A while back we spent a week in the colonial-era town of San Miguel de Allende, Mexico. For the past few years, we’ve heard more and more about this town in Mexico’s central highlands.
San Miguel de Allende is known for Spanish language immersion study. And we know folks who love this area for its art, architecture, and food. Everyone we speak with touts Guanajuato as one of the best places for US Ex-pats in Mexico. We are intrigued, and so we plan a visit.
This fortified town was established in central Mexico in the 16th Century under Spanish rule. San Miguel de Allende, with its civic and religious buildings displaying unique examples of Mexican Baroque architecture, is now a Unesco World Heritage Site.
This post contains affiliate links. If you use these links to buy something, we may earn a commission. Please see our disclosure policy for full details. Thanks.
Let me start by saying that my DH likes to handle the transportation and hotel side of our trips. Getting buy-in from me, of course, but DH typically places the bookings. In over 20 years, this has not been an issue…But everyone misses a beat now and again, and this time DH was not on his game.
How the Trip to San Miguel de Allende Began
From the SF Bay Area, there are many options for flying to Mexico. We, like many people, are stuck in a rut, tied by loyalty points to one particular airline. When we booked this trip, we used our points to save money. I would encourage you to look at other airlines. Also, maybe airports other than SFO. Your trip may be more efficient.
The flights and routes we chose were not the most efficient way to get to San Miguel. And probably not the least expensive either, as we were on a “Legacy” airline.
So you don’t have to do the math, I will lay it out here. We left our house at 7 am PDT and arrived at our Hotel in San Miguel de Allende at 7:30 pm (6:30 pm PDT). 11 and 1/2 hours of travel.
Learn from those who went before
My DH has a team member at work, whose family is actually from Leon, Mexico, the closest airport to San Miguel de Allende. This co-worker flew to Leon just a week or so before us, on a non-stop flight from OAK to BJX. Choosing that trip probably would have saved us half the time in getting to our final destination.
Boutique Hotels Are The Way To Go In San Miguel de Allende
The Hotel & Spa Dona Urraca is the hotel my Husband showed me and “planned” to book. This hotel is on the main street in San Miguel de Allende, about a 10-minute walk from the center of town. However, Dona Urraca has two hotels, the one where we wanted to stay, and the one my DH booked, in another city, Queretaro, an hour’s drive away.
The few people at the hotel that night spoke very little English. My DH speaks very little Spanish. It takes us a while to figure out what they are trying to tell us. The hotel has a room for us for the night, but not for our planned eight-night stay. Good thing the hotel offered free Wi-Fi, and we are able to search for a new hotel.
Hotel options at the last minute were limited. But we found a place about a mile away, the Rancho Hotel El Atascadero.
With that dilemma solved, we headed out down the main street to find some food. There are many great restaurants in San Miguel, but we just want someplace quiet and cozy for a quick meal.
We found Gombos a few short blocks away from the hotel and enjoyed a lovely dinner. After dinner, it was all we could manage to walk home and crawl into bed for the night. It was a very long day.
In the morning, we wander through the Dona Urraca to see what we will be missing. The street side of the hotel is an older colonial-style building. However, the main part of the hotel is a contemporary two-story property. There are lovely gardens surrounding a beautiful pool area.
Dona Urraca is well-appointed and remarkably quiet for its location. The spa is top-notch, with offerings from facials to full-body massages.
We then head up to the breakfast room for the included “brunch.” Breakfast is served buffet-style, as you find in most European hotels. Offerings include pastries, yogurts, eggs, juices, meats and fruits. You won’t go hungry here.
After breakfast, we check out of our room at the Dona Urraca and get a cab to our new digs, the Rancho Hotel el Atascadero.
Relocating to Our New Hotel
San Miguel is not a big city. So when we chose the new hotel, and it was only a mile from the center of town, we didn’t think this was that big a deal. What we didn’t know, since we had come into town under the veil of darkness, was that the town sits on one big hillside. The main street is closer to the bottom of the hill, our new hotel at the top.
San Miguel de Allende is over 6,000 ft altitude, and we live at sea level. This means we will no longer be able to walk from our hotel to shops and restaurants. Thank goodness for Uber.
The Rancho Hotel El Atascadero – in San Miguel de Allende
If you are visiting San Miguel, but want a quiet location, away from the action, the Rancho Hotel el Atascadero is the place to stay. This refurbished hacienda was once a silk farm, a convent, and a ranch. For the past 60 years, the property has been a hotel run by the Maycotte family.
The hotel has several amenities for guests. An on-site restaurant and a swimming pool area (where you can get treats and drinks delivered) are the main hang-outs. But there are also, quiet courtyards and, lovely gardens throughout the property.
Our room is quite nice. However, it is just about as far away as you can be from the main facilities of the hotel. You enter into a sitting area with a couch and chair. Then follow a short hall to the bedroom and bath. Because we booked so late, we are in a room with two double beds. Oh well, we won’t be sleeping together this week!
A Late Afternoon Stroll Through the City Center
Once settled into our new room, we decided to head out and see the town. To do so, we call an Uber to take us to the city center.
Using Uber has some very nice advantages to a taxi. Most important is you do not have a language barrier that is so often frustrating in cabs. You tell the App where you are and where you want to go, and the App gets you a car and driver to take you there. Most of the Uber drivers we had in San Miguel spoke some English, and we had pleasant trips to and from the hotel.
All the streets in San Miguel de Allende around El Jardin (the town’s central plaza) are bustling with people. There is a wedding parade just one block from the beautiful San Miguel Arcangel Parish, and many street vendors selling all sorts of goodies from ice cream to toys for children.
Rooftop Bars and Sunsets
A must-do while in San Miguel is to visit one or more of the “rooftop” bars for which the city is famous. We found one such place above the restaurant Casa Nostra. It would be wonderful to have dinner here after drinks on the rooftop, but we have no reservations, and the restaurant is booked.
The Bar is upstairs (hence “rooftop bar”) and we head up for drinks and to watch the sunset. Drinks here are an event, as we find a seat (a delightful corner banquet) a waiter brings us glasses of cold water and leaves us with the drink menu.
The cocktails at Casa Nostra are very creative. I chose a lemon, lavender, and mint martini. My husband is not so daring and has his usual whiskey sour. We sit back, sip our cocktails, and watch the sun drop below the horizon. This is only our first stop, but I declare is the best rooftop bar in San Miguel de Allende!
When we ask for the check, the staff brings this to us accompanied by refreshing Agua de Jamaica (hibiscus water) in ice “glasses,” and sweets. The staff and presentation at Casa Nostra are so gracious, it’s a pity that we can’t finish the evening here. But we are hungry and need to head out and find a good place for dinner
Dinner at La Posadita
There are so many great smells wafting from all the dining establishments that it is hard to choose one place over another. However, the pivotal point for us now is to find a restaurant that still has space available without an hour or more wait. We find that at La Posadita.
The restaurant is quite crowded, but they tell us it won’t be more than a 30-minute wait. We are actually seated sooner than that on the rooftop deck, although we are towards the back of the dining area and don’t have a view.
Dinner is wonderful. I have stuffed chicken breast smothered in green sauce and DH goes for the Enchiladas Rojo.
La Posadita has Chiles en Nogada on the menu. DH saw this dish at Gombos and really wanted to try this traditional, festive dish. But Gombos was sold out he finds the same fate here. (Note to self: I must try to make these at home!)
Casual Vacation With Lots of Slow Time
We’ve planned for this vacation to be a slow time with lots of R&R. We spend a day hanging out by the pool reading and napping. There will be a few days like this on this vacation, for which we are grateful. In the meantime, we head out to see more of this charming town.
The Markets of San Miguel de Allende
We spent several days just wandering through the shops, art galleries, and museums located throughout the town. After all, San Miguel de Allende is known for showcasing artists and craftsmen and this is what most people come to see.
Ignacio Ramirez Market
Just a short walk from El Jardin, in central San Miguel, is Mercado Ignacio Ramirez. This fantastic local market has all the foods you could ever want to find. There are rows and rows of fruits, vegetables, and flowers.
If you get tired of just looking at the beautifully displayed foods, stop and have a bite to eat or drink. Several food stalls offer fresh fruit juices and street food for an inexpensive lunch or snack bites.
Mercado de Artesanias
Once you’ve exhausted all the stalls at Ignacio Ramirez, you exit to find just down the stairs is the local Artisans’ Market. This is the perfect place to go to find the best hand-crafted items. From jewelry to ceramics, to rugs and clothing you will not be disappointed.
parroquia de san miguel arcángel
No exploration of San Miguel de Allende is complete without admiring the iconic Parroquia de San Miguel Arcangel. This massive cathedral sits on the edge of El Jardin Allende, San Miguel’s main plaza.
This neo-Gothic church, with its pink limestone facade and soaring spires, is a visual masterpiece that dominates the city skyline. I’m sure not a person who comes to San Miguel leaves without taking copious photographs of this amazing piece of architecture. I know I didn’t
Whether viewed from the Jardin Allende or up close, the Parroquia is a symbol of San Miguel’s architectural beauty and religious heritage. Don’t miss the opportunity to step inside and marvel at the ornate interiors, including the impressive main altar.
Walking and Eating in San Miguel de Allende
While this holiday was meant to be free-flowing, there are two special tours we planned to enjoy while in the area. The first tour is the “Downtown San Miguel Food Tour” with Taste of San Miguel. I love food tours, to me, they are the best way to get to know the local culture.
Early Tuesday morning, we head into town to meet up with our guide and group for a walking tour of downtown San Miguel with several stops for Food. The location we are given for the rendezvous is in Parque Benito Juarez, at Los Lavadores.
When our guide, Les Carmona, an “US Ex-Pat,” arrives, and most of the group (just about 10 of us total) are there, Les begins to tell us the significance of our gathering location.
A Brief History Lesson
At the top of the hills above the town is a natural spring. The early settlers chose this location, realizing the importance of the water source. After living at the top of the Hills for many years, the village population grew and eventually moved lower into the valley. With the growth came the need to put together a system to control the water and bring it into town for agriculture, cooking, and washing.
Les is well versed in all the history of San Miguel de Allende, not only food. As we walk along the cobblestone streets to our first tasting experience, Les tells us about the buildings in the central district and the codes everyone must follow when renovating a property for a home or business.
To stay true to colonial architecture, there is a pre-set palette of colors for all properties. If you are opening a business, you cannot have signage. This is why you see so many “flags” hung outside of buildings, the flags tell you what the business is. When doors are open, you are welcome to go in (even if it is a private house)!
The Movable Feast – On To The Food!
After this quick lesson in “urban development,” we head out for the primary purpose of the tour “FOOD!” Today we have tastings at four of the best restaurants in San Miguel, each representing a different style and flavor of the region. La Parada for Peruvian ceviche, Casa del Diezmo for Cochinita Pibil, Lo Cocina for enchiladas in black mole, and Don Taco Tequila for what else, tacos!
Right off at the first tasting, it was evident to our small group that I was getting something they were not. This is for two reasons: 1) When signing up for the tour, they ask if you have any allergies. I do have food allergies and listed mine 2) They also ask if you would like to have alcoholic drinks added for an extra cost. I signed up for that as well.
So while everyone else got a ceviche with lime, onion, and cucumbers, I got a lovely corn and mushroom salad with a margarita. The first question on many of the other tounges was, can we buy drinks? Somehow they hadn’t seen the add-on in the listing that I had claimed.
We walk through town, working our way through our “meal” one restaurant at a time. From appetizers to salsas to enchiladas and then tacos. Each restaurant specializes in the dishes we are served.
The group ends the tour in the main square near the Church. It seems we always end up back in this location. The very last bite is “helado,” or ice cream as we call it in English, from Nieves Las Monjas, one of the oldest and busiest Nieves stands on the square.
We had a great time on the tasty Downtown San Miguel Food Tour. Taste of San Miguel is definitely a must-do if you like food and want to know more about the local cuisine. Prices currently are $55.00 or $67.00 with booze 🙂
The Ancients Call to Us
The second tour we take is of the Archeological Zone of Cañada de la Virgen with Albert Coffee. I found Albert Coffee Archaeotours when googling things to do around San Miguel de Allende. I had no idea there were pyramids in this area or that anyone was excavating or touring the sites.
And this is how a couple of days after eating our way through San Miguel, we find ourselves back in the center of town at 9 am, outside the Belle Artes building in front of the big Iron Bull waiting for our tour to Cañada de la Virgen.
As we drive out to the site, Albert tells us a bit about himself and a brief overview of the day ahead. Albert Coffee is an archaeologist and anthropologist educated at Lousiana State University – Baton Rouge.
Albert was headed south to the Mayan Peninsula in the early 2000s when a colleague told him about the recently begun excavation outside of San Miguel and invited him to join in. Albert has been here ever since.
A Very Different Perspective and Tour
I have been to Chichen Itza and Tulum and, most recently to the archeological site in Huatulco, but Cañada de la Virgen stands out to me because of its lack of tourists. This archaeological site sits on privately held lands and they limit the number of people on tours to the site.
At the time of our visit, they only allowed two visits each day and limited the group size to around 24 people per tour. This keeps the site in pristine condition and provides Albert (or whoever may be your guide) the time to truly explain the story of the people who built and lived here all those years ago.
Cars are not allowed up close to the site, so we walk about a mile uphill in the blazing sun to get to the pyramids. You are told ahead of time that you will be walking around two miles (3 km). You are also reminded that the site sits at an elevation of 7,000 feet. When you combine these two items with the mid-day sun, it becomes another type of walking altogether.
Albert is conscious of the idea that most of his group are not avid high-elevation hikers and allows time for the stragglers. However, there is a limit on the time the group can be at the site, and Albert keeps us moving.
As we walk in a counter-clockwise direction around the main pyramid, Albert gives us the story of the people who lived here in the heyday of their civilization (between 540 and 1050 AD). He talks about the plants that grew in the area and about the probable reason this great civilization is now gone.
Climbing the Great Pyramid
The last part of the tour is an opportunity to climb the steps of the (partially reconstructed) Great Pyramid and see the relics inside the temple. I initially hesitated to do this part of the tour and then quickly realized this was exactly what I had come all this way to do.
If you are into archeology or anthropology at all this is a great way to spend a day in the area of San Miguel. Albert Coffee is a gifted speaker who makes this old place and the people who once lived here come alive again. For me, this was one of the best day trips ever.
Looking for More Things to do In San Miguel De Allende?
We just brushed the surface of this beautiful city in the highlands of Mexico. But if you are looking for more things to keep busy, here are some highly recommended places to see.
El Charco del Ingenio: The Botanical Garden
If you are feeling a bit overwhelmed with all the vibrant colors and energy in town, You can take a stroll through the Botanical Gardens. Located just a short distance from the city center, these gardens showcase the region’s diverse flora in a serene and beautifully landscaped setting. Wander through themed gardens, discover local plant species, and enjoy the peaceful ambiance.
Hike Up El Mirador For Breathtaking Views
This scenic lookout point offers the best views and a postcard-perfect panorama of San Miguel de Allende. The short hike up the hill is rewarded with sweeping vistas that capture the essence of the city’s terracotta rooftops, cobblestone streets, and historical landmarks.
If you are not already relaxing in one of San Miguel’s many rooftop bars, sunset is an especially magical time to visit. As the sun drops below the horizon the warm hues of the sky cast a golden glow over the city, creating a picture-perfect moment that will stay with you long after you leave.
Take A Class At The Instituto Allende
This cultural institute offers a range of courses in visual arts, including painting, sculpture, and ceramics. Even if you’re not looking to enroll, exploring the institute’s galleries and courtyards provides a glimpse into the thriving artistic community that has made San Miguel de Allende a hub for creativity. Check the schedule for exhibitions, workshops, and events to fully engage with the local art scene.
Rosewood San Miguel de Allende: Luxury Amidst History
If you are seeking a more luxurious retreat, Rosewood San Miguel de Allende is a five-star haven that seamlessly blends modern luxury with the town’s colonial charm. This exquisite hotel boasts stunning architecture, lush gardens, and panoramic views of the city.
Whether you’re a guest or just stopping by for a meal at say, Luna Rooftop Tapas Bar, or planning a romantic getaway, the Rosewood offers a refined experience that complements the city’s artistic spirit. Indulge in world-class cuisine, relax by the pool, and immerse yourself in the opulence that Rosewood San Miguel de Allende has to offer.
San Miguel de Allende Wrap Up
Whether you’re an art aficionado, a history buff, or simply seeking a charming escape, San Miguel de Allende beckons with open arms, inviting you to immerse yourself in its enchanting blend of culture, charisma, and the soothing embrace of nature. Each corner of this Mexican gem reveals a new layer of beauty, ensuring that your visit is not just a journey through space but a voyage through time and culture.
We enjoyed our week in San Miguel de Allende. We rested, we feasted, we met new people, and we learned new things. The City of San Miguel de Allende has a great history and welcoming people and should be on your list of places to visit.