A Book Lover's Guide to Mexico's Most Literary Cities

Mexican skull with book | © 1565708 / Pixabay
Mexican skull with book | © 1565708 / Pixabay
Photo of Stephen Woodman
19 January 2018

Carlos Fuentes, Octavio Paz and Elena Poniatowska – Mexico has produced a broad range of international literary stars. With its incredible cultural diversity and unique history, the country has also attracted a huge flock of foreign writers and artists. With that in mind, here’s a rundown of the country’s top literary cities and the places that inspired some of the world’s most notable creatives.

Mexico City

The heaving capital is also Latin America’s most important literary hub. Celebrated writers such as Carlos Fuentes and Octavio Paz once called this place home. The city is also home to a new generation of hot literary talent: names such as Guadalupe Nettel, Guillermo Fadanelli and Brenda Lozano have been cropping up more and more in English-speaking literary circles.

One of the most fashionable writers associated with the Mexican capital is the late Roberto Bolaño, who was actually a Chilean. Described by The New York Times as “the most significant Latin American literary voice of his generation,” Bolaño’s 1998 classic The Savage Detectives features numerous real-life locations that you can visit in Mexico City.

The “Café Quito” that features prominently is closely based on Café La Habana, a legendary coffee shop that was a favorite haunt of Octavio Paz and Bolaño himself.

Café La Habana | © Alejandro De La Cruz/Flickr


Little more than an hour’s drive from the capital, the city of Cuernavaca has a storied literary history. The leafy destination was once home to the Colombian master Gabriel García Márquez and was famously used as the setting for the British novelist Malcolm Lowry’s 1947 classic Under the Volcano.

Widely regarded as a masterpiece, the story follows 24 hours in the life of the alcoholic former British consul and his estranged wife Yvonne. The city of Cuernavaca features heavily in the narrative and its central characters visit recognizable locations such as the Palacio de Cortés and the central plaza.

The city has become much more dangerous in recent years, and local poet Javier Sicilia received international attention for his campaign work following the murder of his son in 2011.

Emiliano Zapata statue | © MirandaUrbina / WikiCommons

San Miguel de Allende

This picturesque colonial town has long been a favorite of expat writers and intellectuals.

Situated in the central state of Guanajuato, San Miguel was once home to Neal Cassady, a major figure of the Beat Generation and an important countercultural icon. A charismatic and intelligent petty criminal, Cassady inspired the character of Dean Moriarty in Jack Kerouac’s classic 1957 novel, On the Road.

Born in Salt Lake City, Utah, Cassady lived in Mexico on and off throughout the 1960s. He froze to death while walking along the railway tracks on a winter night outside San Miguel.

According to local lore, other beats such as Allen Ginsberg, Ken Kesey and William Burroughs spent time in the city. The talk, drugs and drinking reportedly centered around the original Bar La Cucaracha facing Jardín Allende, which has since moved to a different location on Calle Zacateros.

San Miguel de Allende | © Jiuguang Wang/Flickr


The western state of Jalisco is noted for literary figures such as Juan Rulfo, Mariano Azuela and José María Vigil. Every year in late November and early December, the state capital, Guadalajara, hosts the Guadalajara International Book Fair (FIL). It is the Spanish-speaking world’s most important literary event, and brings together top writers, publishers and the general public for a 9-day celebration of books. In recent years, top authors such as Irvine Welsh, Laura Restrepo and Salman Rushdie have visited the festival. In 2016, George R. R. Martin was in attendance, speaking about his series A Song of Ice and Fire, which was later adapted into the HBO smash-hit series Game of Thrones.

George R. R. Martin at Guadalajara’s International Book Fair | © Stephen Woodman

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