Travelling north from Querétaro, most express buses bypass Guanajuato and head straight for LEÓN, a teeming, industrial city of 1.6 million with a long history of excellence in leatherwork. This tradition is reflected in the scores of shoe factories and, in the centre, hundreds of shoe shops: it’s a good place to buy hand-tooled cowboy boots, jackets, belts or just about anything else made of leather, but there’s little else to see.
Some 45km southwest of Lagos de Moreno, on the road to Guadalajara, the old highway runs through SAN JUAN DE LOS LAGOS. From its outskirts, San Juan seems like any other dusty little town; in the centre, though, you’ll find an enormous bus station surrounded by scores of hotels. This is thanks to Nuestra Señora de San Juan de los Lagos, a miraculous 38cm-tall image of the Virgin Mary contained in the town’s vast eighteenth-century basilica, the second most important pilgrimage site in Mexico. Crafted in the early sixteenth century by the P’urhépecha of Michoacán, the statue is said to have performed its first miracle in 1623 (bringing a dead girl to life) and it’s been venerated ever since. The town’s busiest dates are February 2 (Día de la Candelaria) and December 8 (Fiesta de la Inmaculada Concepción), when the place is crammed with penitents, pilgrims, those seeking miraculous cures and others who are just there to enjoy the atmosphere. The celebrations build up for a couple of weeks beforehand, and spill over to several lesser events throughout the year, notably the first fortnight of August and the entire Christmas period. San Juan de los Lagos is around 122km and two hours by first-class bus from Guadalajara, and just one hour from Aguascalientes.