Family Abroad

San Miguel de Allende, Guanajuato – The Heart of Mexico

Introduction

As Edith is from the State of Guanajuato, Mexico, we have visited this beautiful State on several occasions. Her parents still maintain a home in a small “rancho” near Salamanca and we go visit as often as possible. Our favorite three towns to visit in her home State are: Guanajuato City (the Capital), San Miguel de Allende and Delores Hildago. And while this post is only about San Miguel de Allende, I look forward to writing other blog posts about our favorite cities in Guanajuato, Mexico.

The McClure’s Visiting SMDA’s Lavender Fields

Introduction

The eastern region of Guanajuato in Mexico became our home abroad during our family travel to San Miguel de Allende. In fact, it was appropriately the very first place we visited when we decided to sell all and travel. It is a vibrantly colored colonial town that is charismatic with its stone streets, overwhelming mirador vistas, historic gothic cathedrals, and breathtaking well-preserved architecture. Walking the streets of San Miguel de Allende makes you feel like you have stepped into one of its many charming postcards. Yellows, pinks, reds, and browns it is a palette of colors.

There is energy and vibrance in the air in this unique town. I don’t know if it is all the colors mixed with the uplifting essence, but you can feel something special here and our family fell in love with San Miguel de Allende the minute we set foot amongst its historic streets.

There are over 8,000 expats living about in San Miguel de Allende, bringing the area a mixture of cultural diversity combined with locals that call it home. It is a place of diversity with those that reside in this magnetic town and with the tourists that are frequently lured to the charm of San Miguel de Allende.

A colorful street in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico

History of San Miguel de Allende (SMDA)

Its name is actually the combination of two historical Mexican figures. One is that of a friar from the 16th century, Juan de San Miguel, along with Ignacio Allende who played an integral role in helping Mexico gain independence, freeing Mexico from Spanish rule. Together these names created what is now one of the most popular tourist destinations in Mexico, San Miguel de Allende.

Walking through the rainbow streets of music and aromatics of delicious restaurants, it is hard to believe that at one time, San Miguel de Allende was almost a ghost town in the 1900s. Its position lays along the silver route of the past between Zacatecas and northwest of Mexico City. When the riches and prosperity died down, there was a significant decrease in the traffic combined with the effects of a pandemic at one point. However, San Miguel de Allende has since been declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site on July 8, 2008 and it is now a thriving, artistic community. 64 blocks within the city make up the historic area exuding its colonial heritage giving it worldly significance.

Things to Do

El Centro and La Parroquia

The number one activity is to explore the cobblestone streets and alleyways as you make your way through El Centro (the downtown area) to the town plaza and to La Parroquia (better known as the pink church). Take your time and truly experience the city. Stop to take pictures of the colorful doorways and peek into the many family shops that you find along your way.

As you make your way to El Centro, you are most likely traveling downhill, which is the eaiest wayt to go! And take our advice and take a taxi back up to wherever you are staying as those hills can really wear you out.

Standing tall with its pink soaring towers, the “pink church” is recognizable and often described as the wedding cake church and the heart of the city. Surrounded by its pristinely manicured bushes, the parish church is one of the must-see stops at the center of San Miguel de Allende.

El Centro, San Miguel de Allende
La Parroquia De San Miguel Arcangel

The gorgeous square and park plaza outside is a great place to sit and take in all the sights and just relax watching life pass by. It is a wonderful place for families to come together on the benches and relax. Your children will love the ice cream and churros sold from local vendors or be sure to ask for elote (corn) which they cook and add various seasonings. You can even enjoy the sounds of the traditional mariachi band’s music when they are serenading the street.

It is even more beautiful at night when it is all lit up, giving you a whole new perspective, glowing and statuesque towering over the center. 

San Miguel de Allende during Sunset

Shopping

We think the funnest shopping can be found in the little shops that are sprinkled throughout El Centro. We truly enjoy talking with the small shop owners and getting to know them. But, for a different kind of shopping experience, be sure to stop by Fabrica la Aurora, which hosts several art galleries and cafes inside a former mill.

Charming Streets in El Centro, SMDA
Charming Streets in El Centro, SMDA

FAMILY TIP: Must do shopping can be found at the Mercado de Artesians. Edith goes here every single time we visit. From souveniers to silver and from unique artwork to home decoration, you will find it all in this covered shopping area.

Charco del Ingenio

Want to go hiking? Charco del Ingenio offers a terrific hike through their botanical gardens. There is a waterfall next to a dam and the views of the city below are pretty amazing. They have a small restaurant and even a souvenier shop on-site, so if you want to sit and rest for a while after your hike, you can do so here. If you come during the heat of the day, be sure to wear sunscreen, wear a hat and carry water as it can get very hot during a walk through this park.

Do You Enjoy Ziplining?

Right on the edge of town, you can find San Miguel de Aventuras where you can zipline, ride horses or take an ATV tour of the nearby countryside. We visited in July one year and it was an unforgettable experience. The kids especially liked ziplining across a canyon and over a river deep below. The service was great and we thought the prices were fair.

Parque Benito Juarez

This is how I imagined the parks to be in the heart of a traditional town. Green and lush with plants, flowers and trees, Parque Benito Juarez is one of the most relaxing places to visit in San Miguel de Allende. Edith and I enjoyed walking around and in the park and the kids continued to search for the best ice cream in San Miguel de Allende. I especially enjoy looking at the beautiful houses that surround the park.

A Day Trip to Guanajuato City, Guanajuato

If you can spare a night or two, make the time to visit the capital of Guanajuato. There is so much to see and do, but if you can only spare one day – just go! There is so much history lurking behind every corner and we had a great time learning about silver mining and visiting the many churches in the city. One of my favorite activities is riding the funicular up to see the Pipila (a hero of the Mexican fight for independence) statute. The views from the top are spectacular. Also, make time to see the mummy museum and learn about why and how these mummies came to being.

Guanajato, Mexico

FAMILY TIP: The Mummy Museum might not be appropriate for your children. They have several mummies on display and they are not like the mummies you see from Egypt that are wrapped up in linens. The mummies of Guanajuato are still in their clothing and you can still see their well preserved bodies and faces. Look at their website and use your parental discretion.

Where to Stay in SMDA

When traveling, we chose to live like a local to experience the true life and essence of where we are. Slow travel gives us this amazing opportunity so we can embrace the culture and traditions of our destination. We felt safe in San Miguel de Allende and free to enjoy life with our children here freely and openly. It is no different than any other place we visit or have lived. We always use our common sense regardless of where we are.

We decided to stay in El Centro because we wanted the ability to walk down to El Centro whenever we wanted to take a walk. We also insisted on having a view of La Parroquia, which was incredible to see during the day and at night. The bad part about being in El Centro is the noise. There were many nights and morning where fireworks and loud music interrupted our sleep. Celebrating life itself is a way of life here in Mexico and you have to make a decision to embrace this wonderful way of life.

On another trip, we stayed in an area called “San Antonio”. Being from Texas, this seemed like a great location – and it was. There is no doubt that the walk to the plaza was longer when compared to actually staying in El Centro, but it was “fairly flat” and the homes and buildings on the way to the plaza were stunning. We actually stayed in a home that had a hot tub on the roof that offered a commanding view of the city while soaking your cares away.

FAMILY TIP: On your first trip to San Miguel de Allende, I would suggest staying in El Centro so that you can explore the town easily. I would also try to find a place with a rooftop terrace with a view of La Parroquia – I promise you won’t regret it!

Dining in SMDA

Dining out and experiencing the restaurants in San Miguel de Allende makes it difficult to want to stay in and cook. The traditional flavors of Mexico and truly authentic Mexican food, such as enchiladas, barbacoa, posole, carnitas and, of course, tacos, run through the narrow streets. But with the town becoming a international hit, foodies will find that with the cultural fusion of the local culture mixed with international travelers, the choices of food are extensive.

Dining at Los Milagros Terraza, San Miguel de Allende

We decided to feast in Los Milagros Terraza (The Miracles Terrace) which when we arrived, we saw exactly how they came up with the name of their impressive restaurant. It is by far one of the best restaurants in San Miguel de Allende with miraculous and outstanding views on their terrace of the beautiful landscapes and cathedrals.  It is spacious and with open-air to walk around and just really appreciate the panoramic beauty that sprawls throughout. The restaurant has fun live music on the weekends and even has semi-private rooms.

The city of San Miguel de Allende rises up upon the valleys almost a mile high and this restaurant gifted us the most spectacular views. The mirador of the city center is a breathtaking vista but here we had a truly spectacular view.

We treated ourselves to some of the best foods on the menu with guacamoles, flank steaks, salmon, and shrimp ceviche. But it was dessert where we really splurged, how could we not when we saw everything on the menu! Chocolate-covered strawberries, chocolate cakes, flan, and rich vanilla ice creams drizzled in savory sauces. We were spoiled with some of the best flavors. San Miguel de Allende is a town rich in its flavor profiles with foods that look almost too good to even delight in.

Many of the restaurants and hotels take advantage of the utopic location and have terraces and rooftops to have the best miradors and vistas. One of the best bars with great food and views that seem to go forever is the Rosewood Hotel Rooftop. Be sure to visit just before sunset to take in unobstructed views of the sun going down over the city skyline. The lights illuminating out into the distances with the ambient temperatures simply feel special. It makes for beautiful moments of reflection as you and your family sit around talking about all the great things you did and learned that day. You will want to have your phone fully charged at all times, you will be taking never-ending photos capturing the endless beauty.

Dining Around SMDA
Nathan and Bethany Enjoying Mexican Food
Edith Enjoying Her Mexican Platter and Drink

Transportation in and around SMDA

There are plenty of very affordable taxis to get around the streets of the city and being out enjoying the culture is definitely where you want to be. You will want to make sure you have good walking shoes, especially for the cobblestone streets and all the exploring you will do. It is very easy to get lost in time meandering through the roads, so make sure you have your Google Maps or Apple Maps ready to use. With all the shops, artisans, boutiques, and markets, it is relaxing, energetic, and comforting to go for strolls throughout the city. We should note that it is at a higher altitude, so you don’t want to be moving around too fast and lose your breath if you aren’t accustomed to it. Perhaps stop at one of the churreria’s to rest and reenergize with the sweets of a churro!

Conclusion

The sunrises and sunsets are spectacular. They are comparable to some of the best in the world with the dramatic colors painting across the skies. The temperatures of the area stay relatively similar throughout the year making it difficult to decide when to visit with their ongoing spring weather. Many choose to visit from November to April when the area has reduced rains. If you are lucky enough to come to San Miguel de Allende from March to April, then you will be gifted with the sights of the gorgeous Jacaranda trees. These subtropical trees blossom out in their eye-catching cluster of violet colors during these months with beautiful fragrances of freshness when blooming.

The best part of spending time in San Miguel de Allende was just experiencing what life would be like as a local. The day-to-day life of the culture and traditions of the community and region. Waking up knowing that we didn’t have to rush to catch a tour bus but that we created the guide for the day of what we all wanted to do and experience. To savor the special moments and let the sounds, smells, and sights of San Miguel de Allende guide us in the slow travel of our family journey.

Edith with the Kids – Nathan, Bethany, and Natalie
Edith and Bethany
The McClure Girls! (Natalie, Edith, and Bethany)
Cheers from Don and Edith!

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