Mexico's Colonial Heartland

Guanajuato, San Miguel de Allende & Day of the Dead

It’s no coincidence that some of Mexico’s oldest and most beautiful colonial cities are in its mountainous heartland.  Built during the booming “silver rush” period of the 1500s, Guanajuato, the capital of the state of Guanajuato, and neighboring San Miguel de Allende have been called the crown jewels of the colonial cities.
"“I have been a photographer of sorts since childhood (I received my first Leica at 16), but this tour was my most fun and rewarding photographic experience ever. I understand why so many of your participants keep coming back!"
- D. Creevy
Guanajuato is a photogenic maze of twisted alleys and narrow cobblestone streets.  Its elaborate mansions and baroque churches give the city a decidedly European feel.  Named a United Nations World Heritage Site, all restoration and new construction in the historic district must conform to the 500-year-old architectural style.  Some of the city’s 3,000 alleyways are lined with colonial buildings packed so tightly—often perched literally on top of each other—that their balconies almost form a canopy.  The best way to explore these fascinating hillside byways is on foot.  We meander through this graphic labyrinth, shooting colorful street scenes, zesty marketplaces, and exquisite architectural details juxtaposed against vibrantly-painted stucco walls.  Now and then we stop at one of the tree-shaded plazas, with their gardens, fountains and cafés, to relax and enjoy local color.
San Miguel de Allende is another “must-shoot” location.  It is, arguably, the prettiest of the colonial cities, and is well known as Mexico's most artistic community.  This seductive city with its clear nights and springlike days is beautifully-situated on the slopes of a hill facing the Laja River and the distant Guanajuato Mountains.  San Miguel was declared a national monument in 1956 and retains much of its old-world flavor.  Steep, cobbled streets are lined with bougainvillea-covered colonial mansions, and brightly-colored cantinas and grand villas are bedecked with colorful, sun-washed doorways, intricate stonework, wrought iron balconies and hanging lanterns.
John Shaw photographing in MexicoWe’ve timed our Mexico photo tour to coincide with the colorful preparations for the Day of the Dead in San Miguel.  This family celebration, invoking the spirits of the departed, includes wonderfully-decorated skulls, skeletons, and amazingly intricate and cartoonish candy animal sculptures—constructed from colored sugar as children’s treats—displayed in vendors’ stalls, along with lengthy garlands and bouquets of golden marigolds, the traditional flower of the dead.
During the celebration, a nightly promenade of women, men and children dressed in Catrina and Catrin skeleton costumes stroll the cobbled streets and squares.  Throughout the city, elaborate altars honoring dead loved ones are decorated with their favorite food and drink, toys, photos, tools and flowers.  On the following day, the local people visit the cemeteries to bring flowers and tributes to the graves of the departed.
Beautiful architecture, mild climate, colonial romance, friendly people and great photography—it is difficult to choose the region’s best feature.  During the week we find time to break away from these pleasures to glimpse some of our images on our laptops to get a sense of the day’s shoot.  We not only capture an architectural wonderland with our cameras, but also learn how to improve those images in the digital world.

Tour Itinerary

Day 1 (Oct 27)  Arrive at Mexico’s Leon-Guanajuato Airport and transfer on your own by taxi to our hotel in central Guanajuato.  We meet in the hotel lobby for dinner and orientation this evening.  (D)

Doorway in MexicoDays 2–3  We wander through picturesque streets, alleys and plazas.  Guanajuato is packed with color!  Walking from our hotel, there is something to shoot at almost every turn.  We walk through the historic district, photographing intriguing architectural vignettes and colorful street scenes.  In the evening we ascend via funicular to a spectacular scenic overlook and photograph the city as twilight falls and street lights illuminate the colorful buildings.  (BLD)

Day 4  This morning we drive to San Miguel de Allende.  After settling into our charming accommodations, we begin our exploration of this beautiful city and the Day of the Dead preparations.  (BLD)

Days 5–7  We stroll the streets of San Miguel photographing colonial buildings, repetitive arches, architectural details, Day of the Dead altars, sugar candy vendors, vegetable stalls and cobblestone streets.  On All Saints Day (Nov 1) costumed children and adults come to the central square as darkness falls.  Photographing the different perspectives of the dramatically-lit La Parroquia—San Miguel’s stately, yet fanciful, pink Gothic church and throngs of costumed people are rewarding goals.  We have ample opportunity to photograph—and join—the nighttime revelry!  (BLD)

Day 8 (Nov 3)  Participants transfer by our group shuttle to the Leon-Guanajuato Airport for afternoon flights home.  (B)

“Wonderful architecture and colorful buildings.  Great ‘Day of the Dead’ festival.”
S. Cheung
“If you love color, architecture and taking your photography to a new level in unexpected places, don’t miss this trip.”
M. Clark
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Joseph Van Os Photo Safaris Enrollment Information

Mexico's Colonial Heartland

Oct 27, 2018 - Nov 03, 2018

A deposit and completed and signed Registration Form are required to reserve a place for you on a Joseph Van Os Photo Safari.


All prices are quoted in US dollars and all payments must be paid in US dollars. For deposits only, we accept Visa, MasterCard or American Express. Final payment of the trip fee is due 120 days priors to departure and must be paid by check or bank transfer. Trip deposits are non-refundable and non-transferable.

We must receive written notice of your cancellation, at which time cancellation fees in the following amounts apply:

If Written Cancellation is Received:
90 days or prior:
89 to 61 days prior:
60 or fewer days:
Cancellation Fee:
100% of deposit
50% of trip fee
100% of trip fee

No partial refunds are made for unused portions or services of a trip for any reason whatsoever. Trips are sold as a package only. This policy also applies to tour extensions and independent travel arrangements. Cancellation fees are not transferable.

Protect your travel investment and purchase a trip insurance policy that includes emergency evacuation coverage. A trip insurance brochure will be sent with your enrollment confirmation.

Joseph Van Os Photo Safaris are within the capabilities of average people in good health. Some of these trips require the capability of walking for several miles over uneven trails, stepping from a small boat to a wave-washed rocky beach, flying in small planes and helicopters, and occasionally hiking at high elevations—all while carrying an assortment of camera equipment. If you have concerns about your own capabilities and/or fitness as it relates to a trip, please inquire with our office before reserving a space. By forwarding a signed Registration Form and trip deposit, you certify that you do not knowingly have any physical or other conditions of disability that would create a risk for you or other trip participants and you agree to inform our office in writing if changes in your health occur any time prior to the tour. We reserve the right to request a doctor's statement of good health. The company's or trip leader's judgment shall provide the ultimate determination of an individual's ability to embark upon or to continue a trip. Once a trip has been confirmed, medical circumstances will not be considered as exceptions to our cancellation policy. We assume no responsibility for medical care or for special dietary requirements. “Meatless” meals are normally available at most locations. Due to the remote nature of many photo locations, and the growing diversity of today’s dietary trends, participants requiring special food items are encouraged to bring their own.

Tour members are asked to refrain from smoking with or near the group.

Participants will receive three emails before the trip departs: 1. Initial Tour Information sheet confirms the deposit and provides pre-departure information. 2. Invoice/Practical Information provides clothing and photo gear recommendations, climate data, applicable health advisories and reading list. Visa information will also be included (if applicable). 3. Final Tour Information includes arrival instructions, itinerary revisions (if any), hotel addresses, trip telephone contact information and participant list. We provide the trip leader's telephone number(s) and/or e-mail address with final documents so you can inquire about special photographic questions you may have regarding your trip. We welcome your calls or e-mail messages to

Information supplied upon enrollment describes the specific costs that are included in your trip fee. Generally these costs include lodging in double room occupancy, all meals (specified in the itinerary as BLD denoting breakfast, lunch or dinner), ground transportation during the trip in vans or small busses, air transportation as specified, meal and baggage tipping, and guide services provided by the trip leaders. Not included are airfare or other transportation from your home to the trip staging location, airport departure taxes, insurance, alcoholic beverages and bar expenses (plus bottled water and soft drink expenses on international tours outside of North America), tips and gratuities to local guides abroad, phone calls, passport or visa expenses, laundry or items of a personal nature. Gratuities to Joseph Van Os Photo Safaris trip leaders are optional and always appreciated. Rates are based on group tariffs; if the trip does not have sufficient registration, a small party supplement may be charged.

Single accommodations are available for a supplemental cost in many locations; see the pre-departure trip information or call our office for details. You will be charged the single supplement fee if you desire single accommodations or if you wish to have a roommate, but one is not available. In some remote locations, clients with single rooms are infrequently compelled to share a room due to circumstances beyond our control. In such cases, appropriate per diem refunds will be made reflecting the direct cost of the single room at the facility where clients are required to share. There is no additional single supplement fee on ship-based cruises, if you request a roommate and one is not available.

Cost increases may occur unexpectedly due to rising costs of airfares, ground transport, fuel surcharges, accommodations and currency fluctuations, among others. Joseph Van Os Photo Safaris, Inc. may be compelled to amend prices, and we reserve the right to do so without prior notice. An increase in trip prices shall not be sufficient grounds for any refund of funds paid for the trip other than as determined by the terms of our cancellation policy.

Whenever possible, our trip participants are lodged in comfortable, modern hotels. We select among the best available accommodations, but refrain from extravagance. Some interesting photographic destinations are far removed from modern amenities, however, and where necessary we will be accommodated in rustic country inns, cabins or tented camps.

Meals are always a special part of our trips for the camaraderie they engender and the opportunity they provide to try new foods from different areas. Depending on the trip and specific locale, participants order restaurant meals from the full menu or, less frequently, table d'hôte. Some trips include picnic lunches in the field. Fruit juice for breakfast and coffee or tea are included with the meals. Soft drinks are included with meals on tours within North America. Participants are responsible for their own bar tab (including bottled water, soft drinks and alcoholic beverages on tours outside of North America) at restaurant lunches and dinners.

Our itineraries are intended as examples only. Participants should allow for flexibility due to changes in weather, natural history or cultural events, or other logistical arrangements deemed necessary by Joseph Van Os Photo Safaris, Inc. or our leaders.

The second tour leader (and any subsequent additional leaders) listed for each trip on the website will be added as the group size warrants. If only one space remains on a trip, and logistics permit, we accept two persons traveling together, even if it exceeds the trip maximum.

Joseph Van Os Photo Safaris, Inc. and/or their Agents act only as agents for the passenger in regard to travel including, but not limited to, sightseeing, meals, lodging, transportation, and all other services whether by railroad, motorcar, motor coach, boat, ship or aircraft and they assume no liability for injury, damage, loss, accident, delay or irregularity which may be occasioned either by reason of defect in any vehicle or for any reason whatsoever, or through the acts or default of any company or person engaged in conveying the passenger or in carrying out the arrangements of the trip.

They can accept no responsibility for losses or additional expenses due to delay or changes in air or other services, sickness, weather, strike, war, volcanic eruption, terrorist acts, political unrest, quarantine or other causes. All such losses or expenses will have to be borne by the passenger, as trip fees provide for arrangements only for the times and locations stated. Baggage is at the owner's risk entirely.

The right is reserved to 1) substitute hotels of similar category for those indicated and to make any changes in the itinerary or transport where deemed necessary, or caused by changes in air schedules or equipment substitution; 2) cancel any trip prior to departure, in which case full refund of the paid trip funds will be given, but Joseph Van Os Photo Safaris, Inc. is not responsible for any other trip preparation expenses such as penalized or non-refundable air tickets, visa fees and medical related expenses; 3) substitute trip leader(s) for the leader(s) originally specified, in which case the substitution is not a basis for participant cancellation or refund other than provided by our normal cancellation policy; or 4) accept or retain any person as a member of any trip.

Trip prices are based on tariffs and exchange rates in effect at the time of publication and are subject to adjustment in the event of any change therein.

A Registration Form including the Release and Assumption of Risk section must be signed by each participant prior to the commencement of the trip. Participation by any trip member will be declined in the absence of the signed Registration Form including the Release and Assumption of Risk section, with no trip fee refund. No modification to the Registration Form including the Release and Assumption of Risk section will be accepted.

Should Joseph Van Os Photo Safaris, Inc., or anyone acting on their behalf be required to incur attorney's fees and costs to enforce this agreement, the enrolling trip participant(s) agree(s) to indemnify and hold them harmless for all such fees and costs. In the event a lawsuit is filed, the enrolling participant(s) agree(s) to do so solely in the County of Lewis in the State of Washington. Certain ship owners require the use of pre-printed ticket forms that limit the ship owner's and operator's liability. When such tickets are used, the passenger is bound by the terms of these tickets with respect to the passenger's legal relationship to the owners and operators of the ship, their agents (Joseph Van Os Photo Safaris, Inc.), and the ship's crew.

Mexico's Colonial Heartland
  • Explore and photograph the heart of Mexico’s finest colonial architecture
  • A feast of richly-colored architectural details and vibrant people awaits our cameras
  • Tour timed to coincide with the festive and photogenic Day of the Dead celebrations with costumes, floral displays, elaborate family alters and processions
  • Experience the exuberant color of Mexico’s folk art, craft markets and indigenous traditions
Oct 27 - Nov 03, 2018
Fee: $3,795 from Guanajuato, Mexico
Deposit: $800
Limit: 8
Tour Leaders
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