When theme parks, beaches, scuba diving, and whale watching have lost their charm after multiple vacations to Mexico, perhaps a visit to The Land of Frogs in Central Mexico is in order.
The City of Guanajuato, which is called The Crown Jewel of Mexico’s colonial cities, was named The Land of Frogs by a group of indigenous people. By some accounts, the indigenous took one look at the terrain and said, “Nothing but frogs could live here!” Some say the indigenous found thousands of frogs in the mountainous terrain. Other accounts say it was the shape of the mountains that reminded the indigenous of frogs. Whichever account is true, Guanajuato is a place to get to know.
Guanajuato earned its place in world geography when the Spanish found the surrounding mountains rich in silver deposits. In fact, at one time more than one-third of the world’s silver riches were mined in Guanajuato. Though none of the usual summer vacation activities exist in Guanajuato, this city exudes history with every unsteady step you take through its cobblestone streets.
The state of Guanajuato is the Cradle of Mexican Independence. It was here Mexico began its quest to become Mexican. Guanajuato is the perfect spot to see where and learn how Mexico began to fight for its hard-earned independence from Spain. Although small, the city of Guanajuato has outstanding colonial architecture built with the silver revenue from times past. With modern museums, cultural events almost year-round, one of world’s oldest universities, and an almost perfect year-round temperate climate in which to enjoy this country’s Crown Jewel, Guanajuato can be the perfect alternative to the usual vacation fare.
Many first-time visitors we’ve interviewed have expressed amazement to find that Guanajuato defies their stereotypical expectation of Mexico. Many who have traveled extensively throughout Europe have told us Guanajuato could be a town from Spain or Northern Italy that was somehow magically transplanted to this side of the planet.
Depending on whom you ask, The City of Guanajuato has a population of between 100,000-120,000 people. It is nestled in a ravine with the city literally built up the sides of the bowl-like surrounding mountains. If nothing else, a trip to Guanajuato would be worth the time and expense just to marvel at how the Mexicans figured out how to build this city. To call it a marvel is a gross understatement.
Another marvel to behold is Guanajuato’s system of underground tunnels. Originally, the Guanajuato River flowed through the center of town. Numerous devastating floods occurred over the centuries, and engineers decided to divert the river away from the middle of town in the early 1900´s. After diverting the river, the riverbed was turned into a maze of underground streets-this time to divert traffic.
How To Get Here
More American tourists we meet are driving to Guanajuato. This is not as difficult as one might imagine. Go to Google.com and type “driving to Mexico”. You will find numerous articles on the logistics of driving here. The only problem you will encounter when arriving in Guanajuato is parking. Although city officials are working to solve this problem by building more parking facilities, it is a nightmare. Parking is at a premium and you will rarely find adequate and safe parking near your hotels.
The best way to arrive in Guanajuato is to fly to Leon, Guanajuato. From there, you can take a cab for about $25.00-$30.00 to Guanajuato. It is about a 45-minute ride.
A way to combat the difficulty of your Leon cabbie knowing where your lodging is located, especially if you have arranged a private apartment for your vacation stay, is to have the Leon cabdriver take you to the Guanajuato’s Holiday Inn or to the bus station. From there, it is a simple matter of switching to a Guanajuato cabdriver who will know where everything is in Guanajuato’s confusing maze of streets.
Guanajuato has a large influx of wealthy travelers to whom the hotel industry caters lavishly. You can find accommodations to boggle the mind and pocketbook. One of the best resources to use is Trip Advisor at www.tripadvisor.com. Go to this site and type in “Guanajuato” or “Guanajuato hotels” to view your options.
Lodging in Guanajuato tends to cater to two groups: the high class who want to pay $200.00 usd or more a night or the hostel crowd. For middle-class budgets, we recommend the following:
1. Hotel La Casa de Dulcinea, Positos #44, Zona Centro, telephone: 473-732-2406 There are only nine rooms. There is no restaurant nor are there phones in the rooms. There are small rooms with two double beds. Bathrooms (shower only) are inside the rooms and are small. .
2. Casa Carcamanes, Plazuela Carcamanes No. 8, Guanajuato, México, telephone: 473-732-5172. There are rooms with baths, shared kitchen, and you can arrange to use the washing machine. They also have apartments for rent. E-mail them for apartment rates at email@example.com
3. La Casa Azul, Calle Carcamanes #57, Colonial Centro, Guanajuato, México. 473-731-2288. Each room has a TV, a dorm-sized refrigerator, shared kitchen and dining room. There is a rooftop terrace for guest use as well as two shared living rooms. You can arrange to have your laundry done for a moderate price. **WE HIGHLY RECOMMEND THIS ACCOMMODATION **
4. El Zopilote Mojado, Propietaria: Ana Gleason, Plaza Mexímora 51 & 53, Centro, Guanajuato, México, telephone: 473-732-5311. Web site: www.elzopilotemojado.com There are two rooms with shared bathroom and one room with its own bath. There is a rooftop terrace with tables and BBQ grill for guest use. There is also a small living room. Remember that the prices quoted are in PESOS. To find out the current exchange rates, go to www.xe.com/ucc/.
Also, keep in mind the high and low seasons. This is so subjective that it is best to call or e-mail for their rates. During the month of October, all hotels, regardless of the price, will be booked. This is because of the world-renowned International Cervantino Festival. Be sure to call and book as early as possible regardless when you plan on coming to Guanajuato. Though still largely “The Undiscovered Country” for American tourists, it is very popular with Mexicans and Europeans.
To find out more about travelling in Mexico go to our web site at, www.zyworld.com/theolog/amazon2/gto.htm and click on the “travel” button on the upper left-hand side of the page.
Eating on a Budget
You can come to Guanajuato and spend as much or as little as you wish on food. Almost all the restaurants serve a meal of the day. For as little as $3.00 usd, you can get a filling meal complete with desert and drink. For breakfast or a late snack, you can visit the many small panaderias (bakeries) where you can buy a torta (sandwich), empanadas (a meat pie), drinks and an assortment of delicious pastries for practically nothing. Fruit stands line the street. Eating while in Guanajuato need not break your budget.
For the “I-need-to-splurge-since-I-am-in-another-country”-minded there are, of course, many places in Guanajuato with foods to delight your culinary soul. Guanajuato has the reputation by its citizens (Guanajuantenses) of not having many good restaurants. I find this criticism understandable if one has lived here all one’s life. We do the same in United States. My wife and I lived in Lawrence, Kansas—home of the University of Kansas—and we made the same complaint about Lawrence’s restaurants.
However, for the traveller and newly expatriated, Guanajuato has many fine places that serve traditional Mexican, regional foods, and some fine International cuisine. Here is a list of places my wife I recommend and where we love to eat:
Casa Valadez is a restaurant owned by an old Guanajuato family. The prices tend to be on the “high side” but certainly worth the sacrifice to be treated like kings and queens during your dining experience. What is immediately evident is that the quality of service is superior to most restaurants in town. In fact, it is equal to establishments where you would expect to pay far more.
The waiters are professional, in uniforms, and most are bilingual. They have bilingual menus with an assortment of choices ranging from traditional Mexican dishes to International cuisine. You can get one of the best American hamburgers you’ve ever tasted in your life.
Presentation is so fine that you would swear they had Wolfgang Puck chained to the stove. Each meal is served with a huge basket of French rolls called “bolillos” with butter—a Mexican restaurant rarity. This wonderful establishment serves breakfast, lunch, and dinner according to an American schedule.
Casa Valadez is conveniently located on Guanajuato’s famous El Jardin de Union that makes it a very popular choice for tourists. Get there early since Mexicans, Americans, Canadians, and Europeans flock there for the lunch hour. Long waits not uncommon.
Truco 7 is a delightful blend of a jazz club ambiance with traditional Mexican foods. What you will love about Truco 7 is that it is decorated with an eclectic assortment of 1940’s pictures, license plates, antique radios, and personal photos that give you the immediate impression that you are somewhere else in time when you step into this restaurant. There is also an array of jazz music playing softly in the background—the owner, we are told, is an American Jazz enthusiast. Truco 7 has the most comfortable seating we’ve experienced in all the Mexican restaurants we’ve visited.
Though you can get an excellent meal here, and the “bisteak con papas” is the best steak with potatoes in town, the service is something less than at Casa Valadez. But the service is something to be tolerated to enjoy excellent food, the most comfortable seating in town, and an ambiance unlike anything we’ve experience in Guanajuato.
We met the Hollywood movie and television actor, Robert Bagnell, walking the streets of Guanajuato looking a little lost. We directed him to Truco 7 for lunch. When we met up with him two days later, he told us he was so enchanted with the place that he ate breakfast, lunch, and dinner there exclusively while vacationing in Guanajuato.
Truco 7 is located around the corner on a side street close to El Jardin de Union. Ask any of the “Park Police” walking in El Jardin and they will take you there personally (yes, police really do this in Guanajuato!)
El Tapitio is located directly across from the University of Guanajuato’s magnificent steps and is immensely popular with Mexicans. They serve the infamous meal of the day, a moderately portioned meal for less than $4.50 usd. You have a choice between two meats, vegetables, and desserts and drink. There are, of course, plenty of bolillos (but no butter). The service is good (it has recently improved). The food is plain but traditional. It is good if what you are looking for is a traditional but simple lunch.
The location of this establishment is a bit of a disappointment. Though easy to find, and anyone will help you locate it, it is on a busy street right across from the University. The noise and carbon monoxide factor is a minus for many Americans and Europeans. The doors and windows are open to the street and sometimes you cannot hear yourself think much less carry on a conversation with someone you’ve invited to a lunch. The Mexicans, who apparently do not mind it, crowd into this place regularly! Casa Valadez and Truco 7 are better recommendations if you are taking a guest to lunch or dinner.
However, El Tapitio is immensely popular with the locals and worth checking out for their superior liver and onions or their Milenesa de Pollo.
There are two regional foods I recommend and insist you try when visiting Guanajuato. One is Sopa Azteca (sometimes called Tortilla soup) and the other is Enchiladas Mineras.
Sopa (soup) Azteca is a slightly spicy soup with strips of fried tortilla, slices of avocado, and ranchero cheese—in generous amounts—crumbled into the soup, in a chili chicken broth. It may or may not contain pieces of chicken.
For the best Enchiladas Mineras, go to Casa Valadez. Prepare to be amazed! The tortillas are dipped in a chili sauce, fried, rolled up, and placed on a bed of lettuce. Diced potatoes and carrots are fried in the same chili sauce, then spooned over the tortillas. Crumbled ranchero cheese is sprinkled over the enchiladas. Most restaurants serve these enchiladas with a piece of baked or lightly-fried chicken. Casa Valadez goes a step further than most. They pound a boned chicken breast until it is thin, cover it with a spinach and cheese mixture, roll it up, bake it, and cut it in thick slices. Very delicious and a very nice presentation!
The Land of Frogs offers absolutely no theme parks, beaches, scuba diving, or whale watching. But if you want to catch a glimpse of the very soul of Mexico, then Guanajuato is a place you should check out.
Don't Forget our Book:
THE PLAIN TRUTH ABOUT LIVING IN MEXICO-All You Need To Know About Living in Mexico