Last Updated on June 27, 2023 by Nellie Huang
Forget the big cities, the real spirit of Guanajuato state lies in its canyons, wineries and cacti-strewn highlands.
The Central Mexican state of Guanajuato is best known for its colonial cities, like San Miguel de Allende and Guanajuato City, but there’s so much to discover beyond that. The state boasts cacti-studded highlands, beautiful wineries and glorious hot springs that make for excellent country escapes.
For a deep dive into the backcountry, I’m bringing you out of the cities and into the countryside to show you the unique things to do in Guanajuato state, from hot air ballooning to wine tasting. If you’re interested in going off the beaten path in Guanajuato state, this list will be perfect for you!
Table of Contents
- Join the Hot Air Balloon Festival
- Go Horseback Riding
- Visit Mineral de Pozos
- Go Wine Tasting along the Ruta de Vino
- Swim in Hot Springs
- Take the Mezcal Route to San Felipe
- Buy Pottery at Dolores Hidalgo
- Visit the Cristo Rey Statue
- Explore the Silver Mines
- Visit the ex-Hacienda San Gabriel de Barrera
- Guanajuato Itinerary & Guide
Join the Hot Air Balloon Festival
Every year, the “Festival Internacional del Globo” (International Balloon Festival) takes place just outside the city of León in Guanajuato state. This festival attracts thousands of visitors from all over the world. The festival typically occurs in November and lasts for several days.
Besides the balloon flights, the festival offers a wide range of activities and entertainment for attendees. There are live music performances, cultural shows, culinary experiences, and family-friendly attractions. Visitors can enjoy food stalls, craft markets, amusement rides, and various exhibitions throughout the festival grounds.
Go Horseback Riding
Since Guanajuato state is home to numerous canyons, the hills surrounding the cities are fantastic to explore on horseback. Family-owned tour operator, Coyote Canyon Adventures, runs horseback tours from San Miguel de Allende, and brings you deep into the Coyote Canyon. A full-day excursion includes a ranch style breakfast, in depth riding class, and even time to swim in a natural pool.
It’s also possible to ride the route from San Miguel de Allende to Guanajuato city, passing by mountains, forests, agricultural landscape – always accompanied by gentle birdsong and the sounds of our loyal horses.
Visit Mineral de Pozos
At 40 miles (64km) northeast of San Miguel de Allende, Mineral de Pozos is a former mining town. The town experienced its peak during the 19th century when it became one of the most important mining centers in Mexico. However, with the decline of mining activities in the early 20th century, the town faced a gradual decline.
In recent years, Mineral de Pozos has experienced a renaissance as an artistic and cultural destination. Its rich history, colonial architecture, and abandoned mine structures have attracted artists, photographers, and tourists from around the world. The town has become a hub for art galleries, studios, and workshops, showcasing the works of local and international artists.
Go Wine Tasting along the Ruta de Vino
In recent years, Mexico has gained fame for its wine. The ruta de vino or wine route in Guanajuato state strings together a medley of gorgeous wineries and vineyards that are worth visiting on a day trip. Most of them are within a short drive from San Miguel de Allende.
Rent a car like we did and visit wineries like Rancho Toyan, Hacienda San Jose la Vista, and La Santísima Trinidad. Spend the afternoon tasting excellent wine and gourmet platters of cheese and nibbles, wandering through the lavender fields, and even staying overnight in the in-house rooms. Here’s a useful resource to help you plan your wine route in Guanajuato state.
Swim in Hot Springs
The countryside of Guanajuato state is also dotted with hot springs that boast curative waters. Of all the hot springs, La Gruta Spa is perhaps the most famous. Read my full guide on how to visit la Gruta hot springs. It’s just a 15-minute drive from San Miguel de Allende, so you can easily combine them in one day trip.
In total, there are four thermal pools located onsite at La Gruta. The star attraction is the cavern “La Gruta”. Entering through an entryway from the main pool, you’ll make your way through a white, narrow stone walkway that leads to a domed-shaped grotto where the source of the hot spring water is. Entry: 250 MXN (US$10).
Take the Mezcal Route to San Felipe
While Oaxaca mezcal brands get all the fame, the ones from Guanajuato state appeal to sippers who normally gravitate more toward tequila. There’s some evidence that distilled agave started in this region, back when productive silver mines started booming and the Spanish settled in with their equipment and distillation knowledge. A few mezcal distilleries have been producing for more than 200 years and there’s a long tradition in two areas of the state.
The “Mezcal Route” of Guanajuato is more of a concept than an actual route. An interesting place to try some Guanajuato mezcal is at the Jaral de Berrio distillery. This company can trace its history back to the late 1700s; They steam their agave in ovens though, with no smoke in the mix.
Buy Pottery at Dolores Hidalgo
Just 25 miles (40km) north of San Miguel de Allende, Dolores Hidalgo is a small town famous for its exquisite Talavera pottery. Take a stroll through the town’s many pottery workshops and stores, where you can witness artisans creating beautiful ceramics using traditional techniques. It’s an excellent opportunity to admire the craftsmanship and purchase unique Talavera pieces as souvenirs.
Visit the Cristo Rey Statue
For an epic 360-degree view of Guanajuato city and the whole valley, head up to the Cristo Rey statue (Christ the King) on top of the Cerro de Cubilete, 15km west of Guanajuato. The 20m bronze statue of Jesus is supposedly located at the geographical center of Mexico.
Tour agencies offer trips here, but you can also simply take a bus with the sign ‘Cristo Rey,’ departing from Alhóndiga Museum (40 MXN or US$2 return).
Explore the Silver Mines
The opulent colonial buildings in Guanajuato City were all built on the wealth created by region’s rich silver and gold deposits. You can still the silver mines in the famous Valenciana district nearby (those with claustrophobia should avoid).
The biggest mine is Bocamina San Ramón, where you can descend to a depth of 60m via steps into a mine shaft. At San Cayetano, you can take a tour with former miners and visit both its shaft and museum.
To reach the mines, take the bus to ‘Cristo Rey’, get off at Templo La Valenciana and follow the signs behind the church. It’s a steep and windy 15-minute drive from the city center.
Visit the ex-Hacienda San Gabriel de Barrera
Perched on the hilltops overlooking Guanajuato City, this beautiful hacienda is a glorious place to visit when you’re in the mood for some country feels. Built at the end of the 17th century, this was the grand hacienda of Captain Gabriel de Barrera, whose family owned the La Valenciana mines. Opened as a museum in 1979, the hacienda provides an insight into noble lifestyles of the viceregal period.
To get there, take one of the frequent ‘Marfil’ buses in the underground tunnel under Avenida Juárez and ask the driver to drop you at Hotel Misión Guanajuato (not to be mistaken with the Hotel Misión Casa Colorada). An Uber from the center costs no more than 100 MXN (US$5).
Guanajuato Itinerary & Guide
How to Get to Guanajuato
Guanajuato City has a small international airport that serves several major cities in the US, such as Dallas, Atlanta, and Houston. Del Bajío International Airport (BJX) is about a 45-minute drive from Guanajuato city center. Search for Flights here!
There is no direct public bus or train service between Guanajuato and the airport. If you’re not renting a car, the taxi fare from Guanajuato Airport to city center is around 500-600 MXN (US$25-30).
An alternative is flying into Mexico City, which is a 4.5-hour drive to Guanajuato. You can find much cheaper flights there from outside of Mexico. From there, take the excellent first-class bus from Mexico City on ETN or Primera Plus.
How to Get Around Guanajuato
Guanajuato state is relatively big and you’ll need transport to get around the state. We rented a car from Guanajuato Airport and drove it the entire time during our 10 days in Guanajuato.
An economy rental car in Mexico averages just $200 for a whole week, which is less than $25 a day. The current price for gas is 16.50 pesos per liter (about $2.50 per gallon). We always use DiscoverCars.com as they’ve consistently given us the best prices and customer service.
If you’re staying in the historical center, you could get by without a car as most of the places to visit in Guanajuato are located in the city center. Otherwise, Uber is readily available in Guanajuato, and it’s very affordable.
Best Time to Visit Guanajuato
Thanks to its location in the central highlands of Mexico, the Guanajuato state is blessed with pleasant spring-like climate all year round. In general, anytime of the year is great to visit as Guanajuato’s climate doesn’t vary too much throughout the year, with average high temperatures hovering between 73°F (23°C) and 88°F (31°C) no matter the season.
But I would recommend visiting Guanajuato state between November and April, when there’s less rainfall than the summer months. The jacaranda season starts at the end of March and only lasts till April, but that’s when Guanajuato is at its most beautiful, with purple blooms dotting the landscapes. We visited in March and the weather was glorious, it was always sunny and it not too cold/warm.
One of the most popular time to visit Guanajuato is in October, when the Festival Internacional Cervantino takes place. Cervantino is a tribute to the Spanish author, Miguel de Cervantes, who wrote Don Quixote; his influence is still felt all over the city. Time your trip to visit during one of the biggest Mexican celebrations and you’ll experience plenty of music, dance, and poetry throughout the city.
Is Guanajuato Safe to Visit?
In general, the state of Guanajuato has been relatively safe. But in the last three years, the crime rate has spiked overall in the state of Guanajuato. Currently, there is no safety advisory in effect for the state.
My family and I felt very safe throughout our time in Guanajuato state, and didn’t experience anything sketchy. We were comfortable walking around the cities at night, driving from one place to another, and didn’t experience anything out of the ordinary. That said, that’s just my personal experience.
As with in most parts of Mexico, it helps tremendously to speak Spanish. Not many people in Guanajuato – outside of San Miguel de Allende – speak English and being fluent in Spanish will help you blend in much better. You’ll also get treated far better.
Is it Worth Visiting Guanajuato?
Guanajuato is one of most diverse states in Mexico – it’s chock-a-block with lively cities, cultural experiences, and lush nature. The state is a popular destination for Mexicans rather than international travelers, and it has retained a strong sense of grittiness and authenticity.
I hope you’ve found this list of unique things to do in Guanajuato state useful. Be sure to check out my 10-day Guanajuato itinerary. Feel free to leave a comment below if you have any questions on Guanajuato travel. For those who are planning to travel more of Mexico, check out other articles I’ve written on Mexico:
- 10-Day Guanajuato Itinerary
- 5-Day Mexico City Itinerary
- 30 Things to Do in Oaxaca
- 30 Things to Do in San Miguel de Allende
- Visiting Grutas Tolantongo Hot Springs
- 30 Things to do in San Cristobal de las Casas
Disclaimer: This post is sponsored by GTO tourism, in collaboration with EnRoute Communications. As always, all opinions expressed above are my own.