Northwest of Mexico City lie ranges of gnarled, humpy but starkly beautiful hills. Here, and in the bountiful valleys of the Bajío, Spanish colonists built fortunes from the mining of precious metals, especially silver. Prosperous towns sprang up which share a heritage of baroque churches, leafy squares and pastel-washed houses. Each has its own character: the university town Guanajuato, 2,000m, built in a narrow gorge, is a centre for music, theatre and dance, while the homely yet international little town of San Miguel de Allende, 1,900m, is a magnet for artists. Morelia, 1,920m, shows off some of the grandest monumental colonial architecture, and Querétaro, 1,820m, is renowned for its impressive colonial aqueduct.
Just an hour's drive south of Mexico City is Puebla, 2,135m, a large city with an imposing colonial core reflecting its importance as a trading post during the era of the Spanish Empire. It's a great base for visits to the indigenous towns of Cholula and Tlaxcala.
When to go
The highland colonial silver towns have a pleasant sunny climate year round; most rain falls from Jun-Sep.
Getting local currencyMexican peso. Notes can be withdrawn from the many ATMs using a UK credit or debit card. You may have ask your bank to authorise withdrawals before you leave the UK, and amounts may be lower than permitted in the UK.
There are flights to León-Guanajuato from the UK via various cities in the USA including Houston and Los Angeles. Flights to León-Guanajuato operate from Mexico City. You can travel to the colonial towns by public coach or self-drive hire car on a good network of roads.
The resorts and hotels of the Pacific coast; Guadalajara, one of Mexico’s most important cities (flights from León); Oaxaca, Mexico’s artistic centre and preserver of the country’s indigenous heritage, fly from León via Mexico City, 3.5hrs.
Independence Day, 16 Sept. Celebrations throughout the country, fireworks and parades in San Miguel.
Festival Internacional Cervantes, Guanajuato, 2 weeks in Oct annually (dates vary). Huge cultural festival with many activities and presentations across the whole range of performing arts.
Day of the Dead, 1-2 Nov. Celebrated throughout the country.
Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe (Our Lady of Guadalupe), 12 Dec. Not a public holiday, but it is Mexico's biggest religious festival of the year. In Querétaro it coincides with a two week fair with rides and many other events.