miguel — the most amazing fireworks I’ve ever seen. The DC 4th of July can’t hold a candle to them. If you go to the Bajio region again, try to arrange a visit near one of the big celebrations. Easter is beautiful, too, and that’s when the jacarandas bloom and turn the city blue. Enjoyed reading about your experience and hope you give it another try. I go every year and always hate to leave.

  19. Hayley Lewis
    November 1, 2018
    Reply

    I’m in Guanajuato now for dia de los muertos. Really undecided about the mummy museum – good to read your thoughts on it. Love this city!

    • Lauren
      January 8, 2019
      Reply

      It’s such a lovely, colourful spot, isn’t it?

  20. Mea
    March 10, 2019
    Reply

    Omw to San Miguel de Allende next week! I have never seen Gto though. Heard it is lovely. For me though, few things compare to some of the beauty in Mexico City: baroque mansions in hispter/foodie haven Roma Norte, lush Parque Mexico, monuments of Parque Alemeda Central, the incredible Palacio de Bellas Artes, the luxurious Calle Presidente Masyrk ,cute Polancito in Polanco, and to the south, el centro de Coyoacan, San Angel. So much beauty for such a metropolitan city, Contrasts greatly to the skyscrapers I am used to in NYC. If you haven’t been, definitely go! Spring for an Airbnb in Colonia Condesa or Roma Norte.

  21. Serge
    August 19, 2019
    Reply

    Thank you so much for your postings. You make me day-dream about the places that you have visited. I am from Mexico and I know the country very well, from Baja to Chiapas….Let me start b y saying that San Miguel is the Disney/Gringo version of Guanajuato. It is beautiful but artificially pretty. It is really segregated between the gringo places and the locals… Mexico has other great places. The prettiest northern city is Zacatecas; The prettiest mountainous region is la Huasteca (jungle/forrest) or The Cooper Canyon (spectacular). Central Mexico: Guanajuato is the best… I love Queretaro, Morelia (very unique cuisine as it is Tarascan, not Aztec food), Taxco and Tepoztlan too. But I would not go there for more than a day. Really, as Mea mentioned above, you have to try Mexico City, please. There is everything for every budget… I would love to hear your thoughts. I think that Mexico City is the most beautiful city hands down in the entire country and kills almost any in Latin American capital(Buenos Aires is the only match) and best street food ever. Hands down… well tacos are form there to begin with. In Mexico City, Condesa and Roma are great hipster neighboprhoods but try Coyoacan (e.g Frida Khalo Museum ) or San Angel…. let me continue with the rest of the country… In Southern Mexico, really worth your time: Oaxaca, San Cristobal (do side trips to the Jungle ruins of Yaxchilan) and Palenque. Both stunning and cheapo Yucatan peninsula: please enjoy Merida (a colonial jewel), Holbox Island, a delightful place not as touristy as Cancun. BTW, When you head to Cancun, don’t stay there. Go to Akumal. Beats any beach in the Mayan Riviera, hands down. 15 mins chep bus from Tulum. Thank you!

  22. Stephen
    September 30, 2019
    Reply

    I would have to agree 100% with Serge’s comparison of San Miguel vs Guanajuato. I also sympathize with you on your move to the outskirts of Guanajuato. I always tell visitors to Guanajuato that location is the most important thing. Why trudge 20 minutes or taxi in, when reasonable vacation rentals can easily be found within 5 minutes of El Centro. Also, don’t bring a car. There is no need if you are right in el Centro and most vacation rental have no parking anyway.

    Depends on the season I guess but even paying more to be close-in is well worth it. As for warm clothes. Mercado Embajadores has quite a few used clothing shops. Good, clean stuff generally. All my visits have been in January. Weather was very pleasant usually, but there are occasional cold spells.

  23. Stephen
    September 30, 2019
    Reply

    I forgot to mention. The older, thick-walled houses in el Centro will be much warmer in winter and cooler in summer than newer rentals outside of town.

  24. Luis Prieto
    January 14, 2020
    Reply

    Guanajuato is beautiful. However, I know it may be cliche, but San Miguel de Allende is my favorite. Zacatecas is also up there for colonial charm and beauty. If you want to discover unknown Mexican gems, San Juliana in Jalisco is lovely, as most towns in the highlands of Jalisco. I’m personally from Chapultepec Country, Guadalajara. It’s a nice modern neighborhood, but can’t rival these colonial gems imo.

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