Hotel Posada Santa Fé
My first hotel here in Guanajuato, about 8 years ago. Prime location at the back of the Jarden and the only on-site parking in the town center.
Lobby is beautiful with tiled walls and large paintings. Unfortunately, rooms are very plain and very loud. But, you can’t beat the location.
Hosteriá del Frayle -
Located a half block from El Jardin on pedestrian walkway.
Hotel has large, dark rooms, well off the street, shielding guests from some of the street noise.
No parking within miles.
Posada Santa Fé
The Bay trees were branching into the cafe. I got a front table facing the fountain
and enjoyed the view and my first meal in Guanajuato.
They offered a Comida Completa, "complete meal" for $110p, including melon balls salad, choice of soups, beef in poblana sauce or chicken in peanut sauce and dessert. Menu had a nice variety of Mexican dishes, fajitas, steaks, fish and chicken. After 7 pm, a menu Solo por la Noche, "Just at Night,” included several types of tamales, Pozole, Buñuelos, (fried wafer in syrup,) Atole, (warm, corn based drink) and Champurrado, (Atole with chocolate and cinnamon.) Saturday and Sunday, Paella a la Valenciana was the special. O.K. Unfortunately sold out each day I was ready to eat.
A glass of good, red wine was $40p. I chose the Pollo a la Parrilla, ($69p) the "broiled half chicken" with salad. Might have been starved from my mid-day, five-hour bus ride from Mexico City, but what was actually a double chicken breast, was grilled to perfection.
Salad was typical iceberg with bits of purple lettuce, slices of ripe tomatoes and pickled onion slices. Just what this empty stomach needed. Returned again for Paella, but was too late. Had Tampiqueña de Res, with enchilada, quesadilla, beans, Mexican rice and guacamole.
Casa Valadez - across from Juárez Theater, on Jardin de la Unión
Everyone in Guanajuato eats here. Spacious tables,
attentive staff and good food make Casa Valadez so popular.
Breakfast menu is small, but with all the favorites. One of the accompanying sauces nearly knocked me out when placed on my table.
The Cream of garlic was delicious. Sorry the serving spoon was so small.
I've noticed most Mexicans don't eat eggs for breakfast, but order from the Antojitos menu, often a variety of Chilaquiles or Enchiladas.
The Huevos Mexicana had the thick-slabbed bacon scrambled with eggs, tomatoes, onions and serano chiles. Next day I requested the delicious bacon on the side.
Rest of menu is vast. Besides a full bar, there were many appetizers, soups, salads, pastas, chicken, steaks, fajitas and sandwiches. The hamburgers were offered with beef or chicken, a nice touch.
Returned for a quick lunch of chicken sandwich and fries. $39p Had hoped expected a bollio roll, and got toasted white bread.
First time I realized catsup is not like ours in the states. The "catsup" was a translucent sauce, lacking any consistency with little tomato flavor.
La Carreta - (The Wagon Wheel) Ave. Juarez #96
Walking back to El Jardin from the Market, my nose sensed nirvana. A few more steps and I faced a wall of rotating rotisserie chicken.
Then noticed a woman grabbing balls of corn meal dough,
hand pressing them and grilling the best tortillas eaten.
Choices were quarter chicken, $30p, half chicken, $45p, or whole chicken, $90p. Only problem with ordering half was they only served one wing. It was the best. Chicken was cooked well done and every part was crispy. Could have ordered sides of Frijoles refritos or charro, refried or regular beans,
but I noticed the very large portion of Spanish rice and cabbage slaw.
In my opinion, "The wing is king!" and if El Carreta starts serving a plate of wings,
I am moving to Guanajuato.
Tasca de la Paz
A fabulous location, Tasca has views of distant mountains,
the statue at La Paz gardens, La Basilica and the strolling masses.
Here is a perfect late evening stop for a glass of wine,
On Sunday afternoon, there was a very long wait for a table.
Mexicans, like Europeans, do not eat and run.
After meals, there is always coffee, anytime, day or night, and several cigarettes.
Tasca offers many Spanish specialties like pasta, Paella, Tapas, and Tortilla Española, a Spanish, potato omelet. Most Mexican dishes were also on the menu.
The Saladitas, saltine crackers, seen in photos, are worthy of a place in your suitcase.
Can't read and don't want to know the ingredients.
Compared to crackers at home, these are both a little sweeter and slightly saltier.
They are also as flaky as a croissant wafer.
I had the grilled chicken breast, deliciously served with fries.
Mexico has fortunately not discovered frozen, bagged fries.
The "catsup" was awful, forcing me to try the salsa in the bowl.
t was like a chile marmalade, thick, rich and not too hot.
I've always said, and especially about Tasca de la Paz, "The longer the wait, the better the food."
El Gallo Pitagorico - Walk south, out of El Jardin, veering to the right, past and San Diego church and take blue stairs marked "El Gallo." Hours are noon-ish to 2 pm.
As usual, I saved the best for last. El Gallo Pitagorico is my favorite Italian in Mexico. The view alone is worth the climb up the side of the mountain.
The Italian cuisine will bring you back.
The restaurant is on three levels, as you climb up the steps. First, you reach the kitchen, a clean, brightly lighted area full of smells of garlic and howls of laughter. Next level is the restaurant with the friendly waiters ready to greet you. The real treat is the top, Terrace level, full of panoramic views of Guanajuato. A couple from San Francisco said the vista and food was reminiscence of Tuscany. They come every evening for drinks at sunset, just to enjoy the view. But remember, you came here for the food. Arriving to my table were a loaf of sliced bread, a plate of large, pickled, Italian lime green peppers, (like peperoncini, but bigger) and a thick red sauce made of garlic, olive oil and Chile Guajillos, giving it a sharp, fruity flavor. Thought I had died and gone to Italy. Menu is typical Italian, divided into:
Antipasti - Several Focaccias, including one with Prosciutto; numerous Catpaccios
Primi Piatti - (First Plate) - a variety of salads
Zuppa - (soups) 2 minestrones and gazpacho
Paste - several Lasagnas, Ravioli and Tortelloni; more than a dozen sauces for a variety of pastas
Secondi Piatti, (second plates)
Two fish dishes, plus shrimp and octopus entrees; three chicken dishes; numerous steak dishes, including Saltimboca.
Wasn't hungry enough for several courses and ordered Filetto di Pesce Samak. Informative waiter described it as "Green Fish," a filet of white fish marinated in celantro, olive oil,
garlic, cayenne pepper and curry.
The dish was presented to me with a sealed packet of foil. As I opened it, first the aroma of the celantro, garlic and spices overwhelmed my senses. Then, I was visually overwhelmed by the thick celantro sauce. Forget Italy! I was in heaven!
The variety of vegetables was grilled, al dente, to perfection. Each slice of zucchini, eggplant, red and green peppers had slight grill marks on both sides. The chef was a miracle worker with vegetables.
After finishing every morsel, I pushed the plate away in total delight. Must have moved the foil, only to discover an uneaten, large slice of eggplant, perfectly grilled and lightly brushed with olive oil.
Yes, I saved the best for last.
Sights of Interest
The best example of Mexico's fascination with the dead is the Museo a las Momias, or Mummy Museum. Located behind and conveniently under the hill top cemetery, this is too weird to miss. Cabs are the easiest or take a bus marked Panteón. Catch bus on north side of Plaza de la Paz. Tell bus driver you want "Las Momias," and he will point you up a short hill. There are many signs pointing the direction, except around the museum. At the last two major turns, you are on you own. In a short block, you reach the three story stone wall of the cemetery. There are no signs, of course, but turn right for a block and take the first left, down the steps to the museum. Buy a ticket for both museums, although the Muerta Museum is more of a sideshow. Walking back to the Jardin is downhill and easy. However, when all signs and traffic go right, keep going forward on Juarez. Mercado Hidalgo (market) is on the right. A bit further, turn left on a stone walkway, which opens to Plaza de San Francisco, a quiet area circled with sidewalk cafes and many university students. Take the short cut out on the left and notice the large, imposing Palacio de Legislativo, State Congress Building. Continue to the Plaza de la Paz, where the bus stops, past the beautiful Basílica of our Lady of Guanajuato to El Jardin. You have walked half the town.
Teatro del Arte - Guerreo
A group of four, including two men in 17th-century Spanish society drag, performed an elegant drama to Elizabethan music. The group sang and danced. Thank God for drama queens!
Jesus Alegria Yanavico - Perú
Bare chested, solo, this interpretive dancer started his performance in a chair. His oriental look was perfect for the Kung Fu style dancing. The legs and arms were sailing around to the sound of a different drummer.
Escena Alternative - Venezuela
A large group of beautiful woman and handsome men sang and performed a one-act play. The star, however, was a man in drag with the highest falsetto voice ever heard.
Circosicletas - Austin, Texas
Scanning the program, I was pleased to see at least one group representing the United States, and made a point to see their performance. Few Americans have discovered this incredible festival. La Migracion de las Monarcas was a lively performance about the seasonal migration of the Monarch butterflies. Using masks and sometimes oversized butterflies, they portrayed the hopefully, never ending cycle. Hours later, I spotted several members of the group and asked their hometown. When they replied, "Austin, Texas," I screamed, " Me, too." For years, Bikes Across Borders has worked with CLETA to bring bicycles to Mexico. They applied for a coveted spot on the program, and won the privilege of representing not only America, but also Austin, Texas at the Cervantino Festival. I was very proud of this hometown favorite.
On the Streets
Traditionally dressed musicians gather in front of San Diego church next to El Jardin. The Spanish tradition is to roam the streets, playing and gathering crowds.
The callejoneadas encourage the mauraders to join in the singing and dancing. During the festival, crowds prevent roaming, but not the fun.
Tours sometimes offer callejoneadas, usually with an over-worked burro, carrying a picturesque wooden keg of tequila. The group stops often for more songs, while delirious dancers refill their drinks.
These young, student, musicians
Peso por Beso - 10 cents a Kiss
I have seen it all. Love for sale on the streets of Guanajuato. And cheap, too!
A very handsome, shirtless man was standing at the edge of El Jardin, holding a sign and attracting quite a bit of attention. Upon closer inspection, (not him, of course,) the sign read "De a Peso, el Beso -- o Manoseado," or, "For a Peso, a Kiss or Caress."
The crowds screamed as a beautiful, young lady was literally dragged by her friends to the man's hot lips. Such a problem! The idea was catching on as the young men, also tried, without success. Then a young woman had a better idea, as she screamed, "El beso por peso." She wasn't having much luck, but she got my peso.
Later, sitting at a street cafe, a beautiful, young woman from Durango asked me, in perfect English, if she could take my photo.
"Sure," I said, "but alone?" "With the other students, if you didn't mind." "Me? Mind?"
When they used their camera, I handed them mine. How could I refuse?
Living Statues were everywhere. Some changed costumes and acts daily. Others were becoming institutions on certain corners.
All had signs requesting donation for a photograph. One required "No Photos, please."
Some were petrified and remained unblinkingly innocuous to the amazed crowd, all waiting for the slightest movement. Others were in a constant, mechanical movement, like a robot.
Others flowed with motion, welcoming the crowds to join them for a group photo.
Fit for a King
A crowd's favorite was a short, round, young man, dressed in a Quijote-style King's costume.
His only purpose was to grant his subjects the privilege of kissing his royal ass.
His act was the art of persuasion. The dialog was usually successful, much to the laughter and screams of approval from the crowds.
Costumes for Rent - (by the minute)
With a suitcase of colorful, exaggerated wigs, oversized hats, outlandish sunglasses, a few feather boas, AND using your camera, this entrepreneur performer was doing a land office business.
For 5 pesos ($.45) a person, revelers could rummage through the suitcase and dress accordingly. He would then take your camera and snap your photo.
Many 2-D artists displayed their art on the street. Most were really creative with many incorporating Don Quixote and Pancho into scenes of Guanajuato.
One was of the duo crusading through Guanajuato's famous tunnels. Didn't seem to be much of an art market.
Last Day of Festival
On the last Sunday of the festival, crowds have thinned very little. Sober. faced revelers were carrying handmade signs reading, "Ride to Mexico City, $100p," or "Need ride to Guadalajara."
The bare-breasted mermaid was wearing a bra. Living Statues have changed into their last costume. And I made next year's motel reservations!
Festival International Cervantino
The Cervantes Festival is one of the largest performing arts festivals in the Americas, and maybe the world. The festival started in the 1950's when students performed scenes about Don Quixote and Sancho Panza. No where is Dulcinea seen, mentioned nor celebrated. No, Manuel Cervantes never visited Guanajuato, but nowhere is he celebrated more.
Today, the only hint of Cervantes is seen in the paintings and drawings of artists displaying their work on the streets. T-shirts, posters and post cards also celebrate the duo. Most performers do not.
Hundreds of performances from most countries around the world are represented. Japan's famous percussion ensemble, GOCOO + GORO, brought their fiercely contemporary, yet traditionally Japanese music to Guanajuato. Their drumming was on soundtrack of "Matrix: Reloaded."
This year (2005), the Yucatan was highlighted. (It was a terrible irony because this weekend,
Hurricane Wilma is scouring the Yucatan Peninsular.)
Guest of honor was Yucatan Musician Armando Manzanero, one of the greatest romantic composers of our times. A well presented, if slightly commercial, exhibit of foods, crafts and products was displayed.
Always the middle two weeks in October, I arrived on Thursday for the final four days of the Festival. The Executivo Bus from Mexico City was only half full, but the road into Guanato was busy. I had reservations at my hotel and I got the last room. Most hotels were full. The restaurants around El Jardin were also full. Sidewalks were crowded, but now not full.
On Friday, the sidewalks were full. Many sidewalks and roads are pedestrian only. Street sidewalks were too narrow and people started using the streets. Saturday, the crowds took over the streets, too. There was a thick carpet of Revelers as far as the eye could see. Everything was full, but I never saw any pushing or panic anywhere. It was a very calm mob scene. Everyone seemed to be enjoying themselves.
Performing Arts - There is an official schedule available at all information booths.
Most performances were free.
Tickets for official performances can be purchased behind Juarez Theater or Ticket Master
and range in price, including FREE.
Tickets for Teatro Libre, "Free Theater," were $20US!
Jesús Alegria Yanavico - dancer
CLETA is a Cultural - Political Organization that schedules most of the free Performances. Like a juried Art Festival, all performers must apply with resume, description of performance and photos or video of their work.
Seven different Plazas are scheduled from noon to midnight. There were many unscheduled acts as performers moved between the Plazas.
I started doing the same by devising a circuit of my favorite Plazas. Guanajuato is all hills and the walk gave me a chance to see more of the picturesque town and get needed exercise. Wither it be rock bands, provocative dance, rhythm drums, comic monologues, puppet shows or agile, athletic, acts, it was all cutting edge performances, and, all FREE!
Plaza San Fernando was a favorite. One could sip a glass of wine at Restaurant Van Gough's Ear
or grab a snack at the other cafes on the shaded Plaza.
One evening, in front of my table, was CLETA's scheduled performance.
To my right was a large group of well-practiced drummers. On my other side, a rope had been tied between two trees and a dude was doing a balancing act. In one corner, a plethora of colorful material hung from a tall tree with a well-toned man doing a mid-air ballet. Behind me, a Mariachi band was patiently waiting for their turn to play. And standing at my table was the cutest, five year old girl, trying to sing for a peso.
Poor thing couldn't sing for all the money in the world, but she got my peso.
So much of the performing arts are impossible to describe or even interpret, but this is how I saw it.
Ovejas Negras - Yucatán
The four female creatures I saw at the entrance to the Plaza were motionless for about an hour.
Their costumes were aboriginal-ish.
In the middle of the Plaza, a ten-foot tall mermaid, with cornhusks for fish scales, and looked bare breasted, (she wore leotards,) arms in constant movement, welcomed everyone to their world.
Rhythm, by three creatures of the earth playing didgeridoos, shells and conch horns, intensifies. The four "dead" creatures are now carried to the loving mother mermaid and are brought back to life.
As the group emerges into jumps and orgasmic screams, the mermaid of the world continues to remind us that life is art.
A cat-like creature is crawling around the plaza on all fours and tongue-cleaning himself. He just crawled to a tree and performed a dance with fabrics six feet off the earth.
Parking in central Guanajuato is expensive, 24 hours a day, with no all-day rate. Driving into central Guanajuato is not only expensive, but also confusing. Just as drivers realize their location, the road dips into one of Guanajuato's famous tunnels. Who knows where the cars emerge.
During the Cervantino Festival, hotel rooms are at a premium.
I've had reservations for about eight months.
Reservations must be repeatly confirmed. Two women on my bus here arrived at another hotel only to find their reservations lost. They found other expensive accommodations, hated their room and left.
Also during the Festival, bars are jammed, restaurants are busy and performers are on every corner. Guanajuato is alive with the arts.
Rest of the time, Guanajuato is a quiet college town.
Hotel Las Embajadoras
Hotel Las Embajadoras is located on Embajadoras Park and across the park from Mercado Embajadoras. with a tunnel marked "Embajadoras."
My choice of hotels for Cerventino Festival. Window flower boxes and morning, chirping birds make Las Embajadoras a pleasant place to stay. Senora Catalina makes certain of that. Plus, this hotel is easy to drive to. At the top of the hill, at the entrance to the tunnels into Guanajuato, one is labeled “Embajadoras,” also the name of the Park. Notice signs for Hotel.
Sleep during Cervantino Festival is usually difficult, especially in the central hotels. The nighttime music, noise from the crowds, and the early morning church bells can keep the dead awake.
Las Embajadoras is geographically shielded from nearby sounds. Closest church bells are distant.
Located on the Embajadoras Park, it is near the Produce market at end of tunnel of same name. Parking is in front of the rooms and restaurant is attractive. El Jardin is a short, level, ten-minute walk away. All local buses stop at the north end of the park. Nothing fancy at this hotel, just an abundance of flowers, friendly staff and plenty of hot water. High season or low, this is the best value in Guanajuato.
ph# 011-52-473-731-0105 (from US)
ph# 01-473-731-0105 (from Mexico)
Last two weeks
Guanajuato was once a prosperous capital of the Spanish colony, and later during the dictatorship of Porfirio Diaz, it had a second glory period as the mines again became a source of great wealth. The Mexican independence started here in this region. The father of Mexican Independence, Miguel de Hidalgo, led about 80,000 farmers and miners to this city in 1810 to attack the Spanish authorities. He was captured a few months later and his head hung with some other rebels on the outside of the granary (today the same building is a great museum of Mexican Independence, well worth a visit). But years of guerrilla war ensued, and by 1823 Mexico was independent. Interesting to contextualize Mexican independence in the same period with the French Revolution, the Haitian revolution, and not long after the U.S. emerged from British colonialization; also, this region, Guanajuato-Bajio, was the economic powerhouse of Mexico in those times, so it's little wonder at the birth of capitalism that the successful merchants and mine owners would contribute to the political movement against colonization.
Somehow, urban planners in the 1950s had the foresight to realize that the charming alleys, stairways, plazas, and narrow streets should be preserved and enhanced. Today, Guanajuato is a designated World Heritage Site by the United Nations, and it retains an incredible old-world charm, reminding visitors more of an Italian city than anything seen in Mexico.