The enchanting Mexican city of Guanajuato feels lost in time. Narrow cobblestone streets and staircases wind around Colonial era buildings, while estudiantinas – roaming bands of musicians dressed in 17th-century Spanish attire – sing traditional love ballads in the small plazas of the historic centre. However, nothing is more romantic than the Callejon del Beso, or the Alley of the Kiss, in Plaza de Los Ángeles.
It was here – where two, nearly touching balconies hang over a thin stone staircase – that I encountered Alejandro Martínez and Paulina Acevedo waiting patiently for their turn to kiss on the stairwell’s third step, which is painted red, to ensure good luck in love.
“It’s her 20th birthday,” Martínez explained, smiling with his arm around his girlfriend of seven months.
As a birthday present, Martínez had brought Acevedo to Guanajuato from their home city of San Luis Potasi, Mexico. “We heard about [the alley] through word of mouth. A lot of other people had told us we had to come,” Martínez said.
When I asked if they would follow the alley’s special kissing tradition, they blushed and giggled, and then jokingly said “no”. Minutes later, they got on the red step and embraced tenderly.
Like Martínez and Acevedo, my girlfriend Paulyna and I travelled to Guanajuato for a quiet weekend alone, and had come to the famous alley to kiss, as had so many others. Couples of all ages – some holding hands and others with children in tow – stood in a long line along the wall, as pair after pair before them connected lips.
For a small tip, local guides waiting at the entrance to the alley would tell the tragic tale of Ana and Carlos, the lovers who made the alley famous.
Using old Spanish puns, guides tell of the types of kisses practiced in the alley, including the:
- Altar boy (when the tongue touches the church bell, which also means the mouth’s “uvula” in Spanish)
- Bullfighter (pecks to the ear and cheek, while also grabbing the tail)
- Microwave (which lasts at least five seconds and is really hot)
- Popsicle (sucking and sucking until only the stick is left)
- Cow (just whatever dumb ox is around)
“Ana was a rich Spaniard who lived on the balcony on the left. Carlos was a poor miner who worked in the nearby mine of Valenciana,” a guide explained. “One night, Ana’s father caught them kissing in the narrow space between the two balconies. The father angrily said that if the same thing happened again the following night, he would kill her.”
The next night, the couple kissed again, and the father went up to the balcony and buried a dagger into his own daughter. Some stories say that as Carlos jumped to protect Ana, he fell to the ground and broke his neck, landing on the third step.
Now, the droves of couples passing through the alley must kiss on that step – where Carlos’ spirit is thought to be watching over lovers – if they want their romance to endure. “If they don’t kiss, then they’ll be cursed with seven years of bad luck. If they do kiss, they’ll receive 15 years of good luck,” the guide said.
After getting onto the step and laying a long kiss on my girlfriend, the two of us entered the building where Ana and her father had lived. Upstairs was a small gift shop in what would have been Ana’s bedroom and a doorway that led out to the fateful balcony. Here, visitors had written their names, messages and meaningful dates on small locks, which they attached to the balcony’s metal bars. In honour of love, we did the same.
As we left, we met Rosario and Maria Sauceda, who had travelled to Guanajuato from Guamúchil, Mexico, with their two adult children. Married for 43 years, they apparently didn’t need any luck – but wanted to add a little more anyway. When it was their turn to kiss, the entire alley cheered.
Finding luck in love around the world
These five legends – from New York to Taipei – will boost your chances for everlasting romance.
If you liked this story, sign up for the weekly bbc.com features newsletter, called “If You Only Read 6 Things This Week”. A handpicked selection of stories from BBC Future, Earth, Culture, Capital, Travel and Autos, delivered to your inbox every Friday.