There are plenty of things to do in Guanajuato, the city that has been my adopted home on and off for more than a decade. You can sit in one of the many plazas (and have a drink in some), wander the pedestrian-only alleyways, catch a cultural performance, or even take a street food tour. Unlike in more famous San Miguel de Allende, however, you also have a range of interesting Guanajuato museums to check out too when you want to take a break from the sun or learn a little something.
If you love museums, great, but if you don’t you’ll probably enjoy the experience too because none of them are all that large or time-consuming. None of these will take you hours to get through and I’ve often breezed through one of them in 15 minutes while killing time before a meet-up with someone. The price is right too, so you can visit one on a whim and spend about what you would for a basic beer in a bar. If you’re traveling with kids, the Guanajuato museum visits will be short enough and interesting enough that you’re not going to lose their interest and hear whining about how tired they are.
These are in no particular order, though I’m starting with the one that’s kind of obligatory from a high culture standpoint. You can reach any of these on foot from the historic center, though the most far-flung ones could take you a half-hour to get there. Don’t visit those in the hot afternoon and remember that most museums anywhere you go in Mexico are going to be closed on Mondays. That’s a day when you should be doing something else instead.
Diego Rivera Museum (Museo Casa Diego Rivera)
One of Mexico’s most famous artists now, Diego Rivera was a kid like anyone else when he was growing up, playing with his friends and probably getting into trouble now and then. He grew up in the city of Guanajuato before eventually moving on to Mexico City, meeting his eventual wife Frida Kahlo, and producing the elaborate murals he is now known for.
In an artistic sense, the Diego Rivera Museum in Guanajuato is all on a much smaller scale. You see the house where he lived as a child, with period furnishings, a typewriter, and dishes, then you see his artistic progression.
Like any artist, at first he needed to learn the basics and explore different styles, so you see many of his earning paintings and drawings here that are clearly works of imitation and study. Over time his personality starts to shine through and you catch glimpses of the bold confidence and point of view he would display later. There’s an interesting self-portrait, some portraits of others (including Frida), and usually some temporary displays from others that fit the theme. Admission is a mere 30 pesos, see this site (Spanish only) for more info.
Walk across the street and there’s a life-sized bronze statue on the corner. You might tower over his diminutive stature as you pose for a selfie.
Don Quixote Iconography Museum (Museo Iconográfico del Quijote)
While Diego Rivera may be Guanajuato City’s most famous ex-resident, the person you’ll see personified the most around the city is Don Quixote de la Mancha. The main character from the Spanish novelist Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra’s most famous work doesn’t have any real historic connection to the city, apart from the fact that Spaniards settled this silver-mining city back in the 1500s like they did so many other places in the Americas.
The answer to why Don Quixote is everywhere you look is more practical: students from the university started putting on plays based on the works of Cervantes back in the 1960s and as the annual practice expanded and grew, they started calling it the “Cervantino Festival.” The city added a music concert here, a dance performance there, and eventually realized it could be a big tourist draw. The Festival Internacional Cervantino in Guanajuato is now the biggest music and culture festival in all of the Americas, lasting a good three weeks in October during years there’s not a worldwide pandemic going on. (It was live again, with limited capacity, in 2021. Number 50 will happen in 2022.)
This digression is meant to give some background on why there’s a whole museum dedicated to works depicting Don Quixote in some form. The second part of the story is that there was a Spanish collector who was a fan of the book after spending lots of time with it while imprisoned during the Spanish Civil War. When he got out, he started collecting works that featured the main character. Eventually, he donated the works here to create a museum that opened in 1978, the administrators added some more pieces over the years, and now they have too many to display at one time. (My last visit there, they were remodeling and I saw a Picasso and a Dali stacked in the corner of an unused room that was secured by one tiny lock. Ay Carumba!)
There’s a mix of old masters and contemporary Mexican artists, paintings and sculptures, and some temporary exhibits that make it worth going back again on a later visit. They also stage chamber music shows in the main courtyard room. Admission is 30 pesos, 15 for students.
People’s Museum (Museo del Pueblo de Guanajuato)
The Museo del Pueblo, located near the university steps and a block from Plaza de la Paz, is hidden inside a doorway that you could walk past a dozen times without noticing. It’s worth a step inside the historic colonial building though, with parts of it dating back to 1776. It’s an especially good one if you have kids, a unique museum full of Mexican miniatures, plus a few other oddities to admire.
It’s a great family museum because it gives insight into Mexican culture and traditions in a way that’s interesting to all ages. The displays are actually at the sightline of a child’s height instead of an adult’s, which is a nice change of pace from the norm for kids. Many of the displays also have built-in magnifying glasses so you can get a better look at the details–and admire how much work the small objects took to create. There are miniatures of festivals, workers, masks, musical instruments, and whole scenes of village life.
Admission also includes a look inside a repurposed chapel, a tiny church filled with incredible murals from Jose Chavez Morada that vividly reproduce the Spanish conquest and forced Catholic conversions. It’s not pleasant, but is a good springboard for conversations about what kind of upheaval the region has been through over the centuries. Again, 30 pesos for admission. See more information at their Facebook page (Spanish only).
Alhondiga de Granaditas Museum
The imposing square granary building that was the site of the first battle for Mexican independence was a place to store grain and silver during Spanish rule. Most visitors just see The Alhondiga from the outside or from an overlook, but the inside of it is actually a museum. It’s a mixed hodge-podge of displays and murals, with next to nothing in English, but it’s a worthwhile diversion if you’re in the area anyway.
Admission is higher than the others, but that’s a relative term here: it’ll cost you 65 pesos, around $3.25 at the current exchange rate. Officially there’s an additional charge to shoot with a big camera or take video, though that always seems silly to see when we all have cameras that shoot video in our pockets now. See more information here (Spanish only).
Across the street is a private wax museum that’s good for a laugh.
The Mummy Museum (Museo de los Momias)
I once did an interview on The Amateur Traveler podcast about visiting San Miguel de Allende and Guanajuato and then realized with embarrassment after it went live that I never said a single word about The Mummy Museum. While I don’t send many friends there, especially ones with children, it was still a major omission because it’s what many Mexicans associate with the city more than anything. Sometimes when we say we live in Guanajuato, the only reply will be, “Ah, las momias!”
These are not Egyptian-style mummies that were embalmed, wrapped in cloth, and buried with rooms of treasures. Instead, these were unfortunate citizens whose families either stopped caring or couldn’t come up with the money to pay the cemetery fee. The bodies were removed from their mausoleum-style crypts to make room for someone who could pay and were tossed into an underground room where the combo of a high-desert climate and mineral-rich soil kept the bodies from decomposing. Guards used to supplement their income by showing people these well-preserved bodies and eventually someone realized that this was a real business. They built a museum that adjoins the walls of the cemetery and it has been a big hit ever since.
The mummies are encased in glass and are eerily intact. The skin is stretched, sometimes creating the look of a nightmarish scream, but fingernails, clothing, and even pubic hair are often still in place. The grisly figures are offset with often humorous descriptions of the poor souls on display, but one is just a baby, so this is not a place you want to bring a child that’s prone to nightmares. It’s all quite creepy, to say the least, and then there’s a horror museum annex in case the main attraction wasn’t upsetting enough for you. I’m intentionally using an image here that’s not very detailed.
One reason this museum is so famous and so associated with the city is that there’s a classic Mexican movie called Santo vs Las Momias de Guanajuato. It did so well there were two sequels that threw in other wrestlers. You can find bootleg versions for sale around town on DVD for $1.50 or so and it’s interesting to watch for the old city scenes if nothing else. Santo was and is an icon of Mexican culture, the original masked wrestler who achieved great fame and became a movie star. Kind of like Elvis but more muscular and more of a badass.
Admission to the museum is 85 pesos for adults, making it the biggest splurge on this list, and it’s also more of a hike on foot. It can be worth taking a taxi at least one direction. See more information at the official website (Spanish only).
Other Guanajuato Museums in the Capital City
There are several other Guanajuato museums scattered around the city and technically the grand Teatro Juarez theater from more than a century ago is a museum if you want to take a tour of the interior. It’s better to spend a bit more for a performance though if there’s one running: those usually range from 50 to 120 pesos.
Domestic visitors seem to love the creepy places obsessed with death and torture, so there’s one of those up by the Valenciana church and another called Casa de Tia Aura that’s one of the only museums open on Mondays.
Several pottery artists have museums around town, or shops that double as museums. One of the more comprehensive though has a mouthful of a name: Museo Casa Olga Costa – José Chávez Morado. It’s in a residential area of Pasita about a 10-minute walk past the baseball stadium, near the remains of an aqueduct.
I hope you found this round-up of Guanajuato museums helpful. If you want to get a historic walking tour of the city with a couple of museum stops included, you can book that here or on Airbnb (look for Premium Guanajuato Walking Tour). For more information on Guanajuato state, follow that link to the tourism board website.