San Miguel de Allende
Read our pocket guide to San Miguel de Allende
San Miguel de Allende: A pocket guide
The charming colonial city of San Miguel de Allende is considered to be one of the most beautiful towns in Mexico and it truly is a gem. Located in the Bajio mountains in central Mexico, San Miguel is about 160 miles (255 km) northwest of Mexico City in the state of Guanajuato.
Founded by the Spanish in 1542, it was once an important stop on the silver route between Zacatecas and Mexico City and this prominence is evident in the splendor of the city’s architecture. Part of the reason San Miguel remains so special is that it was declared a national monument in 1926 and all new construction must conform to the colonial architecture. In 2008 it also became classified as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Visitors can’t help but fall in love with its narrow cobblestone streets, lovely 18th-century buildings and marvelous houses, both grand and small. These intriguing casas are generally hidden behind tall walls and are entered through often-large elaborately carved wooden doors, which open into courtyards. Fountains, gardens, loggias with fireplaces and casitas are all part of what make San Miguel houses so appealing. And almost all of them come with wonderful staff. Many also have roof gardens overlooking this enchanting hillside town.
Exploring the old town, visitors may want to start with the main plaza, El Jardín, abuzz with artists, musicians and street vendors. It’s home to La Parroquia, neo-gothic and baroque cathedral with a Moorish bell tower, don’t miss it at night when it is wonderfully lit. Nearby are Benito Juárez Park, the largest in town, and the Instituto Allende, where many foreigners come to study art and Spanish. As San Miguel is quite small, one never has to walk far – though in sensible shoes – to get to one of the many excellent restaurants or to a fabulous store, of which there are also many. From decorative objets and light fixtures to furniture and ceramics, the shopping is sensational. Luckily many stores will ship and there is also a place which will pack and ship your purchases. Golf, riding and tennis are available as well.
Within an hour are several fascinating and fun sites. The town of Pozos is known for the ruins of imposing ghostly haciendas which were saved in the 1990s by a group of artists who revitalized the center with art galleries, shops and restaurants. Visit the Shrine of Atotonilco for some of the finest native frescoes in Mexico and try to attend the yearly procession of female pilgrims of all ages dressed as brides. The city of Dolores Hidalgo is famous for hand-painted ceramic dishes and tiles whereas the very pretty Guanajuato makes for a great day out to discover its unique underground streets and Museum of Mummies (not for the faint hearted). It was also put on the map for being the birthplace of Diego Rivera. Today his childhood house is a museum that traces his life and work.
Nature lovers will also enjoy some of the area’s beautiful countryside and active pursuits. Various companies organize bike tours departing from town which journey through beautiful woods, past lakes, rivers and canyons. There are also ranches in the area for horseback riding or for a relaxing break make a trip to one of the region’s hot springs or spas.
Travelers can reach San Miguel easily through León International Airport, which is about 75 minutes (door to door) and is served by Aeroméxico, Mexicana, United (nonstop from Houston) and American Airlines (nonstop from Dallas/Fort Worth). Alternatively Mexico City is about 3.5 hours drive and has arrivals from all major international destinations.