It’s my birthday! Well, technically my birthday was last week. But in my family, we don’t believe in just one day (a tradition that Kevin has quickly adopted especially when its his birthday). In fact, I’ve earned a (much-deserved) reputation of having a birthday month! I own it.
We grabbed dinner in downtown Los Angeles then hopped on a red eye to Leon in Central Mexico. We only had a 3-day weekend (maximize that time!) so it sounded like a good idea when we booked the flight a few weeks back. Though, a 4 AM arrival is a cruel reality! But at least we went through customs quickly.
We picked up the car rental and drove just 40 minutes east to the colorful colonial mining city of Guanajuato, built within a valley with towering mountains. To enter Guanajuato, you must drive through the mountain! Long, dark tunnels lead directly into the heart of the city, which explodes with color on the other side. It feels like a dream. Though, I did only get 3 hours of sleep so I had to check that I wasn’t dreaming!
Kevin visited Guanajuato about a decade ago, and ever since, I’ve wanted to go. Below is a fantastic walking tour he put together that covers the major must-visit spots. He’s not typically the one who does the vacation planning — but hey, it’s my birthday so I get a day off every so often!
STOP 1: Start at Basilica Guanajuato
You won’t have a hard time missing this big church, located right in the middle of downtown. When we first arrived, we were basically the only people on the street. But by 11 AM, this place is hopping with shopping and Mexican families.
STOP 2: Juarez Theater
The Teatro Juarez is one of the most beautiful buildings in town. Since its inauguration in 1903, it has been the venue for most of the important artistic events in the city and the region. It’s worth it even if you aren’t an architectural buff (i.e. I’m not!). Be sure to check out the park across the street (and fuel up on Starbucks if you need it!).
STOP 3: Funicular Ride
It looks a little dicey, but the funicular ride is well worth putting your life on the line! It is a quick ride up to the top of the mountain where you’ll get some spectacular views over the city. It was bright and early so we pretty much had the mountain peak to ourselves!
STOP 4: Walk Down the Mountain, Quick visit to Callejon Del Beso
Callejon del Beso (translation: the alley of the kiss), is just a short walk down from the top of the funicular. The story goes that when two lovers pass through the incredibly TIGHT passage, they must kiss in order for their love to last forever. Either that, or they’ll get into a huge fight because they won’t fit (does this alley make me look fat!?).
STOP 5: Shopping and Bakeries
My two favorite words! Shopping and bakeries. I couldn’t help myself and was so excited to see that places were starting to open up. We also built up an appetite walking down the mountain. Zero gain calories I say! The bakery La Purísima is a convenient (and cheap) spot. And I loved perusing all the candy (and free samples!) at Dulceria.
STOP 6: Mercado Hidalgo
Things don’t get moving until around noon. But there were plenty of food stalls open (though Kevin and I were thoroughly stuffed from all the candy and baked goods!). Even if you aren’t hungry, it’s a worthwhile stop to see where many locals come to shop and eat.
But the real energy is outside. Be sure to walk along the side of the market where all the Mexican women will shout and wave for you to dine in their place. I literally felt like I was the mayor with all those waves (and I enthusiastically waved back at them!).
STOP 7: Diego Rivera House and Museum
Diego Rivera is one of Mexico’s most prominent artists who painted spectacular murals all across Mexico and famously was tied to Mexican artist Frida Kahlo. Their marriage was passionate, tumultuous and replete with infidelity. But in a way, they weirdly seemed perfect for each other. Diego Rivera House also has a tiny gift shop, not that I spent any time there!
The ground floor of the museum has been remodeled to recreate the house as it was at the time of Diego Rivera’s birth. It’s more for history buffs probably. But the main draw for me was seeing some of his artwork and exploring the quiet interior of the home, particularly the inner courtyard. It’s a calming spot in a pretty hectic city.
Stop 8: San Fernando Plaza
Just a few minutes away by walking, we went to our last walking stop and grabbed an outdoor table in the San Fernando Plaza. We needed more caffeine but it’s a good place to take a break whether you’re fully rested (or burning on fumes!).
There are little shops around the park along with musicians by an ornate fountain. It feel like the movie set version of Mexico!
STOP 9: Final stop, Mummy Museum (drive here)
First of all, you’ll want to drive here. It looks close to downtown but it’s uphill (and definitely a hike from the main tourist hub). There is also a gated parking lot, so you can’t beat the convenience of that. The Mummy Museum is nearly beyond words. I was fascinated yet frightened all at the same time.
During a major outbreak of disease, mass graves were dug and the bodies thrown in without the required burial salts to help the decomposition in the arid land. Some of the bodies were exhumed, possibly to be placed in more fitting graves but to the shock of the gravediggers some of the bodies had mummified. These unfortunate victims were displayed and generally these mummies have shocked and pained facial expressions. One particularly unfortunate victim was actually buried alive. Many of the mummies have stories, which are written in Spanish and English by each body.
And with that frightening image I leave you! It’s definitely worth the 50 pesos (or less than $3 USD). Though, who knows how much those therapy bills will cost!