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354km (219 miles) NW of Mexico City; 56km (35 miles) SE of León; 93km (58 miles) W of San Miguel de Allende; 208km (129 miles) SW of San Luis Potosí; 163km (101 miles) N of Morelia; 280km (174 miles) SE of Zacatecas

If you're going to Mexico to lose yourself, you'll have no problem doing so on the streets of Guanajuato (Gwah-nah-whah-toh). They seem designed for just that purpose as they curl this way and that, becoming alleys or stairways, and intersecting each other at different angles. At times it can seem like the Twilight Zone; I've heard of people hurriedly passing by a curious-looking shop intending to return later, and then never being able to locate it again. To make matters worse, the streets are filled with things that draw your attention away from the business of getting from one place to another. The town is so photogenic that everywhere you look is postcard material. Most buildings, like the streets, are irregular in shape, creating a jumble of walls, balconies, and rooftops meeting at anything but a right angle. The churches are the exception, having regular floor plans, but even they show asymmetry -- despite the best efforts of their builders, none have two matching towers, which only adds to their charm.

Founded in 1559, Guanajuato soon became fabulously rich, with world-famous mines (such as La Valenciana, Mineral de Cata, and Mineral de Rayas), which earned their owners titles of nobility. Along with Zacatecas and San Luis Potosí, Guanajuato was one of Mexico's most important mining cities. From the 16th through the 18th centuries, the mines in these towns produced a third of all the silver in the world, and Guanajuato bloomed with elaborate churches and mansions. Floods plagued the city until it finally diverted the river and turned the old riverbed into a road that winds into the old downtown, with cantilevered houses jutting out high above the cars. The city has also opened an impressive network of tunnels (it is, after all, a mining town).

Still, on the surface, Guanajuato seems like an old Spanish city dumped into a Mexican highland valley (at 2,008m/6,586 ft. elevation). It's one of Mexico's great colonial cities. Picturesque and laden with atmosphere, Guanajuato should be high on your list of places to visit.