What’s So Special About San Miguel de Allende, Mexico?
Safe, easily accessible and absolutely stunning, you’ll definitely want to visit San Miguel de Allende.
What’s So Special About San Miguel de Allende, Mexico?
Recognizing the undeniable allure of its colorful small towns, Mexico designates 132 as pueblos magicos, or magical towns. Out of all of them, San Miguel de Allende might be the best known — and the most enchanting.
Attracting both national and international tourism, the town is a popular destination in Central Mexico. Images of the UNESCO World Heritage Site's old town and its vibrant orange houses are splashed all over social media. And travel circles whisper its name as the place to visit in Mexico.
All of this has led people to wonder if San Miguel de Allende really is worth the hype. We're here to tell you that the answer is an absolute yes.
The Most Beautiful City in Mexico
From the moment you arrive at the cobblestone streets of San Miguel de Allende, you'll find the locals like to boast that this is the most beautiful city in Mexico.
Of course, this claim to the heart of Mexico is debatable. But as you walk through town, admiring the marriage of Baroque-inspired Spanish colonial architecture, neo-Gothic elements and the bright warm colors of Mexican tradition, it's hard to come up with a counterargument.
The jewel of San Miguel is — as is often the case with colonial pueblos in Latin America — its central square. It's defined by the towering pink San Miguel Arcángel Parish, which shines like a guiding star as soon as the day turns dark. At almost all hours, the square is filled with life. Musicians put on shows, twinkled-eye lovers sit on benches in the Allende Garden, and kids run around begging their parents to buy them the street snacks that fill the air with irresistible aromas.
Standing in the midst of it all, letting it fill you with awe, you might start to agree with the town's self-imposed description.
And the Best in the World (According to Some)
But it's not just locals who think they live in the best city in the world. San Miguel de Allende was ranked as the No. 1 small city of 2021 by Conde Nast Traveler. That same year, it also earned the top spot in Travel + Leisure's World's Best Awards (an honor it received in 2017 and 2018 as well).
So, what is it about this city that charms everyone? It goes way beyond aesthetics. San Miguel is a modern city seeped in history. Once brought to the brink of extinction by influenza, the city was revitalized by artists, who came looking for peacefulness in a setting that would inspire their work.
Almost a century later, this is still the spirit of San Miguel. Around the main square and throughout town, arched gallerias and historic homes with flower-filled balconies have been turned into everything from chic restaurants to art galleries to artisanal shops.
Dining is equally on par with that of other big cities. We will forever think that street food is Mexico's greatest dining experience. By all means, indulge in it whenever possible. But the pueblo also has high-end restaurants representing both national and international cuisines. Mezcal bars and tastings are also a big thing — and don't be afraid to pair your drink with chapulines, or grasshoppers. While bugs are still a thing some people shun, you'll forget all about that as soon as you taste the crunchy goodness of this traditional snack.
Expat Haven — for Better or for Worse
The main thing people criticize San Miguel de Allende for is its large expat community. About 10 percent of the city's population is made up of foreigners, mostly retired Americans and Europeans.
In a big city, you wouldn't feel this too much. But in a small one, it can be frustrating to feel like you're no longer in Mexico. Still, you can't blame people for coming here. As one of the safest cities in the country, San Miguel is a dream place to live.
Yes, its dependence on tourism means that some places have lost their "authenticity" while vying to attract expat and tourist dollars. But the people who complain that this has ruined the city simply didn't try hard enough. At its heart, San Miguel is Mexican through and through. Avoiding the overly touristy places is as easy as not going there and patronizing local businesses instead.
Best Things to Do in San Miguel de Allende
You can spend days simply walking around San Miguel de Allende and never get bored. The city is simply that gorgeous.
But if you want to fill your days with more cultural activities, you'll probably find yourself short on time for everything there is to do. Assuming you've already spent time in the main square and visited its Gothic parish, focus on the artisanal side of the city. The best place to do this is at La Aurora Factory. A once functioning mill, the space now churns with artistic creativity. Visit its galleries and workshops to talk to the artists and get a one-of-a-kind souvenir. Or head to the Mercado de Artesanias for beautiful crafts that reflect national and regional traditions.
There are also numerous churches and museums you can visit. From these, the intricate Church of Saint Francis and the Casa Allende History Museum stand out. At night, catch a show at the local theater, or party with the locals at a dive bar. And no matter what, make sure you go to the San Miguel Lookout Point at least once to see the majestic city from above.
The surrounding region of Guanajuato offers plenty of complementary experiences near the city. You'll find hot springs, the Mexican-Baroque Sanctuary of Atotonilco, hot-air balloon experiences and desert hikes. But perhaps the most exciting destination is the Cañada de La Virgen, a nature preserve with lesser-known pyramids.
Where to Stay in San Miguel de Allende
The four-star Hacienda el Santuario pampers guests in each of its 33 rooms. In this luxury hotel, you'll get to enjoy the best features of Spanish colonial architecture, like tall columns, stone arches and open courtyards designed to keep cool even in the middle of the day.
For an equally beautiful but less amenity-filled (and more affordable) experience, consider Casa Schuck Boutique Hotel. Besides traditional charm, the property has in-room fireplaces and a pool in the courtyard, so you'll be ready for the highs and lows of the mountainous city.