A Walking Tour Of The Plazas
Guanajuato captivates first time visitors with its intoxicating energy, unique charm, and hidden treasures. This is a walking town with an abundance of plazas where locals and university students meet, musicians stroll, restaurants spill onto the plazas, and the buildings are painted in a riot of bright colors. The immediate surprise for a first timer is the approach to the Old Town via a network of impressive, underground tunnels.
Prior to the early 19th Century, Rio Guanajuato, which flows through the heart of the city, would flood during the rainy season. Tunnels were built to divert the river. In the nineteen sixties, a second network of updated and deeper tunnels was created, and the original ones were turned into roadway tunnels to relieve traffic congestion on the narrow cobblestone streets of the Old Town.
Jardin de la Union is the starting point for your plaza walk. It’s an oasis of green in the heart of the town easily identified by its expertly trimmed, flat-topped, laurel trees, which form a natural umbrella of shade.
The Jardin is dominated by the majestic, neoclassical, Teatro Juarez where artists and musicians congregate day and night on the rows of steps leading to the Roman columns and grand entrance.
Standing with your back to Teatro Juarez, walk along the left side of the Jardin past the outdoor restaurants of hotels Luna and Santa Fe. Just beyond the hotels, you’ll come to an archway on your left. Go through the archway, cross the street into Plaza del Baratillo – and look out for the first street on your right. Climb this narrow cobblestone street lined with brightly colored homes (keeping to the right) until you reach Plazuela Mexiamora. It’s utterly charming, and largely undiscovered by visitors to Guanajuato. On your left you’ll find a coffee shop. An ideal place to have a cup of coffee and enjoy the quiet of the plaza or conversely, the games and antics of the children who pour out of the little school to play in the plaza during recess.
Return to Plaza del Baratillo and walk to the left of the fountain to the opposite end of the plaza from which you entered, and take the little uphill road between the two trees. On your right you’ll see a miniscule tortilla shop. Poke your head in to watch the preparation of fresh tortillas. Turn left at the tortilla shop.
You’ll pass a Cathedral and a little farther, the Guanajuato University, with its impressive facade and 133 steps, will be on your right. Keep going, and you’ll pass Pueblo Museo del Siglo XIX. I always stop in there for awhile as they often have interesting exhibitions by some of Mexico’s finest artists.
Continuing from the Museo, you’ll come to an arch and a traffic tunnel on your right. Keep going straight, and you’ll notice the home where Diego Riviera grew up on your right. If you are interested in seeing it, there is a small entrance fee, and it only takes about twenty minutes to walk through the home which is now a museum. NOTE: Don’t expect to see much of his art. Continue in the same direction. The street climbs up a little. As it levels off, there’s a small pedestrian street on your left called Callejon Cantarites. Go down the steps of the winding little street and don’t forget to look up at the tumble of brightly colored homes that cling to the mountainside.
On your right, you’ll come to a bronze sculpture of Enrique Ruelas Espinosa, the founder, and director of the University Theater of Guanajuato. Turn left at the sculpture, and you’ll be in Plaza de San Fernando. A delightful plaza which beckons one to settle into a rustic, leather, round backed chair and have a cold cerveza (beer) and something to eat.
Go back to the sculpture of Signor Espinosa, turn left at the sculpture and then turn right into quiet Plaza de San Roque where there’s a stadium for outdoor concerts.
Walk down the steps past a quaint bookstore and gallery on your right to Plaza Jardin Rerforma; shaded by leafy trees – it’s another lovely spot to relax, sit on a bench beneath the trees, read, and people watch. At night the plaza often comes alive with dance and music.
Take the steps at the end of the plaza that lead through the grand archway to the main street. If you’d like to visit the immense indoor market, which has everything from fragrant fruit ripened to perfection, to toys, ponchos, serapes, (shawls), huaraches (woven leather sandals), and handicrafts, turn right and you’ll find it a little way down on your left. There’s a good bakery on your left just before the market.
Or, to proceed to the next plaza, turn left at the bottom of the steps beyond the archway and follow the busy street past the law courts (Palacio Legislativo) to Plaza de la Paz (Plaza of Peace), which is the central hub of Guanajuato. Triangular in shape, it’s watched over by the imposing bright yellow and red Basilica of Guanajuato on one side, and lined by 18th Century colonial buildings, outdoor cafes, and restaurants on the other two sides.
If you continue walking straight, past the restaurants on the right of the plaza, you’ll be just a stroll away from your starting point, Jardin de la Union.
You can call it a day there, but don’t miss continuing straight past Teatro Juarez topped by six bronze statues inspired by Greek mythology, along Calle de Sopera, which leads to more charming little plazas with benches and sculpture, and the Museo Iconografico del Quijote which tells the story of Don Quijote using paintings, sculpture and drawings. Be on the lookout for a miniscule street called Campanero on your right, where two old buildings are linked by a tiny bridge. On it, you’ll see the umbrellas, tables, and chairs of Café Santo. Their fajitas are delicious, as is their Portobello mushroom, veggie burger. The prices are incredibly reasonable, and if you can snag one of the tables on the bridge, you’ll savor not only the food but a wonderful view.
Note: This may sound like a very long and tiring walk, but it’s not. It will only take a half day at a leisurely pace, and could take up most of your day if you linger, browse, and stop into the places of interest.