Nestled high in the cool hills of the Mexican altiplano, San Miguel De Allende is one the hippest, busiest, most charming towns in Mexico. More importantly, this seductive little city - with clear nights and warm days -- offers the alternative traveler numerous inexpensive and high-quality opportunities to study Spanish or the arts. So much so, that many travelers come to visit and never seem to make it home. In 2008, SMA became a Unesco World Heritage Site, a distinction that few places in the world can claim.
High season runs from December 15 to April1, when the days are clear and sunny, and nights are cool. April through August is low season, with hotter days in the spring and rain in the summer. Still, at 6400 feet it can get cold.
If you can, try to be in SMA for Semana Santa - Easter Week. It gets crowded with Mexican families from Mexico City and surrounding villages, but the festivities and processions are some of the best in Latin America. Some folks say they rival those in Antigua, Guatemala, which makes sense since SMA is very similar in style.
There are daily flights from the US to Léon/Guanajuato airport
on American and Continental from Dallas and Houston, with connecting flights
from elsewhere in the US. Aeromexico also serves Léon. Take a bus
or taxi to San Miguel, only 90 minutes away. You can also fly into Mexico
City and take a bus for the 4 1/2-hour drive north.
Walk. Take a local bus (3 pesos), or grab a taxi for further or uphill destinations. Some people like to bike, but the streets in town are cobbled, so unless you like to jiggle and bounce, use your feet.
There are gazillions of accommodations in town, ranging in price from $35/night to $500. Long-term visitors who aren't renting houses or apartments can receive discounts and off-season rates are lower.
Bed and Breakfast
* Casa de
Liza en el Parque
* Casa Luna
Apartments are available monthly averaging about $500/month for a clean, safe one-bedroom with maid service. Look in Atención, or on the bulletin boards at the Instituto or in the Jardin.
San Miguel has an enormous number of restaurants for a town its size, ranging from cheap and authentic Mexican dishes to gourmet French and Italian. Most of the better restaurants use purified water and ice and take care with vegetables and fruits. Don't fear getting Montezuma's Revenge, but be careful if eating off the street (tempting, oh so tempting!) or in more off-the-beaten-path places.
* El Pegaso
* El Correo
* El Tomato
For a splurge, check out La Capilla (The Chapel), alongside the Parroquia, with stunning rooftop views, strolling musicians and tasty Mexican specialties. Even worth it for a drink.
For French pastries and gourmet breads in the morning, head to La Buena Vida, a lovely café and bakery near the Bellas Artes. But for a real Mexican bakery experience, visit La Colmena Panaderia (the Blue Door), a SMA institution since 1901. Grab a metal tray, load it up with whatever looks appealing, and the women at the counter add it up and bag it for you. 5-6 delectable goodies will cost you less than a dollar!
is the best place to buy inexpensive and imported wines. There are also
shops that sell Italian cheeses and other imported goodies, if you have
such a craving.
Gill & Cartas and Doc (Doc Severenson) are the house band at Bella Italia (when they are not on tour). http://gilandcartas.com/
Without question, the Jardin, the central town square, is the main attraction. Hang out for a few hours, listen to music from strolling musicians, read beneath a shady tree. Or, go church hopping and check out the Parroquia, the Oratorio, or any one of the numerous other churches in town.
For real local flavor, check out the Tuesday Market, a sprawling flea market that takes place all day every Tuesday on the outskirts of town. Buy everything from fresh fruits and vegetables to bicycle repair parts and puppies.
On a hot day, head to La Gruta, a private park on the road to Dolores Hidalgo, with 4 hot spring pools that vary from warm to steaming. Swim the blue canal to the grotto pool and stand in line with everyone else to be baptized by the gushing hot water that flows from a hole in the wall.
The best (and cheapest) activity is walking around town. The cobbled streets, colorful buildings, myriad shops, and parks can keep you occupied for days.
However, there are a few tours worth taking. One is the popular Sunday House and Garden Tour which gives you a rare peek at the luxurious gardens and casas hidden behind the imposing Moorish walls of the town. Departs every Sunday at noon from the Biblioteca Publico. $15/pp.
Another worthwhile tour is the Saturday Hacienda Tour, which takes you out of town to visit working ranchos and large haciendas. The Tour is sponsored by the non-profit Centro de Crecimiento and departs from the Jardin at 10:30 am for a three-hour journey.
Tours Mexico Colonial (next door to the Fuji shop by the Jardin) offers daily tours of colonial cities nearby.
Patronato Pro-Ninos, a local non-profit, also offers walking tours of San Miguel on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays departing from the Jardin at 9:15 am. Donation. www.patronatoproninos.org
If you want to take a more in depth tour of nearby towns and villages, check with the Instituto Allende, which offers arts and culture tours of Dolores Hidalgo, Pozos, Queretero and Guanajuato.
That's easy. San Miguel is one of the best places in all of Latin America
to learn Spanish or take art classes. Take your pick and study 'til you
drop! For more information on Alternative San Miguel,
For a list and contacts of independent tutors, see Atención or the Insider's Guide to San Miguel.
Artes (El Nigromante)
Individual instructors in various media include Marguerite Dawit, an Art Institute of Chicago trained artist who offers affordable weekly and monthly courses in painting and drawing in her lush compound north of town. For more individual instructors, see Atención or the Insider's Guide.
available include cooking, salsa and Flamenco dancing, yoga, guitar, riding,
and more! See Atención for information and contacts.
But for more formal entertainment, see the performance schedule at Bellas Artes, which often includes concerts, dances, and plays. There are also art openings at various galleries, lectures at the Biblioteca (in English), and occasional English plays and readings around town. Also, look for posters for bullfights at the Plaza Del Toros. See Atencion for weekly events.
For live music, hang out Mama Mia and Agave Azul, local restaurants/bars that have nightly music ranging from Salsa to Gypsy to American Blues!
The main events include:
* All Soul's Day (Day of the Dead) on November 2. Halloween Mexican Style.
* Internet San Miguel
Because San Miguel is located at a very high altitude (over 6400 feet), and is very dry, wear sunscreen, take care with exertion and make sure to drink lots of water.
Speaking of water, this is Mexico. So, while you can be assured that the better restaurants use purified water for cooking, washing, and ice, you should always drink bottled water and wash veggies in a disinfectant (which you can get at any farmacia) and peel your fruits. Also, be careful about eating from the many street vendors.
For a colorful, sensual account of an expat writer and artist relocating to San Miguel, read Tony Cohan's, On Mexican Time: A New Life in San Miguel.
To find maps of San Miguel visit www.smamap.com
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