In September, "Mes de la Patria", Mexican flags decorate every street, every window, every car. This is the month we commemorate Mexico's Independence from Spain after nearly 300 years of colonization. The fight started on September 16th, 1810 and ended on September 27th 1821 for a total of 11 years of flighting, it is only fair that we take [just] one month to celebrate 😉
And this year is particularly meaningful because it's the 200th anniversary of Mexico as an independent country.
Fiestas Patrias, including palenque with concerts, parades, fairs, races, tequila, tamales, and more, are happening throughout the country. I am joining the celebrations by sharing with you one of my favorite routes in colonial Mexico.
A quick clarification before I jump into the topic, it seems many people are confused with 5 de Mayo because we (Mexicans) make a lot of noise on that day too. Without elaborating much I'd just say that, although it is definitely an important date in Mexican history, 5 de Mayo is not related to the independence fight.
Back to the topic. Guanajuato is the birth place of the independence and still holds its charm making it a popular route with domestic and international visitors alike. I will introduce you to three beautiful locations with the goal of giving you a glimpse into the history, culture, and folklore of Mexico, my country.
Links are NOT sponsored, I included those as a reference if you are interested in digging deeper into the specific topic. Most photos were taken a few years ago but these towns have not changed much since their founding in the 16th century anyways 😉
This is where it all began in the early hours of September 16, 1810, when father Miguel Hidalgo y Costilla rang the bells of the church in the town of Dolores rallying people to raise up in arms and fight for independence.
Nowadays, on the evening of Sep/15, every town and city will play enactments of "el Grito de Dolores". The biggest one being in Mexico City where the President will wave the Mexican flag and yell "Viva Mexico" from the Presidential Balcony at the "Plaza de las Tres Culturas" (Square of the Three Cultures) while ringing the same bell Hidalgo rung 200 years ago.
Construction of the baroque church "Parroquia de Nuestra Señora de Dolores" started in 1712 and finished in 1778. It is still an active catholic church but it is ok to visit when there's no mass being celebrated. For some more history, visit the Museum Bicentenario and Museo de la Independencia. Also stop by the house of Jose Alfredo Jimenez and find out why his songs are so famous and why is he so loved by the Mexican people.
Take the time to walk through the colorful streets and come back to the plaza to treat yourself to the most amazing ice cream. No where else can you find the flavors available here and they all are delicious! Whether you opt for a more traditional flavor such as "maguey", "cajeta", "avocado" or a bolder one such as "tequila", "beer", "shrimp", "mole", you will not be disappointed. Finally, after all the walking, sit and rest while getting a shoe shine, no need to take your shoes off.
San Miguel de Allende
Merely 45 km southwest of Dolores Hidalgo is San Miguel de Allende. Designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, this town is known for its architecture in the colonial style which is well preserved to these days. Did you know Mexico is #1 in the Americas with 35 World Heritage Sites?
Park your car, check-in at the hotel, refresh, and let's go out! Walking those cobblestone streets while doing some shopping for handcrafts will surely feel like being transported to another era.
The most recognizable landmark is the Parroquia de San Miquel Arcangel, built in the early 1700's in gothic baroque style with pink limestone.
"El Jardin", the main plaza, is where people gather to spend the afternoon. The main activities include listening to live Mexican music, flying balloons, savoring local antojitos and people-watching.
Enjoy shopping for handcrafts offered by local merchants coming from nearby rancherias.
The city of Guanajuato is the state capital, also recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage Site for its historical and cultural value. Founded in the 1500's, it was the third largest producer of silver in the world in the 16th century. It is also recognized for its pivotal role in the flight for independence. There is so much to do here, spending at least one night would be a wise choice.
Being one of the prettiest colonial cities in the country, just walking around appreciating the architecture of its buildings, the tunnels, and parks is a treat but there is more! Top of the list are: Museum of Mummies (yeah, real ones!), Teatro Juarez, Alhóndiga de Granaditas, "El Callejon del Beso" (the kiss alley). On certain days of the weeks you could also enjoy a "callejoneada", an evening serenade though the alleys of the city led by a musical group called "estudiantina" - inquire at your hotel for specifics on schedule and meet location.
As in most of these towns, take the time to enjoy the visit. Sit on the steps of Teatro Juarez for a street performance, enjoy a corn on a cob. You will also find amazing handcrafts in stores and on the streets.
A popular day trip is the visit to Cristo Rey at the Cerro del Cubilete, 2,700 ft mountain-hill with panoramic views. A nice way to spend a morning or afternoon.
One more reason to visit Guanajuato, the Festival Internacional del Cervantino is an annual cultural event happening mid-October since 1972. For two weeks, the performing arts are brought to the streets where artists and audience mix. Highly recommended!
And do not hesitate making stops on little less known towns along the road, there are always surprises!
Santuario de Jesus Nazareno de Atotonilco
Are you convinced? Is Guanajuato now in your bucket list? Let's make your planning a bit easier with a sample itinerary and some tips for your planning:
Sample Itinerary (in and out of Leon, Guanajuato)
Day 1: Arrive at Leon airport (BJX). Check-in at the hotel. Visit the historical center and have dinner at one of the many great restaurants to enjoy the local cuisine or, if your stomach can handle it, the street food carts. I personally love the "guacamayas" original from Leon.
Day 2: Start the morning early and drive straight to Dolores Hidalgo. At the end of your visit, drive to San Miguel de Allende where you can spend the night in one of the boutique hotels in the area.
Day 3: Spend the day/night in the town
Day 4: Drive to Guanajuato after lunch. Confirm schedule for the Callejoneada (you do not want to miss it!)
Day 5: Guanajuato: visit the Mummies in the morning to avoid crowds and bring a tote to carry souvenirs
Day 6: Drive back to Leon, maybe via Cristo Rey. If possible, visit Zona Piel to shop for leather shoes/bags/jackets (Leon is a major producer of leather goods)
Day 7: Get to the airport with sufficient time so you can do last minute shopping for presents.
From the USA, you can fly into Leon, Guanajuato airport (BJX) or Querétaro, Querétaro (QRO). For a longer drive to see the countryside, Mexico City (MEX) and Guadalajara Jalisco (GDJ) are also options and usually have more flights.
For land transportation, look into ETN . It is an executive class bus line that connects major cities. A very recommendable service, clean, comfortable, and on time. If you have a tight schedule, make reservations in advance to secure your itinerary. For this route though, I prefer renting a car and because of narrow streets and limited parking in some areas, I'd pick a small-medium sized car.
Note: While the roads in this route are good, be conscious of the weather forecast as heavy thunderstorms are common in the summer and some roads can get flooded.
UBER is available in major cities.
In Mexico, the Mexican Peso (MXN) is the official currency. In some limited places, USD and EUROs might be accepted but only bills, no coins.
Most places in main cities will take major credit cards, and you can find ATMs almost every where. However, street carts and merchants will only take cash in MXN. As possible, avoid tipping with foreign currency (unless you are in a large resort), not all people have easy access to exchange currency.
On arrival, make sure you have some local currency on hand but limit your use of the airport exchange desk, commissions tend to be on the higher-end.
Check CDC website for the latest on travel to Mexico under COVID restrictions.
As in all countries, be careful where you wander. Most of the touristic areas are safe from major crime however pickpocketing is not uncommon. Keep your valuables secured and do not carry with you more than you really need. Avoid calling attention to yourself.
If you will venture outside of the touristic sites, double check with the hotel for the safest route.
I hope this article is helpful if not for your traveling, maybe for expanding your knowledge of Mexico.
Have you already been to Mexico? which is your favorite memory? Which city is next in your bucket list? Use the comments to share with us!