Colonial Day Trip: Dolores Hidalgo, Atotonilco and San Miguel de Allende

On the patio of our colonial house, we have a tree; as a result of Guanajuato’s water shortage, in which we only have water 4 days out of 7, this poor tree isn’t really getting enough water to do more than barely survive. Since we’ve been here, I’ve been giving it the gray water from washing dishes and this treatment has enabled it to generate more leaves and a few tiny buds. Perhaps it will flower before we leave. I decided to decorate it with ribbons and colourful paper cut-outs as a substitute for the flowers that it lacks.

In addition to ex-haciendas converted in museums, Guanajuato also has ex-convents; the one pictured below is the Ex-Convento de la Societad de la Compania de Jesus (the Jesuits), and is now part of the University of Guanajuato.

Inside the Jesuit Church (next door to the University), we encounter another of the tortured Jesus effigies (these all look as if they’re crafted from the same model).

See more pics around Guanajuato here.

Although we’d decided to stay in Guanajuato during our time in the mountains of Mexico, we also wanted to investigate some of the other colonial cities in the neighbourhood. While walking around downtown, we came upon a sign advertising day tours and decided to get on the microbus visit to Dolores Hidalgo and San Miguel de Allende.

Our departure was scheduled for 10:30 am but, naturally, after waiting for several people to arrive, 12 of us rolled out of town about half an hour late on the green magic bus. On our way out of town we passed the Valenciana mine and temple (built between 1765 and 1786), the mine once upon a time the most productive silver mine in the world and the temple erected for the workers’ spiritual edification.

Our first stop was the small colonial city of Dolores Hidalgo, made famous in the War for Mexican Independence:

“On the night of September 15, 1810, Miguel Hidalgo y Costillo, the 57-year-old parish priest of Dolores, and Ignacio Allende learned that their plans for insurrection against Spain had been discovered. They decided to act immediately and soon after dawn the next morning, September 16, Padre Hidalgo delivered his now famous Grito (Cry for Freedom) from the Parroquia of Dolores. This was the beginning of Mexico’s struggle for freedom from Spanish rule which was to drag on until 1824 and take some 600,000 lives.

Dolores of that time was a poor, largely Indian village, but the ragged army of Hidalgo and Allende marched from here to San Miguel, then to Celaya and Salamanca until finally, having grown to a force of some 20,000 men, they had their first real confrontation with royalist troops in Guanajuato.

Hidalgo was captured after a final defeat in Guadalajara, then executed and beheaded on July 30, 1811. His head, along with those of Allende, Aldama and Jimenez, hung from one of the corners of the building in Guanajuato where that first battle had taken place”.  (

All the others on our bus were Spanish speakers (from other parts of Mexico, as well as Spain and Colombia) and the tour was conducted entirely in Spanish. I’m sorry to say that my Spanish was not up to the details of the fight for Mexican Independence and Mexican history so, after trying mightily to follow the guide’s talk for a while, I just let the words wash over me and enjoyed the visual experience. We visited the museum-house of Dolores Hidalgo’s second most famous son, the 50s musician Alfredo Jiminez, a guy I’d never heard of before,

the parochial church of Our Lady of Dolores Hidalgo, another museum (which Ty and I didn’t enter) and wandered around the main square trying to find a café.

Strangely, unlike Guanajuato and Merida (another colonial city we’ve visted), this city has no cafes or outdoor restaurants around its main square, only ice cream vendors on every corner vying to sell us the most outrageous flavours of helado:

“Aside from the usual and more mundane flavors such as vanilla, chocolate, strawberry and pecan, how about something a bit less common, like avocado ice cream? No? Then try some corn ice cream. And if that doesn’t appeal to you, how does fried pork skin ice cream strike you? Still no? Oh, maybe you’re in the mood to imbibe at the same time as you eat your ice cream, then perhaps some tequila ice cream or, another popular fermented drink, pulque appeals to you. But the final word in unusual flavors, it would seem, must be shrimp ice cream. That’s right, shrimp ice cream”.

We did find a restaurant nearby, the El Delfin, to tomar un café, but, when we asked for café con leche, were brought warm water, a jar of Nescafe, and a giant container of Coffee-Mate …

On our way out of town, after what seemed to me like too much time in DH, we stopped briefly at a ceramics warehouse to view the talavera products for which this area is known, and then rolled along to the Sanctuary of Atotonilco, just outside San Miguel de Allende. Although I wasn’t familiar with it, apparently this complex is known as the Sistine Chapel of Mexico:

“The Sanctuary of Atotonilco (Santuario de Atotonilco) is a church complex and a World Heritage Site, designated along with nearby San Miguel de Allende, Guanajuato, Mexico. The complex was built in the 18th century by Father Luis Felipe Neri de Alfaro who, according to tradition, was called upon by a vision of Jesus with a crown of thorns on his head and carrying a cross. The main feature of the complex is the rich Mexican Baroque mural work that adorns the main nave and chapels. This was chiefly the work of Antonio Martinez de Pocasangre over a period of thirty years. The mural work has led the complex to be dubbed the “Sistine Chapel of Mexico.” The complex remains a place of worship and penance to this day, attracting as many as 5,000 visitors every week”. (Wikipedia)

While we were there, we were the only visitors. The frescos are beautiful and the atmosphere of the interior called for quiet contemplation.

Outside the main door were several beggars, mostly old people but also a woman with her son; other than these folks, the place was bereft of people. On the white-washed exterior of the church, burnt siena coloured sinopia under-drawings of saints and Christ can be seen emerging from the paint.

We arrived in mid-afternoon at San Miguel de Allende, stopped first for something to eat, and then wandered around the historical centre for a couple of hours before rolling back again. Ty and I had been interested in seeing how San Miguel compared with Guanajuato, since originally we were going to make it our base. After exploring the city this day, both of us agreed that we preferred Guanajuato. San Miguel, while lovely, has a much more wealthy-North-American vibe and is about three times as expensive as Guanajuato and not nearly as beautiful (IMHO).

See more pics here.