There’s more to Mexico than the pristine blue waters, all-inclusive resort havens, and lively nightlife scenes that dominate many coastal enclaves popular with tourists. If you want a chance to explore the real Mexico, consider a trip to the gorgeous city of San Miguel de Allende.
There’s a reason that this city in the state of Guanajuato is snaking its way up top travel-destination lists -- it’s absolutely enchanting. From its colorful Spanish colonial architecture and its winding cobblestone streets to its trendy rooftop bars and unbelievable food scene, this North Central Mexican spot hits so many high notes.
Here are some reasons you should plan to spend at least a day in San Miguel de Allende.
1. It’s A UNESCO World Heritage Site
A UNESCO World Heritage site is a spot specially designated by the United Nations as having cultural or historical significance. In the case of San Miguel de Allende, the entire city center, or Centro Histórico, has been earmarked by the organization. Multiple architectural styles, including neo-Gothic and Mexican baroque, are evident in some of the area’s well-preserved historic buildings. Don’t miss the famous pink church, La Parroquia de San Miguel Arcángel, in the Central Garden area. It’s very photogenic at any time of day and is dramatically illuminated after nightfall. Spend some time wandering the streets and appreciating the revamped haciendas, modern buildings, and pretty churches, parks, and green spaces, all wrapped into the eclectic cityscape.
2. There’s A Cool Mural Project In The Arts District
The project, called Muros En Blanco, has revitalized the area of Colonia Guadalupe over the past half decade or so. It’s located a convenient and mostly flat 10-minute walk from the center of town. For the best experience, consider a guided tour of the artsy district with project founder Colleen Sorenson, an American artist who now calls Colonia Guadalupe home. For roughly 300 pesos (or $15), visitors can enjoy a 2-hour-and-30-minute tour of the area; Sorenson will share some helpful background information plus behind-the-scenes tidbits about the artists while showcasing the famous urban artwork. Tours are at 10 a.m. on Mondays, Thursdays, and Fridays; they begin in front of the Vía Orgánica restaurant and associated mural.
For those who prefer to explore the area on their own, Vía Orgánica is still a fun starting point. Be sure to snap some photos in front of neighborhood favorites like Houston San Miguel, but be aware that the murals are constantly evolving or being replaced.
3. It’s Mexico’s Newest Foodie City
San Miguel has slowly but surely built up an impressive culinary reputation. The foodie possibilities are endless: Try tasting-menu-only Aperi, cute breakfast spot (with lavender coffee!) Lavanda Café, international darling Moxi, and the best baked goods in town at Querencia. Be sure to taste local specialties like enchiladas with mole sauce and chiles rellenos. Tip: For the best sunset dinner views, try the less hectic Antonia Bistro rather than the Rosewood rooftop restaurant. The bistro's delicious cuisine, exemplary service, and breathtaking views make for an especially memorable evening.
Another great way to experience the food culture of San Miguel de Allende is by visiting a local market. The Saturday-only Tianguis Orgánico is one of the best, though there are numerous markets open every day of the week. At any of these, visitors can try some authentic Mexican snacks and street food. Some winners include the charred corn, or elote; tuna, the fruit of the prickly pear; jicama with dried chile powder; and boiled peanuts. Sometimes, there’s even aguamiel, or the sweet honey water that comes from agave, to sample. Bold travelers can try pulque, fermented aguamiel that tastes a bit like agave kombucha.
For visitors especially interested in cuisine, numerous cooking classes offer further exploration of San Miguel de Allende’s foodie treasures. The most well-known cooking school is the Sazon Cooking School in the Belmond Casa de Sierra Nevada, but other options exist as well. An immersive cooking experience can be the cherry on top of the city’s beautiful gastronomic sundae.
4. There Are Great Bars, Too
Rooftops in San Miguel de Allende aren’t only for fine dining. In fact, the city is known for its plethora of fun and hopping rooftop bars. Check out Quince for a delicious blackberry margarita and a great mezcal selection. The aforementioned Rosewood rooftop is a famous drinks destination, too, and the extensive tequila list at Luna Rooftop Tapas Bar isn’t to be missed. Beer lovers can try out the Cervecería Dos Aves microbrewery and its award-winning American pale ale. Last but not least, no trip to Mexico would be complete without a good old-fashioned tequila tasting. For the best in San Miguel de Allende, visit Casa Dragones for its batch-imbibing experience.
5. The Botanical Garden Is Lovely (And Walkable!)
To burn off the calories from all the eating and drinking opportunities in San Miguel, consider a walk in the nearby botanical garden. Known as Charco del Ingenio, this 170-acre area is a natural preservation site featuring walking paths, indigenous plants, and a cute gift shop to boot. The curious name of the center, which essentially translates to “puddle,” refers to a natural spring in the nearby canyon; these springs used to be sprinkled all over the area, but the one at the garden is now one of the only ones left. There are plenty of flat walking paths in the garden, plus hillier routes, too.
The hike to the garden is mostly uphill and takes approximately 35 minutes from the city center at a moderate pace. Ubers and taxis are another viable and readily available option for transport to Charco del Ingenio for those who can’t make the trek. The easier walk downhill from the garden is also quite lovely and provides gorgeous city views.
6. There’s Natural Wine
Nothing says vacation quite like the perfect glass of vino. Enter the unbelievable tasting experience at nearby El Garambullo. To schedule a tasting, reach out to the company’s Instagram account. The proprietor is as delightful as she is knowledgeable about the processes of natural fermentation and winemaking. Join her for a tasting for 500 pesos (about $25). You’ll learn about her business and taste some of her inventive wines, including orange wine, old-school sparkling wine, and interesting red blends. Then enjoy a plate of local cheeses and breads as a delicious accompanying snack. Just be sure to arrange for transportation home after all that wine and fun. It can be hard to get an Uber to take you, since the tasting room is about 20 minutes from the city, but the proprietor will help you call a cab if necessary.
If You Have Extra Time…
It’s clear that a day isn’t enough time to properly experience the lovely destination of San Miguel de Allende. You should really give it at least three days for best results. If time allows, consider a day trip to Guanajuato; a quick jaunt to the nearby Sanctuary of Atotonilco, known as “Mexico’s Sistine Chapel”; or a horseback-riding excursion at Rancho Xotolar. There’s truly no end to the amazing things to see, do, and eat in San Miguel de Allende. This city is a must-visit for any traveler who wants a more authentic Mexican experience.
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Disclaimer: Please note that the author was hosted on a trip to the area by Traverse Journeys. All opinions remain her own.