Parroquia de San Miguel Arcángel in all its neo-gothic glory

The charming town of San Miguel de Allende was our last stop on our April tour of central Mexico before returning to Mexico City for a couple of days, and then home.

Driving from Guanajuato, we made a stop in Dolores Hidalgo (mentioned in our previous post) and then worked our way down through wine country to San Miguel – a nice way to pass a morning.

With a European history dating back to the 16th century, San Miguel de Allende is central Mexico’s oldest city and a UNESCO World Heritage site. The cobblestoned central district serves up example after example of stunning, beautifully preserved baroque and gothic Spanish architecture. A standout is the Parroquia de San Miguel Arcángel, whose dramatic pink towers rise above the main plaza. Work on the church began in 1709, but the current spiky facade was completed in the mid-1800s.

San Miguel’s leafy Jardin Allende, the main plaza just across from the Parroquia de San Miguel Arcángel

Today’s San Miguel boasts one of the largest communities of North American expats in Mexico, and it’s a mecca for lovers of the arts and authentic cultural festivals.

We enjoyed our two-day stopover in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico. Here are our highlights.

As usual, some photos are in galleries – just click the first one to view each in sequence.

Go wine tasting

Fun fact: Mexico is the oldest wine-producing country in the Americas. But it wasn’t until the 1970s that Mexico’s viticulture industry really began to take off, and today the country boasts three world-class wine regions: North, including Baja and Sonora; Laguna, encompassing a broad swath of Northern Mexico; and Central, including Querétaro and Guanajuato states. Lucky us, we found ourselves smack in the middle of the Central region. Of course we had to check out some wineries, since they just happened to be on our way to San Miguel de Allende!

We made stops at Cuna de Tierra, Tres Raices, and Hacienda San Jose Lavista. Of the three, our favorite was Cuna de Tierra. It’s one of the most-established wineries in Guanajuato state, and we especially loved its Nebbiolo blends. One highly-rated winery we missed, but will definitely visit next time, is Dos Buhos.

Tips: All of these wineries charge a fee for tasting that is refunded if you purchase wine. Hacienda San Jose Lavista does not have a tasting room, but you can taste their wines and pair them with a yummy appetizer in the on-site restaurant, Tarragon. In addition to its winery near Dolores Hidalgo, Cuna de Tierra also has a tasting room/shop in centro San Miguel de Allende.

Stroll around

In our experience, the best way to experience a place like San Miguel is to just . . . walk. Walk, and let the town reveal itself.

Visit a desert botanical garden

El Charco del Ingenio is a great place to spend a morning learning about the area’s ecology and native flora and to take in some beautiful desert scenery. Situated in an ecological preserve, this 170-acre botanical garden features an interesting interpretive center, nature trails and an amazing variety of cacti and other native desert plants.

Experience the “art factory”

Fabrica La Aurora, also known as the Cultural Center of Art and Design, is a former textile mill that has been converted into a vast art exhibition space – with gallery after gallery of beautiful art in every medium. In addition, La Aurora houses numerous shops selling beautiful and unique housewares and furniture. We also enjoyed our lunch at the on-site restaurant, Food Factory.

Zen out at the hot springs

Numerous hot springs resorts are just a stone’s throw from San Miguel de Allende. We spent a blissed-out morning at Escondido Hot Springs, but others of note are La Gruta Spa and the Mayan Baths.

Tip: Arrive EARLY at the hot springs, especially on weekends. We showed up right at Escondido’s opening, 8:00 a.m., and practically had the pools to ourselves. A couple of hours later, it was already filling up with big families and boom boxes.

Other Tips

  • We loved our lodging, Casa Frida B&B – filled with colorful Frida Kahlo-themed art and a 1940s vibe. Situated high on a hill, Casa Frida is quiet and cozy. A sumptuous breakfast was included and served up by the friendly host, Guillermo.

    The breathtaking view from the roof deck of Casa Frida
  • Classical guitar music at Mama Mia

    San Miguel’s restaurant scene is world-class. We wish we’d had more time! But we did enjoy two other restaurants in addition to Food Factory: Mama Mia and Atrio. Mama Mia features excellent Italian food and live music every afternoon. Atrio is one of the town’s highest-rated restaurants, with a stunning rooftop location directly across the street from the Parroquia de San Miguel Arcángel.

  • DO NOT MISS sunset at the rooftop bar of the Rosewood Hotel. Not only is it a great people-watching venue (the ultra-high-end Rosewood is popular with jet-setters from the U.S.), but the early evening views are beyond spectacular. We did partake of (very expensive) pizza and cocktails, but the main draw is the view.

    The sky put on a show the night we visited the Rosewood!

Finally . . .

Here’s the scene you’ll find at Jardín Allende, pretty much every day:

And that’s it for our April trip to Mexico! Stay tuned for our latest visit to a Colombian Heritage Town, Santa Fe de Antioquia!

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  1. Wow! You packed in a lot of activity and covered a ton of territory in those two days. You were within mere meters of my sister’s ranchito next to Hacienda San Jose La Vista, and you didn’t drop by? And here I was there for the first week of July.

    • John and Susan Pazera Reply

      Ah, if only we’d known! But I think our paths are destined to cross someday 🙂 Have a lovely day, Jennifer!

    • Luba Nemcow Reply

      Amazing stuff! I am a solo traveler but want to be a part of the group and to experience the amazing cultural differences. Are there travel agencies that you would recommend that can accommodate me? I am planning to be here for or week or longer depending on how interested the tour will be. I am just collecting info. I would love to go there based on your wonderful experience. Thank you!

      • John and Susan Pazera Reply

        Hi Luba! You will love San Miguel. We did not use any tour guides or agencies since we were only there for two days. But one outfit I would recommend is Get Your Guide. We have used them in other cities and their tours are great. Here’s the listing I found for tours they offer in SMA:

        Good luck, and enjoy your travels!
        – Susan

  2. El Charco was one of my favorite parts of SMA. My mistake was hiking there from Centro in July. So, while it wasn’t hot hot, it was warm enough for me to need a shower by the time I arrived. Still, I thought the views and the dam were spectacular.

    • John and Susan Pazera Reply

      That would have been a very hot hike! We were sweating, even in April. We loved El Charco – it was a nice departure from the hectic, touristy centro area.

  3. I think the best way to visit any walkable town is by just strolling around and taking in whatever sight and experience comes your way. When I was younger, I would plan city trips and make itineraries but as I’ve gotten older (and lazier), I have found much joy in just wandering around.

    Mark and I have been to San Miguel in 2006, but other than its colorful streets, popularity with expats, and art scene, I don’t remember much.

    • John and Susan Pazera Reply

      We totally agree, Liesbet! Walking and following our noses is our favorite activity, especially if a place is new to us. That’s how you see the small moments and the little details. By walking, we have stumbled on more little eateries, museums, and other off-the-radar places than we can count!

    • If you’re thinking about going to San Miguel de Allende, do it while you’re relatively yours and with goodbalance becauseany of the many of the sidewalks are built with cobblestones ..which means they’re uneven and potentially dangerous for walkers. That’s why the city has “jokingly” been called “The city of fallen women.”

      • John and Susan Pazera Reply

        Ha, I think that can be said of every Mexican town and village! Every one in Latin America, for that matter 😊love that nickname!

  4. Aaaah you brought back some lovely memories. We lived there for 3 months a few years back, and were there for all the Easter parades and celebrations, including the blowing up of the huge papier maché characters. Also for some indigenous dancing. It’s a fabulous town.

    • John and Susan Pazera Reply

      So glad you were able to spend some time there! It’s a special place, although it’s gotten pretty expensive now (thanks to the huge expat population).

  5. SMA was once a beautiful town with reasonable prices for rent and meals. Not anymore. Too expensive for what you get. Need an Uber? Good luck! Need parking? Good luck!

    This beautiful town is now an overhyped Disney style tourist attraction.

    • John and Susan Pazera Reply

      We agree with you in principal. San Miguel is one of the most expensive places we’ve visited in Mexico. And as lovely as it is, parts of the centro area do have an aspect of high-gloss, tourist-manufactured artificiality. I think that’s due in large part to the huge expat population and the large numbers of North American visitors. As expats ourselves, SMA would not be our choice as a place to live. Still, it’s a lovely city and well worth a visit for travelers in central Mexico.

      • Many expats come to San Miguel, thinking of it as a soft landing, a starter city, sort of a Mexican expat experience with training wheels, telling themselves they’ll move elsewhere once they get it all figured out. But few of them ever do. Patzcuaro is slowly becoming the “not San Miguel” San Miguel, attracted those who feel priced out of San Miguel or overwhelmed by its foreign community. And you know what happens when that happens.

        San Miguel is very attractive to the upper middle class Mexican market, because it’s easily drivable from the three big population centers of CDMX, Guadalajara, and Monterrey, offering up that Carmel-Palm Springs-Sedona-Santa Fe-Marfa-Natchez Trace feel. There are niches and venues in the town where you’ll seldom find foreigners. I call my trips to San Miguel, a 200-km. jaunt “going to the Hamptons.”

        The town is also positioning itself as a venue for small conventions. Ah, if only its municipal government were as attuned to reality as its entrepreneurs.

        Turismo has created routes all around the country to attract themed tourism: Queretaro’s Wine and cheese route, bicentennial route, health route, convent route, missions route, archeology route, butterfly route, cenote route.

        • John and Susan Pazera Reply

          We were in SMA over Easter, and of course it was mobbed with Mexican families on holiday. I get the “Hamptons” reference. If we had had more time, we would have tried to find the off-the-tourist-radar spots that feel more local. As it was, we only had time for the touristic highlights – but we enjoyed them nonetheless.

          To us, the expat community in SMA is very similar to that of Boquete, Panama. As you said, a good place to get your feet wet and try on the expat lifestyle without too many language or cultural challenges. Boquete was a perfect “starter town” for us, but over time we outgrew it. We needed to be more challenged with our Spanish and feel more embedded in the local community. And we got what we bargained for when we moved to a Colombian pueblo 🙂 That is not a criticism of those who are happy in SMA, Boquete, or other similar places (I think Ajijic by Lake Chapala is another example). It takes a lot of moxy to become an expat, and our hats are off to anyone who has taken the plunge!

          That said, it’s such a shame that large numbers of expats tend to drive up prices and mold things to suit them. I guess it’s the way of the world.

  6. It’s amazing to think that for a small town San Miguel de Allende has so much to offer. Every single thing you mentioned in this post sounds very appealing. But I’m most intrigued by the wine tasting. It’s something I have never done before, but I’m really keen on trying. I wouldn’t say I understand wines, but I like the idea.

    • John and Susan Pazera Reply

      Bama, I hope you get to try wine tasting someday! You don’t need a lot of wine knowledge – if you like wine, that’s all you need. It really is about personal taste, after all 🙂

  7. So much color in this town! San Miguel de Allende is gorgeous and vibrant, and the wine-tasting opportunity can’t be beat! One of these days, I’ll need to return to Mexico to check it out for myself! Thanks for sharing your adventures there. 🙂

    • John and Susan Pazera Reply

      You are welcome, Rebecca! Hope you get to return to Mexico one of these days. We’re already thinking about our next trip there – that country really gets under your skin!
      – Susan

  8. Ah, brilliant. As you know we’re here at the moment, in Mexico, seeing plenty of this amazing country. These pictures and your words are just precisely what we are experiencing right now: colour, music, joie de vivre and beautiful architecture. We’re beginning to think that Mexican provincial towns are just one long year round party!

    • John and Susan Pazera Reply

      We’ve been enjoying your Mexico posts! Are you planning on visiting Guanajuato and San Miguel? Where are you now?

  9. I have heard good things about SMA and your post described it all so well. It looks like a really fun place, very walkable and pretty. I would certainly love to visit ❤️

    • John and Susan Pazera Reply

      There are so many wonderful Mexican towns like this, Gilda! We thought we had Mexico out of our systems, but after this trip we can’t wait to go back. Hope you can visit Mexico someday!

  10. Hi Susan! I wish I knew you were heading to SMA.. I spent 5 months in that magical town, including over Easter. Your descriptions of San Miguel are spot on, including suggestions for where to go, to eat, what to see. I loved walking through the Charco, relaxed in the waters of El Gruta, spent many many days (and coffee mornings) at the Fabrica, watched the mariachis serenading lovers and tourists, attended art openings, and.. tried the churros at San Agustin (did you?!) I also met many wonderful people, and house/dog-sat for most of my stay – which was a great way to explore different “barrios” and meet longtime expats as well. I’m so that glad you were able to experience so many dimensions of this city… Wishing you and John well in your continued adventures and travels. Where to next?

    • John and Susan Pazera Reply

      Hello Amit, and thanks for your comment! Sorry we missed you too 🙂 It sounds like you were really able to experience the best of SMA during your time there. Sadly, we missed those churros – now we have to go back!

      Next up: Brazil in October. We’ll spend time in Rio, Paraty, and Ihla Grande. We’re excited! Have you been, and if so, any tips?

  11. San Miguel de Allende looks beautiful, I can’t wait to visit! It’s interesting to hear that SMA has gotten expensive and very touristy, it doesn’t surprise me, growing up in Mexico, SMA started becoming popular with tourists and it was also ‘the place to be’ for many young people. I don’t think that’s the case now.

    • John and Susan Pazera Reply

      Hope you can visit SMA soon, Liz! It’s a special place. I think it’s just the way of the world, that once a place gets “discovered,” it changes and becomes more expensive. SMA is still a beautiful place to visit, though.

    • John and Susan Pazera Reply

      Ah, thanks so much! Glad you enjoyed the post 🙂

  12. It looks amazing and vibrant. I love the desert botanical garden, something different to the botanical gardens we see in Europe

    • John and Susan Pazera Reply

      I loved the botanical garden also. Growing up in West Texas, I feel really at home in the desert. There’s always something to learn about the flora and fauna of that environment.

  13. I just can’t get enough of those colorful buildings everywhere. It certainly looks like there is no end of things to do in this city- wine tasting, hot springs, and strolling through those beautiful streets. Sign me up! 🙂

    • John and Susan Pazera Reply

      You captured the SMA experience well! The town is all that and so much more. We feel that we just scratched the surface. 🙂

  14. I never realized that there was a wine industry in Mexico, let alone the oldest in all of North America! I’ve always heard such great things about SMA and it looks gorgeous from your photos, even if some people now think it’s too-Disney-like because of the large expat community. Loved your photos of the people and papier mache figures!

    • John and Susan Pazera Reply

      Thank you, Annie! SMA is definitely worth a visit, and worth spending more than our two days!

  15. We loved SMA and hope to return. We have a good friend who moved there from Denver and then Playa del Carmen. She is having ton of adventures exploring SMA and the area. We loved learning about its history as a colonial city.


    • John and Susan Pazera Reply

      That’s a good question, Muriel! We try to find something unique about every place we visit, something to remember it by. In SMA’s case, it’s that spiky gothic church – so different from any other we’ve seen. And of course the blog helps, as a record of our travels! However, I will admit that all the small Latin American towns with their main plaza and big church do start to run together 🙂 Have a great day!

  16. What a great town, I can see why there are so many ex-pats living there. I’ll have to put it on my list😊 Maggie

  17. Hello John & Susan! I am a newcomer to your blog. I found it through a comment you left on Pat’s Retirement Transition. Your photos are beautiful, and your description of SMA has inspired me to add this location to my list of places to see. Thank you!

    • John and Susan Pazera Reply

      Hi Christie – so glad you discovered our blog! San Miguel really is a beautiful and special place – wish our pictures did it justice! I’m curious – on which post at Retirement Transition did you see a comment from us? We’ve been getting more hits than usual lately and I’m always curious about where our readers come from. Have a great day!
      – Susan

      PS I just tried to leave a comment on your post about aging parents, but I’m not sure it went through (got a “spam” response).

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