What’s happened to Guanajuato?
I’ve always said that Guanajuato was one of the most beautiful cities I’ve been. A quote from my post from 2016: “Imagine if Guanajuato was in Italy instead of Mexico – there would be thousands upon thousands of tourists walking these streets. Luckily it’s not”.
In fact, bringing Lissette to Mexico this time around (her first time), I figured Guanajuato was the safest bet of places she would fall in love with.
How wrong I was.
Taking back my “thousands upon thousands” comment
We arrived in Guanajuato, unknowingly, on the last day of The Festival Internacional Cervantino, a festival dedicated to Miguel de Cervantes, the most famous writer in the Spanish-language world. Even to say that the city was packed like a can of sardines is an understatement – we arrived to see a wall of people lining the route between Plaza de la Paz and Jardin de la Union. It was a crowd unlike any I had ever seen in Mexico. We decided to skip the center entirely that first day.
The weekend and the festival over, we explored the city over the next few days. Although no longer packed like sardines, I was surprised by how many tourists there were in the city. Somehow this city went from “unknown” (as I’ve seen others write) to “touristy”. I was shocked to see Asian tour groups – I’ve seen a few Asian tour groups in Mexico City, saw individual Asian tourists in San Miguel de Allende. But to see Asian tour groups in Guanajuato put an emphasis on how popular the city has become. If your city is on the “Asian tour group circuit” you’re definitely no longer “unknown”.
The bottom line is that Guanajuato is now very touristy. I guess it was inevitable considering what a beautiful place it is…
Evenings in Guanajuato: a “shitfest”
I wrote on my post on Queretaro what a “shitfest” Guanajuato was during our stay. Somehow, out of a 1500-word post, people picked up on my casual comment and got upset.
I’ll be specific: evenings were a shitfest. It didn’t matter the day of the week, every night it started: loud, drunken yelling and laughing, cars going down the street with their loudspeakers on maximum (our hotel room would literally shake). The streets were teeming full and just walking down the street was an exercise in dodging and ducking around people.
One person had responded to my “shitfest” comment by mentioning that Guanajuato is a university town and that you can’t expect it to be San Miguel de Allende (for example). Maybe he’s right: but I didn’t get the impression that these people were students. It struck me that they were most likely local tourists coming for a good time (I’d be curious what people living in Guanajuato have to say about that)
In any case, we had booked 3 nights in Guanajuato and honestly couldn’t wait to get out.
Eating in Guanajuato
I don’t know if I’ve seen a place in Mexico with as many crappy food options as Guanajuato. Over our 3 days we wandered around looking for a decently hygienic restaurant to eat in and most times didn’t find anything we would want to touch with a 10-foot pole. We wandered around Plaza San Fernando, Plaza de la Paz, looked at a few restaurants on Benito Juarez. Young guys would wave dirty menus trying to entice us to enter. Nothing looked fresh. This in Mexico where we usually have no issues finding a nice local restaurant to eat in. Decent options (at least in the historical center) seem to be very scarce in Guanajuato. That’s especially true if one of you is a non-meat eater.
A bit frustrated, we found a few options while doing research on this food blog. It steered us to Enchiladas de Lupe which was very good: it’s just a little hole in the wall up a side street from Plaza de Los Angeles. It’s a family business and they go out of their way with friendliness. Their Enchiladas Mineras are very good and when I told them that Lissette doesn’t eat meat they gave her a whole bunch of extras.
We also enjoyed Santo Café for breakfast – it’s a popular place and I’ve been here on previous visits. But it’s good (you’ll most likely be waiting outside a bit if looking to get a table).
A standout was a place we found on our own: Bánh Mì Vietnamese restaurant. Excellent Pad Thai (yes, I know it’s a Thai dish) and if you’re looking for non-meat options they have tofu. Very, very good and it’s unfortunate that we only discovered it on the last day.
So if you’re going to Guanajuato and want some safe choices I recommend all the above.
Guanajuato is still beautiful
There’s no doubt Guanajuato is beautiful. It’s stunning. It’s also unique and I never tire of the weird entry (through old tunnels) into the historic center. The center is full of historic buildings and churches, buildings are incredibly colourful, and I’ll never tire of the views from the Pipila monument.
I still think it’s one of the most beautiful Mexican cities I’ve visited. I think it, in my opinion*, ranks up there with San Miguel de Allende, Puebla and Zacatecas as Mexico’s most beautiful cities.
*I usually like to add in “in my opinion” when making a statement because I get too many comments telling me “well, that’s your opinion!”. If I’m prefacing a statement with “I think” then it should be pretty obvious that it’s my subjective opinion. But since there’s a subsection of people who always call me out on it, I’ve included an “in my opinion” just to make it very clear that yes, any opinion that I opine on this blog is indeed my opinion…
The Maid on “What’s happened to Guanajuato?”
On day 3 we ran into the maid in the hallway. We had crossed paths a few times going in and out and she always had a smile on her face. On this occasion we got to talking and I asked her “What’s happened to Guanajuato? There’s so many people! And why are the restaurants so bad?”.
It got her ranting on the local government and how they’ve been so focused on increasing tourism that they haven’t really cared about quality control or the types of tourists who come to the city. She cited the festivals which, according to her, are put on to attract tourists (“we locals hide at home. People just come to get drunk, it’s too much”). Restaurants are bad because people are out to make a buck, tourists don’t want to pay for quality, and officials don’t care. She said exactly what we did: that it’s hard to find a decent restaurant, there’s too many people and service can take 45 minutes to an hour. She also went on about the greed surrounding tourism; “even taxis cost too much. You shouldn’t pay more than 80 pesos for a taxi to the bus station but they ask for more. And since tourists are willing to pay it, it can be hard for a local to get a taxi”.
So that’s her opinion.
Summarizing up Guanajuato
I’ll never say “don’t visit Guanajuato”. It’s a beautiful city that should be visited. But, having known what I saw this time around, I would have come here on a day trip from San Miguel de Allende or Dolores Hidalgo. The historic center of Guanajuato isn’t big – within 4-5 hours you can walk much of the center, visit the churches and maybe even see a museum (I recommend the Museo Regional de Guanajuato).
If you do want to overnight in Guanajuato, I wouldn’t stay more than 1 night.
As I sum up in the video “you should still visit Guanajuato. But it’s not what it used to be”.
The video version of this post