Friday, March 7, 2014

Mexico's Secret Fairytale City | San Miguel De Allende Travel Guide

San Miguel is the city that everyone falls in love with. Maybe it has something to do with its fine architectural details mixed with a stunning landscape of valleys and mountains. Or maybe its because you can live in the art that thrives in every street and square of the city. But without a doubt, there is something special about San Miguel de Allende.

most beautiful city in Mexico San Miguel de Allende

We arrived in San Miguel De Allende two days ago, and were warned before arriving that this is where all the English speaking expats in Mexico flock to retire. As such, life here is made very easy for English speakers to find services catered to them (in case you were wondering a day trip to San Miguel De Allende from Mexico City is totally doable if you're an early riser). As we drove through the streets searching for our hotel I noticed all the buildings were painted only in deep earthy colours, such as red, brown, orange and yellow.

san miguel de allende la casa del inquisidor

San Miguel de Allende Travel Guide Tip Number One : The first thing you need to know about San Miguel de Allende is that it is a small city. With a population hovering below 150,000 it's not a big place. But don't let its size deter you from its appeal. Like Guanajuato, this city has an electrifying appeal, a striking nature that draws people from all over the world to not only come as tourists, but spend their retirement here.


Since we arrived pretty early in the morning on our first day, we decided to do the tram tour of the city. As we ventured into the main square of the city, the first thing we saw was the pastel pink Parroquia de San Miguel Arcangel (San Miguel de Allende's main church). We were informed by our tour guide that this church was inspired by the Cologne Cathedral in Germany. Like most Mexican cities, the architecture in San Miguel de Allende is heavily influenced by European architecture.

parroquia de san miguel de allende church cathedral

The tram took us to all the main streets of the city in less than 2 hours (if you are looking for convenience I recommend taking the tram to visit the main San Miguel de Allende tourist attractions). Everything important to see is within walking distance from the main square - it was easy to find all the most important places to visit in San Miguel del Allende.

San Miguel isn't a city like Paris or Rome where you must spend considerable time covering large distances within the city to see all the landmarks. San Miguel is made to be walked to experience the thriving art and culture that exists in every street, alleyway, square and garden. You don't need a car. You probably could even do without the tram. All you need is a map and you can spend every moment living the unique character of San Miguel. 

We were told by our tour guide that the unique design of San Miguel de Allende made it a popular location for filming movies. Apparently the film "Once Upon a Time in Mexico" was even filmed here! (is it true?)

most beautiful city in Mexico San Miguel de Allende
most beautiful city in Mexico San Miguel de Allende

As our tram made its way through the city we could see the streets getting steeper and steeper. The houses in the higher region of the city were larger and more akin to mansions. This is where many of the American and European expats live. Many of the luxury homes in this area are upwards of $1 million USD, so it can get pretty pricey depending on what community you want to immerse yourself in.

San Miguel de Allende expat community

Finally, we reached the San Miguel de Allende mirador, which is at the highest point of the city. We were let off the tram and left to explore for half an hour. The view up here has to be the best you can get of the entire city, plus there is a telescope if you don't have a zoom in camera like me. Like every other high traffic tourist spot there are a few cafes, souvenir shops and a crafts market. Although the main square is beautiful, the mirador was my favourite San Miguel de Allende tourist attraction - a tranquil location overlooking the entire city... Definitely a must do in San Miguel de Allende

 san miguel de allende mirador


I consider myself a pretty open minded foodie but insects aren't exactly something I would ever seek out on my own. Before our guide let us explore the mirador by ourselves we were ushered into a shop and offered a few Mexican delicacies. Mexican wine was flowing freely with dips and treats before the chapulines (aka GRASSHOPPERS OR CRICKETS) were offered to us on a platter. Skeptical at first, I was going give it a pass, but when I heard they were mole flavoured grasshoppers, I decided to take the plunge. Crispy and lightly seasoned, they were actually quite tasty. Almost akin to a nutty snack. I guess it was probably the mole that made it bearable (for those who have never heard of Mexican mole, it is a popular Mexican sauce made from 30 individual ingredients). So if you are looking for unusual things to do in San Miguel de Allende, find the Mexican fried grasshoppers at the mirador.

mexican fried grasshoppers


El Jardin aka Zocalo aka The Main Square is a beautiful tree filled square surrounded by the main amenities of the city. On one side is the Parroquia de San Miguel Arcangel (the big pink church we passed on our tram ride), on the opposite end is a conveniently located tourist desk, and on the other two opposite sides are a selection of great food, drinks and shopping establishments. Buzzing day and night, hanging out in the Zocalo is probably one of the best things to do in San Miguel de Allende because there is always something going on.

zocalo San Miguel de Allende el jardin

Taken from atop the roof of my hotel is the immaculately kept lush canopy that sits in the middle of the Main Square. Underneath the perfectly manicured trees are benches that are perfect for people watching. Every single main event of the city can be observed right here. Somehow we found ourselves here almost every single day because there was always something happening and we could hear the bustle from our hotel rooms. Actually during the few day stay we had here we learnt it was the anniversary of the birth of one of the heroes of the nation, Ignacio Allende, and many celebrations would be held in his honour. On one night we saw many dancers in elaborate native costumes dancing in the middle of the square.

zocalo San Miguel de Allende el jardin
zocalo San Miguel de Allende el jardin

Of course there is plenty to see outside the main square too. The entire city is overflowing in history, art and architecture. I did not take a tour myself (I prefer to wander and soak myself in the city's unique atmosphere), but I was told by other travellers that the walking tour is a must do in San Miguel de Allende (next time....)

most beautiful city in Mexico San Miguel de Allende


YES! I thought it was a pretty bold claim at first, but this former art colony, rich in culture, had an eclectic appeal to me. From the ease of walkability to culture that thrives in every corner, it is obvious why San Miguel de Allende has drawn expats from all over the world to call this place home.

most beautiful city in Mexico San Miguel de Allende

Image attribution:
"San Miguel de Allende" by Jiuguang Wang // CC BY-SA 2.0 *
* changes were made to the original materials

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