Yes, it is true. Both San Miguel de Allende and Guanajuato are located at an altitude greater than Denver and much higher than any city in Europe. They are both UNESCO World Heritage Sites and both have historical significance to how Mexico, become Mexico. BUT alike, they are not. Currently, there is a lot of hype about this country south of the border, as the USA has recently upgraded it's travel warnings on how dangerous it is to visit the land of tequila and sunshine. Additionally, San Miguel has just once again received the highest honors of being the best city in the world.
Here I am bucking that trend, I mean really, what do the folks at Travel and Leisure know? Guanajuato kicks butt hands down, as being a better place to visit and or live, when deciding to immerse yourself in a photographic gem of a Latino community. Sure SMA, as it is affectionately called amongst locals, has a plethora of instagramable locations with brightly colored homes, cobblestone streets, beautiful people and tasty food. But then what?
Those same rocky roads are a bitch to walk on, and there are few locations to really get out and wander the countryside. You can of course visit El Charco del Ingenio, it does have 100 acres or so to amble around and bird watch, but at the risk of sounding blasé, it is really quite small for anyone who really likes to hike and enjoy nature. As an artist there are plenty of classes you can take and galleries to roam, if that is your thing. Shopping is huge, with the majority of El Centro full of lively shops and markets which go on for blocks and blocks, which is great for a visit, but gets quite repetitious when done on a day to day basis. Just outside of town you have hot springs, Cañada de la Virgen archaeological zone, and a handful of horseback tours, which can certainly take up a few hours or even a day or two. But after living in SMA for about 2 months, I can tell you, it get's pretty dull pretty fast. Perhaps it is my age, but I found the expat community, though quite large, to be a bit pretentious and boring. I know, I know, that sounds awful. Sorry to anyone I offend, simply my most humble opinion. Honestly a day or two is really all you need for visiting this remote mountain town, unless you really do enjoy doing absolutely nothing or are so involved with creating art that you have no need for outside interaction. I am not trying to take away the beauty or historical value of San Miguel de Allende, I just don't understand why it keeps winning, year after year, the BEST city in the world category.
Three times the size and about a 90 minute drive away, you have Guanajuato, or GTO. A university city, filled with incredible tunnels, stunning architecture, charming restaurants and miles of trails in the surrounding mountains. It's youthful vibe is enhanced with free weekly concerts in a variety of venues around the city. With over a dozen museums, including the 150 year old Mummy collection and that of famous artist Diega Rivera. Spend a day or more watching the assortment of travelers from around the world discover the Callejon de Beso; legend has set a tragic Romeo- and- Juliet -esque love story. Today thousands visit, to seal their timeless romance with a kiss.
There is an undercurrent in Guanajuato, an effervescence, not felt in SMA. Vendors, students, families, all have smiles. Streets are open with lots of outdoor seating, musicians are found singing in alleys and along sidewalks. Every balcony is lined with flower pots and everyone says hello. Take an evening to stroll with a Callejoneadas Tour or spend time enjoying locally roasted coffee at Café Conquistador. With perfect weather near year round, hike one of over 165 trails surrounding the city, including in-town monument El Pipila. There are of course plenty of markets and shops to explore as well, but they seem to be a lot more varied in their approach, with a higher assortment of locally crafted souvenirs and a not so touristy yammer. In the southeast corner of town, you will find Presa de la Olla, a magical spot to paddle boat and laze away an afternoon with local merchants, surrounded by trees and an assortment of even more hiking trails going up into the surrounding mountains. Though the streets here are also made of stone, it is much more manageable to walk as they are smooth and wide with ample sidewalks and a plethora of callejones (alleys) to get to and fro with ease. Like a favorite icecream, I will pick Guanajuato time and time again.
Sometimes you just know. My "ahaaa" was the moment the shuttle brought me into town. GTO will be a long time favorite.
However, you won't know however, until you go.
That is the purpose for this post. Just because an entity or person tells you a certain location is a MUST, everyone is different.
You wouldn't expect the same pair of jeans to look the same on everyone,
though everyone might agree they are made well, they just wouldn't fit the same.
Travel is very much the same. Try a lot on, as it is the only way to get the best, curve hugging- perfect length-comfort.
Be sure to give a shout if you would like help with an itinerary when you decide to take on the Mexico highlands. They are clean, safe, easy to access with flights into Leon, and absolutely stunning. You can easily reach me at firstname.lastname@example.org