I’m Champi – a San Miguel de Allende local who has been exploring a lot of my hometown over the past three years. Before that, I lived in other cities around Mexico as well as in France, Canada and Australia. I didn’t really appreciate how special San Miguel de Allende was until I lived abroad.
When the pandemic hit, I was visiting my parents in San Miguel de Allende and got “stuck”. I had already fallen in love with my hometown but these moments expanded my admiration for it. I wanted to capture more of what made it special, so I started sharing content on my Instagram account.
Why You Should Visit San Miguel de Allende
San Miguel de Allende is a city bursting with culture, history and stories. It’s traditional in many ways but also has an open mentality. The people are friendly and welcome you like a friend, just as in many places around Mexico. Yet, what really sets it apart is the atmosphere: endless celebrations take place, the sense of community is strong, the art culture is burgeoning, and a diverse range of nationalities and ethnicities converge.
In addition to the spectacular architecture, and stunning mountain and desert-like landscapes, San Miguel de Allende is home to amazing cuisine – from street food to luxury restaurants, all rooted in rich gastronomic traditions. All in all, the way of life is slow and more community based – making it a fantastic place to visit for a decent period of time.
Rich History & Culture of San Miguel de Allende
The city was founded in 1542 by the Franciscan friar Juan de San Miguel who named the settlement: San Miguel el Grande. During the time, it was a crossing point of the Antiguo Camino Real – part of the silver route that connected mining towns around the country. The city’s name changed after the Mexican War of Independence as Ignacio Allende, a native of San Miguel, was an important leader in the war against Spanish rule.
When the town became a city in 1826, the name became “San Miguel de Allende” in honor of our national hero. Many indigenous traditions also occur to this day – like the celebration of Saint Michael the Archangel at the end of September. This event commemorates a historic battle between indigenous groups in which Christianized native Otomi captains allied with the Spaniards and faced non-Christianized Chichimec natives.
The conflict ended with the appearance of a shining cross in the sky, prompting the non-Christianized natives to surrender and accept the Spanish conquerors’ god. This commemoration is marked by an encounter between Santa Cruz del Puerto de Calderon, traditional dance groups and others. Incense is burned and religious leaders seek reconciliation.
The procession to the town’s main church, known as the “Entrance of the Xuchiles,” features offerings called “Xuchiles” displayed on woven reed beds. These offerings represent the souls of leaders, and are made of marigolds and the white heart of the sotol cactus. It’s a beautiful celebration to see and if you want, you can participate in the making of the “Xuchiles”.
These are two cultural aspects that are deeply rooted in the traditions and founding of the city. San Miguel de Allende was also named as a UNESCO World Heritage Site back in 2008 for being a remarkable example of 16th-century Spanish Colonial Baroque architecture, as well as a place of great importance during the Mexican War of Independence.
Top 10 Things To Do in San Miguel de Allende
San Miguel de Allende is all about taking the time to explore, wander around its streets, talk to people that will show you a glimpse into the local life and culture, and simply take it slow to savor the many experiences on offer. There are so many things to do here – some of my favorites for first-time visitors as well as people who have been over a few times would be:
1. Pay a Visit to La Fabrica la Aurora
This former textile factory in San Miguel de Allende now showcases artworks and artisanal products from local artists. It’s a vibrant art hub with plenty of local artists, a good cafe and interesting people to meet. It wouldn’t be hard to spend a good few hours exploring La Fabrica la Aurora.
2. Relax in the Nearby Thermal Waters
3. Explore the Gardens of El Charco del Ingenio
For those who love nature, El Charco del Ingenio is an extraordinary botanical garden and nature reserve situated just outside of the city. It has an extensive collection of Mexican cacti and other succulent plants – many of which are rare, threatened or endangered. Strolling around the garden in the morning is tranquil and you can even join a bird-watching tour.
4. Try the Food & Wine of La Santisima Trinidad
Having a meal at this winery is a lovely experience as you get to sit under old trees, next to a lake overlooking vineyards and have the most delicious food. La Santisima Trinidad is definitely one of my favorite wineries to visit in the region. The kale and ginger salad is to die for – a must-try.
5. Check Out Some of the Rooftops in Town
We have so many rooftops overlooking the city with different views, food and bar styles – so it’s hard to only choose one, because it depends on what you are looking for. I highly recommend wandering around the streets and if you find one you like, ask to go upstairs. The views never disappoint.
6. Join a Callejoneada with Mojigangas
Mojigangas stand at about 2.2 meters, weigh approximately 30 kilograms and are carried by artists. The crafting process involves intricate steps, from metal frames to colorful decorations. In San Miguel de Allende, these are taken to the celebrations of “Callejoneada” – a street walk with music (usually for weddings or celebrations), creating unforgettable moments. If visiting on the weekend you will likely see them, so don’t be afraid to join.
7. Head Through the Arts & Crafts Market
I enjoy taking strolls here frequently, as there are so many arts and crafts worth looking at. And at the end of it, there is a delicious food market where you get to sample local homemade food for very affordable prices. It’s the perfect way to do a bit of walking, shopping and eating all at once.
8. Hang Out at Benito Juarez Park
The oldest park in town, Benito Juarez Park, has many beautiful, colonial homes surrounding it. Plus, the colorful flowers are nice to look at and you can find some shade under the trees. There are usually plenty of events happening at the park, as well as being a hub for locals to get together.
9. Sample All the Street Food You Can
Three of my favorite street foods in San Miguel de Allende are the tacos at Calle Mesones, gorditas underneath the bridge of Quebrada and Canal, and the ice cream parlor in front of the Church of the Immaculate Conception (known as “Las Monjas”). I could eat at these places every week.
10. Savor Molcajetes at Los Milagros
A dish that is traditionally made in a volcanic stone mortar where they put everything inside it to cook and serve it boiled. You have to try the molcajetes at Los Milagros, as they are very typical and hardly any other restaurant in the city does them anymore. Plus you get to choose from any type of meat, seafood or even vegetarian – so it’s a great option for all.
Where to Stay in San Miguel de Allende
My two favorite neighborhoods in San Miguel de Allende are La Guadalupe and Guadiana. La Guadalupe neighborhood has become a very artsy place – with lots of murals everywhere, and superb restaurants and cafes. Plus it’s only a 10 minute walk from the center, where most of the action is.
Guadiana is on the other side of town and is a more local place where you get to see the authentic culture of the inhabitants. It also has plenty of restaurants, cafes and bars. You won’t find many hotels around these two neighborhoods, as they are pretty local, though Airbnb might be an option.
There are three accommodations I can recommend that are centrally located. The first is Casa Quetzal for a local feel of staying at a traditional home. Secondly, you have Hacienda El Santuario which offers a mix of luxury and traditional food in the most picturesque street of the city. Finally, Rosewood where luxurious and colonial vibes intertwine in a wonderful location with one of the best rooftop restaurants in San Miguel de Allende.
The Incredible Food of San Miguel de Allende
It has to be said that the food in San Miguel de Allende is phenomenal. You can savor traditional cuisine in addition to some of the best international food in the country. Furthermore, a lot of the restaurants and bars are located on rooftops so you get to enjoy breathtaking views while eating an array of delicious food. Below is a list of some must-visit establishments:
- Los Milagros: As mentioned, come here for the traditional molcajete dish from the region. Your choice of meat and/or veggies is cooked in a volcanic stone mortar and served with tasy tortillas, cheese and salsa.
- Il Mercatino di Bella Italia: They have the best and most authentic Italian food in the city. The deli is run by a local family with Italian heritage.
- La Azotea: This is a fun bar where you will find many locals savoring yummy food. La Azotea is located on a rooftop and offers sunset vistas.
The street food of San Miguel de Allende is a highlight too. From gorditas to tacos and esquites to ice cream – pay attention to what the street vendors are selling. I’m sure you will love it all. I have a foodie guide to San Miguel de Allende for anyone wanting to explore that side of the city: link here.
Tips for Visiting San Miguel de Allende
San Miguel de Allende is located in between high altitude mountains in a semi-desert climate, so the weather varies a lot throughout the year. In general though, the days are warm and the nights get a bit colder. From May to August the weather becomes rather hot and dry, while the winter months tend to be quite cold at night but still reasonably comfortable.
It’s a very walkable city, which is why it’s recommended to stay in a central location. Although it’s important to note that many of the streets are steep. Public transport is not the best in San Miguel de Allende, however you will find taxis. Just be prepared and ask for the cost before entering the taxi, as sometimes they charge way more once they see you are a tourist.
My favorite times to be here are during the Day of the Dead celebrations at the beginning of November, as that is when the town comes alive with decorations and festivities – plus celebrations in the streets, and even at restaurants and bars. September and December are also great months to see local celebrations. That being said, there is something happening any time of the year – making it incredible at all times.