Enjoying meals, museums and mariachi in central Mexico

By Sue DeMaggio
This article appears on page 6 of the March 2022 issue.
A panoramic view of Guanajuato.

Earlier last summer, my husband, Emmett, and I took a quick trip to the central highlands of Mexico, about a 4- to 5-hour drive north of Mexico City, visiting Guanajuato and San Miguel de Allende.

We love the process of travel planning almost as much as traveling itself, and we knew little about this area, so we began by researching what there was to see and do there and where we should stay. We decided on just eight nights for this first trip, but I’m sure we will return for a longer stay in the future.

Map of Mexico.

A bumpy start

There are two airports in the area, Aeropuerto International Guanajuato in León and Aeropuerto Intercontinental de Querétaro, and depending on your US location, it is often an easier route to one over the other.

We chose León, flying via Houston, and met Emmett’s cousin, a frequent travel companion, who found a direct flight from San Jose, California.

Since our flight arrived late in the evening, we stayed overnight at the Holiday Inn Express Silao – Aeropuerto Bajio, close to the airport, which provided a hotel shuttle from the airport at no extra cost. (We booked a king room through Booking. com for MXN925, about $45).

In the morning, we requested a cab from the hotel desk, who called “a friend’s mother,” a nice lady wanting to make a few extra pesos. (We agreed on MXN500 for the ride into the city of Guanajuato, about 30 minutes away.) However, this lady didn’t want to pay the highway toll (though we offered to pay it several times), choosing instead to turn off the major highway onto a circuitous route through a small village, where the previous night’s rains had made a muddy mess of the dirt roads. She actually stopped at a large puddle and, assessing the situation, crossed herself, took a deep breath and headed through!

A few yards farther, the road turned to pass under the toll highway and was covered by a roaring stream. Thankfully, a passing truck driver— along with our loud protests — dissuaded her from continuing, and she went back onto the main highway. It took almost two hours for the 29-kilometer trip!


The fountain in Plaza Baratillo in Guanajuato.

In Guanajuato, we had chosen a hotel in a great location in the heart of the Old Town, El Mesón de los Poetas (Positos 35, Centro), booked through Booking.com for MXN1,406 per night for a king room for two.

Built into the hillside, this hotel’s unique design had rooms on many levels and a tree soaring right through its center!

It was located on a side street just a few short blocks from the major sights, with a great coffee shop right outside the front door for that quick morning coffee.

We walked every day, visiting the cathedral, the Teatro Juárez and the Jardín de la Unión area, a green space located directly across from the theater. This central, triangular “square” was lined with beautifully manicured ficus trees and restaurants, with roving mariachi bands in the evening.

We took one of the student-guided “mariachi” tours that are sold for a nominal fee on almost every corner downtown. (Just look for young people dressed as conquistadores.) Knowing Spanish would have made it better, but even with our limited understanding of the language, it was fun! And everyone speaks tequila, right?

On another day, we visited the local history museum, Museo Alhóndiga de Granaditas (Calle 28 de Septiembre), where we learned about the early civilizations of the area and the fight for Mexican independence. (Guanajuato is the location of some of the first battles of the conflict and features monuments to their national heroes.)

Dining in Guanajuato was excellent and quite inexpensive. We had some great choices for dinner, including an Italian restaurant called La Trattoria (Jdn. de la Unión 1; latrattoriaguanajuato.com [in Spanish only]), recommended by an American local. Next to the cathedral, it had a great view of the strolling mariachis.

After dinner, we enjoyed a stroll through the lovely Plaza Baratillo, one of the many beautiful squares accented with lighted fountains. On our walk back to the hotel, we noticed that the main street was lined with street-food stands — an alternative for a quick and cheap dinner.

We also visited the Diego Rivera Museum, just a few yards from the hotel. Once the residence of this prominent painter, it houses an interesting display of his art.

That afternoon, we did the funicular trip up to Monumento a El Pípila, giving us a great panoramic view of Guanajuato.

We enjoyed our stay in the city so much, I wish we had had more than our three days there.

South to San Miguel

Next we traveled by taxi about an hour south to San Miguel de Allende, passing through lovely countryside. We chose Hotel María Bonita (MXN1,382, double) for our 4-night stay there. It was close to the old city center sites but not on the main square, though it was on a busy main corridor (Zacateros 12, Centro; hotelmariabonitasma.com). We chose rooms away from the front courtyard, where it was a little bit quieter.

San Miguel de Allende is well known as a place for American and Canadian expats to settle — they constitute about 10% of the local population — and things were a bit more expensive there. It was selected as the “Best City in the World” by Travel+Leisure readers because of its lovely architecture with amazing doors, plus the views of the city from above, and we did enjoy it, but I do believe there are many more beautiful cities in the world.

A mariachi band performance in the Jardín Allende in San Miguel.

From San Miguel, Emmett and I chose to take a tour with the Coyote Canyon Adventures group (San Miguel de Allende; phone 011 52 [415] 154 4193, coyotecanyonadventures.com) to Cañada de la Virgen, an ancient pyramid dating back 1,500 years.

Our guide was very interesting and spoke perfect English. He drove us up to the archaeological site, where we joined a tour led by the park guides. Not only was our guide very knowledgeable about the history of the local indigenous peoples, he told us about many of the plants in the area.

Our tour continued to a local home for lunch, which included flautas, quesadillas, salad and beans.

Later, for dinner, Emmett and I chose a well-known restaurant there, billed as the No. 1 rooftop restaurant in the world! Quince (Cuna de Allende 15; quincerooftop.com) overlooked the beautiful cathedral square and was lovely. We both loved the charred octopus appetizer (MXN420).

On our last day, we hiked up the road to El Mirador scenic overlook and were rewarded with a beautiful view of the whole city. We chose another path back down, walking through Parque Benito Juárez and enjoying the views, the colorful buildings and the park.

We were traveling in the middle of summer, but in the area around these two lovely towns, the climate is very temperate due to its altitude, making it a great destination no matter what the season — cooler in summer than most everywhere and warmer in the winter than the northern areas of the US and Canada.

Our stay was just four nights, but if I did it again, I’d stay longer in both cities, planning at least a week in Guanajuato, my personal favorite.

There is much to see in the area, the people were wonderful, the food was delicious, and the costs for both lodging and food were quite inexpensive.

Contact us at SueDeMaggio@gmail.com with questions or for any other info on our travels.