Visiting San Miguel de Allende feels like a paradox. On one hand, its gross and obvious gentrification unnerves me; yet its beautiful cobblestone streets, painted buildings, and interesting history attracts me. San Miguel feels very much to me like a set out of Disneyland. As if a director waved his hand and said ‘make it look like the image that people have of small town Mexico.” And so it did. Twenty percent of the total population of San Miguel de Allende is comprised of foreign retirees. That’s over 10,000 Americans, Canadians, and Europeans (including wealthy Mexicans from cdmx) buying property, and driving up the prices. For such a small town, there are several things to do in San Miguel de Allende. However, knowing who benefits from your tourist dollar is certainly something to be aware of.
I recognize the irony in me being a white foreigner in San Miguel de Allende while calling out the gentrification by other white foreigners. I suggest reading this fantastic blog post which really resonated with me. Before visiting, I imaged San Miguel might be similar to Ajijic in that it’s a hot spot for foreign retirees. However, I found that Ajijic has a much more balanced coexistence with the local community.
I would never say to avoid San Miguel de Allende altogether, as the town thrives and survives off of tourism. However, I do want to provide some suggestions of things to do in San Miguel de Allende that don’t contribute directly to the disproportionate power dynamics caused by foreigners. I was told that 80% of property is foreign owned, so it may be difficult to avoid. But if you would like to do your best to contribute to the locals in the local economy, read on!
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Do a Tour with a Local Guide
As you walk around town, you may hear tour groups, and they will most likely be in English. They will most likely be run by foreigners who have lived here for many years. There are a few tour groups who do give money back to local charities, but if you can, I suggest booking a tour with a local run company first. This is one of the only walking tours with a local guide. This company also does historical tours as well as tours in a vehicle.
Take the Trenvia Around San Miguel de Allende
As in many pueblo mágicos in Mexico, there is a small trenvia that drives around town giving tours. These tours are run by the municipality, so the money goes back into the local community. You can sign up for tours at the Tourist Information Office right in the main town square, El Jardīn. The office is located on the north side of the plaza, directly across from the Parroquia San Miguel. The office is right in the center of the block.
Stroll the Streets of San Miguel de Allende
When you look around the streets of San Miguel de Allende, you might be in awe. Cobblestone streets. Brightly colored buildings, all different from their neighbors. Fountains. Jacaranda trees. Blooming flowers. Taking a stroll (or two or three) is definitely worth your time. Just make sure to wear good shoes, as most streets are uneven and very slippery. There are a ton of things to do in San Miguel de Allende, but in my opinion, just walking around is the absolute best!
Get an Insta-Worthy photo on Calle Aldama
Aldama street is the small street behind the Parroquia San Miguel. It will give you a great back drop to your Instagram worthy photos- cobblestone streets, beautifully colored buildings, and the church dome and peaks in the distance.
Climb the stairs at Callejon del Chorro
San Miguel de Allende is not a flat city by any means. It’s full of hills and stairs. While it may be a physical challenge at times, getting to the top of them is absolutely worth it. You’ll be treated with some pretty incredible views. Make sure to walk up the steps along the Callejon del Chorro, just next to the Capilla Santa Cruz del Chorro. This is like a small alleyway of steps leading you up to incredible views. Flowers and vines line the way.
Enjoy the View of San Miguel de Allende from the Mirador
Once you reach the top of Callejon del Chorro, turn left and walk just a couple minutes down the road. You’ll be treated to one of the best views of the city at the Mirador. Taking in the views at the mirador is one of the best things to do in San Miguel de Allende, as it allows you to get a real layout of the land. It also allows you to really take in the scale of the Parroquia San Miguel in comparison to everything else around.
Eat at Local San Miguel de Allende Restaurants
San Miguel is well known for its upscale fusion dining. These fancy restaurants are hard to miss as there are several along every block it would seem. They’re all overpriced, and it might have you wondering: Where do all the locals eat?. So if you are looking for something a bit more budget friendly, and a bit more local, here are a few places you can support:
El Tucán is a family owned restaurant that is unassuming, yet delicious. There are about 6 tables total in a small courtyard, (two in the front entryway). The plates are big with rich flavor, all for a great price. I had a guacamole plate with beans, and a lemonade for 120 pesos (including tip).
El Buen Lugar
El Buen Lugar is another very local restaurant with classes Mexican breakfast options like chilaquiles and huevos rancheros. The food is affordable, with big portions, and tastes great. The workers are very friendly. When I went, the place was packed with locals, which I took to be a good sign. I had huevos rancheros and a large OJ for 90 pesos (including tip).
Los Burritos San Miguel
Los Burritos San Miguel is just a few doors down from El Buen Lugar. It’s your standard Mexican options with more of a fast food kind of feel.
If you head to the south side of town, one block before reaching the Instituto Allende, you’ll find several food stalls and taco trucks. This is a great place to find affordable, local food in San Miguel de Allende.
Get Sweet Street Treats
It will not be difficult to satisfy your sweet tooth in San Miguel de Allende. There are several local sellers with ice cream trucks set up around town, including just next to El Jardín and Parroquia San Miguel. You don’t usually have to walk more than a couple blocks to find another truck. You can also find locals selling churros, mostly near the Plaza Civica. One scoop of ice cream was 40 pesos.
Relax in El Jardín
Grab your cold ice cream cone and take a seat on one of the main French inspired brass benches in El Jardīn. This is the tree covered plaza just in front of Parroquia San Miguel, the tallest church in town. This is a great place to take a rest, get some shade, and do some people watching.
Take a Photo in Front of the Parroquia San Miguel Arcángel
I’ve already mentioned the Parroquia several times, but this is the one of the most popular things to do in San Miguel de Allende, simply because it is the most obvious symbol of the city. The original façade of this church was much simpler; however, during the Colonial era, the church façade was built upon to more closely resemble a European style church. Because of this, the church face began to sink, as it was not originally built with so much weight in mind. Architects had to dig trenches and create better supports so the church did not collapse. The entrance is free if you would like to enter.
Take a Break in Parque Benito Juárez
Benito Juárez is a medium sized park to the south of the center of town. There are basketball courts, ponds, trees, flowers, and benches. It’s very peaceful, and you’ll see many people taking walks, exercising, and enjoying the moment on one of the many benches.
Check Out Plaza Civica
The Plaza Civica is one of the main town squares, with a giant statue of Ignacio Allende on a horse. You can find a lot of movement in this plaza- churro sellers, music, vendors, children playing, etc. There are often events and artisan fairs held here.
Gaze up at the Templo de Nuestra Señora de La Salud
This temple is just next to the Templo del Oratorio de San Felipe Neri, and just in front of the Plaza Civica. The façade of the templo is a half circle carved with several details into stone. It is small, but beautiful.
Admire the Templo del Oratorio de San Felipe Neri
This temple has a beautiful front entrance. Stone walls, a massive wooden door with several details carved into it. Apparently, St Felipe Neri is the patron saint of laughter, humor, and joy so you can get all the good vibes when you walk by. Inside the walls of this temple you can find several religious oil paintings.
Get Educated in the Library
The local library is in a beautiful old building with a center courtyard, perfect for relaxing and reading a book. There is also a small cafe in the back if you’re looking for breakfast and a cappuccino. This library has the second largest collection of English language books in Mexico, falling just behind the largest collection in Ajijic.
Get Inspired at the Toy Museum- Museo La Esquina del Juguete
I ended up loving this San Miguel de Allende toy museum more than I expected. I went without any real expectations, but what I found was several floors with thousands of toys from different decades and different states of Mexico. They were all so unique and beautifully handcrafted. There is also a nice patio on the top floor to relax and get great views of the city. Information was available in English and Spanish. Cost to enter: 80 pesos.
Learn History at the Casa de Cultura Banamex
Casa Cultura Banamex was built in the 18th century as a private residence for the wealthy miner, Don Manuel de la Canal. The building is a beautiful example of Spanish colonial architecture. After being a private residence, it was then turned into a hotel. Later on it was purchased by the Banamex Bank and restored to its former glory. Casa Cultura Banamex is home to a permanent collection of Mexican art, contemporary works by Mexican artists, and historical displays. Free to enter.
Walk Around the Casa Allende
Casa Allende is a historic building that was originally constructed in the 18th century as a private residence for the wealthy Allende family. Today, Casa Allende is a museum dedicated to the life and legacy of Ignacio Allende, a hero of the Mexican War of Independence. The museum features exhibits on Allende’s life, his role in the war, and the history of San Miguel de Allende. I found the building’s architecture to be the most interesting aspect. There was information in both English and Spanish, however, it was very difficult to focus on reading the info because every room has audio playing. All the audios from all the rooms playing at once while trying to read might make you feel dizzy. Cost to enter: 70 pesos. An extra 50 pesos to take photos.
Feel the History at the Instituto Allende
Instituto Allende was a prestigious art and design school, founded in 1950 by Stirling Dickinson, an American painter and art enthusiast, with the goal of promoting the arts in Mexico. The building now is used as an art exhibition hall, as well as an event hall. There are rotating exhibits. There are also beautiful murals and a fountain in the courtyard. Free to enter.
View the Murals at the Centro Cultural
The Centro Cultural Ignacio Ramírez “El Nigromante,” commonly known as the Bellas Artes, is a cultural center located in the heart of the city. There are stunning murals in a back, very silent room, painted by the famous Mexican artist David Alfaro Siqueiros in the 1940s. The murals depict scenes from Mexican history and are considered some of Siqueiros’ most important works. There are several other art exhibitions and showcases on multiple floors of this beautiful building. Free to enter.
Go Shopping at the Local Market
The Mercado de Artesanías is known for its wide selection of handmade crafts, including pottery, textiles, and jewelry, made by local artisans from San Miguel de Allende and the surrounding areas. It is quite large, about 3 blocks long stretching from the corner of Relox/Del Palmar to Colegio, where the Mercado Ignacio Ramirez begins (food market). I found the prices here to be higher than at any other market I’ve been to in Mexico.
Check out Fabrica La Aurora
La Fabrica Aurora is a historic textile factory that has been transformed into a vibrant art and design center in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico. The center is home to a community of artists, designers, and artisans, who work in a variety of mediums, including painting, sculpture, photography, and textiles. You can explore the galleries, attend art classes and workshops, shop for unique handmade products, or have lunch at one of the cafes inside. One thing to note is that there is a high school just next to this space, so around 2:30 pm, it gets very busy with traffic coming and going. Free to enter.
Enjoy the sunset on the rooftop in San Miguel de Allende
There are several things to do in San Miguel de Allende by day, but one of the best activities in the evening, is to relax on a rooftop. There are several restaurants and hotels with rooftops to enjoy the beautiful city. I adored the rooftop terrace of my guest house which is where I spent multiple sunsets. If you can find a guest house with a rooftop, it’s a major plus.
Look at the Plants in Charco del Ingenio
The Charco del Ingeniero is a nature reserve located just outside of San Miguel de Allende, about a 10-15 minute drive. The only reason it takes so long is because of the cobblestone streets, which slows down the taxi rides. A ride in a DiDi cost me 50 pesos each way. This nature reserve features a diverse range of local flora and fauna, including cacti, wildflowers, and migratory birds. There are several trails around the 67 hectares of land and they are not all clearly marked. However, they will give you a map when you first enter which you can use to find your way around. It is best to go here as early as possible in the morning (they open at 9 am) since it is a wide open space with very few shady areas. Bring spf, a hat, good walking shoes, and water. Cost to enter: 50 pesos.
Stay at a Locally Owned Guest House in San Miguel de Allende
As I previously mentioned, about 80% of the property in San Miguel de Allende is foreign owned, and that includes hotels and guesthouses. Here are a few locally owned hotels and guest houses if you’re looking to support the locals:
La Antigua Guest House
I stayed at La Antigua Guest House for 4 nights. Truthfully the interior design is stuck in the 1980’s, but it’s cozy nonetheless. There is a fantastic terrace from which you can watch the sunset and see the main church in town. There are 5 bedrooms. The wifi doesn’t work great inside the bedrooms, but it’s great in the shared spaces. Coincidentally I was the only guest staying there all 4 nights. There is a shared kitchen and living room, which I had all to myself. $36/night.
Mansion del Bosque
This guest house is just south of the centro, near the Parque Benito Juarez. The centro can get noisy but this area is quiet at night. Breakfast is available for an additional cost. The building is beautiful and has great light coming in. $42-$100/night.
Posada Maria Luisa
This guest house is also to the south of the centro, not far from the Benito Juarez Park or the Instituto Allende. There is a rooftop terrace in the building with a great view. Linens are included. Some rooms have balconies. $35-$70/night.
Suites Santo Domingo
This hotel feels authentically Mexican. Free Wi-Fi, a well-equipped kitchen and cable TV are included in each studio, as well as a living-dining area with an open fireplace. Kitchens come with a blender and toaster. Free private parking is available, and there is 24-hour reception. Nice, quiet location to the east of town. $50-$85/night.
La Catrina Hostel
This hostel is an affordable option. Breakfast is included. There are bunkbed dorm rooms and family rooms available. Great for young people on a budget. Wifi and terrace. $10-$75/night.
San Miguel de Allende FAQ
How do you get to San Miguel de Allende from Querétaro?
You can take the bus ($100-$200 pesos) or BlaBlaCar ($80 pesos). Both of these options will drop you at the Central de Autobuses on the west side of town. From there you can take a taxi ($100 pesos) or a DiDi ($50 pesos) to the centro. It takes about 1 hour to drive between the two cities. It is about 1.5 hours from San Miguel de Allende to Guanajuato.
Is it worth it to go to San Miguel de Allende?
Yes. It’s a beautiful town. It is a great day trip from Querétaro, or a nice weekend place. Just be aware that it does not feel authentically Mexican, as a large part of the population are retired folks from the US, Canada, and Europe.
Is everything expensive in San Miguel de Allende?
It definitely feels that way at first. All the shopping is expensive, and restaurants are overpriced. But if you dig a little deeper, you can certainly find some local places (listed above) to eat for less. There are also a ton of free activities in SMA, like certain museums, and walks in the parks.
Why is San Miguel de Allende famous?
This town is famous because Ignacio Allende grew up here, who was a major player in the struggle for independence in Mexico in 1810.
Final Thoughts on San Miguel de Allende
After so many people gushed about how much they loved San Miguel de Allende, I did feel that I needed to see it in person. I’m glad I did. It’s a beautiful town with lots of things to do. However, because the gentrification is so obvious, and so in your face, it definitely makes you stop and think a bit more about what your actions mean, and the impact your spending power has on a place like this. I chose to spend my money as much as I could on activities that support the locals. I think that next time I would spend just a couple days, rather than 5.
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