I'll admit a certain bias since in I lived there for almost ten years and got to explore every nook and cranny of the place. But after travelling all over Mexico, I still think it's the most beautiful pueblo in the country. It's got one of the best preserved colonial centros, but it's not just the main plaza. Majestic 18th and 19th century architecture, cobbled streets, painted stucco walls and red-tiled roofs are found throughout the historic center, with few of the plastic, 7-11 type intrusions found in many other colonial towns. In 2008 it was named a UNESCO World Heritage Site and it attracts visitors from around the world.
Take a look at this beautiful, poetic video by Jack Alterman for an idea of how San Miguel looks. And it really does look like this (although the lack of traffic is a bit romanticized).
Once a sleepy little town that attracted artists and retirees looking for an inexpensive place to live, San Miguel has gone upscale in the last few years with lots of new, elegant restaurants, boutique hotels, and fancy stores. It's also drawing a lot more Mexican tourism these days, as any weekend visit to the Jardín, San Miguel's beautiful central plaza, will attest.
One of the great attractions of San Miguel is its rich cultural life. Religious festivals, processions and fiestas are almost a daily occurence here. I've never seen fireworks as amazing as those in San Miguel. The town is host to many world class events such as the annual Chamber Music Festival (soon--July 29 to August 14 this year), the Writers' Conference, and the Guanajuato Film Festival. (For updated listings consult This Week in San Miguel de Allende).
You'll find luxury hotels, like the swanky new Matilda or the cozy boutique Dos Casas, but also mid-range options like the folk art-filled Casa de la Cuesta. Budget travelers can head to the old stand-bys, Posada Las Monjas or the Quinta Loreto. If you're planning a longer stay there are lots of houses for rent in San Miguel (check out VRBO.com for listings). If the hedonistic aspects of 'downtown' San Miguel overwhelm you, check out this relaxing getaway http://www.sagradawellnessmexico.com/.
Dining choices range from the new 5-star Rosewood Hotel to the best 4-peso burritos you'll find anywhere in Mexico at Dos Burritos (Mesones 69A--no website!).
The increased shopping options are bringing in tourist dollars and pesos as well. The Fabrica La Aurora is a converted 19th century textile factory now filled with dozens of sleek design stores and art galleries. La Calaca and Zócalo are two shops specializing in collectible Mexican folk art. Insh'ala Imports sells unique home furnishings from all over the world, and you'll find great Mexico-inspired gift items at Abrazos design boutique. Don't miss the large and varied mercado de artesanias filled with local handicrafts (just behind the fruit and vegetable market) or the museum-like Galeria Atotonilco a few miles out of town (http://www.folkartsanmiguel.com/).
Some residents complain that the 'old San Miguel' is disappearing. Starbucks and McDonald's have appeared on the scene in recent years. Change is inevitable. But there's no doubt that San Miguel still retains a level of charm and beauty found in few places.
One veteran ex-pat lamented to me, "It all started to go downhill after that Life Magazine article came out."
"When was that?" I queried.
With a roll of the eyes and a resigned shrug she replied, "1958."
Check out the timelessness of San Miguel for yourself.
Photo credit: Carol Romano
Disclosure: I am being compensated for my work in creating content for the Mexico Today program.
All stories, opinions, however, are completely my own.