I heard Guanajuato is hilly. Is it really?

Guanajuato is largely a pedestrian city, a maze of cobblestone streets, little alleyways, and narrow stairs. It is in the shape of a bowl or basin, with the city center in the lowest part, and all else built up the steep hills. It’s a wonderful walking city to meander around in. The hills are steep, footing is uneven and cobblestone in places. Bring good walking shoes – consider leaving your high heels at home! Florecer Casitas is almost to the rim of the bowl and the property has a good slope to it. If you have any mobility issues, talk to me before you decide about this trip.

What is the elevation?

Guanajuato is situated about 7000 feet above sea level, so many people find that it takes a few days to acclimate to the elevation, as well as the strenuous cardiovascular uphill climbs. Don’t be surprised if you get winded!

How much are taxis?

It is inexpensive and quick to take a taxi or Uber from the city center to Florecer Casitas (about $75 MXN, which is about $3.75 USD).

I have some dietary restrictions. Will there be anything I can eat?

Mexico in general, and Guanajuato in particular, does not cater to the range of dietary restrictions/ preferences that those who live in the US or Canada have become accustomed. At Guanajuato Writing Retreat, our first night dinner will be at a restaurant that can address most dietary restrictions – with at least some vegetarian and gluten free options.  Our prepared Big House meals will have a vegetarian option. Our lunch at the Museo de Astronomía Prehispánica will have a vegan option.  There are currently a few vegetarian restaurants in Guanajuato, and some that provide vegan and vegetarian options. Please speak to me if you have dietary restrictions, and I will try to have breakfast food (for our first day) and snacks available. Remember that we will be making a trip to the grocery store where you will be able to select food items for you to have on hand for any/all meals.

How safe is it to be a traveler in Mexico?

There is no location – urban, rural or suburban – in any country – that is completely safe and crime-free. Guanajuato has much respect for its tourist visitors, who fuel much of its annual economy. In addition, Guanajuato is a university town, so students and faculty abound. Guanajuato is open late, with street musicians and performers (sometimes followed by large groups of singing and strolling visitors), bars and late-night sitting in plazas to talk. You’ll see many people – tourists, older adults, students, and, yes, some who have overindulged with alcohol or other substances.

I have always felt safe in Guanajuato. That said, I do not make it easy for someone who is tempted by an opportunistic crime. I do not wear flashy (or my best) jewelry, do not carry large purses or bags overflowing with purchases, etc. Use your situational awareness as you would in any city. Do not head off alone into areas that are not well-populated. Please use your judgment about your own alcohol use so you’re not needing to walk or take a taxi home late at night, inebriated. Uber is available and rather efficient in Guanajuato; it tracks your location and allows you to pay from your phone, with no physical monetary transaction or rate negotiation.

Do I need a VISA to travel to Mexico?

No – a valid US or Canadian passport is all you will need, which gives you 6 months in Mexico. You are not allowed to work in Mexico with your US/Canadian passport (meaning you cannot collect Mexican pay for work in Mexico) but you are allowed to work as a US/Canadian citizen drawing income from a US/Canadian employer and/or clients.

Please check with your local embassy/consulate to ask any questions you have about your own situation, and to verify what I have said here – I am not an immigration attorney!

I don’t speak Spanish. Will I be able to get along?

Liz and I are native English-Speakers who have learned Spanish (and are still learning!) Our guides at Guanajuato Writing Retreat are bilingual. Our cook for three nights, Lupita, does not speak much English, but she can get by, and you will definitely understand her cooking lesson.

If you know in advance that you’re coming on this trip, do yourself a favor and learn a few basic greetings and phrases. You will love to see the smile and wide-eyed pleasure when Mexicans meet tourists who respect their country and their culture enough to try to say some things in their native language. If you pick up a book or audio tool for learning, choose Latin-American Spanish (as opposed to a course for Spanish in Spain or in Argentina – where the dialects, accents and vocabulary differ quite a bit from Mexican Spanish!)

What if I want to extend my stay in Guanajuato?

It would be great to coordinate travel plans to have as many of us arrive at the same time as possible so we can share a minivan to the Florecer Casitas for Guanajuato Writing Retreat 2021. Of course, if you want to arrive early or stay later, you can make your own arrangements for airport transportation and book any extra days directly with Florecer’s creator and your host, Liz.

What should I bring/pack?

Bring your favorite journal and pen, and be ready to take lots of photos with either your phone or camera at Guanajuato Writing Retreat. It’s a very photogenic place, plus, we may use photos as writing sparks or within our self-exploration morning workshops.

If you bring an electronic notebook or laptop computer, you will be able to use the WiFi at the Florecer Casitas any time you want. You will use your own judgment about whether to bring the electronics with you when we leave, especially for some of our outings that will include in-situ writing. If you do, you’ll want to make sure you’re watching your bag/backpack throughout the day.

In November, days are warm (average high = 78 degrees Fahrenheit) and nights are cool (average low = 48 degrees Fahrenheit). The sun is bright and strong. To protect yourself from the sun, bring sunscreen, sunglasses, clothes with sleeves, a hat with a brim. The air is quite dry. Please bring lotion and throat lozenges so that your skin and throat stay comfortable.

Dressing in layers lets you adapt to changes in temperatures as the day turns to night. Bring a lightweight but warm jacket for evenings. A thin puffy coat or something that protects against wind would be great. Some people enjoy having a warm hat and gloves – you know how warm or cold your body runs, so please make sure you’ve got options to stay comfortable in heat and in cold.

Bring earplugs for a good night’s sleep! Almost every home in Guanajuato has a dog somewhere on the property. They are behind fences or on rooftops, so they don’t pose a physical threat, but they are vocal and can bark at all hours of the day and night. You may also hear roosters crowing and donkeys braying. Combined with scooters going up steep hills and hourly church bells, the nights of Guanajuato are lively and often loud.

Footwear – bring comfortable and supportive shoes for walking on cobblestones, hills and other uneven surfaces.

Do I need to exchange money in the US?

There are many ATMs from which you can withdraw pesos directly from your American or Canadian bank account.  Please check with your banking institutions before you leave, to make sure that they can handle ATM cash withdrawals. Some banks don’t charge a fee, which is great, but please know in advance what to expect with your particular bank’s foreign transaction fees. Also check your credit card(s) and select one to use that has no foreign transaction fees.

The first night we’ll go to some ATMs when we go to dinner to get some pesos. The peso to dollar is approximately 50:1, so it’s easy math. Cash is good for small transactions – buying fruit at a local tienda, or purchasing food from a food cart, or small purchases from people selling things on the street. Larger items, such as ceramics or bigger purchases, and your grocery store purchase, will be fine to use your credit cards. Check restaurant policies before ordering, to make sure they will accept credit cards or if they need cash.

Will you give us recommendations for restaurants/stores/coffee places?

Of course. I’ll have a list of suggestions and a map. There are more great options than you will have time to sample. We’ll go to a large grocery store on our first full day – it will have things you can stock up on for the week, and you are free to return mid-week or stop in at local tiendas/mercados throughout the town to pick up some additional groceries/snacks.

Are there any additional resources for rest and relaxation?

How about an in-house massage? A wonderful massage therapist, Tano, can come up to the house for individual massages. The cost is about $35 (USD) for an hour and a half session.

COVID-19 Considerations

In light of the ever-changing COVID-19 situation, I want to provide information on what we (myself and Liz Mapelli, owner of the beautiful Florecer Casitas where we will be staying) are doing to ensure the safety of all for the upcoming Guanajuato Writers’ Retreat.

We will have the entire Florecer Casitas compound to ourselves, so we can easily create a Writing Retreat pod. When we are within the grounds, we will be safely isolated. Most of our actives outside the compound will be outside and in the open air.

Lodging is double occupancy in the smaller casitas; there is also a “Big House” with 2 double-occupancy rooms. The Big House, where we will share some meals and gather for end-of-day conversation and sharing of the day’s writing, has easy access to move from indoor to outdoor spaces, ample windows and high ceilings for healthy air flow.

Photography by Bonnie Wolkenstein, Ph.D. All rights reserved.