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Spanish in Guanajuato

How to Spend Your Downtime in Guanajuato

Guanajuato is a visitor´s paradise, not only because of its pretty cobbled streets and picturesque colonial façades, but also because, due to its major road network being under the ground, the city centre and its main sights are all easily accessible on foot, without the threat of nosy and unpredictable Mexican traffic. So if you are heading this way for a Spanish course in Guanajuato then be sure to pack those comfy shoes and explore the winding and intruigingly narrow streets with ease!

Choosing to study at a Spanish school in Guanajuato could turn out to be extremely rewarding for two reasons. On the one hand, you will be learning the Spanish language every day and putting it into practice in any of the many cafes and plazas filled with friendly Mexican people and on the other hand, you will be in a prime location to experience what life in Mexico is all about; the food, the fiestas, the dancing and the rich and diverse history. You won't need to fear the onset of boredom in your free time from your Spanish classes in Guanajuato, the many sights, activities and things to do in the vibrant city will keep it more than at arm's length.

Sights and Delights

The first thing you should do upon arrival in Guanajuato is simply to take a walk around. With streets with chimerical names such as 'Sal si puedes' (Exit if you can) and streets with background stories and legends of star-crossed lovers such as 'Callejón del Beso' (Kiss Alley) you can't help but to enjoy getting a bit lost in this enigmatic city.

Some of the must-see sites while you are meandering the streets and passageways of Guanajuato include:

  • The Mummy Museum - One thing the Mexicans are is not squeamish and in fact, as you will probably discover for yourself, they quite like the dead. It should come as no surprise then that they have filled a whole museum with over a hundred corpses for your perusal. The disinterring of bodies in Guanajuato cemetery begain around 1965 whenever a family could not pay the annual grave tax of a relative law dictated that the body could be disinterred. Some of the bodies were found to be in Mummy Museum near perfect condition, due to a combination of the high mineral content of the soil and the dry air, and some sharp grave diggers realised that a bob or two was there to be made by charging morbidly curious Mexicans to enter the room where all the bodies that had been dug up were placed, a practice which gradually turned into what you can see as the Mummy Museum today. The mummies gained their fifteen minutes of fame in a 1972 film called “El Santo contra las momias de Guanajuato (El Santo versus the Guanajuato Mummies) where a lucha libre wrestler takes them on in what was to become a cult classic. It's no Pulp Fiction, but worth a watch I am sure nonetheless. The collection now includes what is supposedly the smallest mummy in the world, a mummy of a woman who died during childbirth and even mummies of children with evidence they underwent the practice of burying dead Catholic children in angel outfits as a sign of their purity. A truly Mexican experience but perhaps not an activity for the faint of heart. Those mummies are pulling some terrifying faces.
  • El Pipila - Juan José de los Reyes Martínez was a miner turned soldier, known more commonly as El Pipila. He gained fame as a member of the insurgent army during the first battle of the Mexican War of Independence which took place in the Alhóndiga, a building which was hard to penetrate but which was the chosen shelter of the city's elite and their hoards of silver during the battle. El Pepila devised a way for the insurgents to get inside and snuck up to the Alhóndiga with a large stone on his back to protect himself from gunfire and some tar and a torch. He made it to the main dorr and torched it down, allowing the insurgents to make their way inside and himself to become a hero. You can get here on the city's funicular and take in some magnificent views of the city.
  • Teatro Juárez - This theatre is thought to be one of the grandest of its kind in Mexico and it still has all of its original furniture. Both its façade and interior smack of richness and luxury and the scent of a wealth of days gone by. It is one of the principal sights of the annual Cervantino Festival which attracts artists and performers from all over the world. Take a look inside and even catch a performance during your time in Guanajuato if you are lucky enough, or if not, use the steps as the perfect spot to watch all the things going on in the Plaza in front of the theatre.
  • The Alhóndiga - Originally built as a grain store for times of famine, this building has had perhaps one of the most interesting histiries in all of Mexico. The chosen site for the hide-out spot of loyalists during the invasion of the insurgents under Miguel Hidalgo in 1810, it then became a prison for 100 years, before being converted into its current capacity as Museum and Art Gallery.
  • Basílica de Nuestra Señora de Guanajuato - This is a huge church with an ornate and fascinating interior that is simply a must-see during any stay in Guanajuato.
  • The Valenciana Mine - This mine is still in action today, run by a coopertive and you can have a guided tour round it and get a feel for what daily life in the mines is all about. It is 5 or 6 kilometres north of the city centre, on a hill (surprise, surprise) and was once producing around 20% of the worlds silver when it was functioning at its peak. An interesting thing to do would be to take a tour on one of your afternoons off from class and gain an insight into the industry that pretty much made this city into what is before your eyes today.

Fiesta Fun and Heading Further Afield

Cervantino Festival

Mexico is a country that enjoys a fiesta or two, and unfortunately if you are here to study Spanish in Guanajuato, you might find this out the hard way. But, all it takes is some careful planning and possibly self-restraint to keep your studies on track and to avoid any unwanted 'resacas'.

One of the most popular festivals, not only in Guanajuato but in Mexico and even Latin America as a whole, is the International Cervantino Festival, in honour of Miguel de Cervantes. It is a feast of music, dance,theatre and all round fun that turns Guanajuato into a hive of activity and diversion, starting in an around mid October and lasting for two to three weeks.

Another fun festival, if you manage to catch it, is known as 'Baile de las Flores' which involves a bit of dancing followed by the opening up of the mines to the public for a general nosey and a knees up. This takes place the week prior to Semana Santa.

Finally, if you thing you have done Guanajuato to, ehm, death, then there are a few pleasant day trips you can easily make to sights outside of the city. One of the most iconic and important statues in all of Mexico, Cristo Rey (Chist the King), lies just 15 kilometres west of Guanajuato. This 20 metre statue on top of the mountain Cerro de Cubilete replaed a smaller, original statue that was on this spot but that was destroyed during the War of Independence. Allegedly Cristo Rey is located on the exact centre of Mexico and is there fore very popular with Mexicans for religious reasons, as they are keen to have Jesus at the centre of their country.

If the sight of Guanajuato's mummies have put you off that much and you want to go even further away, then you should consider heading to San Miguel de Allende for a day or overnight trip. This town has remained true to its colonial roots and much pleasure can be derived from a simple stroll throught the centre. Although the Old Town is truly the very definition of such, the influence of many expatriates who have decided to stick around in the city is evident and you can enjoy the delights of the old colonial architecture and appearance with a modern ambience and a well filled cultural calender.

So after you have enjoyed the sights and delights that Guanajuato has to offer with your Spanish school classmates then why not take a trip further afield with them and explore a little more of the many gems that Mexico has to offer.