“If I spoke Spanish as well as you,” suggested a retired American woman in Ajijic, Mexico, “I’d go live in Guanajuato. It’s the most romantic town in Mexico…”
That recommendation was made more than 25 years ago.
At the time, my wife, my son, and I were traversing Mexico with a list of 18 cities to investigate as potential new places of residence. We had never heard of Guanajuato, but, as it was close by another city on our list (San Miguel de Allende), we decided to check it out.
Today, I can tell you with confidence that that woman in Ajijic was right. This is the most romantic city in Mexico.
I have to say, though, that the romance was lost on us at first. In fact, our arrival in Guanajuato was traumatic. We drove into town and immediately dropped down into the underground road system. This was 1992, and there were no road signs anywhere. We would come up to the surface and then drop back down again, circling around for almost two frustrating hours.
I remember telling my wife, “Let’s get outta’ here!”
We finally escaped to the edge of town, left the car at a motel, and took a bus back into the city… where we began the adventure of discovering one of the most enchanting towns we had ever seen.
Since then, we have visited all the other cities on our list, moved back and forth to the United States twice, purchased and renovated six houses in Guanajuato, and managed a bed and breakfast for a while.
If we didn’t live in Guanajuato, we wouldn’t live in Mexico. Mexico has many pretty and picturesque towns, but we’ve found that the coastal towns are too hot and buggy, the larger cities too busy, and the interior towns too dull. Guanajuato is a lively university city full of young people, with an amazing schedule of cultural activities year-round.
With its 400-year history, Spanish-colonial architecture, a tunnel road system, silver mines, and even a large collection of mummies, the most surprising thing about Guanajuato is that it isn’t more discovered than it is. Many who visit compare Guanajuato favorably with the small, medieval towns of Tuscany and Provence.
Guanajuato is a special place to live, but it isn’t a suitable choice for everyone. The historic town center that runs along the valley of several canyons is relatively flat, but most of the houses are on steep pedestrian-only alleyways. Few houses in the center have parking, and street parking is scarce. Guanajuato is a walking city. If you can’t imagine living without a car, you have a walking impediment, or your vision of retirement is living as a couch-potato, you’ll have a hard time adapting to life in Guanajuato.
An older Canadian couple once commented, “It’s beautiful here, but I can’t imagine that I’ll be wanting or able to carry my groceries up these hills 15 years from now.”
Guanajuato is an old town and very Mexican. Most of the houses in the center have been in the same families for generations, and, because of their age, may need substantial renovation. Often the reason a house is for sale is because the owners can no longer afford to maintain it.
On the west edge of town is the village of Marfil, where many foreigners live among remnants of the gigantic stone walls of 200-year-old haciendas. To the north is the village of Valenciana, also a favorite among foreign residents who work at the university or play in the symphony.
Long-term rental houses are scarce in Guanajuato’s historic center, as the student population consumes most of the housing. Housing is cheaper as you move away from the center toward the Presa, Pastita, and San Javier barrios. You should be able to negotiate a discount if you lease for one year or longer.
One of the appeals for us is the climate in this part of Mexico. Guanajuato enjoys moderate weather throughout the year. Much to my wife’s dismay, I wear shorts and T-shirts from March through November, changing to jeans and long-sleeved shirts December through February.
Another thing we like about life here is how colorful it is. Every night the streets are filled with music––mariachis, Mexican bandas, and groups of troubadours traverse the alleyways singing romantic serenades, telling jokes and stories, and dancing. The Guanajuatenses sing and dance along with them.
In my neighborhood, my pet peeves are graffiti, litter, and dog poop in the alleyways. In my opinion, the safest area in Guanajuato is the historic center due to lack of automobile access. In general, though, Guanajuato is a very safe, small city.
Would Guanajuato be for you? After living here for so many years with my family, I’d say that the answer to that question could be yes if you are adventurous, like to walk, can assimilate and enjoy the cultural differences of Mexico, and are willing to learn some Spanish.
Of course the only way to answer the question really is to come see Guanajuato for yourself. Come with a significant other if you can.
As I said, this is the most romantic town in Mexico. Share a kiss on the third step of the Callejón del Beso (Kissing Alleyway), and you’re assured seven years of future romantic bliss.
This article was first published in 2011 and has been recently updated.