Guanajuato, Mexico - Most Beautiful City in the World

Guanajuato, Mexico – Most Beautiful City in the World

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My first impression of Guanajuato was, “Wow, this city reminds me of Rome!” After two days of wandering around its pristine cobblestone streets, discovering one jaw-droppingly beautiful plaza and church after another, I was proclaiming it the most beautiful city in the world. By day five I was looking at apartments.

Guanajuato is a city that I could happily live in the rest of my life, and that is high praise from a vagabond like me. Aside from its astonishing colonial architecture, exquisitely landscaped plazas, and ideal weather, the city has a vibrancy unlike anything I have felt elsewhere in Mexico. This is partially due to the 20,000 students who attend the University of Guanajuato, located right in the city’s historic center; the university’s fine arts focus is the impetus behind many of the cultural seminars, workshops, and exhibits that occur throughout the year. But the vibrant energy of Guanajuato is also a result of its history.

Guanajuato University

Basilica de Nuestra Senora de Guanajuato

At night, crowds gather on the steps of the illuminated Teatro Juarez

It is said that in 1548, a muleteer named Rayas, who was camping in the hills around what is today the city of Guanajuato, found silver ore inside his bonfire. The land belonged to the New Spain Viceroyalty at that point and the King of Spain was quick to take note; by 1571 the city had been founded on the wealth of what would, for many centuries, be the richest mine in the world. Nouveau riche mine owners poured money into creating a city that would reflect their social standing, building theaters and mansions and funding churches that rivaled one another in opulence.

Can’t view the above slide show of Guanajuato, Mexico? Click here.

Today, the heart of the city is Plaza de la Paz, anchored by stunning Nuestra Senora de Guanajuato Basilica. Just one of more than 35 old churches in the city, the Basilica glitters gold in the late afternoon sun, framed by exotic furry green plants and tall black sculptures. Around the corner, Jardin de la Union is the favorite gathering place for locals. From the outdoor cafes to the steps of Romanesque Teatro Juarez, where crowds gather each night to watch street performers perfect their acts, this plaza bustles with activity into the wee hours.

A remarkable feature of Guanajuato are its tunnels, which divert vehicles beneath the city. This was not planned; the city was built over the Guanajuato River, which flowed through tunnels beneath the city. However, after years of raising buildings to accommodate repeated flooding, a dam was constructed and the river was redirected into underground caverns. The empty tunnels were paved with cobblestones and lit for automobile traffic, leaving many of the upper level streets for pedestrians.

Gazebo in the center of Jardin de la Union

Tunnels beneath the streets of Guanajuato divert traffic, leaving many upper level streets to pedestrian traffic

From its historic center, narrow curving streets and steep staircases climb past jewel-tone houses that cling precariously to valley walls. Every step brings another delight: doorways open to lushly landscaped interior courtyards, murals decorate long stretches of wall, boughs thick with salmon and magenta Bougainvilla overhang sidewalks.

Typical street scene in Guanajuato

Plaza del Baratillo

While other Mexican cities are showing signs of stress from difficult economic conditions currently plaguing the country, Guanajuato remains pristine, with hardly a scrap of trash lying about, and eminently safe. Perhaps that can partially be attributed to its silver mines, which are still among the richest-producing in the world, but more likely it has to do with a community that takes great pride in the fact that the historic center was declared a UNESCO Word Heritage Site in 1988. Not surprisingly, the city is one of the country’s most important and most popular tourist destinations. What is surprising, however, is that very few Americans know about this undiscovered cultural gem in the geographic center of Mexico.

This article is part of the Lonely Planet Blogsherpa Travel Blog Carnival, where this week’s topic is “magical/memorable city experiences.” If you wish to read about Blogsherpa’s favorite cities, cruise on over to Travel With Den Den, the travel blog of Denise Pulis, who is hosting this week’s carnival.

83 Comments on “Guanajuato, Mexico – Most Beautiful City in the World

  1. Now I want to go to Guanajuato! Yesterday, I wanted to join you in Norway.

    • That’s what our friend Larry calls TWADDA – Travel Writers with Attention Deficit Disorder Anonymous, Paula. Welcome to my world :-)

    • Hi David: I’m sure you’ll have a blast anyway – it’s a town full of young people.

  2. Thanks for sharing these beautiful pics. I too have taken many photos of Gunajuato. I’ve visited several times while visiting family in the surrounding areas. I was born in the US but my parents emigrated from the state of GTO in the 70s. I have always loved visiting GTO and especially the capital city. I have visited several states in Mexico and they are all unique. I have also vacationed in several of the popular coastal tourist towns. I can honestly say that if I were given the opportunity to live somewhere in Mexico, my number 1 (and probably only) choice would be the capital city of GTO. Like someone said above, it feels magical. It’s hard to describe the feeling but when you’re there you know what we’re talking about. I love history and this place is a historic treasure. I took my wife a few years ago and we had a great time. I now have a son and another on the way and can’t wait for the day to be able to take them to this special place.

    • Hi Eli: I always love to read a comment from someone else who has fallen in love with Guanajuato as much as I did. Thanks so much for taking the time to let me know.

  3. Thank you for your wonderful article about Guanajuato. I am leaving for there in five hours! I have wanted to go for so long and will be spending two weeks there with side trips to San Miguel de Allende and Leon. Your article placed butterflies in my stomach: I am so excited!

    • Hi Ted: I am jealous! Enjoy Guanajuato; it’s a wonderful town.

  4. I lived in Guanajuato in 1997 and although I loved the fabulous architecture and the cultural exciting festivals (Cervantino) I found G. to be extremely conservative, boring, and rigidly middle class. The food was so lousy I used to take a bus to SMA just to get a good meal. I loved the views from my wonderful house above the Teatro Juarez but although I was a student at the University and speak Spanish, I found it very difficult to make friends.

    • Hi Rosa: So funny how different places resonate with different people. I loved Guanajuato but didn’t much care for SMA. I found Guanajuato to be filled with vibrant youths from the University and had excellent food there. Guess that’s what makes the world go round – how boring it would be if we all liked the same thing! Thanks for your comment.

  5. Great post! I haven’t spent much time in Guanajuato, but from what I have seen of the city you’re totally right about both the architecture and the atmosphere. I’ll have to go back!

    Saludos,
    Monica V

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  7. Your slide show at the top of the page is STUNNING!  Any chance you could label the photos?   I’m so curious to know where some of them were taken.  Love your blog.  Can’t wait to read more. Just added Guanajuato to my must-see list.  Thanks for sharing.

    • Hi Colleen: Wish I could add titles – the photos are generated by a plugin and if I add titles it completely breaks the design of the blog.

  8. Your article about Guanajuato is excellent!  You are right, that people are not aware of this beautiful place. 

    I first went to Guanajuato during a weekend, when I was working in Leon, Mexico.  It was “love at first sight”!  I was lucky enough to return another 6 times, also while I was working in Leon, and just returned from a 5 day vacation there.  I love how every street and every building is different.  Each corner brings a new visual surprise and overall, the city is just enchanting.  I love the architecture, and the colorful houses that are built onto the valley walls.  It is a visual feast!  As you mentioned, the place is very safe and so clean – I humorously marvelled at how many people I saw sweeping and mopping (with soapy cleansers!) the sidewalks, footpaths and even the roads. I live in NYC and see a broom or mop used outside only once or twice a month!  In Guanajuato, I’ve seen sometimes 10x a day people are cleaning the streets.  I believe that this really helps to keep this beautiful jewel of a city sparkling. 
    At the moment, I am trying to figure out a way to live in Guanajuato, perhaps for 3 or 6 months (maybe a year?).  I work from home when I am not at a client’s site, so it may be possible.  I do not want to wait 20 years until retirement.  I never thought I would *crave* a place so much, but when my heart ached (and I cried on the flight heading back to NYC), when I left in August, I knew I had to return for vacation – which was within a month later!  I’ve travelled to other beautiful places, including Morocco and Thailand, but Guanajuato is a phenomenally beautiful city, that has taken my breath away and has my heart. 

    Thank you again for your article about this amazing place.

    • Hi AMG: Thank you so much for taking the time to write. I always love to hear when others are as enchanted with Guanajuato as I was. Best of luck finding a way to live there.

      • Hi Barbara,
        Thank you for your response.  While I was there this last time, 2 strangers described Guanajuato perfectly:  “Magical”.  I am glad I found your site and appreciate that you love that city as well.  I admire that you gave yourself the opportunity to travel.  Best wishes for all of your future adventures.

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  10. Hello,
    Thank you for your article. Is Guanajuato city a place I could go and teach ESL or do some paid work for six months? Can you rent an apartment easily near the University? I am an American preschool teacher, fluent in Spanish, really thinking I need a change of pace for a bit. Thank you :) Emily

    • Yes to both questions, Emily. Go for it – you will love Guanajuato.

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    • Hi Indian Bazaars: You know, I never made it to that cafe and some day I’m going to have to return just to sit there and have lunch!

  13. Barbara,
    Thanks for turning me on to a new place in Mexico. I always think I’ve “done” Mexico then I realize that there is so much more to see. I can’t wait to go.
    Nice post.
    Jason

  14. I loved Mexico when I was there – loved the big blue skies and the sheer size of the country after coming from England. I travelled south east from Mexico City so I don’t know the region of Mexico around Guanjuato.

    How would you describe the feel of this part of the country?

    All we hear in the news at the moment is the narcotraficante shootouts in the north near the US border.

    So reading about a city with beautiful architecture and a vibrant population makes me feel affectionate towards the place already and want to go there. :)

    • Hi David: Since the central plateau north of Mexico City is home to much of
      the gold, silver, and copper mineral wealth of the country it was the area
      of focus for the invading Spaniards. They built spectacular colonial cities
      that rival anything found in Europe, including theaters, opera houses,
      lushly planted open squares, etc. As usual, the media has sensationalized
      the narcotraficante crime wave, to the point where tourists have the
      impression that the entire country is unsafe. Of course, there are areas to
      avoid, such as Cuidad Juarez and many of the border towns, but the lion’s
      share of Mexico is safe and delightful. I backpacked solo through the
      country for four months and never felt unsafe for a moment. Guanajuato, as
      have most of the colonial cities, installed extensive security cameras
      throughout the city, so you can wander at all hours of the day and night
      with no worries. And being a university town, it is lively well into the wee
      hours. Do go if you get the chance. And while there, you will be close
      enough to check out San Luis Potosi, Queretaro, Zacatecas, etc., all of
      which have the same colonial flavor and natural beauty.

    • It’s like York or Bath, but with a pulse, more beautiful colorful and vibrant. The people are also lovely and warm.

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  17. Thank you, Barbara: I’m headed to Guanajuato for only two weeks of intensive Spanish, but it will be my first trip traveling alone. Your post has reassured me that I will be safe walking around by myself.

    • You are so very welcome Linda. As I understand it, the only part of town
      where there is ever any trouble is in the area in the hills above the
      college, so just don’t go wandering up there. And as you’ll see, the main
      areas are completely blanketed with security cameras. It’s a really safe
      place. I am so jealous!!

    • Hi Linda-
      Unless you are still getting emails when someone replies to this old comment, you probably won’t see this—but I thought I’d give it a shot.  I am also thinking of heading to Guanajuato for intensive Spanish.  How did you like the program you attended?  Would you recommend it?  
      Thanks.
      Suzanne
      justoneboomer@gmail.com

  18. Beautiful photos and great find! I’d never heard of the city before and now I REALLY want to go.

  19. Wow! you’be sold me! If you want to live there, I definitely have to visit there. It looks gorgeous and it is wonderful to see that it is thriving!

  20. Great post! I absolutely loved it and now I’m even more excited for my upcoming trip to Guanajuato!!!!!!

    You see, my Fiance and I are getting married in San Jose del Cabo (we’re both Canadian) and following it up with a two week honeymoon in Guanajuato. To make our experience all the more genuine we’ve rented a flat (actually a different one each week) through VRBO. We can’t wait!!!!!!

    • Hi Toronto Girl: Congratulations on you upcoming marriage. I can’t think of a better place to honeymoon – you will love Guanajuato! Thanks so much for taking the time to comment.

  21. o thank god i live 2:30 from guanajuato! if someone is thinking wich season is good to be there the answer is all off them but i really recommend the days when its the film festival, im so exited all year just thinking of going back every festival. heres more info

    http://www.expresionencorto.com/

    excellent post

    • Thanks Julio! Appreciate the info on the film festival very much.

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  23. Hi Barbara,
    You’re reminding me that it’s been way too long since I’ve been to Mexico, and what I’ve been missing!

  24. Thank you for your beautiful portrait of Guanajuato. My 21 year old son is taking his fall semester at the university and I am so grateful to find such positive information about the city. I have been very worried about his trip. I’ll be back to your blog as I look for information about what he should and shouldn’t pack, cell phones, etc.
    Best regards,
    Lynne

    • Hi Lynne: Of course, bad things can happen anywhere at any time, but I want to assure you that Guanajuato is an eminently safe city. The entire city center has been equipped with security cameras and everyone told me that it was safe for a woman to walk alone at all hours of the night, which I did often and without concern. Barbara

      • Hi.

        Guanajuato, as most of the cities in Mexico, is very safe. Unfortunately, foreign media make it sound like you can literally be killed anywhere in Mexico, but those are mostly lies. That happens only in the border with the US.
        Come visit our amazing cities, such as Mexico City, Puebla, Guanajuato, Morelia, Oaxaca, San Luis Potosí, Queretaro, Guadalajara, Aguascalientes, Zacatecas, etc. You will find they are extremely gorgeous. And they are rather unique to US visitors, since there’s nothing that even resembles them in the US.

        • I know Jorge. I tell people that all the time, but like lemmings, they just want to believe travel is so dangerous. Hard to understand.

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  26. I studied abroad in Guanajuato two years ago and just came across this article via StumbleUpon and could not be happier to have found it! Thank you so much for this perfect depiction of an incredible city–living there was some of the best months of my life, and I cannot wait to return!

  27. I got stuck on this city when I researched my own trip to Mexico (hopefully in the very near future) and thought that Guanajuato will be a must. Your article confirms that. Reading your Mexico posts make me very travel-itchy. Can’t wait to pack my bags :) Thank you Barbara!

    • You are welcome, Fida. Do come! I am now in the jungles of southern Mexico, in Chiapas, and it is incredible here as well.

  28. I’ll have to say that I was skeptical about anywhere being proclaimed the most beautiful city in the world. The competition for that title must be fierce. Your photos are very persuasive though. Wow. I can see why you would say that now. The place just looks so alive and vibrant.

  29. Great post about my favourite city in the world – it is utterly enchanting. I was there for Semana Santa (Holy Week) last year, and the processions were quite incredible.

  30. It does look beautiful – you know you’ve found your place if you want to settle in and stay for a while.

    On those tunnels that housed the river, in Valencia they did something similar when they diverted the river that ran through the city centre after it flooded one time too many and now it is a string of parks along the river bed that’s great for cycling, walking and sport

  31. I loved Guanajuato and completely agree that it’s a perfect place! I plan on going back someday, perhaps to live there for a bit, it was so beautiful and friendly!

    I love your photos btw!

  32. With Guanajuato being so beautiful, I still wonder why expats flock to San Miguel de Allende. Oh, well. More charm for the rest of us to enjoy.

    Another reason why Guanajuato looks so pristine and nice (so we heard) is that Vicente Fox is from Guanajuato and when he was President, he put a lot of money into the city. I believe he resides there now and continues to support the city in many ways.

  33. Oh my – I’ve never heard of the city before – but what beautiful pictures! Living abroad is a fun adventure…could be a good place to blog from! :)

  34. I have been wondering what it was like since you first mentioned it – and now the photos! They are just stunning, no wonder you compared it to Rome.

    It does remind me somewhat of La Laguna, which is the university town and former capital of Tenerife. I guess the old architecture here is the same Spanish, colonial style. La Laguna is also a World Heritage Site. At least, the old part is, that is, the university is a sprawling, concrete horror (in my eyes), but I agree that university towns do have a unique vibrance, all those hopes and dreams, all that curiosity and thirst for knowledge in the air I guess!

    Thanks, as always, for sharing!

  35. It’s magical to find a place that speaks to you the way Guanajuato has for you, Barbara. I know very little about the city and appreciate your introduction. So glad you discovered it for yourself.

  36. Hello Barbara,
    I traveled to Guanajuato last summer for 6 weeks, i studied engineering and took some spanish classes. It is truly a magical place that is quite different then anything i am accustomed to. I enjoyed reading your article as it brought back life long memories that i will never forget!

    • Hi Chris! Thanks so much for your comment. Love knowing that others have felt the same way about Guanajuato. I hope I never forget that feeling of awe I had as I rounded each new corner the first couple of days.

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  38. I am thoroughly enchanted. This place has everything I want, need, desire. Those colours, that architecture, ahhhh. I’m showing this to my husband immediately. Lovely vivid writing Barbara. You are obviously in love with the place. See you there!

    • Hi Gail: So glad you liked the post. It is a magical place.

  39. It was $500 a month. It included utilities and was furnished. Two bedroom/Two bathroom, living/dining area, kitchen and patio. The original price was $900 a month but my husband lives in Leon and was able to get the local’s price. So if they give you a crazy price like that, ask to lower it b/c you know they are just trying to get the “gringa” to pay.

  40. Hola Barbara,

    Thank you for sharing your heartfelt love letter to Guanajuato with all of us. I couldn’t agree more!

    I lived in Guanajuato off and on from 1994-2003 (helped manage a B&B there) and I’m still in love with that beautiful city.

    It’s so nice to read about the 99% of Mexico that is beautiful, peaceful, safe, historic, lovely, and friendly.

    • Hi Betsy: Thanks so much for your comment. Yes, I find Mexico to be at least as safe as the U.S., perhaps more so, since Mexicans exhibit a level of courtesy that is rare in the U.S. Yes, all the photos are mine. On the rare occasion I use a photo belonging to someone else, I always disclose that and provide a link back to the original work. But in the case of Guanajuato, they’re all mine. Of course, it’s hard to take a bad photo in that city!

  41. Oh man, I LOVE GUANAJUATO! I lived there for almost 4 months last summer and was so sad to leave it. I can’t wait till I’m free to move back down there someday. It’s not all that easy w/o a car to get to things like a grocery store or gym and it lacks in jobs other than restaurants. But other than that it’s great. And the weather is awesome. I lived up in a brand new apartment on the side of a hill looking right at El Pipula and overlooking the city. It was heaven (minus walking that hill everyday hahah). I suggest you stay a while and REALLY get to know the city. Maybe move there!

    Can’t wait to hear more about your visit to Guanajuato. It’s fulfilling my need to be there and at the same time making me want to go back. Let me know if you have any questions!

    • Hi Christy: Curious how much you paid for rent. I can really see myself spending winters in Guanajuato.

  42. Wow! Sounds like it was hard to leave. Or did you? Beautiful pics and post. Just lovely.

    • Hi Darrelyn: I left, but I didn’t want to. It was one of those moments when you wonder if there’s something even better waiting for you in the next town – I had to go and see. Been a half dozen places since then (posts run behind actual travels) and NOTHING can compare to Guanajuato.

  43. Wow! What a great description – your love for this city really shines through. The underground tunnels for cars, the silver mining, and the local college’s arts really do make this a perfect city in Mexico. Fantastic photos, too.

  44. ¡Guanajuato es una de mis ciudades favoritas de México también! Su arquitectura colonial, los colores rosas, verdes, azules, todos mexicanos. Su comida y dulces. La cultura e historia. Las momias y su misterio. Todo es hermoso alrededor de Guanajuato :D

    ……

    Guanajuato is one of my favorite places in México too! It´s colonial architecture, it´s colors, rose, green, blue and all kind of mexican colors. It´s food and desserts, the culture and history, the mummies and it´s mistery. Everything is amazing around Guanajuato.

  45. I’m enjoying your blog!

    This post on Guanajuato caught my attention; when I was in high school our class took a 3 day trip from Austin to Guanajuato. I forgot my camera so have no pictures. Since that was some nearly 40 years ago, my memories have faded! Nice to see some pictures of the city that I barely remember other than to say, “I had a good time”.

  46. Barbara:

    Thanks so much for sharing all of these amazing finds with the rest of us stuck at home in the U.S. What a great service you provide, a chance to dream about future trips!

    Love, Laura Lee

    • Hi Laura Lee and Kate: So glad you are enjoying my blog and traveling vicariously with me. I was absolutely blown away by Guanajuato and so anxious to share the photos with everyone. Some videos coming up on the next two posts. Have a great day!

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