The Basílica of Guadalupe, the most visited sanctuary in America

Every December 12, the Virgen de Guadalupe is highly celebrated throughout Mexico. However, the place that brings together the biggest celebration is right in the place where the Virgin of Guadalupe appeared to Juan Diego: the Basílica of Guadalupe, in Mexico City.

Non-Catholic visitors to Mexico City might not have the Basílica very high on their destination list. Still, the Basílica and its story are essential to Mexico's history and continue to be integral to most of their lives.

The Basílica of Guadalupe is the most visited Marian site in the world, surpassed only by the Basílica of San Pedro in Vatican City. Although the figures cited are not uniform, some twenty million pilgrims visit the sanctuary annually. About nine million do so on the days around December 12, when La Virgen de Guadalupe is celebrated.

On this day, millions of devotees from all social scenes arrive, from nearby places to the most remote corners of the world. From all directions, groups of people in feather headdresses, rattles, and teponaxtles (drums) dance with devotion on this date, all present to pay homage to the mother of Mexico on her birthday.

With the day approaching, we wanted to highlight this special place and tell you about what is there to visit in this Basílica. It is a must-visit place if you are ever in Mexico City.

Read along to learn all about La Basílica de Guadalupe!

Some History

The Basílica of Guadalupe is located on Tepeyac Hill, from the Nahuatl "Tepeyacac" which consists of two words: tepetl (hill) and yacatl (nose). Before the Spanish arrived and brought Catholicism to Mexico, the deity Tonantzin (which in Nahuatl means "our mother") was venerated on this hill. She encompassed different female Mexica deities, such as Centetótl (goddess of corn), Coatlicue, and Cihuacóatl (mother of gods and creator of humans, goddess of the earth). 

According to the story, on December 9, 1531, began the apparitions of a brown-skinned virgin to Juan Diego, an indigenous man. This was the first apparition of three that ended on December 12 with her image appearing on a piece of cloth. Thus, initiating the adoration for La Morenita, Virgencita, or Our Lady of Guadalupe as well as the date she is commemorated (you can read more about this here).

Following this apparition, the Catholic church built a temple to honor the wishes of La Virgen de Guadalupe. Over the years, this devotion created the cultural phenomenon of La Basílica de Guadalupe.


The Villa Basílica, or La Villa de Guadalupe

First, let us disclose that visiting la Basílica of Guadalupe is not only a visit to one building. It is an entire complex comprised of several chapels, monuments, and even a museum, altogether known as La Villa de Guadalupe or La Plaza Mariana. Upon reaching La Villa de Guadalupe, you cross a large bridge over the Calzada de Guadalupe and access a large promenade known as Plaza de las Americas.

The New Basílica

As soon as you enter the Plaza de las Americas, your eyes will immediately shift towards the unmistakable New Basílica with its circular plan and turquoise roof. Completed relatively recently, in 1976, this Basílica became the house of the sacred image where the Virgin appeared.

The new Basílica was projected with the idea that all should have complete access and that it would be able to house all the visitors. Hence, its circular plan has an approximate capacity for 10,500 people, of which 5,200 can be seated. It has seven massive doors (representing the seven gates of Celestial Jerusalem referred to in the Bible) that receive pilgrims from the atrium and allow the sacred image to be seen from the outside.

Also, the new building allows being close to the image of La Virgen with three moving sidewalks that pass in front of Juan Diego's tilma, protected by bulletproof glass. This allows all visitors to see the image while preventing agglomerations.

Inside, you can listen to one of the daily masses or walk around watching the impressive art in this building. You can also admire the love and faith many devotees have for La Virgencita. Devotees offer prayers, bless babies, and light candles in her honor. Frequently you will see dedicated pilgrims crawl from the door to the front altar on their knees. 

After visiting the impressive Basílica and the image of the Virgin, we recommend visiting the entire complex, as it undoubtedly has much more to offer.

Old Basílica and the Capuchinas Chapel

The Old Basílica of Guadalupe (also known as the Expiatory Temple of Christ the King) was the place that housed Juan Diego's tilma, up until the New Basílica was built. One of the most important historical events was the explosion of a bomb on the main altar in 1921. It was an act within the framework of the Cristero wars, a conflict between supporters of a secular state, and defenders of the Catholic faith. Although the preserved tilma was not damaged, a cross commemorates this incident.

Moreover, the Parroquia de Capuchinas was a church and convent of Capuchinas (the female branch of the Franciscan friars), whose decoration is humbler than that of the Expiatory Temple. The tilma has been housed here on three different occasions due to remodeling work or restoration of the Basílica.

Capilla de Indios and Capilla del Pocito

While visiting this complex, remember to pay a visit to the old Parroquia de Indios, the oldest building in the complex. This chapel guarded the image of Santa María de Guadalupe from 1695 to 1709, when it was taken to the Old Basílica. This chapel got its name from the segregation between indigenous and Spanish/Mestizos, making this the place of prayer for indigenous Catholics.

Another important building is the Capilla del Pocito, located on one of the slopes of Tepeyac hill. The name comes from its location, where a well or spring was initially believed to have miraculous waters. The supposed healing properties attracted many diseases. However, people continued to come, and finally, it was decided to build the chapel on the site.

Cerro Tepeyac, or El Cerrito

On your visit to La Basílica, climbing the actual Tepeyac Hill, known as El Cerrito is essential. Here, you will be able to appreciate the impressive view of buildings in the complex from above and visit the two hidden gems up there. Though it might seem like a tiring climb, the views from above are worth it.

To climb Cerro del Tepeyac, you will have to take a stairway that will take you to the Chapel of Cerrito, built in the place where the Virgin gave the roses to Juan Diego as proof of her existence. Behind it is the Tepeyac cemetery, where figures such as Antonio López de Santa Anna were buried, along with musicians, painters, poets, and other renowned people in the history of Mexico.

The Quetzalcóatl Fountain and the Sculpture of La Ofrenda

When descending the hill, you can go down the Fuente de Quetzalcóatl, a waterfall-type fountain decorated with Aztec motifs. Apart from this, you will enjoy the set of sculptures known as La Ofrenda, sixteen figures made of bronze and stone representing a group of indigenous people giving offerings to the Virgin of Guadalupe.

There are other unmissable essential points in the Villa, such as the Rose Garden and the Basílica museum. So be sure to plan for an entire day and check it all out!


The Basílica, like most tourist attractions in Mexico, offers plenty of opportunities for souvenir shopping. The streets surrounding the Basílica are teeming with street food vendors, making sure you get an authentic, traditional, delicious, and healthy lunch there! Vendors offer thousands of snacks, Aguas Frescas, and ice cream. At the same time, rows of shops on the plaza sell religious and non-religious keepsakes like statues, t-shirts, crucifixes, candles, necklaces, and postcards to remember your visit.

Annually, the Basílica of Guadalupe has at least twice the number of visitors than the most well-known Marian sanctuaries, making it a unique social and cultural phenomenon.

Throughout the years, the Virgen of Guadalupe receives believers and non-believers from the five continents in her temple, La Basílica de Guadalupe. Still, the week of December 12 is the busiest. If you would like to visit but do not like big crowds, we recommend you plan your visit some other time of the year. However, if you are up for it, this celebration is a spectacle that all must see.


So, what do you think? Have you ever been to la Basílica? If so, we would love to hear your experience! Would you like to read more articles like this one? What else would you like for us to highlight about our cultura? Let us know in the comments below! 

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