Founded in 1542, the colonial city of San Miguel de Allende is a UNESCO World Heritage site within Mexico’s hilly central highlands, about 170 miles northwest of Mexico City. Known for the beauty of its well-preserved colonial architecture, vibrant art scene, cobblestoned streets, and eternal spring-like weather, it’s hard not to fall in love with this charming and picturesque city. Many do. In their November 2013 issue, Condé Nast Traveler named San Miguel #1 in their Reader’s Choice Awards for Top 25 Cities in the World.
Considering its ability to seduce travelers and the number of loyal devotees singing its praises, it’s perhaps surprising that we’ve found relatively few people have heard of San Miguel. In fact, when you tell people that you are headed to Mexico, many seem genuinely baffled that you aren’t going to one of the handful of beach destinations they’re familiar with.
To be fair, San Miguel takes some effort to reach, as it has no airport. Once you land, you’ll need to rent a car or take public transport the rest of the way and that adds another 1-4 hours to the journey depending on which airport you choose. We prefer to fly into Mexico City and then take a nice first class or luxury class bus. You can catch the bus from an airport terminal that will take you to Queretaro where you can catch a taxi into San Miguel. It’s quite a trek, but worth the trouble.
The first thing you’re likely to notice about San Miguel is that it is simply awash in color. Throughout the city are fuchsia bougainvillea vines climbing buildings or cascading from rooftop gardens and stunning lavender colored jacaranda trees standing tall against the bright blue skies. You’ll see ornate pink cantera stone spires on the neo-gothic La Parroquía cathedral and lovely 16th- and 17th-century houses painted ochre, pumpkin, rose, or gold with a few burgundy, jade, and turquoise homes mixed in. Even the massive ornate wooden doors with custom ironwork found on homes are the subject of many travel photos.
San Miguel manages to be both quaint and cosmopolitan. Restaurants and boutiques abound, art is everywhere, and you won’t want for entertainment options. Yet, the town is small enough and friendly enough that they don’t have a single traffic light. They control traffic with just speed bumps and courtesy. You won’t find parking meters, billboards, or neon signs either. And, since the city is protected as a national monument due to its historical importance in Mexico’s fight for independence, they aren’t likely to be added.
The historic center of San Miguel is relatively compact with about 24 blocks of narrow cobbled streets and winding alleys. It’s very walkable with comfortable shoes. Parts of the city are quite hilly and, at 6,400 feet altitude, some people with breathing problems may have some trouble climbing them. Otherwise, consider it your daily exercise and a way to earn your next delicious meal.
Although San Miguel offers many wonderful lodging options, in our opinion, the best choice for accommodation is a vacation rental. We love to stay in one of the many beautifully remodeled colonial homes in the heart of the city. They tend to be impeccably decorated and quite comfortable with all of the modern conveniences. Frequently, they include lovely courtyards, rooftop gardens, WiFi, and even a maid/cook.
A satisfying visit to San Miguel might easily consist of nothing more than pleasant strolls, leisurely meals, and enjoying vistas from your rooftop terrace. You can make it as relaxing or as active or as educational as you like. Travellers frequently make their way to San Miguel for its well-respected art schools, language schools, and cooking classes. If you feel like exploring outside of San Miguel, then you can easily reach nearby thermal baths, archaeological sites, botanical gardens, hiking and mountain biking. You can also visit other colonial gems such as Guanajuato City or Queretaro (both UNESCO World Heritage sites).
Come experience why San Miguel is widely considered one of the prettiest and cleanest towns in Mexico and why more than 10,000 foreigners have taken up residence here. You may just fall in love as well.