Guanajuato or Queretaro (Mexico)
Mexico is the place of names I can’t remember or pronounce. On this trip I was visiting Guanajuato (the capital of the state of Guanajuato) and Queretaro (the capital of the state of Queretaro).
So how do these cities compare?
Guanajuato translates (from the indigenous Indian language in this area) as “hilly place of frogs”. It was the richest Mexican city in the 18th century because of the mining of silver in the hills surrounding the town. The approach to the historic center is really unique; from the newer part of town, cars have to go through some long tunnels (which look like they have been chipped out of the rock) to get to the old town. Suddenly you pop out of the tunnels into one of the most picturesque cities you’ll see anywhere.
Guanajuato reminds me of Vernazza in Italy because of the winding stairs, colorful houses, and wonderful views. I had to pinch myself a few times to remember that I was actually in Mexico. And for such a small city there is an abundance of impressive churches and some very pretty plazas. Another thing that makes the town attractive is that many of the streets are closed off to car traffic; it makes the center a great place to walk around. Note however that Guanajuato is a lot less ‘walkable’ as you stray from the center. That’s because of the hills. Remember what I said about Guanajuato meaning “hilly place of frogs”?
Guanajuato is a university town and there’s lively air to the place. The large student population means a lot of cafes, bars and food stalls. You’ll see young people sitting in the very shady zocalo (watch your head, lots of low trees) or on the steps of the impressive Juarez theatre. Close by is the the Basilica (Basílica Colegiata de Nuestro Señora de Guanajuato, the largest church in Guanajuato), the University of Guanajuato (built by the Jesuits in the 18th century) and the Templo de San Francisco. All are painted in different colours.
There is a funicular in the center of town that goes up to the Pipila lookout where you get some great views looking over the city.
Most of these photos were taken on the first of three days in Guanajuato. I woke up in the middle of the first night cold, shaking and feeling as if a Dementor had sucked the life out of me. I spent the next 2 days in bed.
Where to stay in Guanajuato? A few recommendations:
Queretaro, like Guanajuato, has a Centro Historico that’s been designated a World Heritage Site by Unesco. It’s a much bigger place than Guanajuato and has a big city vibe (the city has a population of about 800,000 versus less than 200,000 in Guanajuato). Queretaro’s old town is impressive with the usual Mexican prerequisites: lots of impressive churches, colourful streets and large plazas packed with restaurants and bars. It’s a city that’s very walkable with lots of pedestrian-only zones. And, unlike Guanajuato, the terrain is flat in the Centro Historico. No hills.
Some of the highlights of Queretaro include the Palacio del Gobierno del Estado (the Government Palace of the Corregidora) just off Plaza de Armas (a very pretty and lively square with lots of trees, fountains and impressive buildings). There are lots of churches: the El Carmen Church, Santa Clara Church, Santa Rosa de Viterbo Church, Templo de San Francisco, Templo y ex-convento de la Santa Cruz (a 17th century Church/Convent). The art museum (Museo de Arte de Querétaro) is in a beautiful old monastery said to be one of the most beautiful baroque buildings in all of Latin America. Queretaro also has an aqueduct dating from the 1600’s – built by the Spanish it is composed of several parts, the most impressive being the 1280 meter long stretch built over a stretch of the city (it includes 74 arches with an average height of 23 meters).
But what I think makes Queretaro attractive are the pretty plazas: the Jardín Zenea, Plaza de Armas and Alameda Hidalgo. They’re great places to hang out and people watch.
Some more photos of Queretaro
We stayed at the Hidalgo Hotel (pictured above), right in the heart of the old town. Good value with a very nice courtyard.
Comparing Guanajuato and Queretaro
I have to admit I preferred Guanajuato to Queretaro. Guanajuato’s old town is colourful, churches impressive…when you climb the hills you’ll have stunning views. It’s an incredibly beautiful place. The vibe is young and friendly, it feels like a university town (Duh…because it is). There is little traffic in the old town which makes Guanajuato a pleasure to visit.
Queretaro has some incredibly impressive monuments and churches. I love its plazas, I think it’s a very walkable city. But Queretaro is a big city. For me, it lacks the charm or magic of Guanajuato.
Note: People will argue that Queretaro has a lot of museums and cultural highlights that Guanajuato doesn’t have. They’d have a point with that.
Conclusion: Both are great cities that should be visited. Guanajuato will take your breath away and you’ll probably fall in love with it right away…Queretaro is a place to explore, a city that needs more time to appreciate and that might, ultimately, have more to offer if visiting for a longer period of time.
Note: if you come through Queretaro, make sure to visit some of the Pueblo Magico towns in the vicinity. Bernal is one of my favorite Pueblo Magicos in the country and hiking the Peña de Bernal is reason alone to come here (it’s one of Mexico’s 13 natural Wonders). Close by, Tequisquiapan is another pretty Pueblo Magical and is famous for wine and cheese (and to my surprise, both are excellent).
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