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(LEON, Guanajuato) — A bus trip from San Miguel Allende to León gives you a glimpse at the importance of the state of Guanajuato — and why this region, the Bajío, is often referred to as the heartland of Mexico.
Agriculture, industry, tourism, and history are all key here, in this state that is, for the most part, a large plateau with lots of hills.
It begins in the city of San Miguel de Allende, a community of artists and ex-pats from the U.S. and Canada. Tourists also contribute a lot to this colorful town, especially during the summer vacation season.
The nearby city of Dolores Hidalgo is known as the cradle of independence in Mexico. It’s here where Father Miguel Hidalgo famously called for independence from Spain in 1810. And his “grito”, as it’s known, is still an integral part of each year’s independence celebrations. So if history is your thing, this city is a must.
Then there’s the state capital, the city of Guanajuato, a cultural center that is also a major draw for tourists. During Guanajuato’s annual Cervantino festival each October (being held from the 9th thru the 27th this year), the city is filled with visitors, both national and international. It’s all about live music, theater, and basically all things cultural. (And drinking.)
Silver mining began in and around the city of Guanajuato in the 1500’s, not long after the arrival of the conquistadores. In fact, the silver mines of this region were so prolific, that one of these mines, La Valenciana, has all by itself been responsible for 30 percent of all silver produced in the world during its 250 years in operation. And for a time, its output was about two-thirds of all silver being mined on the planet.
As you head west from Guanajuato, you pass by the giant General Motors plant in Silao, which employs over 5,000 people. This major industrial complex has been in operation since 1997, when it was inaugurated by then President Ernesto Zedillo.
But GM isn’t the only carmaker in the state. Volkswagen just opened a plant in Silao this past January, while Honda has a plant of their own under construction in Celaya, and then there’s Mazda, which has a facility slated to open in Salamanca in early 2014.
It all adds up to an awful lot of cars coming from this one state.
Soon after the GM factory, you’ll pass by yet another big production facility, this time for the world’s biggest cornmeal company, Maseca. (Corn is one of the top crops produced in Guanajuato. Together with beans, wheat and sorghum, these crops account for 88 percent of the cultivated land in the state.)
León, the largest city in Guanajuato, with some two million people in the greater metropolitan area, is the center of the country’s leather industry. This is where most shoes, boots, and belts are made in Mexico. Shoes aside, León is an important regional business and financial center, and is in fact the headquarters of the Banco del Bajío (BanBajío) one of the country’s larger banks.
In the middle of these cities we pass by the Aeropuerto Internacional de Guanajuato (BXJ), sometimes known as Del Bajío International Airport, located near Silao, but which serves the entire region. Given the international companies that are here (notably in the automotive industry), it’s not surprising that there’s non-stop air service to Los Angeles, Dallas-Fort Worth, Houston, and Chicago, aside from national flights.
But as you travel this state, driving by the many ranches, you gain an appreciation for the landscape, and just how much residents of the Bajío contribute to the national identity, economically and culturally.
The next time you hear someone talk about going to visit Cancún — as if that’s all Mexico has to offer, as many Americans and Canadians seem to believe — tell them they should see the real Mexico instead — the Bajío.
After all, what’s so adventurous about visiting a fancy all-inclusive resort hotel on a beach?