UNESCO Monday #9: Guanajuato – The City Without Cars

Guanajuato Town Center

Travel tips from a local? That seems to be a trend these days, and one I don’t fully buy as locals aren’t travel wizards that magically know where all the best spots are. But it is hidden gems like Guanajuato that have made this trend so huge, as it is a fantastic place mostly traveled by local Mexicans.

“That place is too dangerous….that place too… and don’t even think about that OTHER place…” This was the chatter at my aunts’ house when I went to visit for a little under two months in 2010-2011. I felt like I was being stone-walled and everyone was afraid to go anywhere. “Violence is out of control,” were the headlines – blown out of proportion in local news almost as much as reports north of the border.

When my cousin and my brother finally slipped away and got to Guanajuato, I really didn’t know what to expect. Was it safe? Would I be robbed? Was I becoming as paranoid as everyone else? I had many questions and I wasn’t very tactful when I started asking locals about the safety issue in this town. I was immediately ridiculed for even suggesting that Guanajuato was another drug-torn city. This was a magical place, one that caste a lasting impression on my mind that has yet to fade.

Mexico is jam-packed with historical towns, but no skyline that I have visited so far is as pretty as the historic center of Guanajuato. This picture, taken from the top of a hill at the monument of “El Pipila” brilliantly shows a city frozen in time and I wouldn’t have it any other way. The most peculiar thing you might not immediately notice is how closely packed all the buildings are. “Where are the roads with cars?” you might be thinking (after a closer look). And that, my friend, is the golden question. You see, Guanajuato was built long before cars and was never restructured to support them. Instead, the ancient drainage tunnels were refurbished to work as a kind of underground highway system. The historic center of Guanajuato is truly a unique  pedestrian city. Pretty cool huh?

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