Guanajuato is a state in Mexico considered to be the colonial heartland. It is filled with UNESCO sites and Spanish colonial architecture. We spend New Year's weekend in this region of Mexico and explore the beautiful sights. We even catch some New Year's Eve festivities along the way. ¡Feliz año nuevo!
Behind the scenes video of Guanajuato's picturesque sights and New Year's Eve festivities:
1. San Miguel de Allende
This is a city in Guanajuato that is a UNESCO site, home to a thriving expat community, and foodie scene. We walk through the cobblestone streets and try some of the delicious food. We also visit Parroquia de San Miguel Arcangel, the iconic Gothic church built to resemble the European churches. It has an ornate steeple and pink stone façade. Next we visit Jacinto 1930, a modern and sophisticated Mexican restaurant.
One of the most interesting excursions in San Miguel is the pyramid found about 25 KM outside of the city called Cañada de la Virgen, so be sure to check that out during your visit.
2. Guanajuato City
We spend new years in Guanajuato City, a neighboring city about an hour and a half from San Miguel de Allende. It is a designated a UNESCO site, noted for its silver mines and architecture. It has unique topography, including a valley of colorful buildings, tunnels, and hills that contain silver mines which historically made the city very rich. We visit the zocalo and celebrate New Year's Eve with fireworks.
The next day, we visit El Pípila, a mountain top monument with a panoramic view of the city. Then we visit La Valenciana Church (San Cayetano) which is one of the most important churches in town, built in the 18th century at the opening of the La Valenciana silver mine, the largest silver mine in Mexico.
3. Dolores Hidlago
This is an important city for the Mexican War of Independence. It is where the cry for independence "Viva Mexico" occurred at the Church of the Grito. It is also where visitors can find some of the most unique ice cream (helados y nieves), including camarones (shrimp), mole, elote (corn), tequila, and tuna (a cactus fruit). I tried mole and tequila (see below). Next we visit the UNESCO site Sanctuary of Jesús Nazareno de Atotonilco, which is an 18th century Mexican Baroque church which is famous for its murals.
What are your favorite sights in Mexico?
Ready to discover to Mexico's best kept secret archaeological site? I'll give you a hint, it's not Chichen Itza or Monte Albán. In fact, this site is closer to the California border and even older than many other pyramids in Mexico.
This is Cañada de la Virgen, an Otomi archaeological site that has been recently excavated, giving it an undiscovered feel. In fact, the site was first discovered in 1998 and the official excavation began in 2002, with public access starting in 2011. During our tour, we were one of a handful of groups visiting this site. Located in the state of Guanajuato, this archaeological site is considered to be some of the northernmost pyramids which helped to redefine the Mesoamerica border. It is a short half hour ride, or 25 KM from the city of San Miguel de Allende.
Behind the scenes video:
Unlike other pyramids in Mexico, Cañada de la Virgen is located on private property, so you must book a tour in order to visit. We took a tour of this site with Coyote Canyon Adventures, which provided us with transportation and our local guide, Alberto, gave an excellent in-depth English guided explanation of the site.
Cañada de la Virgen was named after a geode found in the canyon resembled the image of the virgin Mary. The site historically served as a ceremonial space where the indigenous Otomi people created sophisticated time keeping instruments aligned to the movements of celestial bodies. As we found out during our tour, there are many theories about this site and much of the information still to be discovered. The site was occupied beginning in 530 AD. To give context on just how old that is - the capital of the Aztecs, Tenochtitlan, was built in 1325 - almost 800 years later. The site is still in great condition, despite being over a thousand years old.
The best photos are taken from the patio in the front of the pyramid. We were able to get up-close-and-personal and climbed to the top of the pyramid for a panoramic view of the entire complex. If you are able to time your visit to one of the celestial dates such as March 4th, you will get a the famous shot of the sun setting to the alignment of the pyramid.
Lastly, we were lucky enough to meet local archaeologist, Rosanna Quiroz, who studied the lunar calendar of the Otomi people. Much of what we know about this site is due to her research. We visited the Museum of Prehispanic Astronomy, which exhibited the images of the cycles of the moon and sun in relation to the pyramid. While at the museum, we ended our tour with a traditional Mexican lunch at the community restaurant.
Top instagramable shots of the pyramid:
What are your favorite "undiscovered" or best kept secret sites in Mexico?
Over New Year's Eve weekend, I decided to venture to a new city. But where to go when you only have three days?
I thought about spending the holiday in the USA, but decided it was time to try New Year's Eve in a different country. I only have spent New Year's in one other country - Barbados in 2003. I found the cultural differences of this holiday between the USA and other places to be very interesting. This time, I wanted to go somewhere close, fun but not rowdy, culturally rich but inexpensive. So, I went to Mexico!
Mexico's Best Kept Secret
The first step was to decide where in Mexico to go. Cancun and Cabo are obvious choices, but they are also overloaded with...well... Americans. And I wanted to go somewhere with more Mexican culture. The past year I had heard of Guanajuato from many other like-minded travelers. You may be wondering, where is Guanajuato? It is located north of Mexico City in the colonial heartland of Mexico. I finally added it to my bucket list after I saw Vicente Fox, former president of Mexico, talk about his childhood town with a gleaming testimonial of the city. He described the European streets, amazing architecture, and colorful buildings. It's also the childhood hometown of 20th Century muralist Diego Rivera. When I saw a cheap flight from TIJ, I was there.
New Years in Mexico
Mexico has different traditions during New Years than the US. In the US, it's usually a party night spent with friends and counting down the year's events, and trying to make it home without any strikes on your driving record. In Mexico, it is more family oriented, usually consisting of a dinner, 12 grapes, and celebrations spilling out onto the streets afterwards. At least that is what we experienced. The city was lit up with Christmas lights, there were people enjoying the local street food and free musical performances in the zocalo. Many restaurants offered gourmet al-fresco dining served with traditional food, such as bacalao and of course champagne. The night ended with a fireworks celebration that went off right above the buildings - so close that some of the sparks landed on the tables.
Top Sights to See in Guanajuato:
1. Pipila - A monument on the top of a hill overlooking the city of Guanajuato. It is a nickname of a local hero during the first victory of the Mexican independence. This is the best spot for panoramic photos of the city.
2. Basilica of Our Lady of Guanajuato - This is the iconic yellow cathedral with the red dome in the city center which is all lit up at night. Outside the church, there are usually performances and street food.
3. El Teatro Juárez - One of the most significant architectural buildings in Guanajuato built in the 19th C.
4. Centro Histórico - The colonial historic district includes colorful buildings, cobblestone streets, churches, shops, and pedestrian zones.
5. Mina la Valenciana - This silver mine is a popular attraction where you can walk into the historic mine with a plastic hard hat and submerge yourself (literally) into the history of this industrial side of this city.
6. Diego Rivera Museum - Diego Rivera's museum and childhood home is located in the city. You can see where one of the greatest artists of the 20th century grew up.
7. Templo La Valenciana - Located on the hills of Guanajuato is this magnificent church with a beautiful facade and three alters made of gold.
8. Funicular - Ride to the top of the mountains for an excellent view.
What are your favorite sites in Guanajuato?
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