Hear about travel to the state of Guanajuato Mexico (including San Miguel de Allende) as the Amateur Traveler talks to Tim Leffel of perceptivetravel.com about his adopted home.
The state of Guanajuato is the true interior of Mexico. “It’s got some of the oldest settlements from when the Spanish came in and it’s also where the revolution started. We’re about four hours north of Mexico City and 3 hours east of Guadalajara. From a tourism standpoint, most people know about San Miguel de Allende because there’s a very large retiree community there and also a large vacation home community of Americans and Canadians. I live in the capital city of Guanajuato where the first battle of the Mexican revolution took place. I have been here for about a year and a half.”
“San Miguel de Allende is known as the prettiest colonial city in Mexico, certainly the best maintained partly because of all that foreign money that has flowed in. There are plenty of people with modest means there but there are also quite a few millionaires living in San Miguel de Allende. You look at the real estate prices there it’s kind of shocking. It’s a really well-maintained city, super clean, everything’s beautiful, you don’t see graffiti all over the place. Some people are put off by that because they think it’s not authentic but a lot of Mexicans I talk to say ‘wow, this is what every city should look like’. The climate is great too. This is a highland climate. It stays pretty cool and Spring-like most of the year.”
Tim recommends we start in Guanajuato City which is closer to the airport. It is a city of colorful houses with many pedestrian-only streets. Cars and buses traverse the city in a series of tunnels. Artist Diego Rivera was born in Guanajuato and his house is a museum. The Alhóndiga de Granaditas is the site of the first battle of the revolution and is now a museum. “The one oddity here is that there is a big connection here to Don Quixote and Cervantes so there is a Don Quixote museum here. There is a big festival (in October) here which is the biggest music festival in the Americas named the Cervantes festival.” Tim recommends walking the markets, eating in the open-air cafes, and taking the funicular.
San Miguel de Allende is only an hour and a half away from Guanajuato. Tim recommends stopping in Dolores Hidalgo on the way which is known for its pottery and its ice cream carts. San Miguel de Allende is a “great place to stroll, eat well and go shopping. There’s one big main plaza which is the heart of everything. The big draw there is this beautiful church that’s the legend goes that the architect had never left Mexico but he saw these beautiful European churches on stamps and he modeled this church after the great European cathedrals. From there, there are all kinds of streets filled with boutiques, jewelry shops, and good restaurants. You can speak English there, for better or for worse, because it’s a very Americanized city. It’s a very artistic city. The way it became an expat city is that a lot of artists moved there.”
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The World’s Cheapest Destinations Book
World’s Cheapest Destinations
Cheapest Destinations Blog
San Miguel de Allende
Diego Rivera Museum and Home (Museo Casa Diego Rivera)
Alhóndiga de Granaditas
Museo del Pueblo de Guanajuato
Don Quixote Museum
Casa Valadez (Spanish site)
Casa Valadez (TripAdvisor, English)
The Guanajuato Funicular
San Miguel Writers’ Conference
Fabrica La Aurora
Cañada de la Virgen
Coyote Canyon Adventures
Miguel Hidalgo Y Costilla
Mexico Street Food
Jordan’s comment on Travel to Delaware – Episode 452
Chris: Today the Amateur Traveler talks about markets and muralists, funicular and street food as we go to Guanajuato and San Miguel de Allende In Mexico.
Chris: This episode of Amateur Traveler is sponsored by DK Eyewitness Travel Guides. These colorful guidebooks are filled with great information and are one of my favorite guidebooks. I have 20 of them here on my bookshelf. Learn more at DK.com. Amateur Traveler Episode 453.
Welcome to the Amateur Traveler. I am your host Chris Christensen. We will be hearing more from our sponsor later on but first let’s hear about Guanajuato, Mexico. I would like to welcome the show to Tim Leffel, the editor of Perceptive Travel and also the author of World’s Cheapest Destinations and a friend who has come to talk to us about the state of Guanajuato, Mexico. Tim, welcome to the show.
Tim: Thanks a lot for having me.
Chris: Tim, let’s put Guanajuato on the map first. Why are we talking about it and where would we find it on a map of Mexico?
Tim: Well, this is in the true interior of Mexico, the colonial center of the country, where it’s got some of the oldest settlements from when the Spanish came in. It is also where the Revolution started so that is the historical marker of why a lot of people would come here. We are also about four hours north of Mexico City and about three hours west of Guadalajara, the two biggest cities in Mexico. From a tourism standpoint usually people know about San Miguel de Allende because there is a very large retiree community there and vacation home community of Americans and Canadians. I live in the capital city of Guanajuato which is where the first battle of the Mexican Revolution took place.
Chris: Excellent. And you have lived in Mexico for a couple years now?
Tim: Yeah, I came here for a year with my family and then went back to the US for a while and this time we have been here for about a year and a half and will probably keep going back and forth like that because I have a 14 year-old daughter.
Chris: Now I happen to have a guidebook for San Miguel de Allende which was sitting on my night table for a while but assuming that other people don’t, why should somebody come to Guanajuato?
Tim: A lot of times people will just go to San Miguel de Allende because they have friends or relatives there and go back or people will kind of do a little circuit and they will come to Guanajuato first because that is actually closer to the airport and then they will move on. But San Miguel de Allende is known as the prettiest colonial city in Mexico, certainly the best maintained. Partly because of all that foreign money that has flowed in. There are plenty of people of modest means there but there are quite a few millionaires living in San Miguel de Allende. If you look at the real estate prices there it is kind of shocking. It is a really well maintained city, super clean, everything is beautiful, and you don’t see graffiti all over the place.
Some people are kind of put off by that because they think it is not authentic but actually a lot of Mexicans I have talked to look at that and go “Wow, this is what every city should look like. Why aren’t the rest of them this way?” So they are very proud of it and they think it is a nice showpiece for the country.
Chris: One of the reasons I had for a long time, that is on my nightstand, is it is just gorgeous looking city as you mentioned with all of the different colorful buildings heading up the hillside in a mountainous area was my impression.
Tim: Yeah, and the climate is great, too, both of these cities are pretty similar whereas other parts of Mexico on the coast that people are very familiar with are hot, humid, and tropical. This is a highland climate and it is from 6000 to 6500 feet in altitude depending on where you are on the hillside. It stays pretty cool and springlike most of the year. It can get a little chilly at night this time of the year but it gets up to the 70s or 80s during the day most of the time. So a lot of people are drawn to that climate especially as a place to live or retire or be a snowbird and get away from the Michigan winters.
Chris: That actually brings up one of the questions I usually ask a little later is what is the best time of year to come to Guanajuato?
Tim: Really it doesn’t matter a whole lot. There is a rainy season in the summer time so maybe from late June to mid September there is a pretty good chance you get rain but it is not like it is raining all day every day. You will just get some thunderstorms in the afternoon or there will be a rain for a couple of hours then it will go away. Usually the sun comes out eventually during the day so it is still not real gloomy but it is wetter that time of year. The rest of the year it is pretty nice. It just gets a little chillier at night, like I said, at this time of year, and you might need a jacket. That is about as far as it goes in terms of having to warm up.
Chris: Excellent. And if we wanted to suggest a one week itinerary, say one to two week itinerary for seeing the area, where would you start us and what would we see first?
Tim: Well, I think what the best bet would be to go from the airport to Guanajuato city and this is an interesting place just to wander and check things out. The houses go up the sides of the hills, are colorful, and lots of pedestrian only streets and alleyways. There are really only two streets that go through the city that cars that buses go on, the rest of them go through these tunnels that have been dug under the mountains. Most of the center is pedestrian only so it is a great place to stroll around and it feels very European. There are some museums here and some sights to see. Diego Rivera was born here so his house is a museum, he was the famous Mexican muralist, that was with Frida and is on the 500 peso note so you will see him there.
Chris: Well, and if you have come from Mexico City and been to the palace you have seen his murals all over the place.
Tim: Yes, there is not much of his work here, actually, except for things you would hang on a wall. There aren’t murals of his here because most of those are in Mexico City. So this is a good place to stay for two, three, four days, nice things to see and it is just a good place to wander.
Chris: But hang on before you head out of town. You said there were some museums to see and you mentioned one so are there some other ones that we should see before we leave Guanajuato?
Tim: Sure, the Alhondiga here which is the big granary building dating back to colonial times. That is where the first battle took place actually. The Spanish were holed up in there and the rebels broke through and routed them and they got off to a good start and of course 11 years after that before it actually became a free country. The originals got beheaded and actually their heads were hung on the four corners of that building. There are still plaques up there and hooks showing where their heads were. So they all came to a Grizzly end. The Spanish were not real nice people when they caught the ones that had rebelled. So that a famous building here and there is a museum inside and there are some murals in there by other artists that are really interesting.
Then there is city pueblo museum that has different rotating exhibits and they have all of those little miniatures which the kids always liked because it has got all the miniature scenes made out of clay and some of them you have to look through a magnifying glass to see. There is a contemporary art museum and a few other galleries and museums around. The one oddity here is there is this big connection here to Don Quixote and Cervantes just because they were big fans way back when and have remained big fans. So they is a Don Quixote museum here where they have images from his book and images of him through different artists’ eyes. So there is a Picaso, Dali, and a lot of other Mexican artists. That is kind of interesting as well. There is actually a big festival here once a year that is the biggest music festival in the Americas and it is three weeks long and it is called the Cervantino Festival and it is named in honor of Cervantes.
Chris: But does it play just music about Don Quixote?
Tim: No, not just Spanish music. It is music from around the world and dancers and all kinds of interesting things.
Chris: When is that festival?
Tim: That is in October every year for three weeks. You want to go, book your accommodation early but that is the only thing you really have to worry about. You can just go out and check out all of the shows from there.
Chris: If I wanted to come to Guanajuato and connect with everyday life and culture what would be the best way to do that in this city?
Tim: Well, this is a very open air kind of place because the weather is nice every day. There are lots of plazas where you can just sit on a bench but there are also lots of plazas with restaurants building out and some of them actually don’t have that much indoor space. It is almost all outdoors and just tables out under umbrellas and under the trees. One thing that kind of drew me to this place is that it is a very Mexican city. There are a lot of foreigners here are just kind of passing through and taking Spanish classes and things like that, but I think there is probably only about 300 expatriots here at the most. So it feels very Mexican and most of the people you’ll see at those restaurants and bars are either Mexican tourists or locals. So it does feel very authentic in that sense. There are a few local markets here that are always fun to wander through and some of them have places to eat in them, get a juice, or dessert.
Chris: Do you have a recommended plaza/restaurant/market we should check out?
Tim: Not any particular restaurants because unfortunately this is not much of a foodie city. There are some good restaurants but they are typically just the basic ones in the plaza. There is one called Casa Valadez that is right on the main garden that is a good restaurant that I would recommend. But this is kind of a strange city in the sense there is not one big plaza that is a big square then everything emanates from their. It is a very curvy city so it doesn’t follow the usual Spanish colonial layout. So the main plaza here is actually a triangle and then there are a few others that are just odd shapes as you go through town.
There is a whole bunch of them some are just kind of little pocket parks and then some are larger with five or six restaurants. Wander through those, there is usually mariachi music playing or some kind of trio playing music. It feels very Mexican and one other big draw here in comparison to San Miguel, which we will talk about later, is prices here are set for Mexicans they are not geared for the foreigners. So a lot of times when you go to Mexican resort areas especially it doesn’t feel like it is that much of a bargain because everything is priced for tourists, whereas here you really feel like you are getting the leverage of being in a cheaper country.
Chris: While we are in a Mexican restaurant is there anything particularly regional we should order?
Tim: Not particularly here, it is kinda funny, their signature dish here is very low end dish called enchiladas manaras for the miners because this was a big silver mining city. So it is basically cheese enchiladas with potatoes and carrots on top so it is not anything too exciting. It is filling and it is relatively good for you I guess but it is not a very exciting dish. I actually do street food tours here, not because it is a great money making business but it is just fun for me to take people out and show them the city.
We go to a lot of food carts and eat tamales and gorditas, which are these stuffed corn patty things, and get fresh squeezed juice which is always great because it is about a dollar, dollar and a quarter, to get a 16 or 20 ounce fresh pineapple or orange juice that was made in front of you. Or you can be healthy and get beets or carrots or greens put in there and they will basically make up whatever you want if you are trying to get a high energy fruit shake in the morning.
Chris: Excellent. This seems like a good place to take a break and talk about our sponsor, who is DK Eyewitness Travel Guides. If you have been listening to this show the last couple months you know they are my favorite travel guide. I do happen to have the Mexico guide in my collection so I opened up to the colonial heartland of Mexico which is where you will find the state of Guanajuato. They have for both Guanajuato and San Miguel de Allende’s street by street maps of the colonial center as well as a suggested walking tour on how to see those cities. They have a great two page colorful shot of San Miguel de Allende.
One of the things I like about the guides is that the pictures catch my eyes and one of the things I don’t think we talked about is the city nearby of Paricutin and the volcano. What caught my eye was a picture of a church half buried by the solidified lava of one of the world’s newest volcanoes. So check them out, DK Eyewitness Travel Guides at DK.com. I am curious if any of you like me or fans of the series, can anybody beat 20 DK Eyewitness Travel guides? Let me know in the comments of the show. Anything else we should see in Guanajuato before we move on?
Tim: There is a neat funicular that goes up to a lookout point so I would definitely recommend that. You can ride up the side of the mountain and then have a great view of the city. Any time of day it is really beautiful. You can also have a drink up there if you want and order a beer or a michilada which is like a beer/bloody mary which people either love or hate.
Chris: That sounds awful to me but I don’t even like beer.
Tim: Those are pretty much the highlights and check out the indoor market here, Hidalgo Market which is just an interesting place to wander around. That is pretty much it. There are not a lot of excursions outside of town except there are haciendas you can go see and give you a sense of how people used to live in the grand silver mining times.
Chris: Excellent. So then where to next?
Tim: So then I would head on to San Miguel de Allende which is an hour and a half away. I just want to mention another place real quickly because it is kind of in between the two, it’s kind of a triangle. The Delora Sedago is actually where all these rebels started out marching. That was where the big yell where the priests rounded up the troops and they walked to San Miguel de Allende and rounded up more people and then walked onto Guanajuato. The reason you would go there is it is kind of a day trip place. You wouldn’t spend the night there usually but it is a big pottery center for Talavera pottery so it is a good place if you want to go buy anything for your house. Some people even take back a whole Talavera sink or take back tile to do their kitchen, put in accents, and things like that. It is known for that and it is also known for these ice cream carts that serve all kind of crazy flavors of ice cream like shrimp, tequila or corn.
Chris: I have had corn ice cream, that is actually not too bad. I have not had shrimp.
Tim: Yeah, I have not had that either because that does not sound very appetizing.
Chris: I have had garlic, that is surprisingly good. So you never know.
Tim: That is kind of a side trip but most people would move on to San Miguel de Allende and spend the rest of the time there. You could do some little side trips and excursions from there but that is a great place to just stroll and eat well and go shopping. That is what it mostly boils down to.
Chris: Okay. In terms of stroll where should we stroll? Any particular neighborhoods or plazas around?
Tim: Yeah, that one is set up like a typical Spanish colonial city so there is one big main plaza that is the heart of everything. The big draw there is that there is a beautiful big church that the legend goes to say that the architect had never left Mexico but he saw these beautiful European churches on stamps from Europe and he modeled this church after the great European cathedrals so it looks very European and very grand and that is the center of the plaza. The plaza there is blocked off to traffic, which is always nice. You can walk around and you don’t have to dodge any cars. Then going off from there there are all kinds of streets filled with boutiques and jewelry shops and good restaurants and bars and you can speak English there for better or for worse because it is a very Americanized city. So if you don’t speak much Spanish this a a great place to be able to ask for whatever you want and be understood.
Chris: So we go to Guanajuato if we want to prove our Spanish and go to San Miguel is we want to go to enjoy Mexico and not really work on our Spanish.
Tim: Exactly. It is a very artistic city. The way it became such an expat center is that a lot of artists moved there an opened these workshops and galleries back in the ’30s, ’40s, and ’50s. It was a very Bohemian place that was sort of undiscovered.
Chris: All types of art? Or painters, potters, or etc?
Tim: Painters, sculptors, and potters but more painting than anything else. Then over the years that attracted more and more people and as the path usually goes the artists come first then the gentrification starts as the money comes in.
Chris: Then the artists move out because they can’t afford it anymore.
Tim: Yeah they move to the edge somewhere. There are actually a lot of artists there and it is still a very artistic city. If you are interested in that kind of thing there are lots of classes around where you can take painting classes or pottery classes and stuff with people who are quite talented. It has also become very much a literary magnet, there is a big book festival each yeah that draws a lot of big name others and people that everybody has heard of like best sellers.
Chris: So authors in English then?
Tim: Yeah, the whole conference is in English. I guess there is probably a little bit off to the side that’s in Spanish but it is mostly in English and it is geared to people writing in English. That is in February each year, so it is coming up here pretty soon. It is a big event and it is probably one of the biggest one in English in this part of the world for sure. It is usually with workshops and lunches and breakout sessions and that kind of thing. They are different levels depending on how serious you are and how much you want to go to. That is a big draw and there is actually a big English library there which is kind of an odd thing too find usually in a Spanish speaking country, it is pretty huge. One whole section is dedicated to people who reside in San Miguel de Allende and are authors and it is shelves and shelves. So there are a lot of them who have settled there as well.
Then there is an area outside of town that used to be a textile factory that they turned into a gallery space and there are probably 40 or 50 different art galleries there which kind of goes to show what wealth it there in terms of artists.
Chris: You often mention excursions. Are there places that are typically excursions from San Miguel de Allende?
Tim: Yeah, there is a pyramid outside of town, actually, that is quite impressive. I mean not on the level of Chichen Itza, or Uxmal or Palenque, a place like that but still an important and interesting place to visit. That is an interesting excursion to go on because it is one of those cosmic places where everything lines up during the solstice and actually all the planets line up at one point and how they knew all that who knows. It’s always kind of fun to go and see that history and get a good explanation of it all. It is in a beautiful setting out on the country side where there is nothing else around. So that is always kind of nice. It is not crammed in next to a lot of stuff, there is no vendors, it is just a really quiet peaceful place to go visit.
Chris: And which of the native peoples lived there originally that built the pyramid?
Tim: Well, that is kind of up for discussion actually.
Chris: So it is like Teotihuacan where they really aren’t sure.
Tim: Yeah, it is one of those things too where it is kind of a mongrel, building edifice, where a few different tribes added on different parts. There is kind of some argument about who it was exactly and whether they were there originally or whether they came in later. There was some influence from the people who were in Teotihuacan, there was definitely some influence from there. But it was a different collection of tribes, I think, if you ask the archaeologists who worked on it. It is definitely part of mesoamerica and apparently it influenced a changing of the map. They didn’t think mesoamerica extended to this area but it definitely did. They have redone the map a little bit in regards to that area.
So that is definitely worth going to and then in that same area there is a beautiful canyon where you can take horseback ride excursions. Coyote Canyon Adventures is the company there that leads excursions out to that area and it is just a beautiful area. You can also do rappelling and things like that if you really want to get more hardcore and do some serious adventure. The most popular thing to do is to take a horse ride through there. Once again there is nobody else around and it is just really quiet and peaceful area. Very close to the city, it is only 20 to 25 minutes away so it is not very far at all. They combine it where you get this ranchero breakfast before you set off with the local farming family there then you go ride through the canyon on your horses and you have lunch out there and it is really just a peaceful and beautiful place. I would highly recommend that.
Tim: There are a few other things you could do. You could do a hot air balloon ride, go do some mountain biking, or do some excursions that are hikes. You can ride for four or five days on a horse too, I should mention that same company will do longer excursions for people who are wanting to really go explore the country side.
Chris: What’s going to surprise me about Guanajuato?
Tim: What would surprise you for this city is how strange it is compared to the rest of Mexico in terms of the layout like I was talking about and how little traffic you have to contend with. Because a lot of Mexico is really noisy and congested and can be kind of chaotic whereas here it doesn’t really feel that way at all. And even San Miguel there is a lot of traffic but it feels calmer. It’s still noisy don’t get me wrong, Mexicans have a super high tolerance for noise and it is kind of mind boggling sometimes. You’ll hear these fireworks that sound like cannons going off at 5 or 6 in the morning.
The archaeologists that took us to that pyramid said that it is a practice that dates back to the Mayan times where they used to wake up the Sun God by being really noisy right before dawn. So I think it has carried through a couple thousand years to the current times and it amazes me you will hear three or four competing stereos going at once and a mariachi band on top of it. They are not even phased by that, they just kind of tune it out where it drives us crazy, but if you have grown up with that you’re used to it, I guess.
Chris: When I look at the guidebooks for the region, one of which apparently was on my nightstand, what do they recommend would you say is not worth the time?
Tim: There is not really some major huge site here like St. Mark’s Square or The Colosseum or something like that where everybody says you have to go there. So I don’t think there as many let downs in that sense. I do think tourism boards everywhere, the state tourism board will tell you there are lots of other places to go in the states. “Please go to Salamanca or Irapuato or Leon City,” but honestly they are not really worth going to. Even the Mexicans will tell you that. They will say it is where they grew up but there is nothing to see there. They are very honest about that because they are sort of industrial cities. This is a fairly prosperous state because there are a lot of car factories like Nissan, Chevrolet, GM, and Siemens has a plant here and Pirelli Tires and a lot of companies like that.
Which is great for job creation and it is great for expansion of the middle class and all of that, but you are not going to go to a city because they have a great industrial base. That is not really that exciting. One thing I would mention real quick though is the city of Leon, which is where the airport is close to, is the shoe capital of Mexico and it’s where there are probably 50 or 60 shoe factories. What is funny about that is they don’t all get exported, a lot of them stay in Mexico and they have these malls in Leon that are nothing but shoe stores. So if you are a person who’s really into shoes the it would probably be worth the little excursion up to Leon.
Chris: I hear the sound of some people booking a trip right now, but not me.
Tim: No, it is not my thing.
Chris: I’m a one pair of shoes a year kinda guy.
Tim: It is quite an amazing thing if you are into shoes. I mean you could shop for 8 hours straight and not go to the same store twice.
Chris: I think I have had nightmares like that with my daughter.
Tim: Yeah, and one of them is right across from the bus station so if you take a bus into Leon from Guanajuato you can walk out the door, walk across the street, and there is this covered area that is probably at least 1,000 shoe stores. It is quite a lot and you will never get through them all.
Chris: Interesting, and you were saying you wouldn’t take a trip to someplace industrial. You are actually talking to somebody who did not one but two different tours of auto assembly plants last year. One in Detroit and one of the Corvette plant in Kentucky so apparently I might.
Tim: Yeah, well I am sure you could set that up and do a whole tour here. There are five different car companies that have factories around here if you are somebody who is into that. Here is another funny side note. Cars are about 30 or 40 percent more expensive here and I can’t for the life of me figure out why because most of them they are shipping up to the US and selling for much cheaper so I don’t get it. Maybe it’s a disincentive, they don’t want people to drive so many cars on the roads.
Chris: Interesting, what is a warning you would give?
Tim: There is not a lot of crime here. This is one of those states where is says nothing to report on the US State Department warning thing. But like anywhere there is some, you have to be careful. Most of the things I hear happening to people are they are wandering around drunk at 2 in the morning and they get mugged or they end up in a bad neighborhood and it looks pretty dicey and they get scared because there is some graffiti on the walls and some gangster looking guy standing around. But in a general it’s quite a safe place. This is not like going to Rome or Lisbon where you might get pick-pocketed, and there’s a very good chance of it. That’s not really in the culture here, even in Mexico City, unless you are in a really bad marketplace. You are probably not going to run into any pickpockets. You can feel relatively safe about that, you don’t have to worry much about being robbed at an ATM or anything like that.
Then as far as food and drink goes, it is not nearly as dicey as it used to be in terms of getting sick from the food or the water. You still can’t drink the water out of tap but you can be drinking bottled water or carry a purifier or whatever. Almost every place you would eat uses those five gallon purified water containers and they are careful about washing their dishes and washing their vegetables in iodine solution. It is not like you are going to get tap water mixed into your fruit shake or something. They are not just careful for tourists, they are careful for everybody because nobody drinks the tap water. So you pretty much don’t have to worry too much about that, you can eat street food as long as the place is busy. The one caveat is people say not to eat strawberries off the street because they need to be washed first and preferably with water with bleach or iodine in it.
Just because they are too close to the ground and you don’t know what they are fertilized with. This is not an uncommon developing world thing, but sometimes farms will fertilize with manure and it is just not a safe thing to eat that right off the street. Otherwise most of the fruit is already peeled and chopped up when you would buy it on the street so that is usually how people eat.
Chris: As we start to wrap this up is there anything else we should know about going to Guanajuato, the whole state of Guanajuato before I get to my last four questions?
Tim: Here is a little tip for you. If you come into the airport there are two exchange booths. Go past the first one because they will have the worst rate you will find anywhere and go to the second one which charges a normal rate. But really the best advice these days is use the ATM and you will get charged a couple dollars but the exchange rate will be much better and it is easy and safe from the ATMs everywhere. Depending on what bank you use some of them have agreements with banks in Mexico where for example I think with Citibank you can use Santander here and you won’t get charged. The best bet is if you have some credit union or brokerage firm, or something like that, ATM, where you don’t get charged anything or get reimbursed. You are not going to get hit too badly hear so just plan on using the ATM.
Chris: Excellent. You are standing on the prettiest spot of the whole state of Guanajuato, where are you standing and what are you looking at?
Tim: Wow, that is a tough one. I would say probably from that lookout point I was talking about there is a big statue of El Pipila who was a big hero during the Revolution. There is a terrific panoramic view up there so if you search online for Guanajuato you will probably see that image a lot.
Chris: This is up there where I am having my beer bloody Mary?
Tim: Yes, so that is probably the most Instagrammed shot of Guanajuato so that would be the best one for here. Then with San Miguel de Allende probably on the square looking up at the grand church there would probably be one you see a lot. Also, there are so many great street scapes there that almost anywhere you walk and just take a picture. I said to my wife, the very first time I came here I said I think this is where we want to live. I told her this 24 hours after I got here so she said, “You’re crazy. You just got there what are you talking about?” It is almost impossible to take a bad photo here, you just walk around and if you can’t get a good photo here you should just stop and not ever be a photographer.
Chris: Just buy postcards.
Tim: Yeah, it is pretty tough. Either of these cities, it is just really beautiful and easy to get great shots. So those would probably be the two main places, but you can wander off in any direction and really get some nice photos.
Chris: Excellent. So you are now a resident of Guanajuato, of Mexico. When do you feel closest to home? When does it feel like this is just home now, and when does it feel like it is a different world?
Tim: Yeah, it’s funny. This feels more like home than when I go back to the US. I live in Tampa and that’s not where I grew up. It’s not where I spend any time. We just moved there because my mother-in-law lives there and it was nice to have some help with a child. The weather is nice there, it’s beautiful with nice beaches, but his feels like more than home than that does. I guess when it doesn’t feel like home is when people are speaking Spanish all around me really rapidly and I can’t understand very much of that conversation. My Spanish is just kind of middling and I can get by, but I work all day in English and it doesn’t help with that one bit. I have to leave the house before I use it.
That is when I definitely feel out of place and then when I go to some cultural event where everybody breaks into song and everybody knows the song and I have no idea what they are singing. That is when it is really obvious that I have not grown up here.
Chris: Excellent. And one thing that makes you laugh and say, “Only in Guanajuato, Mexico.”
Tim: There are a lot of cultural things that are true across Mexico, true across Latin America really, the sense of time is very fluid. So if somebody tells you their party is at 7, you really don’t want to show up before 8 because you will be the first one there. And if they say they’re going to come by around 3 then you shouldn’t get too antsy about it for at least an hour. So that is common thing across the culture. But I think what’s unique here is this is oddly kind of a very conservative part of Mexico in terms of it being quite religious. There are churches everywhere and every single neighborhood has a saint day which is a weird thing that I’ve never gotten used to. Every neighborhood has its own patron saint and so once a year they will have a huge celebration on whatever day is that saint’s day.
There will be this odd little dance they do with the kids where they put on different outfits where one of them is a bull, one of them is a devil, and one is a floozy, and one of them is a cowboy. And they do a rehearsed dance with little flute music playing and they crack a whip. Then there is a mass and they parade the saint through the streets. Then most of the streets here are pedestrian only. There are alleys that go up the street and up the steps so you will just be hearing this noise and you go, “Oh, okay, it must be whatever neighborhood’s saint day.” There seems to be one every week of the year so I guess there is at least 52 neighborhoods around. That is one thing that seems to be kind of unique to here just because it is such a tradition that happens in every neighborhood.
Chris: Interesting. Last two questions, finish this sentence: You really know you’re in the state of Guanajuato, Mexico when what?
Tim: When you see images in streets that have Miguel Hidalgo’s name on them because he is their George Washington, I guess you would say. Everywhere you go there is a street named after him, there’s a burger place named after him, and a taco stand named after him. You see statues of him, and you see his face everywhere so if you haven’t figured out who he is by the end of the week you are not paying attention.
Chris: Excellent. And if you had to summarize Guanajuato in three words, what three words would you give me?
Tim: Good for pedestrians. Lots of history would be three words too, but I think what sets it apart is that it is a good walking city.
Chris: Excellent. Where can people read more about your travels?
Tim: They can catch me on perceptivetravel.com. That’s where I’m editor, and I’m only doing some of the content there. I’m editing the rest. That is narrative stories from book authors. That comes out once a month and there is a blog attached. Then My own blog is the Cheapest Destinations blog, that is cheapestdestinationsblog.com.
Chris: And the book of the same name for that one, which is in its 4th edition? Do I have that right?
Tim: Yes, in it’s 4th edition. The World’s Cheapest Destinations and it’s subtitled 21 Countries Where Your Travel Money is Worth a Fortune. So where you can get the best values in the world.
Chris: What is the newest country you added onto that list this year? I don’t remember.
Tim: I added Slovakia in and took out Argentina, but what is funny is that Argentina will probably go back in the next one because there is a big financial crisis going on there again. It seems to happen every decade. So now if you go in with dollars things are really, really inexpensive.
Chris: Good to know. I am actually heading there in just a little over a month.
Tim: Excellent. Take a briefcase of cash, though, because you will not get the same rate from the ATM. There is a blue market because that sounds better than black market, but if you change actual dollars you’ll get a better rate.
Chris: Good to know. Our guest again has been Tim Leffel. Thanks so much for coming on and sharing with us your obvious love for Mexico and specifically for Guanajuato.
Tim: Thanks for having me. It was great to be on the Amateur Traveler.
Chris: In news from the community I heard from Jordan about last week’s episode on Delaware. He says “Hi, Chris, I just listened to your episode on Delaware and I have just a few things to add to southern Delaware since I have been going to Dewey Beach every summer since I was 11 days old. First, from north to south, it goes: Rehoboth, Dewey, Bethany, the bike ride from Dewey to Rehoboth is lovely using 1A. Past Silver Lake there are lots of places to rent bikes in downtown Rehoboth and before 10 a.m. between memorial day and labor day you can bike down to the boardwalk and then to Dewey. I think the beaches in Dewey are the best but I am biased because they are rarely crowded and have the best people watching. Bethany is much more a family town and if I had young kids I think that would be the best place.
As far as places to eat in Rehoboth, Royal Treat is definitely the best place for breakfast and ice cream but they don’t any lunch or dinner. Jake’s is the choice for seafood but be sure to have a reservation. Rehoboth also has a big LGBTQ scene and there is a large part of the beach to the south where everybody congregates during the day. In Dewey it is much more focused on nightlife, but the best restaurant for breakfast is Sharky’s, great hangover food, and best place for lunch and dinner is probably Nalu, a Hawaiian themed restaurant, or maybe Que Pasa which is Mexican and right on the bay. The best bars are Starboard, it is very obvious and has a great white shark breaking out of it, The Bottle and Cork, the self-titled greatest rock and roll bar in the world, North Beach, which is right on the bay, and the Rusty Rutter.
I don’t go to Bethany much but I do know a great place to go is a barbecue restaurant called Bethany Blues. Just one more thing, the inland bays and LSDs, Lower Slower Delaware, are great for water sports of every kind. The Rehoboth Bay Sailing Association just south of Dewey has sailboat rentals and lessons. There is also a sailboat rental place just north of Bethany called Coastal Kayak. I didn’t really intend to write that much but I thought I had to be included in what I assume will be the only episode on Delaware. Thanks for your great podcast. I can’t wait to see where you take us next. Jordan.” Thanks, Jordan for giving us those details. I put Jordan’s comment on the episode, travel to Delaware, so you can find that episode and find his great suggestions as well.
With that, we are going to end this episode of the Amateur Traveler. If you have any questions feel free to send an e-mail to the host at AmateurTraveler.com or better yet leave a comment on this episode at AmateurTraveler.com. Don’t forget to rate the podcast it helps people find us and you can find me on Twitter @Chris2x and as always, thanks so much for listening.
Transcription sponsored by JayWay Travel, specialists in Central & Eastern Europe custom tours.