Guanajuato, Mexico – Most Beautiful City in the World

When I first set foot in Guanajuato, this city in Mexico’s central plateau reminded me of Rome. By the second day, I was proclaiming it the most beautiful city in the world. After five days of wandering around its pristine cobblestone streets, discovering one jaw-dropping beautiful plaza and church after another, I was looking at apartments.

Guanajuato University is located in the historic center of the city
Guanajuato University is located in the historic center of the city

Guanajuato Mexico is a city where I could happily live 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 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.

Basilica de Nuestra Senora de Guanajuato
Basilica de Nuestra Senora de Guanajuato
At night, crowds gather on the steps of the illuminated Teatro Juarez in Guanajuato Mexico
At night, crowds gather on the steps of the illuminated Teatro Juarez in Guanajuato, Mexico

It is said that in 1548, a muleteer named Rayas, who was camping in the hills around 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, this plaza bustles with activity into the wee hours. And culture vultures will appreciate the array of museums in the city, which range from the Museo Regional de Guanajuato Alhóndiga de Granaditas (a granary that was turned into a fortress during the Mexican War of Independence) to Museo de las Momias, famous for its display of the startlingly well-preserved mummies of Guanajuato.

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, the most popular gathering place for locals in Guanajuato Mexico
Gazebo in the center of Jardin de la Union, the most popular gathering place for locals in Guanajuato, Mexico
Tunnels beneath the streets of Guanajuato divert traffic, leaving many upper level streets to pedestrian traffic
Tunnels beneath the streets of Guanajuato divert traffic, leaving many upper level streets to pedestrian traffic

From the 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
Typical street scene in Guanajuato
Plaza del Baratillo in Guanajuato, Mexico
Plaza del Baratillo in Guanajuato, Mexico

While other Mexican cities are showing signs of stress from difficult economic conditions currently plaguing the country, Guanajuato remains pristine. Hardly a scrap of trash can be found lying about and the city is eminently safe. 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, Guanajuato Mexico 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 its neighbor to the south.


Guanajuato, Mexico - Most Beautiful City in the WorldGuanajuato, Mexico - Most Beautiful City in the WorldGuanajuato, Mexico - Most Beautiful City in the World

90 thoughts on “Guanajuato, Mexico – Most Beautiful City in the World”

  1. 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.

  2. 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!

    Monica V

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  4. 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.

  5. 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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  7. 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

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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!

  10. 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.

  11. 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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  14. 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?  
      [email protected]

  15. 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.

  16. 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

    excellent post

  17. 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!

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  19. 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,

    • 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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