This is the first draft of the Guanajuato Travel Guide, which covers some basic survival information. This document will be improved and expanded daily until complete.
These three articles provide basic safety information for Guanajuato visitors. These articles written for the Guanajuato Travel Guide have also been published on other web sites (they are copyrighted by the Guanajuato Travel Guide.)
Part 1: Before You Go.
Part 2: Traveling Into and Around Mexico.
Part 3: Visiting Small Towns like Guanajuato.
Driving and parking: Guanajuato has only four major streets above ground, and an extensive network of confusing underground tunnels. Both the streets and tunnels meander and criss-cross in varios directions; it's very easy to get disoriented. Street parking, either above- or under-ground, is very scarce. There are several public parking garages, but they are generally expensive, charging about 10 pesos per hour; there are no daily or weekly discounts. We do NOT recommend having a vehicle in Guanajuato.
Walking: Guanajuato is a walking town, built in the valleys and on the sides of canyons. The main streets are in the valleys and are the commercial zone of the center; 99% of the houses are in alleyways on the sides of canyons. Most of these alleyways are steep; some are very steep. It's common to encounter dozens or even hundreds of steps to arrive at the destination shop or house. Guanajuato can be a challenging walking environment for the normal visitor - it is painfully difficult for people with walking disabilities.
Night-time walking: Most of Guanajuato's alleyways have streetlights, but the light bulbs are often missing or burned-out. It's a good idea to carry a small flashlight to walk around at night; the stone walkways are often uneven and there may be holes in the surface.
Getting into Town
From the airport - there is no bus service from the airport, but the airport provides a safe, registered taxi service to Guanajuato. You buy your tickets at the booth as you exit the customs area; the cost is fixed, around 400 pesos (about USD$40.00). Unfortunately, the airport taxi drivers are not knowlegable about the Guanajuato streets and tunnels, even less so about the alleyways, and they expect you to tell them how to get to your destination. When you arrive at the designated street corner in Guanajuato, the taxis simply unload your luggage and leave. It's up to you to proceed from there.
From the inter-city bus station - there is very good local bus service (about every 15 minutes) from the inter-city bus station until around 9:00 PM. Look for the buses that say "Centro" on the front. The cost is about 6 pesos. The ride is 20-40 minutes, depending on the route taken. Ask the driver or assistant to tell you when to get-off, otherwise you won't know since there is no signage at the bus stops. Most of the bus stops in the center are underground in the tunnels. See below for detailed directions.
You can also take taxis from the inter-city bus station, day or night. The taxischarge 30 - 35 pesos until 10:00 PM; 40-50 pesos after 10:00 PM. The ride is 20-25 minutes. See below for detailed directions.
By car - driving and parking a personal car in Guanajuato is usually a frustrating experience and is not recommended. Free parking in the streets or tunnels is very scarce and paid parking is expensive. The signage in the tunnels is inadequate and it's easy to get lost. See below for detailed directions.
Public parking -
Getting Around Town
Taxis - taxis circulate continuously throughout the historic center of Guanajuato, including the Presa and Alhóndiga areas. Current fares are $25 Pesos within the town and $30-$35 Pesos to the edges of town. At 7:00 A.M. and 3:00 P.M., the drivers change shifts, so it seems that all the taxis disappear from the streets for about 30-45 minutes; try to avoid these times if you're in a hurry.
Local bus routes - the bus system is a little crazy at first glance, but there is method in the madness. Buses are not numbered nor otherwise uniformly marked by their route - their destinations are usually marked with white glass paint on the front windshield. Often the paint is faded or half-erased. If you have any question about whether the bus is going to your destination, always ask! Since there are just a few streets in Guanajuato, there are just a few basic routes, and a few major bus stops.
Coming into town from the west - Buses coming from the west (Silao, Marfil and the intercity bus station (Central de Camiones) into the center have four routes:
The bus stops along this west to east axis are:
The central bus stop is in front of the main market (Mercado Hidalgo,) about 1/2 block to the west of the market entrance.
IDs and Visas - It's a good idea to make photocopies of your passports, visas, drivers license, credit cards and other important IDs and documents that you'll bring on the trip. Leave one complete set of copies back home with relatives or friends. Bring one complete set with you, and one additional copy of your passport and visa. When you arrive in Guanajuato, leave the complete set in a secure location, such as your room or hotel safe. Also leave your passport, visas, other IDs, extra credit cards and cash in the secure location. The vacation rental houses and apartments provides small safes for this purpose. Carry a copy of your passport and visa with you. You should now be able to recover from any loss or theft of these important items.
Personal Safety - The historic center of Guanajuato has very little crime; we hear occasionally of a pickpocket or camera-snatching. The normal prudent care of your day bags, cameras, laptops, etc. as you would do in any unfamiliar city should suffice here. Of course, you should avoid wearing flashy, valuable jewelry. Guanajuato has several neighborhoods that should be avoided at night - none of these neighborhoods are in the historic center or in an area that a traveller would normally visit. These neighborhoods are: El Carrizo, El Cerro de Leones; El Cerro de Cuarto, and El Cerro del Encino.
ATMs - All the banks in Guanajuato have exterior ATM machines that are connected to the international network, with menus in Spanish and English. Exercise the same care in Guanajuato as you would in your own town: make withdrawals during banking hours; don't ask for or accept help from strangers at the ATMs; make sure no-one is watching you enter your PIN. We have not heard of robberies at the ATMs here, and you don't want to be the first!
Interaction with Mexicans
Spanish vs. English - If you don't speak at least basic Spanish, your interactions with Mexicans will necessarily be limited to the few English-speaking people in the mainstream tourist industry. The tourist industry not only has sanitized your "Mexico" experience to remove the rough edges (where all the interesting stuff is), but also repackages "Mexico" to fit the incorrect stereotypes that tourists bring with them from abroad. In short, without basic Spanish, you won't see authentic Guanajuato. So, take some classes, and enrich your life.
Social lubrication - Mexican society is more social and courteous, at least at the superficial conversational level, than American society. Greetings are more common, and more effusive and elaborate. Many Mexicans consider Americans, Canadians, and northern Europeans to be cold and uncouth because they don't use these basic social lubricants. Here are the basics:
Personal space and awareness of surroundings - Compared to Americans, Mexicans have a smaller sense of personal space, and a greatly reduced awareness of what's around them. When walking, Mexicans are seemingly oblivious to the people moving around them and therefore act as if the entire common space (sidewalk, passageway, roadway, etc.) is there for their exclusive use. Of course, this produces chaotic results when all the exclusive users collide in the common space every few moments. I can't think of any reasonable way to avoid this chaos - just get used to it.
Understanding time - ... Sorry, under construction!
Beggars - ... Sorry, under construction!
Waiters and tipping - ... Sorry, under construction!
The Goldren Rule - ... Sorry, under construction!
Emergency services - If you become ill or injured in the center of town, don't wait until your situation deteriorates before seeking attention - you may have to make your own way to a doctor or hospital. Keep in mind that most of Guanajuato is walking alleyways where car and ambulances cannot pass. Since the few streets are single-lane, emergency vehicles move at the same speed as the normally congested traffic. In La Plaza de la Paz, in front of the Basílica, is a small hospital/clinic for emergencies and walk-in services. You can also make advance appointments to see a doctor, and to have lab work.
Doctors - ... Sorry, under construction!
Dentists - ... Sorry, under construction!
Pharmacies - There are multiple pharmacies scattered throughout town, it seems every 3-4 blocks in the center. ... Sorry, under construction!
Where and What to Eat
Water - Guanajuato has treated water but the age and condition of the water system makes the water unreliable for drinking without further safeguards, such as filtering, boiling or disinfectant drops. You should also use purified water for brushing teeth and making ice. The vacation rental houses and apartments do provide filtered water.
Street food - In general, you should avoid eating at any of the street-side kiosks. The quality of the food ingredients and the cleanliness of the preparation varies from very poor to just adequate. Even though the food may look and smell great, the lack of running water for basic hygiene makes street food very risky.
Fruits and Vegatables - If you prepare your own food, you should disinfect all fruits and vegetables, especially lettuce and leafy vegetables and any vegetable or fruit grown close to the ground. Disenfectant drops are readily available at the Comercial Mexicana and many small stores. Disenfectant drops are provided in the vacation rental houses and apartments .
Restaurants - Use common sense in choosing a restaurant - if the rooms and tables are clean and the waiters are neat and professional in their service, it's more likely that the food preparation will be hygenic as well.
Heat and air conditioning - Guanajuato houses have neither heaters nor air-conditioning units, as the weather is moderate and they have been rarely needed. Likely a symptom of recent global climate changes, the fall and winter months of November through March have been much cooler in the last 2-3 years. The thick walls of the houses in the center of town conserve the cold throughout the day, although the outside temperatures on sunny days are very pleasant. In the months of December through February, you will need warmer clothes to wear indoors. Due to the high altitude of the city, the air is very dry during the winter; you will want to bring skin creams.
Mosquito protection - In the late afternoons, around 5:00-6:00 PM or when the temperatures begin cooling, you should close all the doors and windows to keep out mosquitoes. If you have mosquitoes in your bedroom at night and you're unable to catch them, you should use the small repellent appliances with the disposable pads. These are very effective at repressing mosquitoes. The repellent appliances should be plugged-in where they are not close to your face, nor close to anything flammable. These repellent appliances are available in the super market for $30 to $40 Pesos. They are provided in the vacation rental houses and apartments.
Public Bathrooms - Many of Guanajuato's entrances to the tunnels have public bathrooms, and there are a few others scattered about. The current cost is three pesos and none are very hygenic. Here is the list:
Noise - Mexicans are very noisy folk, and tolerate more noise than most visitors are used to. From roof dogs barking day and night, to car horns, to screaming in the streets, to artillery-sized fireworks, there is very little you can do to avoid the noise. If you are sensitive to noise, bring comfortable ear-plugs or -baffles for sleeping.