Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Free or Cheap Things to Do in Guanajuato, Mexico


Cindi Bower

Guanajuato, Mexico is an important colonial town with much to see and experience. Fortunately for those on a budget, Guanajuato offers many free or cheap things to do to make your vacation fun.

Get a map of Guanajuato from the tourist office and take a walking tour of the historic center. The map indicates museums, churches, plazas, and other places of interest. Be sure to take a look at the grand houses surrounding both the Jardín de la Unión and Plaza de la Paz. These were built by the wealthy owners of the silver mines found in the mountains surrounding Guanajuato. Some of the buildings have plaques with information about their histories. The map is free. The only cost is a good pair of walking shoes, strong legs, and a strong heart. If you are not accustomed to a high altitude, take it easy for a day or two before trying to climb Guanajuato's many steep streets and alleys.

Guanajuato has a number of beautiful churches, many in the center of town. All are free, though all would appreciate a small donation toward the upkeep. The Basilica of Our Lady of Guanajuato (the large yellow church in Plaza de la Paz across from the tourist office) has a statue that was given to the City of Guanajuato by King Charles I of Spain in 1557 in thanks for the immense amount of silver that enriched the King's coffers. Legend says the statue was carved in the eighth century then was hidden in a cave for 800 years to keep it out of the hands of the Moors who had invaded Spain. The San Diego Church, across from the Jardín de la Unión, is currently undergoing a restoration of the interior. It is much brighter than in years past and the subjects of the many paintings are again evident. The wealthy owner of the Rayas mine and his family members are buried in a side chapel.

Guanajuato has several interesting museums. The Mummy Museum is the most expensive at 50 pesos. It provides a unique, if ghoulish, experience. The Alhóndiga de Granaditas, originally built to buy, sell, and store grain, was also used as a military barracks and a prison. Now, it houses a regional museum displaying pre-Columbian artifacts, colonial history, and art. Dramatic murals by Guanajuato native José Chávez Morado adorn the stairways. Entry is 30 pesos. Other museums include the Diego Rivera House and Museum (the artist was born in Guanajuato and lived in this house for the first few years of his life), the Museum of the City of Guanajuato, and the Don Quijote Museum (free on Sundays).

Go on a callejoneada through the streets of Guanajuato. Groups of students (called estudiantinas) dressed in 17th-century Spanish costumes lead tourists and locals alike around some of Guanajuato's Callejóns (alleys). They sing popular songs and recount some of Guanajuato's legends. These walking serenades usually occur on weekends and holidays and begin around 8 p.m. in front of the San Diego Church across from the Jardín de la Unión. The tour is free.

If you are fit, you can climb to the Pipila statue that overlooks downtown Guanajuato. One block to the east of the Jardín de la Unión (face Teatro Juárez and turn left) are steps that lead up to the statue. For those who don't want to make the climb, there is a funicular (tram) that runs up the side of the mountain. The ticket office is located behind Teatro Juárez next to the tunnel opening. The cost is around 20 pesos. Standing at the base of the statue gives you a panoramic view of Guanajuato.

Sit in one of Guanajuato's plazas and watch the people. This is a free, but fun activity enjoyed by many of the city's residents. If you sit on the steps of Teatro Juárez, you might see a mime or clowns perform. In the Jardín de la Unión, you can listen to wandering mariachis in the evenings or listen to a concert most Sundays at noon.

See a movie. Every Wednesday afternoon at 5, there is a free movie at the Olga Costa-José Chávez Morado home/museum. The University of Guanajuato has a Cine Club that offers several showings per week for $30 pesos. First-run movies, most dubbed in Spanish, can be seen at Guanajuato's three multi-screen theaters.

These are just a few of the free or cheap attractions Guanajuato has to offer. Check with the tourist office or with your hotel desk clerk for events that are scheduled during your stay.

Have a wonderful time!


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