Shoehorned into a narrow ravine, GUANAJUATO was for centuries the wealthiest city in Mexico, its mines pouring out silver and gold in prodigious quantities. Today it presents an astonishing sight: upon emerging from the surrounding hills you come on the city quite suddenly, a riot of colonial architecture, tumbling down hills so steep that at times it seems the roof of one building is suspended from the floor of the last. Declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1988, Guanajuato is protective of its image: there are no traffic lights or neon signs here, and the topography ensures that there’s no room for new buildings. The town’s pristine reputation was cemented in 2012, when Pope Benedict XVI chose Guanajuato (and neighbouring León) as the only stops on his Mexican visit.
Today the city of around 170,000 has plenty of life in its narrow streets, many outstanding places to eat and drink, and lots to see: churches, theatres, museums, battlefields, mines and mummified corpses, to name but a few of the city’s attractions. There’s an old-fashioned, backwater feel to the place, reinforced by the local students’ habit of going serenading in black capes, the brass bands playing in the plazas and the city’s general refusal to make any special effort to accommodate the flood of (mostly domestic) tourists.
Guanajuato’s main thoroughfare is Juárez, but below this passes an underground roadway: the Subterráneo Miguel Hidalgo. It was built as a tunnel to take the river under the city, but the river now runs deeper below ground, and its former course, with the addition of a few exits and entrances, has proved very handy in preventing traffic from clogging up the centre entirely; more tunnels have since been added to keep the traffic flowing.