You may have already heard of San Miguel de Allende; it is one of the most picturesque towns I have ever visited. I felt like I was in a movie, walking down tight streets in between colorful houses with overflowing gardens, and peeking into restaurants where locals shared a cup of coffee and gossiped. It seemed like every time I turned a corner, I encountered a majestic old cathedral, a día de los muertos market, or both.
Visiting San Miguel de Allende is a much different experience than visiting nearby Guanajuato. Guanajuato, while certainly climbing the ranks of tourist desirability, has more of a local feel that will appeal to nomads, backpackers, and those craving so-called “authentic” experiences. San Miguel de Allende has a very strong expat culture. Translated: there are lots of rich white folks living in this town, especially in the winter. Due to this, you’ll see a lot of differences—such as more curated craft markets (pro) and more expensive food (con).
Personally I am a fan of both types of travel. I get excited to try places that are under the radar, but I’m also a lover of the finer things in life. Paris is my favorite city in the world, after all. We visited San Miguel de Allende in one day, but I would love to spend several more days relaxing and exploring what it has to offer.
SMDA is halfway between León and Querétaro. You can fly to either and take a bus or private car to San Miguel de Allende. You could even ask a taxi or Uber if they would be willing to make the drive, about 1 hour from Querétaro and 2 hours from León. Many will think the fare well worth it. As always, negotiate the rate before you get in the car.
Another option, if your international destinations are limited, is to fly to Mexico City and take a charter bus.
What to See
There is plenty to explore, and you could spend all day wandering narrow streets. But, did you even go to San Miguel de Allende if you didn’t hit the three most famous and impressive stops? The Jardín Allende, the Parroquia de San Miguel Arcángel (Cathedral) and the Handcrafts Mercado will be your main attractions, and we were able to see all three in our day trip.
Mercado de Artesanias: My friends and I stumbled into the tiny, car-free street lined with handcraft shops without even knowing it was one of the most famous things in town. We were wowed by the embroidery, silver, ceramics and more.
Don’t forget that you can bargain with the shop owners. You don’t want to insult them by offering too little for their handmade items, but you can round down and see if they take it, or ask for a special price if you’re buying more than one of something.
Parroquia de San Miguel Arcángel: This beautiful cathedral honestly reminds me of the Sagrada Familia in Barcelona (which I’ve only seen in photos). It must be the numerous pointy spires. We did not go in, but admired from the Jardín Allende. Here, you are in the heart of the city. I had fun watching kids play with pencil-shaped balloons that they threw into the air and tried to catch. We had lunch at a nearby cafe which was just okay, so I won’t call it out here.
Food and Drink
I was not wowed by the restaurants immediately surrounding the Parque. I was, however, very impressed by a well-curated arts-culture-gastro collective known as Dôce18 Concept House. Stop in and have your choice of food, drink, and shopping, in rooms of the house known as the kitchen, dining room, library, etc. It is located less than a block from the Jardín Allende and big cathedral.
Aside from the Dôce18 concept house, we didn’t have time to experience San Miguel de Allende’s renowned culinary scene. Lonely Planet, Fodor’s, and of course Yelp will have your back in that regard. Missing out on delicious conceptual Mexican food is the main reason I want to go back and extend the trip for a few days.
Central Mexico is not known for its craft beers. Delicious Cervezeria Allende, from SMDA, is the region’s most famous craft brewery; they even offer an IPA. If you’re into craft beer, and you see this on the menu, order it instead of a Modelo.
Do not leave town without experiencing the filled churros at San Agustín. The interior is tight, so small groups will be easier to accommodate than large groups.
Where to Stay
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As I mentioned, my group just took a day trip to SMDA, but I would have liked to extend my visit. I did a bit of research for you if you want to make a multi-day trip.
Fodor’s recommends the stylish Nena hotel which I would book in a heartbeat. The rooms are jaw droppingly gorgeous, they have an on-site restaurant, rooftop lounge, and pool. The rates are reasonable as far as luxe accommodations are concerned. Definitely give them a look.
There is no shortage of airbnbs if you prefer to go that route. Check out this stylish loft that accommodates two guests, or this very stylish apartment (sleeps 4) if you want to keep your lodgings under $70 a night.
One More Thing
San Miguel de Allende is known for its Día de los Muertos markets and festivities. If that’s something you’ve always wanted to experience, consider making your trip at the end of October. We were there around October 30 and had the chance to see día de los muertos papel picado, sugar skulls and other sugar altar offerings, and elaborate altars built to honor the departed.
I hope you enjoyed this quick rundown on an extremely charming Mexican town. Mexico is so much more than beach resorts! I hope you are able to make it to San Miguel de Allende some day. If you have been, please leave some notes in the comments for my next return trip and for anybody else reading!
All photos by Staci Jackson for The Voyageer.