Guanajuato is a historic city located just 75 KM from where all Poppy Barley boots and shoes are handcrafted. A UNESCO World Heritage site, Guanajuato rose to riches, fell into despair, and is now lovely as always and livelier than ever; it’s a new old Guanajuato. On our last trip to Mexico, Justine and I (Kendall) made a weekend escape to the famous city.
What You Should Know Guanajuato has a rich beginning. During the colonial period, Guanajuato was one of the most influential cities due to its mountain mines. A single mine, La Valenciana, produced an estimated fifth of the silver circulating in the world for 250 years. The mining brought tremendous wealth to the flourishing city as reflected in the architecture, colonial-era mansions and the breathtaking opera house. Adding to the beauty of the city is the pink or green sandstone used to construct many of the buildings. By the beginning of the 19th century, silver had turned a local miner, Obregon, and a merchant, Otero, into purportedly two of the riches men in the world. Today, most of the original mines have closed – brought down by revolution, silicosis and the collapse of silver prices. For a period of time, Guanajuato suffered – its splendor reduced to ruins, abandoned haciendas and destroyed churches. Today, the city is seductive brimming with culture, restaurants, twisting streets and dazzling vistas. The centre of the city is located in a very narrow valley making the streets constricted and winding. In fact, most of the city’s roads are partially or fully underground, and the hills are accessible by climbing steep sets of stairs. Along its serpentine lanes and in its little plazas, residents, tourists and students mingle in the cafés and restaurants.
Room with a View: We stayed at Casa Estrella de la Valenciana. The inn’s hillside location offers a remarkable amount of tranquility and delicious breakfast (plus a pool, private terrace and close proximity to a running track!). Perched high in the hills, you will be required to take a taxi into the centro. For a swankier stay in the middle of all the action, try the modern Boutique 1850. The Casa Colorada is beautiful colonial hacienda offering just six rooms with sweeping views of Guanajuato. Best place to hangout: Jardin de la Union Situated under a shaded canopy of Indian laurel trees, it’s the social heart of the city offering the perfect spot to enjoy a coffee or cerveza. Do visit the Teatro Juarez showcases Roman, Greek and Moorish architecture. For eats, skip the Jardin as tastier (and cheaper!) food awaits you just around the corner.
Worth the Vertical: El Pipila Take the funicular (cable car) located just behind the Teatro Juarez to the top of San Miguel hill to stand beneath the El Pipila, a 28-meter tall statue of an independence hero who set fire to the Alhóndiga granary gates on Sept. 28, 1810, allowing the rebel Miguel Hidalgo’s troops to win the first battle of the independence movement against Spain. The view from atop is spectacular during the day and at night. Take the steep path and stairs back to the town’s centre. So Odd You Can’t Miss: Museo de las Momias The Museo de las Momias (translation: the Mummy Museum) is a very strange museum. These accidental modern mummies were literally “dug up” during 1865-1958 when a local law required relatives to pay a kind of “grave tax”. If the tax was not paid for three years, the body was dug up. The authorities found that instead of decomposing, the bodies had turned into mummies. There are 119 mummies on display in the museum – some are still clothed or wearing shoes. Mercado Hidalgo The 2-story indoor market sells everything: food, souvenirs, clothing and handcrafted goods. We went there for cheap tacos and fruit-flavored water. We simply sat down at a “taco bar” and ate fresh blue corn tortillas with the locals. The candy selection is the best in the region. Eat El Midi dishes up fresh French delights including tartes, croissants, a delicious salad bar and a la carte meals in the evening. El Abue is a little tricky to find, but it serves arguably the best traditional Mexican food and margaritas in the city (tip: order the enchiladas El Abue). Take a break from Mexican food and meat at Yamuna, a café with a very Indian-Hindu influence. Book a table before you go! We really wanted to eat at Las Mercedes… we just never guessed reservations made weeks in advance were essential for this 7-table gem! The restaurant offers an adventure in modern Mexican cuisine. It’s a little pricey, but worth the money. Salsa Dance Get your hips swaying at the salsa place in town: Boga Club & Resto. Shops Shops in Guanajuato focus on regional designers and artists selling jewelry and ceramics. We brought home gifts of hand-painted coffee mugs, guacamole bowls and a sculpture to hold wine bottles. Worth the Drive The ex-Hacienda San Gabriel de Barrera is a magnificent colonial home built in the 16th century with stunning gardens, pools and fountains. The opulent European furnishings will transport you to a different era. Plus, the drive takes place in a subterranean tunnel. Festival For three weeks every October, the International Cervantino Festival, Latin America’s biggest arts festival, turns the entire city into a living theatre. If you make the trip - share your photos with us @PoppyBarley on Twitter & Instagram. - Kendall Barber, Co-founder