San Miguel de Allende

Parish of San Miguel
Narrow streets of San Miguel de Allende.

San Miguel de Allende is a small colonial town in the Bajio mountains of central Mexico, about 170 miles northwest of Mexico City. Founded as "San Miguel" in 1542 by a San Franciscan Monk named San Miguel El Grande, it became a centerpiece in the war for Mexican independence from Spain; it was renamed San Miguel de Allende after Ignacio Allende, a hero of the independence movement. In danger of becoming a ghost town in the early 20th century, the town was declared a national monument in 1926 and building became heavily restricted in the town's historic centro district, allowing the city to keep the colorful native facades that have become the backdrop of many famous works of art and even modern motion pictures.

A series of artist colonies were founded in San Miguel in the 1950s, including the famous Instituto Allende, and many G.I.s moved their families here following World War II either to attend one of these colonies or to escape the polio scares raging through many U.S. cities. The result was a healthy American expatriate population that exists today mostly as elderly retirees and second-generation business owners. This population, combined with wealthy Mexicans (especially actors and politicians) that have rediscovered San Miguel as a Malibu-like retreat from Mexico City, has created an eclectic mix of Old World Mexican charm, American hospitality, and a party atmosphere that makes San Miguel a world-class destination for adventurous travelers.

Understand

San Miguel is, first and foremost, a city built for relaxing. It is a Spanish colonial town of perhaps 140,000 people, a heritage site protected by the Mexican government in order to maintain its character. In July of 2008 it was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It's a tourist destination, an art colony, and a retirement community for 12,000 foreigners – mostly Americans, Canadians, and Europeans. In spite of the increased number of foreigners over the past perhaps 20 years, it still is charming enough that many Mexicans visit for special holidays, and there are more than a few visitors who buy a house within a few days of their first arrival.

Climate

San Miguel's weather is typical of central mountainous Mexico. It varies little, and even in the hottest months (May and June) when daytime temperatures can reach 35°C, the dry air makes it tolerable and cool mountain breezes tend to make evenings delightful. Winter evenings (from December to February) can get cold, even down to freezing overnight, but it warms up quickly in the morning. The rainy season extends from June to September when days are pleasant for sightseeing until heavy downpours (usually late in the afternoon and evening) cool and freshen the air. Ultimately, the climate has the same lazy, quiet air and temperance as Palm Springs, encouraging long hours of swimming and pool-side tanning, reading or napping, or just lying in a hammock and forgetting the world exists.

San Miguel de Allende was founded by Franciscan Monk Fray Juan de San Miguel Miguel, who baptized the city with the name San Miguel el Grande. After the War of Independence from Spain in the year 1826, San Miguel was elevated to a city status and given the name San Miguel de Allende in honor of Ignacio Allende y Unzaga, the first Mexican soldier and a native of the city.

San Miguel's climate
Month: JanFebMarAprMayJunJulAugSepOctNovDec
High Temp C/F 22/7123/7425/7827/8128/8327/8025/7825/7824/7624/7623/7422/71
Low Temp C/F 8/46 9/4810/5012/5414/5714/5814/5814/5814/5712/5410/49 8/47
Rain (mm/inches) 12/0.52/0.14/0.220/0.832/1.3125/5.0120/4.7117/4.6120/4.743/1.715/0.610/0.4

Films

Once Upon a Time in Mexico and And Starring Pancho Villa as Himself were filmed almost entirely in San Miguel.

Get in

One of the most difficult aspects of visiting San Miguel de Allende is actually getting there. Its remoteness is definitely part of the charm of the city. Your afternoon nap will never be disturbed by the sound of an overhead plane or a train pulling in, but reaching San Miguel, and eventually escaping, can be a problem if you do not understand your options.

If you're an experienced driver in Mexico, you'll have few problems reaching San Miguel. It's less than two hours from Léon and one hour from Querétaro, and maybe a three-hour drive from Mexico City. The only difficulty will come when you actually reach San Miguel. Parking spaces are at an absolute premium here, so you'll want to arrange to have a spot for your car waiting when you arrive. Additionally, the cobblestone streets were not designed for modern traffic, so driving around San Miguel can be a challenge. Most people walk or take a two-dollar cab ride anywhere downtown.

If you've never driven much in Mexico, driving to San Miguel is not difficult. While San Miguel is on the side of a mountain ridge, most of the roads leading to it are in excellent condition and safe to drive, at least during the day. Since much of this area is "free range" land, horses and cattle may find their way on the road, especially at night.

Seniors and tourists touring the region may find sightseeing more difficult because of the locals' propensity to drive fast along these two-lane highways. It's not much fun having a car on your bumper while trying to see the beautiful countryside in this area.

Your best bet is flying into Leon or Mexico City, and taking a shuttle or bus to San Miguel. Then you do not have to worry about parking you car, which is of little use once you arrive.

By plane

The closest airports to San Miguel are the Aeropuerto Bajío/León (BJX), next to the town of Silao, about 70 miles away and Aeropuerto Querétaro (QRO), north of the city of Querétaro, about 45 miles away. Arriving at either of these airports will make your final journey a relatively inexpensive (USD30-60) hour shuttle or cab ride. A bus ride from Querétaro is even cheaper (around USD10-15), but the trip will take 2-2.5 hours because the bus is not direct to San Miguel and you have to take a taxi from the airport to the bus station. Colectivos from the bus station to the city center are much cheaper.

Your flight may be less expensive if you go through Mexico City (MEX), and connect to a flight to Leon or Querétaro. You may ride an airport bus from Mexico City to Leon and then catch a local bus to San Miguel. However, it's a 4-5 hour trip. Another option is a bus from MEX airport to Querétaro and on to San Miguel.

American and United airlines have direct flights to Leon from Dallas-Ft Worth and Houston, respectively.

By taxi or rental car

If you fly into Mexico City and need to reach San Miguel, do not try to take a taxi from the airport. The taxi drivers in Mexico City are well trained to cheat you by charging you three or four times the cost of a trip to San Miguel. It's simply not worth the hassle. If you're hell-bent on flying into Mexico City and not taking a bus, call ahead to the hotel or B&B where you're staying and ask them to send a taxi from San Miguel. Yes, they may charge you for both the trip to and from the airport, but it will be infinitely less expensive than if you try to pick up a taxi from the street outside the Mexico City airport. It is very important not to pick up a taxi from the street outside the Mexico City airport for safety reasons, in any case. Take one of the official airport taxis to your hotel. These "Transporte Terrestre" taxis are the only ones allowed inside the airport. You will buy a zone-priced ticket ahead of time inside the airport by walking all the way down to the right (several hundred yards) after exiting the international arrivals area.

If you fly into a regional airport like Léon or Querétaro, taking a taxi the rest of your way is much safer. Just make sure you use an approved taxi service (the green and white cars are official taxis). Even still, if you don't know San Miguel that well, you may want to consider calling ahead to your hotel or B&B and having them provide transport. Regional taxis may know how to get you to San Miguel, but only a taxi or car sent by your lodging will know how to get you straight to them.

By far the most convenient airport to fly into is Leon (BJX). Arrange for a ride beforehand with one of the many shuttle services listed on San Miguel websites. Average price about USD25-30 per person. This will almost always be cheaper than taking a taxi from the airport, and the driver will know the town of San Miguel much better than a taxi driver from the airport. There is no easy way to get from the Leon airport to San Miguel by bus.

Perhaps the best option for getting to your hotel, casa or B&B is to pre-arrange pickup at your arrival airport. The driver will meet you inside the terminal, in the area where you clear customs. The rates are USD70-120. A 6 passenger SUV will be the highest and a sedan for 3 is around USD70. You can arrange transportation through your SMA hotel, etc., or book direct. A favorite is Julio and Antonio at 52 415 154 0708. If you contact them directly, you will save the hotels commission. There are others that are as nice and reputable.

Transportes Turisticos del Centro SA de CV offers a great service. They provide reliable and very comfortable vehicles, all their staff is English-speaking and, best of all, they charge low prices.

By bus

Get around

Street behind the Parish

On foot

Maybe 90% of San Miguel's attractions are within walking distance. Just keep in mind that because San Miguel was built into the side of a mountain, it can turn out to be difficult to traverse, some inclines are 15 or 20 degrees. Furthermore, the streets are cobbled and narrow – some were nothing but goat tracks before they were paved – and many have fallen into disrepair. Curbs are often a high step away from the road. All in all, the town can be unforgiving to an inexperienced walker. For this reason, it is advisable to bring comfortable shoes.

By car

Driving in San Miguel can be challenging due to very narrow streets and limited parking, and is best avoided. There was a time when the city was not so wealthy and only taxis could be found on these roads. Now that the real estate market has boomed, an influx of money has made cars more affordable and now the average resident is more likely to own one – good news for the economy, but bad news for the roads.

Many two-way streets in San Miguel are too narrow to support two lanes of traffic, and it's not uncommon for a street to become so choked with cars that drivers have to get out and negotiate which one is going to back up to a wider street to let the other pass. Many streets are one-way and indicated by arrow signs placed on the sides of buildings; a double arrow indicates a two-way street.

Watch out for very steep streets. They can get even steeper than you realize and at least one in San Miguel is so narrow at the bottom that no more than a medium-sized car with its side mirrors pulled in can safely maneuver between the buildings. Scratches on the walls attest to drivers who have literally had to scrape between the buildings. Backing up the hill is usually not an option. Following a city bus is a good way to guarantee not getting into a tight situation.

On-street parking regulations are widely ignored by Mexicans. If you park on the street, do NOT leave it parked for more than 24 hours (There are no signs warning about this). Parking violations may result in the transit police removing your license plate(s). You will then need to find the police station, pay a fine, and hope that your plates are returned. A better alternative is that there are several paid parking lots in town; look for 'E' signs indicating Estacionamento (parking).

By taxi

Catch a taxi to any destination within central San Miguel for $35-40 MXN (2016), and $40-50 MXN after dark. In-town taxis are abundant and a great option after an afternoon of shopping. Taxis do not use meters and the price should be confirmed first. Taxis in front of the bus station are notorious for over-charging; most locals walk a few meters past them to flag down a cab on the street. If calling for a taxi to pick you up, the price doubles. If planning a late night out, most taxi drivers can be trusted to keep an appointment if the pickup time is arranged in advance.

By bus

San Miguel has its own pleasant and reliable bus system that serves the entire town, including out-of-the-way places like the Luciérnega Shopping Center and the bus depot. Buses are called urbanos and run from 07:00-21:00 daily for a flat rate of $5 MXN inside the city center (single ride, no transfer, driver gives change). The schedule is every 15-20 minutes in the central city; every 1-2 hours to and from outlying areas in the municipality. Routes are never referred to by their number but by the name of the destination. There is no route map.

Destinations are generally marked or painted on the side or on the windshield. 'Centro' means downtown and 'Central' means bus station. Buses are white with color-coded trim. All the blue-white and orange-white buses pass the stop opposite the Oratorio de San Felipe Neri downtown. Yellow-white buses make a circle around town passing near centro and central. All red-white, green-white, purple-white buses and some yellow-white buses connect to the outlying suburbs and are boarded at various stops located several blocks outside the center of town.

By tourist trolley

Two different companies provide sightseeing rides using trolley-looking buses that cost $60 MXN. You can ask for tickets in the main tourist office just in the main square. The ride lasts 1.5 hours (if traffic allows) and reaches the top of hill 'El Mirador' for a fantastic view of the town.

See

Parroquia San Miguel Arcángel
Unfinished mural by David Alfaro Siqueiros in the Centro Cultural Ignacio Ramírez (Bellas Artes)
Temple of the Immaculate Conception of the Sisters (Las Monjas)
Templo de Nuestra Señora de la Salud

Architecture

Museums and galleries

Other

Do

Cultural events

Fiesta de los Locos
Procession during the Fiesta de San Miguel Arcángel

Sport and outdoor activities

El Charco del Ingenio Jardín Botánico

Learn

Spanish

Several schools offer classes and arrange a 'home stay' with a host family for a very good price.

Art

Walkway in the Centro Cultural Ignacio Ramirez (Bellas Artes)

San Miguel's many art institutes are always open to travelers looking to discover (or become the next) Frida Kahlo. Painting, sculpture, printmaking, photography, you name it and it's probably there.

Buy

Craft shop

Arts and crafts

The streets around the Jardín are full of specialty shops selling common souvenirs, clothing, art, furniture, and Mexican tile, and any other type of Mexican artwork that you can think of. In addition to its cultural staples, San Miguel de Allende is known for its amazing shopping. Being near the geographical center of the country, artisans from every part of Mexico have been known to send their artwork to San Miguel to be sold. Whenever possible buy directly from the artisan. Many amazingly, talented artists are not able to support their families due to the low prices they receive for their art. At times it is very necessary to barter and at other times inappropriate – use your intuition and allow for mistakes.

Ladies: don't forget to pick up a pair of San Miguel shoes as soon as you arrive. Your walk around town will be much more comfortable.

Markets

Tianguis de los Martes
Mercado Ignacio Ramirez

Groceries

Eat

Cafetería San Agustín

Drink

If you can't find something to do in San Miguel at night, you're not looking hard enough. If you can't find something to do on a Saturday night, you're outright blind. This city is filled with clubs, bars, dance halls, and restaurants, and almost all of them have SOME plan for every night of the week. Following are just a few options, try these out, but also seeking your own favorite hang-out.

Sleep

Budget

Mid-range

Splurge

Stay safe

San Miguel de Allende, while perhaps safer than other tourist destinations in Mexico, can be unsafe. Most tourists don't have a problem when visiting San Miguel de Allende, but you should still exercise caution while on your visit. Use common sense, keep your valuables and cash out of sight and stay in well lit areas at night.

Connect

Cope

Consulates

Go next

This article is issued from Wikivoyage - version of the Sunday, March 13, 2016. The text is available under the Creative Commons Attribution/Share Alike but additional terms may apply for the media files.