Known throughout Mexico as a vibrant, color-splashed college town with a rich silver mining history, the city of Guanajuato attracts many expats who are interested in culture and fall in love with the city’s dramatic setting and colonial past.
The University of Guanajuato is the center of many of the city’s cultural activities. With over 17,000 students – about 10 percent of Guanajuato’s residents – the university keeps things lively throughout the year.
The largest producer of silver in the world during the Spanish colonial period, Guanajuato now is the capital of the state of Guanajuato and a bustling university town of over 175,000 people. Unique to the city is its auto tunnels, built to divert traffic away from the center of the city. Guanajuato is also a designated World Heritage Site by the United Nations for some of the best-preserved examples of Baroque architecture in the Americas.
Because the city is set in a narrow valley surrounded by steep hillsides, its cramped streets often are too narrow for automobile traffic, so walking is a way of life in Guanajuato, even up the steep hills that surround the city. Guanajuato has a very Italian hill town feel about it with its callejones, the narrow streets and alleyways of Guanajuato. Over two-thirds of the homes in the central part of the city are accessible mainly from callejones, some of them are so narrow you can extend your arms and touch both walls.
For spectacular views of the city, you can take a funicular – a tram pulled by a cable – to the very top of a hill for a sweeping view of this colorful city and its wonderful colonial architecture, which reflects the city’s historic mining culture. By car, you can drive the Panoramic Highway around the rim of the valley for gorgeous views of Guanajuato.
The city’s Baroque and neoclassical buildings are renowned. The churches of La Compañia and La Valenciana are considered to be among the most beautiful examples of Baroque architecture in Latin America.
The Mummy Museum is one of the city’s most popular museums. It houses the Mummies of Guanajuato in one of the city’s cemeteries in the Tepetapa neighborhood. Initially, the museum was open to walking tours where visitors could touch the mummies and break off pieces to take with them as real life souvenirs of human remains. Now, the mummies are stored in glass cases where visitors can only view them. While the museum contains 111 mummies, one of the largest collections in the Western Hemisphere, only 59 of them are on display to the public.
Guanajuato offers many cultural activities year-round, including performances by the Guanajuato Symphony Orchestra, which plays at the century-old Juarez Theater. The city has various theaters including the Teatro Principal, which opened its doors in the mid-1800s. The theater is owned and operated by the University of Guanajuato. The Cervantes Theater also is very popular.
All of the Guanajuato theaters participate in the city’s major cultural event that takes place each October. The Cervantino Festival, or Festival Internacional Cervantino, is Latin America’s largest international artistic and cultural event and one of the largest festivals of its kind in the world. It fills nearly 50 theaters, plazas and other venues in and near Guanajuato.
The festival began in 1953 but took on its international scope by 1972 to celebrate the city’s rich culture and history and to honor Diego Riviera, Mexico’s great muralist. Artists from all over the world gather to put on various events featuring opera, academic conferences, theater, film screenings, dance recitals, concerts and art exhibitions. The festival also features various crafts that are native to the city such as leather products, hand-made pottery and ceramics and wood-crafted items, such as furniture.
The city historically has always had more cultural events than other cities of similar size, primarily because of the cultural tradition that began when Guanajuato’s silver mines produced great wealth.
Architecturally, Guanajuato reflects its colonial past but paints its face today with the colors of the rainbow. The heart and soul of the city is Jardin Union but the administrative and historic center is Plaza de la Paz, which is bordered by many fine examples of colonial architecture and the Basilica of Guanajuato, built in the 17th century.
If you are a sports fan, fútbol (soccer) is THE sport in Mexico. While the city of Guanajuato does not have its own football team, nearby León does. Its main professional team is known as Club León, one of the more prominent teams in Mexico. The team plays in Liga MX, the top-level football league in Mexico and is a seven-time league champion. You can watch them play at Estadio León.