Located 60 kilometers north of Queretaro, the colonial gem of San Miguel de Allende (sahn mee-GEHL deh a-YEHN-deh), population 80,000, is situated on a hillside facing the Laja River and the distant Guanajauto Mountains. Declared a national monument in 1926, San Miguel is a picturesque city of arched colonial mansions, flower-filled patios, and winding, terraced cobblestone streets. It is particularly beautiful in March, when flowering jacaranda trees are in bloom.
Instituto Allende, founded in 1951, is an itellectual center and arts academy of renown. There are also many other institutes focusing on arts, literature, and language. Despite this Anglo invasion, San Miguel is very Mexican village.
Roof top views and gardens of this colonial city
|It is Mexico's most celebrated artists' community, and has been luring artistically-inclined Mexicans and foreigners (about 3,500 Americans and Canadians) for decades. |
The city boasts a thriving cultural and entertainment scene. Many events (plays, lectures, art classes) are in English. The renowned San Miguel Music Festival (featuring Mexican and international artists) happens each December. A city with six patron saints and dozens of churches, San Miguel hosts a full calendar of religious festivals throughout the year. The town's biggest bash is San Miguel Arcángel, a celebration honoring the town's chief patron saint. The event includes a running of bulls through city streets, traditional dancers, and lots of merriment. It is held each September 29th.
Two features distinguish San Miguel from the state's other colonial city attraction, Guanajuato. For shopping, the city boasts some of Mexico's best crest shops and fine art boutiques. The variety of merchandise is exceptional, as is the workmanship. Secondly, its dining scene is top notch.
Most of San Miguel's sightseeing highlights are clustered around the compact downtown area. This is a wonderful city for aimless wandering along its narrow cobbled lanes. El Jardin, the city's main plaza (zocalo) is a great starting spot. And don't miss the city's landmark, La Parroquia, the pink, gothic church on the main plaza.
Colonial architecture is found everywhere
| Nouvelle Mexican cuisine, plus a diverse assortment of international dining options have given San Miguel a reputation for having the best "small town" dining in Mexico.|
One of the best city views is from the town's Mirador, located on ahill to the southeast of the city center. At the foot of the hill is El Chorro, which spouts a natuarl spring where the city's women come to do laundry. Further along is Parque Juárez, a shady green belt with ponds, fountains, and benches.
If you are looking for an authentic Mexican town with international flair, centuries old history, and a relaxing almost peaceful feeling, San Miguel de Allende is the vacation (or retirement spot) for you.
The Peso presently values beween 9-10 pesos to 1 US dollar. Banks generally have the best exchange rates & open at 8:30 am or 9:00 am, make sure you check what hours they do money exchanges. Lines may be longer at banks. In addition there are private money exchanges or "casa de cambios" that stay open longer, offering slightly less favorable rates than banks, but the convenience of a quick transaction at almost any time of the day or night.
Some banks may have 24 hour teller machines that allow you to take cash advances on your credit cards, or even ATM cards - paid in pesos. However, at times the ATM machines may have communication problems with banks in the US or Canada, and consequently may not respond to your needs precisely when you need them.
Most of the larger establishments - from restaurants to shops, will readily accept US currency. The issue in that case will be the exchange rate that they offer; it is advisable to ask first in order to avoid any disappointments. Also, whether paying in Dollars or in Pesos, it is a good idea to carry small bills with you, as it is often difficult for small shops or stands to make change for large bills.
Most of the hotels, resorts and more upscale restaurants and shops will accept credit cards, with some or no surcharge. However, you have to keep in mind that many other establishments - especially smaller ones with lower prices, do not accept credit cards. While you are planning your trip, make sure that you carry - or have access to, enough cash or traveler's checks.
Time & Pace
San Miguel de Allende is in the Central Time Zone.
It is said that the pace of life is generally slower in Mexico. At times it
is true! San Miguel is a bit different than other areas of Mexico, most businesses, especially in the tourism areas, will be open during the day. Although, the custom of the mid-day lunch with family is still in effect, most shops have someone at work.
Siesta or the mid-day break is a tradition that reflects not only the necessity of avoiding heat-related fatigue, but is also a traditional time to spend with family. It coincides with the hottest time of day when people retreat to their homes to eat and rest in the shade.
You can call (direct dialing) and fax to anywhere in the world from San Miguel, using the facilities at your hotel. Major US long distance companies have also established Mexican 800 numbers for making calls charged to "calling cards".
Internet access is now available in San Miguel de Allende, and some hotels may have access availability for their customers. "Internet cafes" can be found in town for the convenience of both tourists & locals alike.
Most visitors either fly into Leon, Guanajuato or another major airport in the area, then either rent a car and drive, hire a driver or taxi, or take a bus to San Miguel de Allende.
The city with a regular International commercial airport nearest to San Miguel de Allende is Leon. Commercial flights arrive at Leon International Airport airport daily. Rental car agencies are in the airport. Driving time from Leon to San Miguel is approximately 1 1/2 hours. A direct first class bus from the airport to SMA takes between 2 and 2 1/2 hours.
To fly (international airports), you will need a valid passport or your original birth certificate (US and Canada). It must be presented at the airline check-in. Once on the plane you will be given a form to fill out - for customs. There are restrictions as to what you can bring to Mexico......Some of these restrictions are limits for "duty free" and some are absolute, such as firearms without a permit (not to mention drugs).
Most commonly encountered restrictions are:
- Most food items - especially plants, fruits and seeds.
- Cigars and cigarettes - over 20 packs per person may be subject to duty.
- Liquor and wine - over 2 bottles per person may be subject to duty.
- Controlled substances and drugs - a no no!
- Firearms - only for hunting and a permit must be obtained from the Mexican Consulate in advance.
The Immigration counter is your first stop after you disembark the plane. Here you will have to present your passport (or birth certificate). Your passport will be stamped to make your arrival official. (You will need to keep your passport with you at all times while in Mexico) Next you'll proceed to the baggage claim area for your luggage.
Customs is the last step, here you will need to have your Customs Declaration Form handy (the form you were given on the plane). Recently Mexico adopted a "Red Light - Green Light" system for customs. If you have put "Nothing to declare" on this form, you will be asked to push a button....... If the light is green you can exit without inspection; if the light is red you will be subject to inspection. This is a random system, and therefore there is no way to know whether you will get a green or red light. Consequently you need to be honest on your Customs Declaration and declare anything over and above what is allowed, paying all applicable duties. If you do not, and are caught by a red light, the fines may be very steep.
Some visitors choose to drive form the U.S. or other areas of the country, or even the airport. Mexico City is 3 to 4 hours away, Leon 1 1/2 hours away. You can take Hwy. 57 and Hwy. 49 (which turns in Hwy. 45 at Zacatecas) from the U.S. border. Please make sure you use caution, abide by all laws, and have Mexican insurance.
The 'Central de Autobuses' bus station
Buses are also available from the Leon Airport, the Mexico City airport, and just about anywhere else in Mexico to San Miguel de Allende. From Mexico City airport you can take the Aeroplus to Queretaro (3 hours non stop), then take another bus to San Miguel (1 hour). The last bus leaves the airport at 8:30 pm. You can also go to the Central del Norte bus station in Mexico City and catch a bus straight to San Miguel. The city's main station or Central de Autobuses is located at Calzada de la Estacion about six blocks west of Jardin Allende. The number at the terminal is (4) 152-2206.
It is also possible to take a train to San Miguel. The station is west of town center, a couple kilometers. You can take the Central Estacion bus to get there. The number at the station is (415) 2-0007.
During your stay in San Miguel de Allende transportation requirements will be dictated by where you are staying and where your intended destination is. Most visitors here in this compact city end up staying near the Zocalo or within walking distance, so transportation is not a problem. Parking can be difficult on the streets of downtown. Some hotels have private secure parking. From the Zocalo most shops, restaurants, schools, and sights are within easy walking distance.
If you are staying on the outskirts of town, want to visit the local hot springs in the area or take a view of the city from El Mirador, you'll need a taxi. Otherwise, San Miguel is a perfect town for walkers. Taxis are plentiful, clean and reliable, and fares are reasonable and fixed. Taxis are usually lined up in front of hotels. Your hotel can call a taxi for you.
You can also rent scooters, motorcycles, cars or bikes. Rentals are available from some major and local rental car agencies with offices downtown, some hotels may have rental car information. You can also pick up a car at the Leon International Airport.
Buses and colectivos (small vans & buses) also ply most main roads and can get you around town.