Picture-perfect San Miguel de Allende doesn't just get top billing in its home state of Guanajuato. The stunning colonial center, excellent hotels and restaurants, and many artists and artisans have found fame beyond Mexico's borders. But the rest of this state, located in the central highlands of the country, offers much more.

Guanajuato city is capital of the eponymous state and well worth a visit © Clifton Wilkinson/Lonely Planet
Guanajuato city is the colorful capital of the eponymous state and well worth a visit © Clifton Wilkinson/Lonely Planet

A golden triangle of historically important, architecturally blessed cities are all within a short drive of each other, and in between are chances to see a side of Mexico generally overlooked by visitors. A sunny, mild climate makes it a year-round destination too and, like most of Mexico, it’s very safe to travel here. So by all means start with San Miguel, but make sure you don’t finish there too.

San Miguel de Allende

Along with Cabo and Cancún, San Miguel de Allende is probably the most visitor-friendly city in Mexico. Unlike its coastal siblings however, San Miguel feels thoroughly Mexican. Yes, it's a very manicured Mexico and you're almost as likely to hear English spoken on the streets as Spanish (the ex-pat population, mostly from the US, is huge), but the city contains everything you've probably put on your Mexico checklist. Low-rise, colourful streets. A liberal sprinkling of churches. A vital role in the country's history (Allende, one of the instigators of the independence war, was born here and was honored when the town was was renamed 'de Allende' after his death). And friendly, fun-loving locals who like a fiesta. Plus high quality accommodations and eating.

Have some churros before popping into the Capilla de la Tercera Orden Clifton Wilkinson/Lonely Planet
Enjoy some churros from San Agustín cafe across the road before popping into the Capilla de la Tercera Orden © Clifton Wilkinson/Lonely Planet

In terms of what to visit, there are no must-see sights here. Rather the whole town is the highlight: browse galleries; pop into the churches; shop in courtyards-turned-mini-malls; sit back and people-watch over a chocolate con churros.

The pretty in pink Parroquia de San Miguel Arcángel dominates San Miguel's main square Clifton Wilkinson/Lonely Planet
The pretty in pink parroquia church dominates San Miguel's main square and is a stop on the Legends walking tour © Clifton Wilkinson/Lonely Planet


Legends of San Miguel walking tour – each evening costumed actors tell amusing, rather tall tales from the city's past. Check with the tourist office (visitsanmiguel.travel) in Plaza Principal for details on English-language times.


Hotel Matilda – contemporary cool in the heart of the old town.


Áperi – a destination restaurant with top quality, inventive food.

San Agustín – best place for a chocolate con churros energy boost. Get them to go and sit in the pretty church garden opposite to enjoy them.

Side trip

Circuíto del Nopal tour – hugely entertaining guided tour showcasing multipurpose nopal (cactus) that includes a tractor ride, hay bales, live music, soap making, and a nopal-based lunch. Tours leave from Valtierrilla, an hour southwest of San Miguel.


State capital Guanajuato (gwan-a-wa-tow) impresses on many levels. The verdant valleys of Mexico's northern central highlands are the perfect backdrop for the city's architectural glories – churches and grand mansions built on the fortunes of the local silver mines, and multi-colored houses dotted across the hills. Creepy-cool tunnels are arguably the city's defining trait though. Cut into rock, these snake through Guanajuato, linking different neighbourhoods and allowing both drivers and pedestrians to get around town without having to navigate the torturous hills.

Guanajuato's tunnels are an ingenious solution to navigating the city's many hills Clifton Wilkinson/Lonely Planet
Guanajuato's tunnels offer an ingenious solution to navigating the city's many hills © Clifton Wilkinson/Lonely Planet

Then there's the culture. One of Latin America's biggest arts festivals takes place here every October with a celebration of the great Spanish writer Cervantes. If you can't make it for that, throughout the year there are over two dozen museums to visit, including artist Diego Rivera's childhood home, and the Alhóndiga de Granaditas, a massive stone fortress that played a legendary role in Mexico's struggle for independence. And when evening comes you can join an estudiantina (see below) or enjoy a show in one of the city's many handsome theatres: most impressive is Teatro Juárez. And along with all the natural, architectural, cultural charms are the friendly locals. The enthusiasm for life found across Mexico is particularly evident here. Even in the not-infrequent rain, Guanajuatenses will be out on the streets each evening to take in the city's beautiful architecture and eat at one of its many restaurants.

Teatro Juárez has been a highlight of Guanajuato's cultural scene for over a hundred years Clifton Wilkinson/Lonely Planet
Teatro Juárez has been a focus of Guanajuato's cultural scene since the 19th century © Clifton Wilkinson/Lonely Planet


Estudiantina – join a group of strolling minstrels dressed in 17th-century costumes as they meander Guanajuato's alleyways performing everyone-is-welcome-to-join-in songs (in Spanish but the fun knows no language barriers). Sign up for one in Jardín de la Unión in the city center – just look for the costumed ticket sellers.


Hotel Villa María Cristina – a maze of old mansions, with traditionally furnished rooms and some lovely public areas.


Los Campos – tasty tapas and delicious Mexican wine in an intimate setting.

Side trip

Mine tours – head underground and explore the mines that made Guanajuato wealthy.

Parador Turístico Sangre de Cristo – a few kilometers outside the city, this visitor center has shops, a cafe and three museums covering mining, Day of the Dead celebrations, and mummies found in a local church.

Watch your head on a tour of one of Guanajuato's silver mines Clifton Wilkinson/Lonely Planet
Watch your head on a tour of one of Guanajuato's former silver mines © Clifton Wilkinson/Lonely Planet

Dolores Hidalgo

Smaller and with less wow factor than Guanajuato or San Miguel, what Dolores Hidalgo lacks in grandeur, it makes up for in national status. History was made here in 1810 when local priest father Hidalgo appeared on the steps of the Dolores church and proclaimed Mexico's independence from Spain. That day, 16 September, is now celebrated annually as Mexican Independence Day but back in 1810 success was far from certain – it would be a long and bloody 11 years after Hidalgo's rallying cry before the country secured its freedom.

The church and pretty square in front of it, dominated by a statue of the religious revolutionary, are the main draws here, but for any Mexican music fans, a visit to the house of mariachi superstar, José Alfredo Jiménez, is another reason to visit the town.

The church in Dolores Hidalgo was the scene of momentous events in September 1810 Clifton Wilkinson/Lonely Planet
The church in Dolores Hidalgo was the scene of momentous events in September 1810 © Clifton Wilkinson/Lonely Planet


Stand on the church steps and make your own Declaration of Independence (nobody made a note of Hidalgo's words that day so your guess is as good as anyone's).

Wine tasting – you might not think of wine when you think of central Mexico, but Cuna de Tierra vineyard, a short drive north of Dolores Hidalgo, is hoping to change that.


Hotel Hidalgo – Dolores Hidalgo is an easy day trip from Guanajuato or San Miguel (under an hour's drive from both) but if you do decide to spend the night, the Hidalgo is a reliable option.


DaMónica – tuck into Italian cooked by an Italian (Mónica), or snack your way around the main square, taking your pick from the food stalls.

Side trip

Parador Turístico José Alfredo Jiménez – another of the mini-mall paradors worth checking out, this one is a collection of businesses selling most notably maiolica pottery (they can explain their techniques) and food from the local Otomi community.

Tuck into some tasty indigenous food at the Parador Turístico Jiménez Clifton Wilkinson/Lonely Planet
Tuck into some tasty Otomi food at the Parador Turístico José Alfredo Jiménez © Clifton Wilkinson/Lonely Planet

Getting around

Roads around Guanajuato state are good, especially the toll roads, so renting a car is an option, especially for getting to the more off-the-beaten-path places like the nopal tour and the paradors. Otherwise public transport connects the major centers, and taxis are plentiful and inexpensive for the inbetween places.

Explore related stories