One of the things that makes travel fun for us is the opportunity to become a temporary local. We love the adventure and discovery that travel provides, but we equally enjoy the luxury of being “homebodies” abroad. Occasionally we do stay at hotels or B&Bs, but our preference is to rent a house or apartment from a local. For us, vacation rentals offer more bang for your buck, but it also provides a fantastic opportunity for cultural immersion.
San Miguel offers a huge range of lodging, everything from multi-million dollar mansions to humble room rentals. Of course, the mansions are out of our budget, but there are so many fantastic deals to be had. Over the course of our previous visits to San Miguel de Allende and our current residency, we’ve had a range of different rental experiences and had the opportunity to live in and explore some of the most popular neighborhoods.
There’s no shortage of rental options on Airbnb, VRBO, Homeaway, etc. You can rent by the day, the week, or the month. The longer you rent, the better the deals. Most of the rentals to be found online are geared toward vacationers and expats, so they are generally very nice, but more expensive. If you plan to stay long term, the best deals are found by word-of-mouth and with Mexican landlords.
The list below demonstrates our evolution from vacationers, to long-term travelers, to residents. You can see how the expectations and prices have adjusted accordingly.
Centro Histórico – $850/wk, included daily maid service
Our experience with San Miguel began smack-dab in the middle of the historic center. Centro is considered a UNESCO World Heritage Site. This is where you find the most beautiful buildings and important landmarks. It offers charming, narrow, one-way, cobblestone streets filled with boutiques, restaurants and galleries. Our rental was two blocks from the Jardin (town square) and a block from Parque Jarez. You really can’t ask for a better location than this.
We rented a 2 bedroom, 2 bath home that was spacious, but homey. We were charmed by the colonial architecture, Mexican decor, and the immensely inviting rooftop garden. We spent hours reading and relaxing amongst the citrus trees and flowers. The covered sitting area on the roof gave us a much appreciated respite from the sun. In the evenings we enjoyed happy hours and outdoor dining. The views were colorful and serene. If you can swing it, Centro is where you want to stay when you are visiting San Miguel for the first time.
Our house came with a lovely housekeeper named Pilar. She came every day to clean and make us breakfast. She spoke no English, but we were able to communicate the basics. This was our first experience with a maid and frankly it made us a bit uncomfortable. We weren’t used to being served by someone. Initially, it made us feel lazy and guilty, but we came to understand that she was proud of role and her long-standing relationship with the home owners. She was so sweet and welcoming that she put us at ease and we adjusted pretty quickly.
Ojo de Agua – $900/wk, included full-time housekeeper/cook
On our second trip we were more familiar with town and eager to try out a new neighborhood. We chose the coveted hillside colonia of Ojo de Agua for its residential feel, its spectacular views of the city, and easy walking distance to Centro.
This 3 bedrooms and 3.5 bath house was tucked away on a quiet little callejón, barely wide enough for cars to make their way. The house was large and well-outfitted. There was an indoor courtyard covered by a glass ceiling which slid fully open like a sunroof. The large, plant-filled rooftop terrace included a generous covered veranda and had a stellar view of the Parroquia, all of Centro, and the ubiquitous fireworks displays that San Miguel is famous for.
The 5 minute walk to Parque Juarez and 15 minute walk to the Jardin were very pleasant. There are some very steep hills in Ojo de Agua, but we were located near the bottom, so it wasn’t much of a workout. It was also an easy walk to the Guardiana and San Antonio neighborhoods, where restaurants and shops can be found more easily.
The rental came with a full-time housekeeper/cook, her name was Alejandra. By this time we were more comfortable with being catered to, but it was still a bit awkward to be lounging while someone cleans diligently around you. Like most of the housekeepers in San Miguel, Alejandra did not speak English. We were able to communicate through our broken Spanish and a translation app on our phones. She cooked delicious breakfasts and lunches for us, unless we had plans to eat out, and she even took us shopping at Mega (grocery store).
Colonia San Antonio – $800/mo, included utilities and weekly maid service
On our third visit to San Miguel we planned to stay for a couple of months and our budget was a bit tighter, so we looked for a long-term rental. Again, we wanted to try out a new neighborhood. We selected San Antonio, an up-and-coming residential neighborhood close to Centro with a greater mix of Mexican and expat families.
San Antonio offers more affordable rentals and you can find plenty of art galleries, restaurants, tiendas, and bakeries. You’ll also find an international school, the Instituto Allende, tennis courts, dance and yoga studios, and a weekly organic market.
We rented a simple, but comfortable 3 bedroom, 3 bath home on Refugio Norte. Unfortunately, we didn’t take many photos. Our favorite feature of the house was the rooftop terrace, where we could look over the city that was dotted with flowering purple jacaranda trees. Our morning coffee often included hot air balloons overhead.
We really enjoyed the energy of the neighborhood and how it came alive in the evening, but sometimes it was quite loud. We arrived in time to participate in San Antonio’s Open Studios Art Walk, which was impressive for it’s size, variety, and quality.
Centro/Guadalupe – $1200/mo, included utilities and daily maid service
At this point we decided to extend our stay for a couple more months, and why not try out yet another neighborhood? This time we moved to the edge of Centro, but still very close to the main mercado, Ignacio Ramirez, and an easy 10 minute walk to the Biblioteca, the Jardin, and La Aurora.
This 3 bedroom, 2 bath home was perhaps our favorite rental. We loved the location and the home. The house was very comfortable and homey, but we also loved the neighborhood and the neighbors. The vast majority of our neighbors were Mexicans with a splash of long-time expats with a deep appreciation for Mexican culture.
This felt like a real community. Our housekeeper, Mirabel, was the daughter of the woman that ran the tienda across the street. As it turned out many people on the street were related. We became fast friends with Mirabel, although she didn’t speak any English and our Spanish was still rudimentary.
Mirabel invited our son to play soccer with her sons, which quickly turned into a daily event. Before long, our son was invited to play Xbox and the occasional first communion party. He was sent home after each visit with a bag of candy from the tienda, a parting gift of sorts. We ran into neighbors all the time and we greeted each other like old friends. Mirabel even picked out clothes for our son at the Tuesday Market, just because.
Balcones – $750/mo, included utilities, but no maid service
Once again, we decided to extend our stay, but we needed to live more frugally, so we searched once more for a good deal in a new location. This time we chose Balcones. Initially we were concerned that it was too out of the way, but Andrew really wanted a change of pace and the idea of being out of town appealed to him. He wanted peace and quite in a more “rural” setting. Luckily, that can be found less than a 20 minute walk from Centro. Bingo!
Balcones is one of San Miguel’s most desirable neighborhoods. It’s an upscale area with breathtaking views of the town, countryside and mountains. It’s all new construction, fairly secluded, and almost all well-off expats. Initially, the quiet and the views were very relaxing and inspiring, but after a month or two we began to feel isolated. The fact that we don’t own a car certainly was a factor, but it’s fair to say that there are no tiendas, restaurants, shops, fill-in-the-blank, within a 20 minute walk of where we lived. The streets were quiet and empty. No neighborly interactions, no chatting, no nothing. It felt like a ghost-town to us and there were no kids to play with for our son.
The two biggest benefits were a 5 minute walk to El Charco del Ingenio, a natural reserve, and the views, which were spectacular.
This time we rented a small, newly constructed and very modern apartment. It was on the bottom floor of a large house at the very top of Balcones. It was only 700 sqft with a loft-style layout, but it was plenty of room for us. It came with a private courtyard and the use of a separate terrace that was larger than our apartment. The views were truly incredible.
When all was said and done, we just couldn’t stay there. We couldn’t move back to Centro fast enough.
Centro/Guadalupe – $320/mo, water and wifi included, but no maid service
Our current apartment is located around the corner from our favorite rental. We’re on the edge of Centro and very close to the main mercado, the Jardin, La Aurora, and our son’s school.
By this time we’d decided we wanted to stay in San Miguel indefinitely (meaning, we aren’t exactly sure when we will leave, but we don’t plan to stay forever). Now it was time to get serious about finding a *really* affordable rental. To us that meant that we needed to move away from Airbnb and the like. It was time to look for posters stapled to phone poles and ask locals if they knew of any decent rentals.
We asked our Spanish teacher if she’d be willing to walk around our neighborhood of choice with us to help us find rentals and then help us negotiate. We offered to pay her our standard class fee for her time and she agreed.
During one of our excursions we happened across a building with a rental. We asked the Doña to see the apartment. Sadly, it was too small. They said they had another rental next door and showed us that too. Still too small. Then, they offered to rent both apartments to us for the same price. We declined, because we didn’t feel comfortable having our 10-year-old son sleep in a separate apartment from us, even if it was just next door. Then, they offered to put a doorway between the two apartments to make it a single apartment. That sounded pretty good, but the back apartment was too dark for us, we told them that we needed more light. They offered to put in a window. This went on for a while before we decided that we couldn’t turn the opportunity down.
The apartment was very bare bones when we moved in, but we’ve made many improvements since we moved in. We miss not having an outdoor space, but we’re close to many public plazas and a fantastic coffee shop with a large grassy yard.
We’ve had to invest some time and money to personalize the space, but that helps make it feel more like its ours. We’ve painted, had shelves installed, put up curtains, installed new lighting fixtures, purchased furnishings, had a storage bench built in the kitchen nook, and more.
It’s still small and it’s still simple, but it feels homey. And, I can guarantee you that you will not find another 2 bedroom, 2 bathroom apartment in Centro for 5000 pesos per month. And, that’s very hard to pass up.