Panoramic of Guanajuato collonial buildings home of the Festival Cervantino

How to Survive Your First Cervantino

During the month of October, the UNESCO World Heritage City of Guanajuato hosts its annual Festival Cervantino, an internationally recognized performing arts festival (it’s the 4th largest of its kind in the world). El Cervantino is named after the famed Spanish writer, Miguel de Cervantes (who wrote Don Quixote), and dates back to the early 20th century when college students would perform his plays in the plazas of Guanajuato. The festival became official in 1972 and opened up to include international acts, although it does still focus on artistic creations in the Spanish language. The festival encompasses a wide range of genres including opera, contemporary dance, theater, visual arts, film, literature and multimedia as well as a variety of workshops, exhibits and conferences which can be seen in indoor and outdoor spaces. This year’s official invites were Spain and Guadalajara (2016).

As a first time festival-goer, I felt that there was limited information out there on how the 3-week festival works exactly, so I thought I would put my experiences out there in cyberspace in hopes that someone else can benefit from them.

Universidad de Guanajuato

When to go?

The festival is 3 weeks long so there is a lot of flexibility on when to go. My husband and I came for the first official weekend which is noticeably “más tranquilo,” or calmer, than the subsequent weeks/weekends. The streets were full of life but weren’t overcrowded. There were a variety of great shows (but maybe not the top shows of the festival). We never had to make a reservation at any restaurant and there were plenty of available taxis to take us where we needed to go. Obviously, if there is a specific show that you’re going for then of course, go during that time, but if you are flexible, maybe consider going towards the beginning for a more relaxing experience.

 
How to get there?

 
The best way to arrive to the city is by bus as there is no major airport in Guanajuato (you’ll probably fly into Guadalajara, León or Mexico City if you’re coming in from out of the country). If you’re looking to travel in a bit of luxury I highly recommend purchasing tickets with the bus company ETN no matter which major city you’re coming from. Also, book your return tickets in advance as buses will fill up fast as the festival gets busier. Keep in mind that the Central de Autobuses in Guanajuato is about 15 minutes outside of El Centro Histórico and you’ll have to go over (and through!) a few mountains to get there (I was thinking, where is this taxi driver taking us?) But, you will enter the city through one of its famous tunnels! A taxi ride should be between 40 and 70 pesos depending where you’re going. Also, at the writing of this blog, UBER had just started up in Guanajuato. There weren’t a whole lot of drivers yet but we did use it a few times and were very pleased with the service.
 

Where to stay?

I am a wholehearted supporter of www.airbnb.com and use it pretty religiously when I travel. The times we have stayed in Guanajuato, the houses have been particularly amazing (see photos) and the hosts especially hospitable. They can give you great local tips and most importantly, the best places to eat! (more on my recommendations below) One downside of Airbnb (for some) is that you will probably be about a 10-15 walk from the center which normally means quite a bit of walking uphill. However, as the locals will tell you, the center can get very loud and rowdy during the festival, especially on the weekends so keep that in mind. There are, however, a plethora of lovely boutique hotels in the city who will most definitely hike up their prices during El Cervantino as well as fill up fast, so get your reservations in early! Same goes for Airbnb, get your reservations in early – I would say 4-6 months in advance. Although, the tricky part for some about booking so far in advance is that the official festival schedule normally isn’t up on the website until about 3 months before. But if you’re flexible about what shows to see then it shouldn’t be a problem booking ahead of time.

How exactly does the festival work?

When looking online this was the part I was most confused about in regards to the festival: If it’s a 3 week festival, how does it all work? The city is transformed into a variety of outdoor and indoor stages where they have a pre-planned lineup of artistic shows – adult and children’s theater, concerts of all types including symphonies and opera, acrobats, folkloric dance and ballet, outdoor film showings and academic events, readings and short plays of the work of Miguel de Cervantes and much more!

When you go to the official Cervantino website you can see the variety of shows offered on certain days which all have very detailed descriptions. So rather than purchasing one ticket to attend the festival, you purchase separate tickets to see certain shows during the time you are there. Some shows are offered more than one day, others no. Some shows take place in outdoor spaces so although tickets to sit front and center sell out fast you can still show up early and get a pretty good view of the concert without paying. Any event that is held in the Alhóndiga de Granaditashas free outdoor seating and also plenty of space to view the concert from the sides (if you show up 30 min or so before). Anything that is held in an auditorio or teatro will be inside and you will have to purchase a ticket. We purchased tickets ranging from 80 pesos to 250 pesos for various shows.

Purchasing tickets can be tricky. Using www.ticketmaster.com.mx can be a nightmare. A word of advice: make sure to use a credit card with raised numbers on it (not flat) as when you go to pick up your tickets at a “ticketmaster distributor” they will take a carbon copy of your card which must have raised numbers (I know, so archaic!). You cannot simply print your tickets online (I learned all of this the hard way). As my husband and I were just attending to get an overall feel for the El Cervantino, we preferred to avoid the ticketaster fees and headaches and purchase our tickets in person at Teatro Juarez. We arrived on a Thursday afternoon and there were some tickets available for the weekend shows and others that were sold out. But we were flexible and saw a variety of shows (even if they weren’t our top choices) and still had a great time. So, it really depends if you are set on seeing a particular show (which in that case I would recommend purchasing ahead of time on ticketmaster and paying their fees). But if you are open and flexible, choose a variety of shows in the lineup for the days you will be there and see what tickets are still available. I also highly recommend looking at the lineup of children’s theatre as we saw some pretty spectacular shows!

A lot of the theatres and auditoriums are located outside of the historical center so you’ll have to catch a taxi or UBER. These should cost you no more than $50 pesos and the best place to catch them is along Avenida Benito Juarez across the street from Comercial Mexicana. Taxi rides are incredibly fun though as they take you through the sea of underground tunnels and then up high into the mountain offering breathtaking views of the city only seen by car. Plan to arrive 30 minutes early for general admission shows to get a decent seat.

Outdoor Concert

What else is there to do in Guanajuato?

El Pipila and El Mirador– Behind Teatro Juarez there is a cable car (or funicular) that will take you up the mountain to the statue of El Pipila and the quintessential breathtaking view of Guanajuato. It’s $25 pesos to go up (subida) and $25 to go down (bajada). Purchase the “subida” and skip the bajada. There is a clear path back down to Teatro Juarez and it’s a lovely walk!

Museo de las Momias – If seeing dead people doesn’t make your skin crawl, this eerie museum is definitely worth a visit. To get there, you can take a taxi for under 60 pesos or if you’re feeling adventurous hop on one of the many “colectivos” (buses) that say “Momias” that stop in Plaza de La Paz. General admission is $55 pesos.

Las Minas – Have a taxi take you to one of the many silver mines surrounding the city. Be aware that they keep very strange hours. We tried to go to both La Valenciana and El Nopal around 2:00 pm on a Saturday (during one of the city’s busiest times of the year) and both were closed because of “who knows why.” But they are open for visitors so just be patient if they aren’t open the day that you go. Although we never did make it inside, my understanding is that they give you a hard hat and offer short tours (in Spanish) where they take you deep into the mine. Admission is under 50 pesos.

Mercado Hidalgo – If you’re looking to enjoy some tacos, tortas or aguas fresas, this is the place to go. The top level is full of shirts and souvenirs. Located on Av. Benito Juarez.

Mercado de Los Hippies Quetzalcoatl – Located just a block up from Mercado Hidalgo on Cuesta de Mendizábal, you can find an array of handmade jewelry, leather products, incense, clothing, henna and tattoo parlors, a small selection of ceramic work and more.

Plaza San Fernando – My favorite square in the whole city! They also have an outdoor stage with a variety of events going on in the evenings. I would recommend stopping for a coffee at ClubCafe. (We asked several restaurants with outdoor seating that were closer to the stage area if we could enjoy a coffee or a beer on the terrace but because we weren’t going to have a full meal, they turned us away).

Plaza San Fernando
Callejoneada and El Callejon del Beso – If you walk past Teatro Juarez after 5pm you’ll be bombarded by a variety of men dressed in medieval garb trying to sell you tickets to a one of the city’s famous “callejoneadas.” It is a type of “walking serenade,” during which local musicians dress up in traditional 17th century costumes weave their way through the cobblestone streets while playing music, singing popular folk songs, telling stories and reciting local legends. Like any highly commercialized city tour there are good ones and not so good ones. See who is wearing the most traditional clothes and also ask them to give you some history about their group. If they are based out of the university and have been doing it for 20+ years then that’s probably a good sign. Also, ask if they will be taking you past “El Callejon del Beso.” Cost should be no more than 150 pesos.

Where to eat?

La Victoriana – Although it is a little bit outside the city center, this Victorian mansion turned café and pottery shop is worth the taxi ride. Their cafe latte and pan de queso are to die for. They also serve breakfast and lunch.
 
Mestizo – Don’t let its basic décor fool you, this hole in wall makes some exquisite traditional Mexican food at an affordable price. We ate their three times in a 4 day period.
 
El Midi Bistró – Located upstairs in the posh “Cuatro Casas” building, the café serves great brunch options on Saturday and Sunday and salads during the lunch hour.

Latte @ La Victoriana

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