Many people have heard of San Miguel de Allende. Many people from the Twin Cities have been there or know someone who has been. Almost everyone who's been there thought it was beautiful, delicious, interesting and exciting. There are some people who don't like it because it's not authentic Mexico to them.
But I love it as much as I love Mexico City, Patzcuaro, Oaxaca and San Cristóbal de las Casas, Puebla and Guanajuato. They are all so different from each other but all of these cities combine traditional arts and architecture with a slightly modern sensibility that has been pushed or shaped by reacting to the travelers who visit.
So, I'd like you to consider visiting San Miguel de Allende if you're thinking you'd like to try Mexico, you are not a beach person, you don't speak Spanish, and you love new travel experiences.
The people who haven't been to San Miguel de Allende but are curious, wonder the following:
--are there a lot of Americans?
--does it feel like Mexico?
--is it safe?
--what do you do there if there's no beach?
--is it easy to get to?
--where do you stay? eat? explore?
I've been to San Miguel de Allende many times since starting my folk art business and I have to admit that the first couple times I went there I thought, "WOW, there are a lot of Americans/Canadians/Europeans here. And they are way more visible than in other colonial cities of Mexico." I still think that but there's a reason for that: it is a stunning travel destination! And people who like to travel, love to go to San Miguel de Allende.
The beautiful town is considered a "Pueblo Mágico" or "Magic Town"because it is an amazing mixture of traditional Mexican ambience, food, decor, art, rhythm and creativity with the conveniences and effort to address the travel needs of other cultures. You do still have to drink bottled water and throw your toilet paper in the wastebasket, but you also have access to artists, restaurants, hotels, apartments, walking tours, Spanish, art classes and so much more in one of the world's most beautiful settings.
There's a reason it was voted top city in the world by the readers of Travel and Leisure Magazine in 2017 and 2018!
So, here are a few answers to your questions:
Are there a lot of Americans? Yes, definitely. More in the winter months than in the summer months which is also the rainy season, but there are definitely a lot of people who do not speak Spanish walking the streets and eating in the many restaurants.
Does it feel like Mexico? Yes, it feels like the traditional colonial city that it is. Many homes have been preserved or conserved to keep the authentic old Mexico feel. There are codes about the colors that buildings can be painted so it has a very unified aesthetic appeal in the Centro Historico. The edges of the city feel more like suburban sprawl with large malls, grocery stores, chain stores etc but if you stay in the central part of town, you will definitely enjoy the gorgeous home and shop exteriors and the authentic old doors and windows.
Is it safe? San Miguel de Allende is one of the safest places in Mexico as long as you don't do anything dumb. All travelers must remember they are in a foreign country and there are always rules and differences that can cause problems if they are not respected-- a few years ago, I unwittingly parked a rental car on the street in a place it wasn't supposed to be and the next day I found the license plates removed and a "boot" on the tire. So I had to unravel that problem before moving on my merry way.
What is there to do if there is no beach? San Miguel de Allende is a little like Santa Fe, New Mexico. There are many, many artists and artisans all over the city and in the neighboring towns of Guanajuato and Dolores Hidalgo. So, if you like art and architecture, home tours, food tours, eating, exploring small streets and towns, having a cocktail on a rooftop, going to markets and just generally living and appreciating the beauty of a stunning location, this is your town. There is no beach anywhere close so it's not for people looking for a tan--though it is sunny and pleasant!
Is it easy to get to? Getting there requires a few steps. You can fly into either Mexico City or Leon and both require a bus ride to get there. Mexico City is about 5 hours away and Leon is about 1.5 hours away. If you travel by bus from Mexico City I recommend taking either ETN or Primera Plus bus lines from the North Bus Station (Central del Norte) in Mexico City--both have two stops on the way to San Miguel and are considered executive or first class buses. If you want to go through Leon, you can take the Bajio Go shuttle from the airport to San Miguel OR many hotels have a pickup service, which can be arranged when you make your hotel reservation.
Once you are in San Miguel you will not need a car. You can walk pretty much everywhere. NOTE: be careful of the cobblestones and the curbs at different heights and depths. There are always a few women walking around with crutches or casts on their legs when I'm there! Taxis are plentiful and most rides cost 40 pesos, which is about $2. You can also learn to take the buses if you desire. A rental car is hard to park and drive on the very narrow cobblestone streets.
Where do you stay? Eat? Explore?
I've stayed in lots of little hotels and AirBNBs on my many trips to San Miguel de Allende. My recommendation is to stay within walking distance of the center of town, especially if this is your first time to San Miguel. You will want to walk around the charming streets, visit the Jardín (the main plaza), see the beautiful baroque Parroquia and visit lots of delicious restaurants. Check out either TripAdvisor or Booking.com and plug in your wishes (1-5 stars? with restaurant? close to downtown? pet friendly? private bath?)
I've rounded up a few articles about San Miguel with recommendations about where to eat and go and what to do. Sometimes shops, restaurants or places close between my visits but here goes:
A few ideas about where to eat in San Miguel I love the coffee at Buen Día Cafe. Yes, there is a Starbucks on the corner of the Jardín but this is so much better.
Are you a brunch person?
And then there are coffee shops and interesting rooftop bars for that salty margarita with Fernando
And there are a few ideas of what to do here, here and here.
A few things for the shoppers to explore are the Fabrica Aurora, the town of Dolores Hidalgo for talavera, the Mercado de Artesanias or artisans market, the public library organizes weekly home tours on Sundays, the botanical garden a little outside of town and a day trip to the city of Guanajuato. Here are a few interesting shops in the central part of town.
The colonial city of Guanajuato is a couple hours away from San Miguel de Allende and is known for its music festival during the month of October. Here are a few other festivals that may interest you.