All About San Miguel de Allende – Mexico
San Miguel de Allende is a small historic, art-devoted town in central Mexico, located about three hours west of Mexico City. Quaint, narrow cobble-stone streets lined by centuries-old golden and terracotta colored buildings climb up and down low hills, leading to leafy plazas, beautiful old churches and a plethora of art galleries, upscale boutiques, hauteur-cuisine restaurants, trendy cafes and small museums.
Arriving on the outskirts of San Miguel de Allende, you can’t fail to see a large sign declaring, “Un regalo de Mexico al mundo” – “a gift from Mexico to the world.” In town, various signs further dub SMA as “Europe in Mexico.”
Indeed, wandering around this beautiful UNESCO Cultural World Heritage town full of original Baroque and Neo-Classic architecture, you can imagine you’re actually in some historic Italian, French or Spanish village.
Founded in the early 1500s by a Franciscan Friar, SMA started as a rather religious-focused town, with monasteries and churches quickly erected. In the late 1500s and 1600s, SMA became an important supplier of goods and merchandise for the quickly developing silver boom happening all around it. When the silver era dwindled, so did San Miguel, whose importance became lost in time for a few centuries.
SMA’s beginnings as an art enclave began much later – in the late 1930s – with the opening of its now famous Belles Artes School, offering courses in mural painting by famous Mexican artist David Siguieros.
In the 1950s, the equally famous Allende Art Institute opened, attracting many international art students. Both schools are still operating today, teaching painting, fabric arts, graphics, sculpture, music and musical instrument construction, among other arts.
In the 1960s and 70s, not surprisingly, San Miguel became quite an artsy bohemian village. Many American painters, writers, musicians and art lovers began re-located there. They have since established a solid ex-pat community, which currently makes up about 20% of the population.
Since then San Miguel has gradually gone more and more upscale. Small luxurious boutique hotels have steadily been opening along with art galleries, restaurants with an assortment of international cuisines, cafes and many performance venues.
Then about 10 years ago San Miguel became a huge hot spot, recognized not only domestically, but also internationally for its fine arts, gastronomic offerings, luxurious hotels and even fashion.
Today many of Mexico’s high society flock there on weekends for luxurious escapes from chaotic Mexico City and to attend a dizzying assortment of special events including fashion shows, top guest-chef dinners, music festivals and other art-oriented happenings.
So many events, performances, festivals, lectures and gallery openings are happening at any given time in San Miguel now that it’s hard to choose which to attend.
SMA has also become Mexico’s second biggest wedding destination. Nearly every weekend five to eight weddings are in full swing in pretty little San Miguel.
In fact, with all the wedding parties, special events and general attraction of the town, weekends in San Miguel consist of a huge crush of people wandering up and down the narrow roads, sitting in the mobbed plazas and waiting in long lines to enter restaurants. The ‘hottest’ restaurants require advanced reservations, often for the honor of being served by Mexico’s top, world-renowned chefs.
On weekends, accommodation can also be very hard to come by. Essentially, it must be booked well in advance, even for budget accommodation like beds in hostel dorms.
Luckily, week days in San Miguel are still fairly quiet and relaxing. So it’s quite feasible to visit this charming town without the tourist-boom crush.
Although plush luxury hotels, art galleries, boutiques and restaurants are now a large part of the San Miguel scene and ambiance, that has by no means completely taken over the town. Besides arty boutique hotels, there are plenty of mid-range and budget hotels right in the heart of historic San Miguel, including several hostels with dorm beds as cheap as $150 ps / $6.50 US per night.
Wandering around town, you’ll find yourself mingling with people from every walk of life, including street vendors, musical buskers, beggars, indigenous peoples, Mexican cowboys, shop owners, laborers and white collar workers. It’s very much a mixed population in San Miguel.
A bit surprisingly perhaps, with all the gourmet restaurants in town, San Miguel is also chock full of food vendors, typical Mexican economic restaurants and a large produce market with a sizable section of meal shops at normal Mexican prices.
Happily, it’s just as easy to visit San Miguel on a low budget as any other destination in Mexico. There’s plenty of cheap food, inexpensive hostels and great sites to visit free of charge. (Just be SURE to book accommodation at least several weeks in advance if you’re going on a weekend)
As for what to see and do in SMA, mainly it’s a matter of just wandering up and down the hilly cobble-stone streets, peaking your head into galleries, shops, churches and historic buildings. You’ll find many beautiful interior courtyards, now filled with art galleries or cafes or trendy boutiques or government offices.
Prominent points worth visiting include the elaborate church Paroquia de San Migeul Arcangel, large church Oratorio de San Felipe Neri, Templo de San Francisco, Bellas Artes School, Allende Art Institute, the Public Library, History of San Miguel Museum and the four small main plazas, all right in the center of town.
You can also easily join the plethora of performances, events, festivals, lectures and gallery openings. Just pick up the magazine… to see what’s on while you’re in town. Note that all these activities are paid events.
Depending on your interest in architecture, the arts & performances, San Miguel could easily take up 3 days to a full week or more to explore in depth. Enjoy it!
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