Some Information About San Miguel
San Miguel has attracted expatriates and retirees from as early as the 1930’s. It is estimated that about 4000 expats have made San Miguel their permanent home and as many as 12,000 foreigners make it their winter home. The population of the town itself is around 80,000 people.
Due to the foreigners living and wintering here the town has many amenities that would not otherwise be available in a Mexican town of this size.
The town is a lively artist community with a rich and varied entertainment and cultural calendar. San Miguel boasts as having the most festivals of all cities in Mexico. The main square always seems to have something going on. There are many art galleries that are constantly hosting showings. It is full of an array of hippie boutiques, organic cafes and upscale restaurants. Many buildings are old Colonial Mexican style that date back to the 16th century, some of them elaborate mansions, churches and theaters. You’ll fall in love with the romantic cobblestone lanes and brightly coloured haciendas.
By 1790 SMA was one of the richest villages in Mexico. Known as a home of the hero’s of the Mexican Independence. It was founded in 1542 by Fray Juan de San Miguel. In the 16th and 17th century the area flourished and farming and cattle grazing grew and later tanneries were built. Silver deposits were found and by the 18th century SMA had become an important commercial center. In 1926 the entire town was declared a national monument, preserving it’s history. In 2008 it was designated a Unesco World Heritage site.
During our approach by bus to San Miguel we were on a road up above the city. The view captured us right from the first glance. There were colourful houses dotted all through the city and the magnificent church that stands out proudly amongst the buildings. The town is surrounded by low mountain terrain on all sides. We felt a sense of excitement to know we would have three months to explore this amazing looking town.
The Insider’s Guide To San Miguel by Archie Dean. This book was our bible during our stay. It helps you to really discover San Miguel. Besides hotel, attractions, things to do and restaurant information, it offers lots of other invaluable help with things like how to call home or ship items.
The Best of San Miguel de Allende book by Joseph Harmes. This book is great for quickly finding something. You can look up things from best place to have a tortilla to best views in San Miguel.
Atencion, Local English Newspaper You’ll definitely want to pick up a copy of the Atencion. It tells you what, where and when it’s all happening. There are great articles about San Miguel that really give you a sense of what it is all about .
San Miguel Climate
The days have been warm and sunny, but we were really surprised at how cold it can get at night. Due to the high elevation I guess it is to be expected. The first few nights we spent here it was quite cold. The days are a complete contrast. We definitely needed sunglasses for the bright sun and you can get a sunburn if you’re not careful.
We have continued to enjoy warm beautiful days, one after another. The climate is incredible. No wonder so many people winter here and come to live permanently. The climate here is referred to as a perpetual spring. The temperature usually only varying slightly from 80F. or 26.C.
State Government Tourist Office
The tourist office is located at the Plaza Principal (south side of the Jardin next to the Parroquia) We went to it on many occasions. Most of the staff speak English and were extremely helpful with any questions we had.
Getting Around Town
Walk, walk walk. It is possible to walk to almost everywhere in San Miguel. If not, there is always a taxi or local bus to get you to where you want to go.
If you have to take a taxi in town there are no meters. There are approximately 300 of them in town so getting one shouldn’t be an issue. A simple flat fare of 20 pesos will get you where you need to go. Currently it is about 10 pesos to the Canadian dollar. The flat rate has been set to compensate the driver appropriately, tipping is not customary. If you are going to an outlying area negotiate a price before hand. Taxi stands are located on the east side of the jardin. Every other popular destination will have a taxi or two waiting at it. If you have to call a taxi the numbers are 152-5993 or 152-4086 If you are not comfortable calling for one just have any shop staff you’re near do it for you. They are usually more than happy to.
Local buses are cheap and easy to take. All buses leave from Calle Colegio (east side of civic plaza). They run all day on designated routes to all the main areas of the city. The fare is about 4 pesos.
We had planned on doing one of the Sunday house and garden tours. Each Sunday 2 or 3 houses in San Miguel centro or the surrounding areas are featured on a tour. They are owned by affluent people, a lot of them artists. They have unique architecture and are beautifully decorated. You can read a brief description about them a few days ahead in the local paper.
One particular set of houses sounded interesting. We had planned to go on the tour that Sunday. Unfortunately I got sick and we could not go. We spent three months in Mexico and I got sick right at the end of our stay.
We were very disappointed to find out what we had missed on the tour. We had been bumping into a couple from Calgary several times around town. They had gone on the tour and told us one of the houses was owned by Toller Cranston, the former Canadian figure skating champion who now resides in San Miguel.
They said his house was fascinating. It had his artwork displayed all over the place and was boldly full of colour and clutter. It was so overwhelming they don’t know how anyone could live in there. They described him as a little out there. He had no problems telling them about his mental breakdown and problems he has had in his life. Despite this, his artwork is beautiful and amazing. We have seen some pictures of it. I would love to buy a piece, but it would be way out of our price range. He has become a respected artist around the world and the price of his work would reflect that.
Traveling Is All About Seeing Unique Things
The great thing about being in a different place or country is experiencing strange our unique things. We have certainly had our share here. We witnessed a large grass fire up on a hill on the outskirts of town. It continued to burn and we started to wonder if anyone had noticed or called the fire department. A white pickup truck eventually showed up. Three men started to walk through the grass with a long stick and some sort of flaps of material at the ends of it. They started to beat at the fire with it. We were astonished, that’s it, only 3 people with sticks, no water? To our amazement they seemed to have the fire out in about 20 minutes. I guess they knew what they were doing after all.
There are no traffic lights within the town and the traffic can get quite congested. Many times you will see police directing at busy intersections. We had a good laugh one day when we saw a police officer at an intersection directing. He was perched on top of a wooden crate he had placed in the street. In his hands he held a lantern that was plugged into a nearby outlet. It had a green light on one side and a red light on the other. He turned it as necessary to control the traffic. We got to witness him finish up for the day. Two other police officers were involved in the unplugging of the light and removing the wooden crate. It was all quite amusing.
El Jardin, Center Of All Activity
The Jardin ( pronounced har-DEEN) is the central square for the town.This is where all the action is in San Miguel. It is the place to come and people watch. Everyone hangs out here, it is the social gathering place for young, old, tourists and locals. This place is what makes San Miguel have such a sense of community and gives it a great social atmosphere. People come to hang out in the day to sit on the benches in the shade of the trees. In the evening they come down after dinner with their families or to see if any fellow neighbours are around to have a chat with.
Around the jardin are an array of small shops and cafes. The star of this area is most certainly the Parroquia. It is a stunning pink coloured Gothic parish church. It is one of San Miguel’s most famous landmarks and one of the finest examples of colonial architecture in Mexico. A more modest church was originally built on the site in 1683, but the church that you see today was built in 1880.
A crypt in the alter contains the remains of Felipe Gonzalez and Anastasio Bustamante, both were heroes of the Mexican War of Independence. There is also a sculpture of Ignacio Allende, who is the cities namesake.
Our first Saturday here we saw a wedding at the beautiful church downtown. The bride was in a stunning cream coloured dress. The groom was in a black Mexican style suit with adornments down the outside pant legs, and a black sombrero. They were escorted to and from the church in a horse drawn carriage. We have seen a couple other weddings as well in which the bride and groom are greeted outside the church after the ceremony by a mariachi band. The couple is serenaded by the band and followed to their vehicle by them.
Bibliotecha (Public Library) , Another Popular Hangout And Hub Of Activity
The bibliotecha is another hub of activity. Besides the Jardin, this was our second favorite place to hang out. There is a large open courtyard with tables and chairs to sit back and relax with your favorite book you’ve checked out. They have the largest collection of bilingual (English/Spanish) books in Mexico. There are over 60,000 books, over half of them are English titles. You can also bring your laptop and use the free wireless internet in the courtyard or while you enjoy a meal in the restaurant located on the library grounds.
The list of what is provided here is endless. There is a theater that offers concerts, shows and lectures. There are numerous community programs and workshops are offered. There is also a computer center. A gift shop with books, artwork and trinkets is just to the left of the main entrance. All the staff at the facility are extremely friendly and helpful.
This is a large green filled park that is very peaceful and beautiful. It is a wonderful place for a relaxing stroll on the paths that take you through the cherimoya, mulberry and walnut trees. There are several fountains, ponds and bridges.
With everything we did while in San Miguel, for some reason we never made it to this reserve. From all the reading and pictures I have seen of it, we certainly missed out on something quite spectacular. This is a 220 acre ecological reserve located on the hilltop 1.5km’s northeast of town. There are pathways that head through incredible areas of cacti and native plants. There is a conservatory of Mexican plants that houses an array of cacti and succulent species.
What A Small World It Is
We sometimes go to the local library in San Miguel to look through books and sit in the cafe for a drink. We got into a conversation with a man at the table next to us. He had owned a condo in San Miguel for the last 15 years and was trying to sell it. We asked him where he was going to move to. To our surprise he responded with Nanaimo, our home town. He even described the condos on the waterfront in downtown Nanaimo that he wanted to move to. He was excited to hear that is where we were from and had all kinds of questions for us. We also started chatting with a lady outside a shop while in Guanajuato. She guessed we were from Canada and asked where. Turned out she was from Victoria. What a small world we live in.
Our Three Months In San Miguel Comes To An End
We were sad to have our three month stay come to an end. We were really starting to feel at home and a part of the community. We can understand why so many foreigners have made San Miguel their permanent home. Hopefully we will be back again someday.
The morning we left San Miguel started out bright and early. We had a taxi come to the casita to take us to the bus station. It was questionable if all our luggage was going to fit into one car. We barely made it squeeze in.
The taxi driver was very friendly and spoke a small amount of English. He had one eye that looked in the opposite direction of the other, he was quite the character. We had to take a bus back to Querataro and then another one to Mexico City.