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”.  (http://www.mexconnect.com/articles/2800-dolores-hidalgo-a-beautiful-mexican-colonial-city)

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.

8 Replies to “Colonial Day Trip: Dolores Hidalgo, Atotonilco and San Miguel de Allende”

  1. Agh, you missed one of the most interesting things, a visit to our 450-year old ex-hacienda! Hacienda las Trancas. We LOVE welcoming visitors to our hacienda, and can give you a wonderful tour and lunch and margaritas! We tell a lot of the history of the area and I am sure you would have loved it! Can you let me know who the tour guide was, and we will try and hook up with them! Thanks,
    Kelley, http://www.haciendalastrancas.com

  2. Hi Kelley:
    I’m sorry that we didn’t know anything about your hacienda! The tour we took is one offered by the city of Guanajuato tourism authority, I think. It’s advertised on the local tourist information stands. Unfortunately, I don’t know the name of the guide. I notice on your website that you offer horse riding – are these rides available to people not staying at your hacienda? We are still in Guanajuato for a few more days.
    Cheers!

  3. Hi Lisa & Ty,
    I’m enjoying your travels. Did you get to Ixtapa next door to Guanajuato?
    We enjoyed a short holiday there on our first trip to Mexico -a LONG time ago. It was a tourist place on the water front where several large hotels were situated. I remember Norm strapped into a seat hooked to a long rope behind a light plane. He dragged along for so long I didn’t think they would ever lift off! They did and he had a great ride. Val

  4. Hi Val! No, we haven’t made it there – probably won’t this visit. But this city is wonderful – there are so many museums, square, cafes, that I’m getting a real culture boost! Love it! I had no idea that Easter here was such a huge celebration – we’ve just experienced the Dia de las Flores and Virgen de los Dolores celebrations – will post something about it soon. But I will put Ixtapa on the list for next time. Kisses, L

  5. We also loved Guanajuato, and would go back there sooner than to SMA., altho better Spanish skills are definitely an asset! We stayed in a hostel, Casa de Dante, which was wonderful. We found Guanajuato had a more lively contemporary art scene (very 21st century, multi-media and installations as well as avant-garde painting) than SMA, maybe because of the university and art college.

    In SMA, try to get to La Aurora , a converted textile mill — very high end artisans and some excellent painters. And the botanical garden is wonderful; we spent several days there. For horseback trips, I recommend Xotolar Ranch, south-west of SMA. A family clan owns a thousand(ish) acres, in the area of Canada de la Virgen: canyons and a small river, and a pyramid that was to become a public archaeological site (probably open by now). The pyramid seems to be of the Otomi ancestors (?), I think roughly the Toltec period.

    Enjoy!
    Lorraine

  6. Thanks for the tips, Lorraine! We’re in PV now, but will definitely be going back to Guanajuato and the area again.
    Hope all’s well with you two!

  7. I took the same tour yesterday. We had a couple extra stops though. The first stop was Santa Rosa at some little place that makes jams and Mexican traditional sweets. I wasn’t expecting that, and was expecting a company presentation (with slides) even less, but it was odd enough to find pleasant….and there were lots of free samples in the store on site.

    We also stopped at the municipal cemetery once in DH to see the tomb of Jose Alfredo Jimenez, before then heading off to his museum deeper in town. We did not stop at the talavera pottery place as you did but instead stopped at a restaurant – one of those places with big smoker-like grills out front, on which they cooked beef, chicken, rabbit and veggies. Mariachi music was also present.

    As you said, seemed we spent an awful lot of time in DH, with only 30 mins max in Atotonilco and about an hour and twenty in SMA, but it was a fun time all in all – and a great way to take in all three places in just one day.

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