Meagan Drillinger
Meagan Drillinger

If you've heard of San Miguel de Allende, you've heard of the state of Guanajuato. San Miguel de Allende, a colonial city three hours outside of Mexico City, continues to earn "Best City in the World" honors year after year from Travel + Leisure. And while it is a destination that is overwhelmingly stunning, cultural and in a constant state of renovations to keep itself relevant, a second city, Guanajuato City, is starting to shoulder its way into the spotlight. And the industry is starting to notice.

Guanajuato City, the state capital, is growing as one of the top destinations in Mexico for international business in industries such as manufacturing, technology, and call centers, said Zach Rabinor, CEO of Journey Mexico. According to North American Production Sharing, (NAPS), an administration management service for companies manufacturing in Mexico, Guanajuato is the fastest growing state for manufacturing in the country.

"There is a high level of human resource, good education and new investment," added Rabinor. "Similarly there is growth in hotels at both the business level and upper-end leisure."

Because of this, airlines are starting to take notice. Guanajuato already has direct flights from San Antonio and Chicago on United. But leisure travelers can also fly to Mexico City and transfer to Guanajuato, or take the four-hour drive. But this is just the beginning as leisure travelers begin to witness what exactly Guanajuato City has to offer for tourism.

First and foremost, Guanajuato is a stunning cultural and historic city. In fact, Unesco has named it a World Heritage Site. Its pastel-colored, Spanish-style colonial buildings line cobblestone streets that web in and out through plazas, churches, small cafes, restaurants, shops and galleries. While San Miguel de Allende is the best-known example of this aesthetic in the state, Guanajuato City has a paused-in-time vibe that might be lacking from more touristic destinations.

Guanajuato City was founded in the 16th century based on the state's surrounding silver and gold supply. Springing up around the mines were cities for Spanish miners. Today it's a city packed with museums, theaters, markets, tree-lined plazas and beautiful color.

Guanajuato happens to be the birth city of Diego Rivera, and his birthplace is now a museum honoring his life. The ground floor is a reconstruction of his family home. Upstairs is a collection of originals, as well as temporary exhibits.

The beacon of Guanajuato is the Templo La Valenciana, which sits perched on a hilltop about three miles from the city center. The church was completed in 1788 and is decked with gold altars, carvings and massive paintings. It is one of the most impressive sites in the city.

One of the premier reasons to visit Guanajuato is the Festival Internacional Cervantino, which takes place each fall. The festival originated to celebrate the plays of playwright Miguel de Cervantes, which were performed in the plazas of the city. Today it is one of the most important cultural events in Mexico, with music, dance and theater groups from around the world. It is a member of the European Festivals Association, and runs for two weeks in October.

Near Guanajuato, travelers can visit the small town of Irapuato, a city splashed with murals and orange and gold color. Be sure to visit Town Hall, which houses the Mural of the Revolutions, which highlight historic moments in Mexico's history. The town's Miguel Hidalgo Square splashes alive at night with choreographed fountains at the Dancing Water Fountains. In 2018 Brisas Group, which operates Nizuc in Cancun and Las Brisas in Acapulco, opened Galeria Plaza in Irapuato.

For now the state of Guanajuato owes its fame to San Miguel de Allende, and for understandable reason, but the city of Guanajuato is growing quickly. Oxford Business Group, a global research company, said that Guanajuato had the sixth-highest increase in per capita GDP of any state in Mexico between 2013 and 2016. The city is growing for business, and with increase in air capacity, leisure tourism is certainly going to follow. It's only a matter of time before the secret is out on this cultural, colonial city.

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