A Budget Guide to Guanajuato, Mexico
Guanajuato is a colonial city in Mexico with bright houses, beautiful views and just the right amount of chaos. It's a place that is not yet overly populated by tourists and many first time visitors end up staying longer, just like we did. After a month exploring this affordable city, I've put together a guide to Guanajuato with everything I know. The city is so different from anywhere we've been in Mexico so far and it quickly became one of our favourites.
The city of Guanajuato is located in central Mexico and is the capital of the state of Guanajuato. It is a densely populated and busy colonial city about 4 and a half hours northwest of Mexico City. It is a mining town set in a mountanous part of the state and is also a World Heritage site.
How to Get Here
By Air: Guanajuato International Airport (BJX) is located some 30 minutes away from the city of Guanajuato in nearby Silao. The next closest international airports are in Queretaro (3 hours away) or Mexico City (5 hours away).
By Bus: The Central Bus Station in Guanajuato is about 20 minutes away from the city core. Once you arrive, there are a couple of buses right outside the main doors that will take you to the centre of town. Look for one that says "Centro" but always double check with the driver too. The ride is $5 or $6 pesos, depending on which bus you take.
The main bus companies that service Guanajuato are: Primera Plus, ETN, Omnibus and the Estrella Blanca Group (multiple lines). The majorities of buses in Mexico that you find online and at these main stations are considered first-class buses and usual offer some form of Wi-Fi and/or entertainment system, snacks and restrooms. The bus system in Mexico is pretty impressive so it's not uncommon to find a higher level of comfort than with bus companies in Canada or even parts of Europe.
If you're travelling to Guanajuato by bus, I would recommend Primera Plus. We travelled with them several times throughout Central Mexico and we were more than happy every time. They're punctual, affordable and comfortable. What more could you ask for?
*BEWARE* If you're arriving from the main station and are taking a taxi into town, the cost should be around $50 or $60 pesos (2016), depending on where you are headed in town. It's not uncommon for drivers to try and charge more to tourists and we were quoted $150 pesos when we first arrived. For more on how to avoid getting ripped off by a taxi see this here. I'd hate to see you pay more than you need to.
By Car: I haven’t done much driving in Mexico myself but if you're arriving to Guanajuato by car, you’re pretty brave. First, there are no streetlights anywhere in the centre of Guanajuato city. Then, there’s the underground tunnels that can be hard to navigate through not to mention all of the one-way streets and the roads closed off for pedestrians only. There’s also a lack of parking options and pretty much bad traffic in general. Not to discourage you, but just saying!
Banks and ATMs
Cash is king in Guanajuato where you’ll find that many restaurants and shops do not accept debit or credit cards. This annoyed me at first but there are many banks and ATMs located throughout the city's historic centre. For ATM withdrawals I would recommend Banamex or HSBC because I found they offered the best exchange and lower withdrawal fees.
A major inconvenience that a tourist might find is the frequent long line up at ATM’s and banks all over town. Lunchtime, Fridays, mid-month and month-end are busy times for locals and that’s when the lines seem to be the longest. Most banks in Mexico require you to take a number, have a seat and wait until your number is called so bring a book or some music to pass the time if you plan on waiting. If you’re looking to exchange your currency, banks require foreigners to bring their passport for any transactions. If you want to avoid the lines for your exchange, CIBanco offers decent rates and there’s hardly ever a line.
Guanajuato is considered very safe for tourists and several of them enjoy the city so much that they end up staying for weeks, months and even years longer than originally planned. There is a growing expat community and no reason why you can't feel comfortable walking around the historic centre with your camera in hand. We felt very safe living in the Pastita neighbourhood for over a month but would recommend taking taxis after dark to heir on the side of caution. Even though the city has seen very little violence in the last few years, you’ll still see many uniformed police officers canvasing the streets day and night.
Guanajuato is no beach town. During the winter months, temperatures can dip to 0°C (32°F). Apparently it even snowed shortly after we left! Rainy season is between July and August. You'll find the most enjoyable weather March to May or September to November. Pack lots of things to layer with just in case.
A Guide to Sleeping on a Budget
La Casa De Dante
Located halfway up a hill leading to Panoramica street, this hostel offers a stunning view of Guanajuato from their social patio. An excellent Mexican breakfast is included in the price and we still can’t decide which was better: the food or the service.
The dorms and common areas are very clean and even though it’s not the cheapest hostel in town, it was worth it in my opinion. There is a downside and this is one that you’ll find anywhere with a good views: the stairs. The way Guanajuato is, anything not directly in the downtown area is probably somewhere on a hill. This hostel is about 250 steps up so if you’re unfit, disabled or have trouble with steep steps, you may want to consider different accommodation.
Hostal del Campanero
Because of the city's layout, it can be hard to find something central where you can avoid the hikes up and downhill. This hostel is located right in town and within walking distance to several restaurants and attractions. Let's just say that what the hostel lacks in service, it sort of makes up for in location and price.
Apartment Rentals & Airbnbs
Guanajuato is one of those cities where you’ll get the most bang for your buck if you are able to stay longer. Not only is renting an apartment a great way to experience local life but once you break down the cost of your rent, it is significantly cheaper than nightly accommodations at any hotel or hostel. If you are looking for monthly rentals, my advice would be to start your search in town once you’ve arrived instead of looking online for English ads that are probably not much of a bargain at all. Alternatively, Airbnb has so many options in Guanajuato these days and our signup link gets new users up to $40 off your first booking in Guanajuato or anywhere in the world.
Because Guanajuato has such a large student population, it won’t be hard to find an affordable place to rent. Many of the vacant apartments are posted on community boards throughout the city and, if you keep your eyes peeled, you’ll see signs and flyers advertising places for rent.
After our experience, we can say that negotiation is common when it comes to rentals because, depending on the season, there may be more supply than demand. We were initially quoted $4500 pesos per month for a one bedroom, one bathroom plus kitchenette. It took a bit of effort but we were able to get our rent down to $3500 for our month in Guanajuato and couldn’t have been happier.
A Guide to Getting Around
Buses are a great way to get around the city and the fare is only $5 pesos! Similar to most buses in Mexico, the route and major stops are painted on the front window. Even if we see our stop marked on the front, we’ve learned to ask before getting on. This is after we once jumped on a bus that said Pastita without realizing the driver was on the other end of his route and the 15-minute journey home took us an hour and a half. Lesson learned!
So, even if you see your destination on the front of the bus, double check to make sure the driver is in fact heading where you want to go. No need to know Spanish, just poke your head in the door and (loudly) ask “destination”?
Taxis in Guanajuato
Taking cabs here in Guanaujato is considered safe among locals and tourists and hailing one from the street is common practice. Taxis aren’t as abundant as they are in other tourist destinations but they’re very well priced and worth the wait. A ride anywhere within the downtown area (and even the neighbouring hills) should only cost between 40 and 50 pesos. It's common for taxi drivers to overcharge tourists so it may help to understand why taxi drivers are ripping you off.
These are small passenger buses that run select routes throughout town. They can get pretty crowded but their size makes it easier to navigate the narrow streets. You'll see mostly locals in these and the price is just a few pesos more than a bus fare.
The city of Guanajuato is one of the great cities in Mexico that's perfect for exploring on foot. A handful of the main streets downtown are closed off to traffic so don't be afraid to get lost exploring the cobblestone roads and discovering all that Guanajuato has to offer. The city may seem confusing at first (there are mostly one way streets and none of the city maps I saw were really great) and the chances of you getting lost at first are high, but so are the odds of you finding a hidden gem, or two.
Eating on a Budget
El Paisa 1 - Av. Juárez
A minute walk from Mercado Hidalgo is where you’ll find this gem that quickly became my favourite taco spot in the city. It’s right beside a similar restaurant (El Paisa 2) but El Paisa 1 takes the trophy in my opinion. Service is fast, food is fresh and the bill is cheap (you’ll be full for less than $50 pesos!). The washroom is well maintained (for Mexico) and there are bottles of hand sanitizer at each table.
Our top picks: Al pastor tacos, tortas and quesadillas with fresh horchata to drink.
Señor Spaguetti - Calle de Alonso 19
Around the corner from Jardin de la Union is where you’ll find this tiny pizza place with huge savings and even bigger portions. They specialize in homemade, express Italian foods and you might have to wait in line behind local college students but it’s worth it. They have a few different combos that are well priced and you can enjoy pizza, pasta and salads when you’re craving Italian food on a budget.
Café Santo - Campanero No. 4, Centro
When I first saw this restaurant in the heart of town, I thought it would be too fancy for a budget traveller. After seeing that the menu was pretty reasonable (the beers are cheap) we ended up going a couple of times. Their patio is on top of a small bridge above a highly occupied walkway and is a great place to people watch and enjoy a drink. They have great internet and meals range from tasty pasta dishes to juicy burgers.
Best Cafés for Wifi
El Lechón Ilustrado - Truco No. 5, Centro
If you're a fan of tea and books, this is your spot. They have excellent internet, a big selection of teas, coffee and even cervezas if you're really thirsty. Usually half the people here have their laptops open and their heads down so it's fairly quiet. They make some great homemade sandwiches and their warm drinks come with a cute cookie.
Café Tal - Calle Sangre de Cristo No. 1 y 4, Centro
At first glance, it looks run down but this cafe is a favourite among tourists and locals alike. Great coffee, 2 access points for internet and even a wandering cat. If you can't find a table in the main room, they have a second seating area just across the walkway.
Drinking on a Budget
Viejo Guanajuato - Campanero No. 12, Centro
This is where you come to drink on the cheap. The bar offers daily deals ranging from buckets of beer to shots of mexcal. It’s a little grungy and has a funky smell but the price is right and we had a great time.
Clave Azul - Segunda De Cantaritos No. 31, Centro Plaza de San Fernando
This is a quirky little bar nestled in an alley just outside one of the main plazas in town. It’s tricky to find but has a great atmosphere with a mix between locals and tourists. Go during happy hour for free snacks.
Why not? - De La Luz, Centro
Another cool bar that's worth checking out. It appeals to the younger crowd so put on your drinking cap if you plan on keeping up with the cool kids.
Alcohol can be bought at large grocery stores, specialty wine and beer stores as well as most convenience stores and even some mini supermarkets.
In Mexico, major beer producers reuse the glass bottles returned by consumers so it's common to pay a few pesos more at the time of sale as a deposit for the bottles. In Guanajuato, keep your receipt (if you get one) and return those bottles within 15 days to get your deposit money back.
The most budget friendly beers are usually Tecate or Carta Blanca but, if you're willing to return your bottles after they're empty, Corona or Victoria can be the most economical.
After 3 PM on Sundays government restricts alcohol sales to restaurants and bars only. That means that no convenience stores or markets will be selling any type of alcohol to customers after this time.
I noticed that some vendors are willing to flex a little bit depending on the time but, for the most part, you’re out of luck on Sunday nights. If you’re desperate for a drink and don’t want to sit in a restaurant all night, head to the nearest bar/restaurant and see if they’ll sell you beer to go. You’ll be paying about 3 times the price so plan ahead if you can.
Day Trips from Guanajuato
San Miguel de Allende
One of the most popular day trips from Guanajuato is San Miguel. It's a more touristy town and about an hour and a half away by bus. Service with Primera Plus runs several times a day at a cost of $120 pesos each way. Spend time in the main plaza and bring extra cash if you're looking to buy any traditional artisanal goods. It's definitely pricier here than Guanajuato.
This is a small colonial town with a quieter feel than San Miguel. Perfect if you want to get away from the crowds for a day or two.
The biggest nearby city is Leon, the shoe capital of Mexico. Visit during the state fair in January or in November for the city's annual balloon festival.
Top Attractions in Guanajuato
There is so much to see and do in the city from museums to galleries to gardens and plazas. I think any guide to Guanajuato will tell you that you're bound to find more hidden treasures if you just walk the town and let yourself get lost in the streets. We've also written about 50 fun things to do in Guanajuato, Mexico for further inspiration!
There are several tourist stands throughout the city that offer information, maps, directions and (of course) tickets for their tours. If you're pressed for time, these tours are a quick and easy way to see the main sites while your shuttle driver takes you around. The ones we saw were in Spanish only but it was worth it for us and a great way to get an overview of the city. The advertised price was $150 for a 2 and a half hour excursion but it was more like transportation between points of interest because our driver didn't talk much at all. We were able to negotiate down to $100 pesos mainly because we were with other tourists who didn't speak any Spanish and they seemed to be understanding.
There were few guided tours offered in English and those we saw came at a high price. Another great way to see the main sites is to hire a cab for an hour to take you around.
Festival Cervantino - A long-standing tradition in the month of October is the Cervantino Festival that Guanajuato hosts. It’s a huge event that draws crowds from all over Mexico and the world. It consists of plays, films, dancing, art exhibitions and music that take place in theatres and plazas all over the city.
Explore the Mines - Guanajuato is a mining town and there are still mines operating to this day. Take a tour to visit a mine and learn all about the interesting mining history in the town.
The Mummy Museum - A bit overrated in my opinion but this museum is where you’ll find bodies that were found naturally mummified years ago in one of the cemeteries.
Mercado Hidalgo - This is the biggest market in the city and here you’ll find stalls with fresh produce, meats and all the souvenirs you can imagine.
Jardín de la Unión - This main square is a great place to sit on a bench and watch the crowds. There’s a great atmosphere and also a band that plays in the gazebo a couple of times a week.
El Pipila - The Pipila stature overlooks the entire city and is a great place to go for beautiful panoramic views, especially as the sun is setting. You can hop in a cab, go up the many stairs or ride the trolley (if it’s working).
Cool Things To Do on a Budget
Guanajuato is a very budget-friendly town but here are some recommendations if you’re looking for things to do that are less touristy and more fun.
Salsa Lessons - In a 2nd floor studio directly across Teatro Juarez is where you'll find great salsa classes. They're held Monday to Thursday evenings and offer fair prices for their beginner to intermediate classes. No previous experience is required and classes start at $50 pesos each. We paid $350 pesos (per person) for 12 classes and each class begins with a warmup exercise that will judge your skill level and then the class is split up accordingly. Here's some more info on the Salsa Con Fuego classes in Guanajuato.
Presa de la Olla - This guide to Guanajuato wouldn't be complete without the best kept secret in the city. You'll find mostly Mexican tourists here but at this lake/dam you can rent paddleboats or row boats for only $35 pesos (per person). Bring some food to feed the ducks and enjoy an afternoon exploring the parks nearby and the food vendors that are set up all around the lake. The row boats are a bit challenging and you can watch Fel and I struggling in our video about our last day in Guanajuato.
Catch a Local Ball Game - It will be hard to miss the baseball stadium when you're viewing the city from the Pipila statue. Believe it or not, baseball is popular in this part of Mexico and you'll usually see tickets being sold here for weekend games. Seats are cheaper is you're willing to sit in the sun!
Embajadores - Hidalgo Market might be the biggest but the Embajadores market steals the show on Sundays. The square comes to life with tons of food stalls, entertainment for kids and a pony riding around. We had so much fun trying different Mexican street foods from the Sunday market.
Even though there’s no beach, Guanajuato is a city full of surprises and I would highly recommend it. Hopefully this guide to Guanajuato is helpful for you so you can enjoy it for yourself soon!