Whether looking for a romantic getaway, family vacation or retirement alternative, consider adding San Miguel de Allende to your short list. This uber-friendly, sun-splashed town in the Colonial Highlands of Mexico has a lot going for it, as I discovered on a recent trip.
SMA, as the locals call it, is blessed with near-perfect weather year-round. We were there in mid-December and there wasn’t a cloud in the sky or temperatures above 75 degrees the entire week, with evening temps dipping to the 50s. Locals say that even in the hottest months, it rarely gets above the 80s.
SMA is served by three airports: Queretaro, Del Bajio in Leon and Juarez International in Mexico City. You can fly from BWI to Mexico City and either take another flight to Queretaro or Del Bajio, rent a car or take a luxury bus for the 4½-hour ride to San Miguel.
You won’t need a car in San Miguel; indeed, parking is scarce, and the narrow, hilly, cobblestoned streets are not conducive to driving. Taxis are plentiful and you can get pretty much everywhere you want to go by foot.
We split our accommodations between an Airbnb and the chic Hotel Matilda. Each provided an equally enjoyable alternative — the freedom of your own apartment versus the luxury of being catered to.
One of the most enjoyable things to do in SMA is simply to walk down to the main square, commonly called El Jardin or Zocalo, find an empty bench and just enjoy the sights and sounds, from mariachi bands to impromptu dance parties to street festivals. When we were there, we enjoyed seeing the town square being decorated for the December holidays. (There was also a community-wide Chanukah party to which residents and visitors were invited. The Jewish Cultural and Community Center of San Miguel de Allende is located at Las Moras #47. For information on SMA’s Jewish community, visit shalomsanmiguel.org.)
You can spend your entire visit enjoying the view from a park bench in El Jardin, but it would be a shame to miss some of the town’s other attractions. Here’s a look at how we passed our stay:
- Simply stroll around, camera in hand, admiring the colonial architecture and vibrant colors. And if you see an open courtyard, peek in. You might just find an art gallery or boutique well worth a visit. If you’re creatively inclined yourself, there are numerous classes and workshops in everything from photography to painting to pottery that you can sign up for. (Check out Instituto Allende at instituto-allende.edu.mx for information.)
- Visit La Parroquia de San Miguel de Arcangel. The rose-pink Baroque church dates back to the late 17th century. The story goes that the church inspired Gaudi’s Sagrada Familia in Barcelona. It’s a beautiful sight any time of day or night.
- If you love handcrafted items, don’t miss the Mercado de Artesanias, where you’ll meet local artisans selling hand-blown glass, leather goods, ceramics, jewelry and more. There are also plenty of flea markets and food markets where you can graze your way from meal to meal.
- For more high-end art, Fabrica La Aurora is a renovated textile factory that now houses more than 50 galleries, as well as a cafe that makes a relaxing stop for lunch.
- If you want a change of park scene from El Jardin, stroll over to Parque Juarez, near the Rosewood Hotel (try their rooftop bar for a drink at sunset!). The park is popular with locals and visitors, and is the largest green space in SMA, with plenty of walkways, fountains and playgrounds.
- As a book lover, I never miss a visit to a library or bookstore, and the Biblioteca de Publica de San Miguel de Allende is a quiet oasis, complete with a lovely cafe. In addition to having books and magazines to borrow or buy, the library also hosts cultural events and English-language tours. You can find a calendar of events at bibliotecasma.com.
Restaurants in San Miguel are plentiful, diverse and quite reasonably priced. Thanks to recommendations from our Airbnb hosts, these were some of our favorite dining spots.
For breakfast, Lavanda Cafe not only has a variety of breakfast dishes, but is known for its coffee drinks, many made with — as the name suggests — lavender.
Hecho in Mexico will fill you up with familiar Mexican dishes, from burritos to tacos to carne asada, but it all tastes so much better when actually “made in Mexico,” as the restaurant name indicates. La Posadita is located next to La Parroquia, so if you can stop taking photos from the rooftop cafe long enough to actually eat, you can enjoy classic Mexican fare.
Satisfy your sweet tooth at Cafe San Agustin with their churros and chocolate. (The line for carryout can be long, but we had no problems getting a table to dine in.) Churros are fried dough (how bad can that be!) rolled in cinnamon and sugar and served with a cup of thick, dark hot chocolate.
My visit to San Miguel de Allende was my first — indeed, my first to Mexico — but I hope it won’t be my last.
For information, go to visitmexico.com