San Miguel de Allende is often described as a colonial gem and one that expats and annual visitors would like to keep secret. The town is gringo friendly and students of all ages go there to study art and Spanish. It attracts many American and Canadian retirees with its motto that ‘people retire to Florida to die but to San Miguel to live’.
San Miguel lies in the highlands of central Mexico, 275 kilometers northwest of Mexico City, in the state of Guanajuato. It is said to have year-round spring-like weather because of its altitude, although it can be pretty cold there in January.
It’s also a National Monument of Mexico with many beautifully restored colonial buildings and narrow cobblestone streets. The central plaza is a great place to meet locals and other travellers. So many fabulous shops fan out from there that the town is often described as a shopper’s paradise.
There is a good selection of hotels, often in restored colonial mansions, and great restaurants offering Mexican and international cuisine. There are also many cultural offerings. The Instituto Allende Art and Language School is one of Latin America’s largest schools of fine arts for English-speaking students. It offers painting, drawing, sculpture, jewellery, ceramics, batik, weaving, and art history courses. Several schools offer Spanish lessons. The Bellas Artes offers courses in arts and crafts as well as dance and theatre productions and the Teatro Angela Peralta hosts numerous events throughout the year.
You can take guided tours to art studios and to some of San Miguel’s finest homes. There’s a public library with a large selection of English books. And there are opportunities to get involved in the local community through different volunteer activities.
The closest international airports are Mexico City (274 kilometers away) and Leon (105 kilometers away). I have taken local buses from both airports to San Miguel and it is certainly doable. You take the bus from the Mexico City airport (or from the Terminal Norte bus station in the city itself) to Queretaro. From Queretaro you catch another bus or taxi to San Miguel, which is a one-hour trip (and you may meet other foreign travellers on the first bus who will share the taxi with you). The bus station in San Miguel is 1.5 kilometers out of town so you’ll need to take a taxi from the station to your hotel.
Or make arrangements with your hotel or local travel agency to get from the airport to San Miguel on a tourist shuttle van.
Hotels change, of course. When I was there some moderate and pleasant hotels around the plaza were Mansion Virreyes, Pension Casa Carmen, Posada Carmina, and Hotel Posada de San Francisco. The Instituto Allende is in a rather busy part of town and I would prefer staying closer to the plaza and taking a bus there for classes.
There are interesting places around San Miguel that are easy to visit by local bus. Guanajuato, the state capital, is a one-hour drive away. This UNESCO World Heritage Site is nestled in a narrow canyon and has striking architecture with winding cobblestone streets and unique underground passages.
Dolores Hidalgo, 43 kilometers away, is where the Mexican independence movement began in earnest in 1810; today it is known for its ceramics and pottery. Queretaro, another colonial gem, is less than an hour away.
By Sylvia Fanjoy
Photo credits Sylvia Fanjoy
© Riding the buses 2010