03 Nov A Smashing Weekend in San Miguel de Allende
*The original post has been updated, May 2020*
San Miguel de Allende has a lot to offer. If you’re into art or theater, history and architecture, hot springs, wineries, or horseback riding, you’ve got an assortment of delightful options in San Miguel. Voted the best city to travel to in the world twice by Conde Nast, it’s no wonder that people flock to San Miguel. The colonial architecture and cobblestone streets alone feel like something from a movie. The eclectic blend of old and new, traditional and avant-garde, nurtures a fresh artistic spark, giving way to collaborations and discoveries.
A bit about San Miguel …
San Miguel de Allende is located in the Mexican state of Guanajuato, a few hours north of Mexico city. Originally founded in the 1500s as part of a silver mining route, it went on to play an important role in the Mexican Independence movement which initiation with the infamous “grito” (literally the scream, the battle cry) in Dolores Hidalgo, about half of an hour away, and the town was named after one of the most significant insurgents, who was born there.
Centuries later, after WWII, an influx of Americans and Canadians moved to San Miguel to study art and writing, learn about Mexican culture and study Spanish. It fostered a similar type of creative confluence as Paris in the 1920s, calling in visual artists, writers, and local creatives into an international mecca, including summoning many famous beat generation writers like Jack Kerouac, William Burroughs, Diane DiPrima, Allen Ginsberg and Neal Cassidy (we talk more about this in our article on the Beat Cantina Crawl. Click here to read it.)
A cosmopolitan city blossomed from the quaint town, already known for its aesthetic architecture, painted in tones of yellow, orange and red, and it continues to call to artists from all walks of life today.
Why Visit San Miguel de Allende?
There are a lot of reasons why one might want to visit San Miguel. An historic place, the storied architecture and streets evoke a nostalgia to which few places compare. Open minded foreigners mingle with a vibrant local community making for a big city art scene with worldly cuisine, and world class events in a romantic colonial backdrop. There are many festivals to attend like GIFF, La Alborada, La Calaca, Los Locos and more.
The general pace of life is relaxed, making it an easy place to settle in and explore, as well as a good location for first time visitors to Mexico, as many services are bilingual. For more active visitors, horseback riding, zip lines that zigzag across impressive canyons, hiking and ATV trails, hot air balloon rides and more await. For those looking to relax and restore, hot springs, top-of-the-line spas, beautiful rooftop restaurants and bars offering 5 star cuisine are available. For art lovers there are innumerable galleries, art centers and events, theater shows, fashion and design events happening regularly. In short, there’s a little something for everyone.
Below you’ll find some of my personal favorite things to do, see, eat and drink in San Miguel de Allende.
Things to do in San Miguel
Take a walk around the Jardin
The town square in San Miguel de Allende is iconic. Marked by the Parroquia, the Gothic pink limestone church that the city is most known for, surrounded by manicured gardens and benches, and enclosed in cafes and restaurants. People congregate here to chat, people watch, walk their dogs, and soak in the view. Kiosks sell ice cream, among other treats, flower crowns and more. The tourism office is located there as well, so it’s a great stop to orient yourself upon arriving.
Visit the Colonial Churches: La Parroquia, Templo de San Francisco, Templo de la Purísima Concepción, Templo de Nuestra Señora de la Salud
Starting in the town square (Jardin) with San Miguel’s most famous work of architecture, La Parroquia, it was inspired in a Gothic-style, medieval European church. A few blocks away, you’ll find three other architectural gems: Templo de San Francisco, Templo de la Purísima Concepción, Templo de Nuestra Señora de la Salud. The walks to these buildings are equally beautiful, cobblestoned and lined with shops and restaurants.
Templo de la Purísima Concepción is located on the corner of Canal and Hernandez Macias, connected to an art and cultural center el Nigromante Bella Artes (called Bellas Artes for short) and Las Monjas, where the cloistered nuns once lived. Bellas Artes has a theater, art exhibitions and a literary space for workshops and events held by the Literary Sala of the San Miguel Writers’ Conference. Templo de Nuestra Señora de la Salud is located in Plaza civica, which also has chess tables and University classes. It’s next to the Artisan’s market as well (described below).
Pick up an Atención newspaper and check out the Que Pasa section to see what’s happening
Events constantly crop up in San Miguel. Without trying, you can arrive to a whole host of activities. Why not join in? San Miguel famously has 300 festivals every year! Besides that, language exchange meetups, art openings, theater productions, mezcal tastings, restaurant events, live music and concerts in jardin are regular occurrences, so the opportunities are endless.
Dig in to the art scene
San Miguel de allende has made a name for itself on the international stage for its art scene. After decades of artistic inspiration, the city is a hotbed for creativity. Throughout centro, keep your eyes open for gallery spaces, local fashion, jewelry and interior designers and exhibition spaces. You’re sure to stumble upon more than a few.
A must-see art space is the converted textile factory Fabrica La Aurora which now hosts more than 50 art galleries, with fine-dining restaurants, coffee shops and gardens and a unique assortment of antique shops. One of my favorite parts of Fabrica Aurora is the hallway lined with the original photos of the factory and its staff, taken in 1910. Old equipment from the factory still stands in one of the art galleries of the “C” section.
Angela Peralta, a magnificent opera house built in 1873, has elegant architecture and impressive murals. If you enjoy theater or concerts, this is a great space to visit. Bellas artes, another historic space, also has a theater and hosts concerts and plays, as well as the San Miguel Playhouse and Teatro Santa Ana, the Library theater (La Biblioteca).
Visit the Markets
Mexico is famous for its sprawling outdoor markets, often popping up on certain days when people come together from neighboring villages to sell their wares in town, and San Miguel is no exception. The Tianguis (open air weekly market) happens on a large scale every Tuesday, and on a smaller scale on Sunday. This market has anything you can imagine within its tin roof and angled tarp walls – prepared food, piles of clothes and shoes, tools, antiques, fresh fruits and veggies, live animals, the list goes on.
While the Tianguis is all about the experience, the Artisan’s Market is all about the good. Exquisitely worked silver jewelry, bead work, leather, talavera ceramics, tin artwork and painted catrinas are abundant in the Artisan’s market, which is about 4 city blocks long, starting near Plaza Civica.
On Saturdays, my favorite market, Mercado Sano (The Healthy Market), stretches outdoors to amplify it’s offerings. Organic fruits and veggies, prepared food, live plants, cold press juices, and a variety other eco-conscious products are available. Their indoor market is open everyday on Ancha de San Antonio, near the corner with Stirling Dickinson.
Nearby, there is an Art Bazaar on many Saturdays and Sundays at the Instituto Allende (mentioned above). A gathering of local designers, often using organic materials, they sell items from fashion to home décor, jewelry to books. there’s a wide array of one-of-a-kind items to peruse.
Take a Hike in the Charco del Ingenio Botanical Gardens
170 acres of nature preserve, encased in canyons, marked by spring-fed pools and wetlands, the Charco de Ingenio Botanical Gardens represent an important space of natural conservation for the San Miguel Area. Many endangered species can be found there, and it’s marshy ponds provide a refuge for migrating and breeding birds. The hiking trails meander through scrubland dotted with cacti, arriving at beautiful lookout points, some adorned with rock mosaics. One of my favorite elements is the solarium, filled with a highly curated cacti collection. The also host educational and cultural activities there, like a Temezcal (pre-colombian sweat lodge ceremony)
The botanical gardens are one of our treasures. Hikes through these trails will show you the diversity of plant life in our area, as well as a bird sanctuary in the reservoir. They have a sweet little outdoor café offering fresh juices, smoothies and light food.
Relax and Rejuvenate at the Hot Springs
Surrounding San Miguel de Allende, a relatively arid area, natural mineral hot springs well up, making for relaxing, healing getaways from the city. There are four main areas to access the hot springs. The two most accessible are La Gruta and Escondido Place, situated right next to one another. Both have manicured gardens, offer food and beverages, and massage. They have both hot and cool pools, as well as enclosed steam caves for the hottest pools where the fresh hot water enters. You can stand underneath and let it massage your back if you’re brave! The water is intense!
My personal favorite is Escondido Place because it’s easy to find your own tranquil nook on the expansive grounds. Also, they allow you to bring in coolers and have accessible grills if you want to cook. Also, Gorditas Don Ciro is a local gordita stand on the way to the hot springs which offer delectable local finger food. My friends and I like to pick some up on our way to the hot springs, or on the way home. They’re inexpensive and super delish.
The two other options are The Mayan Baths and Taboada. The Mayan Baths open for parties of 12 or more, or for private events. They are unique in that they have underground caves with a wine cellar and dry areas for relaxing. Taboada is more of a resort with traditional swimming
Los Senderos, an eco-reserve along the same route, is known for its organic gardens, gourmet restaurant, sustainable building plan with biking, hiking and horseback riding trails, and a man-made beach beside a beautiful lake. Though the waters are cool, people also spend time relaxing there, having a bite or a sip on a hot day.
photos of Santisima Trinidad by San Miguel photographer, Erik Zavala
Take a Ride and Tasting Tour on the Wine Route
Between San Miguel de Allende and Dolores Hidalgo, the fertile soil nurtures vineyards, framed in fields of lavender, olive groves, and the Sierra de Santa Rosa Mountains. While there are many, my favorites are Santisima Trinidad and Rancho Toyan.
Santisima Trinidad’s vineyards are so scenic – their wine tasting rooms and gardens are a complete experience. They have elegant rooms for processing olives and lavender, as well as a polo field with a clubhouse for events, a boutique hotel, cobblestone roads that traverse the property and picturesque ponds with small boats. If you happen to be visiting in august, their wine harvest festival is a lively and delicious event.
Rancho Toyan, near Bodega Dos Búhos, is like a place stolen from a fantasy world where trees bend toward one another in tunnels, peach and plum trees fill the gardens, and elegant underground wine cellars made of imposing stone and guarded by monks. The organic gardens are pesticide-free and overflowing with fresh veggies and fruits. And the location as a whole is both enchanted and enchanting; it’s a perfect place to soak in the flavors of the wine route.
There are a wide variety of adventurous activities to be had in San Miguel as well. From getting a unique perspective of the town from a hot air balloon ride to riding through the canyons or cobblestones on horseback, from climbing pyramids only recently opened to the public to crossing canyons on zip lines or hanging bridges, many exciting options await. If you want to take longer days trips, read our article on getting out of town and the best nearby destinations.
The archaeological ruins at Canada de la Virgen have only been accessible since 2011. Located on private property, the Otomi plaza and pyramids appear to date around 530 CE after the fall of Teotihuacan. Avid sky watchers, the Otomi used their structures to pass down astronomical information to advise on agricultural cycles and religious beliefs. The moon rises and sets in perfect notches in the pyramids constructions to mark the solstices and other key moments in the lunar calendar. Ruled by the Sun, Moon, and Venus (according to INAH, National Institute of Anthropology and History), it’s a powerful place full of history and mystery.
Note: the pyramids are closed on Monday.
Behind the scenes photos of the Parque de Aventura by Zona Gráfica, taken during our filming of the 2017 San Miguel Tourism video (left and right). Center, aerial shot of centro taken from a hot air balloon ride while filming the same campaign, by Sean Reagan Photography.
There are actually lots of opportunities to ride horses in and around San Miguel. Besides Cañada de la Virgen, there are romantic night rides through Centro and to a sunset lookout and nighttime cantina crawls on horseback, among others. There are several providers, but our best experiences have been with Coyote Canyon.
The Parque de Aventura (Eco Adventure Park) has zip lines that criss-cross over a massive canyon and a stunning hanging bridge (though equally terrifying for those afraid of heights) that crosses the ravine. Unspoiled natural scrub land with dirt trails are perfect for hiking, riding horses or ATVs as well.
Hot air balloons are a San Miguel classic! Soak up an epic view of the entire city as you float over, the sun rising in the morning sky. Depending which tour company you book with departure locations vary.
Food & Drinks
There is no shortage of gourmet food, international cuisine, traditional local restaurants, coffee shops and eateries. While new things come and go, and there’s always something exciting to try, these are a few of our long-standing relatively traditional faves.
A relaxed environment with live music, Cantina Los Milagros serves delicious lava bowls full of meats and salsas (pictured above), traditional Mexican dishes, salads, creamy chicken quesadillas, and 2-for-1 happy hour cocktails including artesanal draft beers, mango margs, and strawberry daiquiris.
Arguably the best view in the city, Mi Casa Su Casa overlooks the Parroquia offers live music , delicious regional cuisine and cozy, beautiful ambiance. Known for performances by famed musician Gil Gutierrez, the restaurant fills up fast. When Gil isn’t playing Carnegie Hall, he’s here in the bistro, or at Zandunga on Sundays, backed by a full band. Simple but delicious bistro food makes this hot spot a town favorite. Read more on Mi Casa Su Casa Bistro here.
Farm to Table and slow food options just outside of town include Vergel, La Trinidad and Senderos. Great coffee shops in town include Zenteno, Mesa Grande, and La Mancha. Nightlife options, like La Chula for salsa dancing, Mezcaleria to sample some delicious mezcal, and Azotea for a great vista of the Jardin from a rooftop with delicious cocktails. If you go to Azotea, be sure to try the tacos rosarito (shrimp tacos wrapped in a thinly sliced jicama shell instead of tortillas and drizzled in special sauce). If funky cantinas are more your thing, check out our article on the Beat Cantina Crawl.
Getting there and getting away:
Flying in to Queretaro, Leon or Mexico City are all viable options. queretaro is about 45 minutes away, Leon 1.5 hours and Mexico City, larger and less expensive, is 4 hours away. All of these destinations are serviced by shuttles. We like to use BajioGo.
Have you visited San Miguel? Would you like to? If you have, what were your favorite experiences? Share your thoughts in the comments below!