Falling in Love With Guanajuato, Mexico

WRITTEN BY: MEGAN KOPP

It was love at first sight as the taxi emerged from the maze of underground tunnels which spilled out onto the streets of Guanajuato, Mexico.

In the twilight glow, the colours softened to warm buttery yellows, burnt oranges and tranquil blues. This is what we came to see.

A Gilded Beauty

UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1988, Guanajuato has an outstanding collection of Baroque and neoclassical buildings that date back to the 17th century. Founded in the early 16th century, Guanajuato became the world leader in silver production in the 18th century.

At first light the next morning we started walking, up and down the impossibly narrow and infinitely charming maze of streets, stopping at every turn for yet another photograph. Eventually, we ended up in the heart of the city, staring in awe at the Templo de San Diego.

Basilica of Our Lady of Guanajuato - front view. (Photo: B. Kopp)
Templo de San Diego – front view. (Photo: Brad Kopp)

Templo de San Diego

Built between 1671 and 1696, this imposing Baroque monument is shaped like a Latin cross. A large sacristry was added on the hill side of the sprawling building. The right hand bell tower, added in the 18th century, is in the Mexican Churrigueresque style.

For a bird’s eye view of the church and an overview of the city, we take the footpath that begins near the funicular at the back of the church. Even in bright midday sun, the scene is a kaleidoscope of colours and shapes. What’s not to love about this colourful colonial city?

Basilica of Our Lady of Guanajuato - top view. (Photo: B. Kopp)
Templo de San Diego – top view. (Photo: B. Kopp)

If You Go:

We stayed at El Meson de los Poetas which, like most buildings in town, is built on a narrow lot that snakes up the hillside. We recommend the Octavio Paz suite for the views, however if you don’t like stairs, avoid rooms numbered in the 400s!

The bus ride from Guadalajara to Guanajuato takes about 4 hours.

For further information about Guanajuato, visit the Mexican Tourist Board website.

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First Time Visit to Guadalajara, Mexico

WRITTEN BY: MEGAN KOPP

Disclosure: This post contains Affiliate Links.

“Are you sure it’s safe?”

That’s the first question people asked us when we said we were heading through Guadalajara. We were travelling by bus from Mexico’s Pacific Coast.

There are no guarantees of safety on any trip. While that may be true, we felt completely comfortable stepping out on foot on our arrival late afternoon to explore. Guadalajara is Mexico’s second largest city. However, its historical center is easily explored on foot.

Time for a Historical Walkabout

From our hotel room, we headed north for one block on Avenida Ramón Colon. Turning west on Calle Francisco I. Madero for one block and north for three blocks on Avenida 16 de Septiembre, we arrived at Plaza de Armas.

This welcoming plaza was remodelled in 1910 for Mexican Independence centennial celebrations. It frames a charming wrought-iron bandstand that was brought in from Paris.

An Orozco mural in the Palacio de Gobierno, showing Miguel Hidalgo signing for end of slavery and Benito Juarez signing for Mexico’s independence. (Photo: Brad Kopp)

The Palacio de Gobierno del Estado de Jalisco – government palace – lies on the eastern edge of the plaza. It is an impressive two-storey, Baroque-style structure. The building was completed in 1790. Peek inside for a glimpse of the murals painted by José Clemente Orozco.

On the northern edge of Plaza de Armas lies the imposing Catedral de Guadalajara. Construction of this massive cathedral was ordered by Philip of Spain. Building began in 1568.

Catedral de Guadalajara starting to glow as evening approaches. (Photo: Brad Kopp)

The cathedral wasn’t officially finished until 1618 – and even then construction was ongoing. The original towers were square. Damaged by an earthquake in 1818, they were taken down and replaced with the current Neo-Gothic towers in 1848. The brilliant yellow tower tiles come from Sayula, a small town south of Guadalajara.

Perfect Plazas and More!

Rotonda de los Jaliscienses Ilustres with Irene (Photo: Brad Kopp)

Plaza de la Rotonda lies to the north of the cathedral. This shaded green space is home to a monument built in 1951 to honour a select group of Jalisco artists, scientists, politicians and others notable figures. Rotonda de los Jaliscienses Ilustres was previously known as the Rotonda de Hombres Illustres de Jalisco (Rotunda of Illustrious Men of Jalisco). Because teacher and humanist Irene Obledo Garcia joined the group in 2000, the name changed.

Heading east we strolled through Plaza de la Liberación – Liberation Square – towards Teatro Degollado, seated at the far east end of the plaza. Construction began in 1856 on this Neoclassical theatre. The portico – or roofed structure supported by columns – includes a marble decorative wall surface over the entrance. The stone depicts Apollo and the nine muses.

The Teatro Degollado and its impressive tympanum (decorative marble surface) above the entrance. (Photo: Brad Kopp)

We walked behind the theatre along the Paseo Degollado. The tiny Plaza Fundadores includes a sculpture of Dona Beatriz Hernández de Sánchez Olea. She is one of the city’s heroines.  Dona Beatriz helped bring about the foundation of Guadalajara City in 1532.

Statue of Beatriz Hernández in Plaza Fundadores. (Photo: Brad Kopp)

Strolling down the paseo, we ended up at the art-strewn Plaza Tapatio and the Cabañas Cultural Institute.

The Cabañas Cultural Institute

Cabañas Cultural Institute (Photo: Brad Kopp)

This Neoclassical building was originally built as a charitable institute to house orphans, the elderly, the poor, and the sick. The building was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1997 and is now a museum and cultural center.

From here, we worked our way down the stair off the plaza to the market – another story of its own!

It may have been our first time visiting Guadalajara while on our way to Guanajuato – but it won’t be our last.

If You Go:

Hotel Morales was not only well-located for strolling historic sites, it was elegant and had efficient, friendly staff.


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Baja’s Cave Paintings: Cueva de las Flechas

WRITTEN BY: MEGAN KOPP

Deep in the heart of Arroyo de San Pablo lies – in our opinion – lies one of the most intriguing painted rock art panels in all of Baja’s Sierra de San Francisco’s UNESCO World Heritage Site.

View from Cueva Pintada across Arroyo de San Pablo to Cueva de las Flechas. (Photo: Megan Kopp)

While not as grand and copious in quantity as Cueva Pintada across the canyon, several of the images in Cueva de las Flechas (Cave of the Arrows) stand apart from those found elsewhere.

 

 

As the name suggests – Cave of the Arrows – there are numerous images of animals with arrows in their bodies.

The suggestion of movement is implied by painting two or more images in succession. Each subsequent image is painted at a slightly different angle to show progression.

Outlined rabbits and arrows – incomplete work or artist choice? (Photo: Brad Kopp)

These rabbits (conejos) demonstrate movement and are outlined but not painted. Was this done on purpose or are they incomplete images? Only the artist knows.

What really draws the eye in Cueva de las Flechas are the large monos (drawings of human figures). If you study them closely, unique details stand out.

Unique monos found in Cueva de las Flechas. (Photo: Brad Kopp)

The two figures on the left and centre (of the group of four) have tiny figures upside down on their shoulders. These tiny figures include animals such as deer (venado) and possibly a turtle (tortuga) as well as monos.

The headdresses on three of the large monos are also finely drawn and rare in the rock art found throughout the canyon.

The central figure and one on the right are impaled by arrows. The arrowheads drawn on the central mono are similar to obsidian (black, volcanic glass) points found in the area.

Hands are painted as if they are held high in surrender.

Rabbit figure at foot of mono. (Photo: Brad Kopp)

The black and red mono to left of centre has another distinct small rabbit painted at the foot. Is it a spirit animal or totem? The more you look, the more questions that arise. We laid back on the wooden walkway and let our minds wander.

While the exact meaning of this panel is unknown, it is thought that it could commemorate a battle and could indicate a territorial border between different tribes.

As well, in early hunter-gatherer societies such as this, shamans used the representation of death to symbolize a trance-induced supernatural journey.

Which do you choose to believe?

Read More: Baja’s Cave Paintings: An Overview and Baja’s Cave Painting: Cueva Pintada

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Baja’s Cave Paintings: Cueva Pintada

WRITTEN BY: MEGAN KOPP

Scrambling down small cliffs and hopping over boulders on our way to visit Cueva Pintada in Baja’s Sierra Nevada, our guide –  Mauricio Zuniga Arce – navigated the desert canyon nimbly in smooth-soled cowboy boots.

He carried nothing more than a water canteen, a machete, and a lariat.

Part of our guide’s kit for exploring cave paintings in Baja’s Sierra de San Francisco. (Photo: Megan Kopp)

Noteworthy: Our guide carried little during the day because it was our responsibility, on a self-arranged trip, to provide food. Good food – and lots of it – makes for a happy guide!

Packs on backs (loaded with food), hiking shoes on feet, we scrambled to keep up with Mauricio on the short slopes out of the verdant, palm tree lined, Arroyo de San Pablo.

We had one thought on our minds – besides making it unscathed – the great murals of Cueva Pintada.

Cueva Pintada

Cueva simple means cave in Spanish. Pintada means painted.

There are hundreds of painted rock shelters in Baja’s Sierra de San Francisco UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Cueva Pintada is one of the best.

This great mural is one of the most heavily painted in the most painted part of the canyon.

It’s a view that never gets old – even after more than 36 years of guiding. (Photo: Brad Kopp)

The approximately 150-metre (500 ft) long rocky recess of Cueva Pintada holds hundreds, perhaps even thousands, of overpainted images.

Although the cave is not deep, maybe 12 metres (40 ft) at most, it provided a multitude of well-protected surfaces for the ancient artists to work.

There are images of deer (in Spanish, venado), sheep (borrego), rabbits (conejo), men (hombres), and women (mujeres).

Marine species figure prominently in many panels. (Photo: Brad Kopp)

One of the largest figures in the cave is that of what is thought to be possibly a whale (ballena) or sea lion (león marino). There are also numerous images of fish (pescado). Notably, the ocean is hundreds of kilometres (more than 100 mi) away if you were to follow the drainage to the sea.

Superimposing one image on top of another, on top of yet another, was commonplace.

What the images really mean – and why they were painted in these locations – is up for interpretation.

Turkey vultures stand out clearly in this painted panel. (Photo: Brad Kopp)

In his book, The Cave Paintings of Baja California, Harry Crosby suggests that that act of painting was more valuable than preserving the visibility of each individual image.

We agree with Harry.

The muddled artwork we see today is as wildly confusing as it is thought-provoking and perfect.

Read more: Baja’s Cave Paintings: An Overview 
Next up: Cuevas de las Flechas

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Baja’s Cave Paintings: An Overview

WRITTEN BY: MEGAN KOPP

When friends suggested a mule-supported camping trip to explore the over 2000-year-old rock art in the isolated, sparsely populated region of Baja’s Sierra de San Francisco, we had just one question.

When?

We didn’t ask how long it would take to travel there.

We didn’t know the laughs hiring a Spanish-speaking guide would bring when forced to rely on our own limited Spanish language skills.

We didn’t think about the reality of being perched on a mule while descending a rocky, narrow path into the depths of a desert canyon.

We just knew that visiting this UNESCO World Heritage Site was going to be an adventure.

Rock Paintings of Sierra de San Francisco

In the neighbourhood of 400 painted rock shelters and caves can be found in the heart of Mexico’s Baja Peninsula.

They include recognizable images – or pictographs – of humans, animals such as mountain lions, bighorn sheep, whales, turtles, fish, and birds, bows and arrows, and countless abstract forms.

Long panels sometimes hold hundreds of pictographs, layered one on top of another.

The well-preserved paintings linger on cave walls and roofs, boldly expressed in red, yellow, black and white.

All of these elements illustrate the relationship of humans to their environment.

Images in Cueva Pintada (Painted Cave). Photo: Brad Kopp

Discovery

Before the arrival of the Spanish, this territory belonged to the Guachimis – also referred to as the Cochimi.

Little is known of the early hunter-gatherers who expressed their thoughts through art on these walls.

The existence of these paintings remained unknown to the outside world until a Jesuit missionary, Francisco Javier Clavijero, reported the paintings to Rome in 1789.

Dutch and French scholars studied the art in late 1800s.

Numerous 20th century investigations were carried out by professional archaeologists, anthropologists, and amateurs alike.

American writers Stanley Gardner (creator of the Perry Mason detective stories) and Harry Crosby (author of The Cave Paintings of Baja California: Discovering the Great Murals of an Unknown People) explored the region – Gardner in the mid-1940s and Crosby from the 1970s.

A UNESCO World Heritage Site

The rock art in Sierra de San Francisco dates from around 100 B.C. to A.D. 1300.

In 1993, over 182,000 hectares of land in this mountainous region in the heart of Baja was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site, helping to protect this fragile treasure.

Entrance to INAH office in San Ignacio, Baja. Photo: Brad Kopp

If You Go

Self-organized trips can be arranged in San Ignacio, where the Instituto Nacional de Antropologia e Historia (INAH) has a small museum and office. There are also organized tour companies such as Sea Kayak Adventures, Inc.

Read More: Cueva Pintada and Cueva de las Flechas

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