San Miguel de Allende
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San Miguel de Allende is a small colonial town in the Bajio mountains of central Mexico, about 170 miles northwest of Mexico City. Founded as "San Miguel" in 1542 by a San Franciscan Monk named San Miguel El Grande, it became a centerpiece in the war for Mexican independence from Spain; it was renamed San Miguel de Allende after Ignacio Allende, a hero of the independence movement. In danger of becoming a ghost town in the early 20th century, the town was declared a national monument in 1926 and building became heavily restricted in the town's historic centro district, allowing the city to keep the colorful native facades that have become the backdrop of many famous works of art and even modern motion pictures. A series of artist colonies were founded in San Miguel in the 1950s, including the famous Instituto Allende, and many G.I.s moved their families here following World War II either to attend one of these colonies or to escape the Polio scares raging through many U.S. cities. The result was a healthy American expatriate population that exists today mostly as elderly retirees and second-generation business owners. This population, combined with the Mexican wealthy (especially actors and politicians) that have rediscovered San Miguel as a Malibu-like retreat from Mexico City, has created an eclectic mix of Old World Mexican charm, American hospitality, and a party atmosphere that makes San Miguel a world-class destination for adventurous travelers. (less...) (more...)
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Points of Interest in San Miguel de Allende
- Parroquia de San Miguel Arcangel The marvelous pink granite parish, looking like an ornate candy sculpture at the zocalo (called "El Jardin" by the locals).
- El Jardin The main square or also known as the Plaza Principal
- Museo Casa Ignacio Allende Home of one of the independence heros. Entrance $34 pesos.
- Casa Mayorazgo de La Canal Home of a very wealthy family.
- Templo de la Concepcion A church, also called "Las Monjas.".
- Centro Cultural El Nigromante, Bellas Artes
- Teatro Angela Peralta
- Oratorio de San Felipe Neri
- Statue of Ignacio Allende at the Plaza Civica
- Templo de Nuestra Señora de la Salud Church
- Templo de San Francisco
- Casa del Inquisidor Where the Holy Inquisition was located. Now a private home.
- Benito Juarez park
- Jardin Botanical The unique El Charco del Ingenio park above the town with its enormous collection of cacti.
- The Jardin Botanico is a vast area just past the Balcones area (go uphill past Los Arcos, take a left, and walk until you get tired. Now you're nearly there. Or be a wimp and get a cab from anywhere.) It includes some of the older engineering installations (an old mill and raceway), lovely canyons, well informed guides (mostly expats) for the botanists and birdwatchers. Go early in the day to avoid the heat and for more wildlife. Locals who are members are sometimes given a key to the back gate - find one and buy him beers until he relents! The reservoir is host to a number of migratory birds, and the locals can be rather stunning as well.
About San Miguel de Allende
San Miguel is, first and foremost, a city built for relaxing. It is a Spanish colonial town of perhaps 140,000 people; a heritage site protected by the Mexican government in order to maintain its character. In July of 2008 it was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It's a tourist destination, an art colony, and a retirement community for a few thousand foreigners, mostly Americans, Canadians, and Europeans. In spite of the increased number of foreigners over the past perhaps 20 years, it still is charming enough that many Mexicans visit for special holidays, and there are more than a few visitors who buy a house within a few days of their first arrival.
Weather is typical of central mountainous Mexico. It varies little, and even in the hottest months (May and June) when daytime temperatures can reach 100F (over 35C), the dry air makes it tolerable and cool mountain breezes tend to make evenings delightful. Winter evenings (from December to February) can get cold, even down to freezing overnight, but it warms up quickly in the morning. The rainy season extends from June to September when days are pleasant for sightseeing until heavy downpours (usually late in the afternoon and evening) cool and freshen the air. Ultimately, the climate has the lazy, quiet air and temperance of Palm Springs, encouraging long hours of swimming and pool-side tanning, reading or napping, or just lying in a hammock and forgetting the world exists.
The Spanish version of the history of San Miguel de Allende is correct, why is it not so in the English version? San Miguel de Allende was founded by Franciscan Monk Fray Juan de San Miguel Miguel. He baptized the city with the name San Miguel el Grande and yes, after the War of Independence from Spain in the year 1826 San Miguel was elevated to a city status and given the name San Miguel de Allende in honor of Ignacio Allende y Unzaga, the first Mexican soldier and a native of the city.
When you're ready to absorb the city itself, San Miguel has plenty to see. You can spend a day just exploring the buildings, walking randomly along its streets and exploring some of the facades and architecture that have made San Miguel famous. Painters and cameramen have captured sites like La Parroquia and El Mirador countless times, and whole books have captured the beauty of the doorways along the street. Even Hollywood has taken notice of San Miguel, filming movies like "Once Upon a Time in Mexico" and "And Starring Pancho Villa as Himself" almost entirely here.
- You can also explore inside some of these historic buildings, including the Angela Peralta Theatre and the home of Ignacio Allende, now museums of art and culture dedicated to the town itself.
- San Miguel's many art institutes are always open to travelers looking to discover (or become the next) Frida Kahlo. Painting, sculpture, printmaking, photography, you name it and it's probably there.
- Take in one of the numerous festivals. The place celebrates Semana Santa (Easter holy week) with impressive and touching parades, and Dia de las Locos in mid-June is also worthwhile. The days leading up to Independence Day (September 16) and New Year's in San Miguel are favorite times for Mexicanos.
- There are also music festivals covering classical and jazz at different times of the year, and endless art galleries with works that range from wonderful to "what that'?".
- The once famous Sanmiguelada, San Miguel's version of the "running of the bulls" is no more. After the crowds grew to an unmanageable size and violence broke out in 2007, the event was canceled. There has been some talk of reinstating it in a somewhat different form, but no decisions have yet been made.
- Coyote Canyon Adventures, ☎ 415-154-4193. Offers horseback riding, hiking, biking, rappelling, camping, four-wheeler (ATV), hot air ballooning, boating, Cañada de la Virgen pyramid tours, and multi-day cross country adventures. Their guides lead you safely through working cattle ranches, into canyons, through rivers, over plains, across gorges, and down sheer cliffs, all the while sharing with you their in-depth knowledge of the native flora and fauna.
- Mama Mia, directly to the south of the Jardin, half a block from the Parroquia. An open air patio restaurant with a stage and an exterior/second floor patio. The restaurant has traditional Mexican dishes, but specializes in pizzas and pastas. An always packed space, this is an amazing place to eat with a clean kitchen, and a lively bar.
- El Pegaso, located just off the Jardin on the Corregidora street. This trendy cafe style restaurant offers a delightful blend of Mexican and international flavor. Its atmosphere is definitely one of the best in town.
- El Correo, a small Mexican food spot located just a block away from the main square, offers simple yet interesting authentic Mexican food in a great location.
- El Rincon Español, correo #26, a must for an international night, administered and owned by a Catalan immigrant the food is truly exceptional, you will not be disappointed.
- Cafe San Antonio, Refugio Sur 24, regional, national and international cuisine, enjoy your breakfast, lunch or Dinner in a lucious and open courtyard in the heart of Colonia San Antonio, under the century old native mezquites pines and pirules, truly a unique experience.
- Posada Carmina - This restaurant is based in the patio of a charming Inn located in a remarkably well preserved colonial house. Branded as "fusion", the food offered by this restaurant will make your visit to San Miguel even more memorable, it mixes the clasic elements of mexican cuisine with oriental flavors and dishes.
- Planta Baja, located in front of "Las Monjas" church this modern Mexican restaurant is definitely one of the most avant-garde spots to eat in San Miguel. Great food.
- Casa Payo. Zacateros # 26, One of the most traditional restaurants offering argentine cuisine in a mediterranean ambient inside dining and exterior in a charming patio featuring live music
- Tio Lucas, bar and grill, across from the Teatro Angelica Peralta.
- San Augustin A well run restaurant with great food, Mexican and international. The restaurant/cafe in proud of their freshly made churros and a variety of hot and cold chocolate milks. Owned by Margarita Gralia.
Local restaurants to support include: ChaChaCha’s located on 28 de Abril owned and operated by Mexican couple, Rinconcito on Refugio is close by too, try the Mar y Tierra.
Fresh coffee at La Ventana on Urmaran or Café Etc. on Reloj, both practice Fair Trade.
If you are looking for healthy organic food in San Miguel, Naturalismo is located one block from the Jardin toward the end of Cuna de Allende. Many people find that organic food is not always easy to access in Mexico and this is one place that has organic home cooking.
- Cafe Yenatu Panza, Calzada de la Aurora no. 48 (follow Hidalgo out of the jardin until it turns into Aurora.), ☎ (415)152-8900. 8:30 - noon. This is undoubtedly the most innovative and creative breakfast menus in town featuring design-your-own omelets & breakfast burritos, exquisite french toast, and home made fruit salsa. The vibe is very comfy and clients can choose from indoor or outdoor-garden seating. There's even free wireless. $5-7.
- La Grotta. A wonderful, multi-story restaurant owned by Daniel and son Dyami. La Grotta is located downhill, around the corner, just a block from the main cathedral. While true that the restaurant is casual and the main items are pizza, calzones, and Italian-related, don't let that fool you -- the food is very carefully and freshly prepared.
- Tacos Don Felix, 15th Fray Juan de San Miguel St. (Take a taxi and enjoy yourself.), ☎ 415 152 5719. Fri-Sa-Su only. Wonderful soups, nachos, and entrees. Try the Three meats Enchilada's. Friendly service. Only open F-Sa 6PM to Midnight and Sunday, 2PM - 6PM. It is worth the trip! Moderate.
Visit Mama Mia (see above) or the trendy black and red Mexicana, just off the main square for an amazing evening. Located across from the hotel Mansion Virreyes, For a great nightcap, Berlin is just up the street. It's a great chill bar. The German owners are very welcoming and the food is sublime.
If you can't find something to do in San Miguel at night, you're not looking hard enough. If you can't find something to do on a Saturday night, you're outright blind. This city is filled with clubs, bars, dance halls, and restaurants, and almost all of them have SOME plan for every night of the week. Following are just a few options, try these out, but also seeking your own favorite hang-out.
- Bistro Los Senderos, Avenida Central 101, ☎ 415 155 9571. Relaxed country atmosphere serving both old favorites and innovative fusion dishes - the Bistro has its own organic herb and vegetable garden. Great place to take visitors, and kids - bicycles available and horse back rides by reservation. Gets very busy on Sundays, reservations recommended. Only 8 minutes from downtown San Miguel, this charming place also prepares gourmet picnics, and available for private events. Not to be missed. 200- 400p.
- El Grito (15 Umaran, about a block from the jardin): This is arguably the most popular club in town, and easily the most expensive. It has a $15 cover charge, easily enough to dissuade the casual visitor from dropping in to take a look. Inside, the building is a panoply of stone and glass sculptures, light displays, and music. How energetic the evening gets usually depends on the crowd, but it's hard for the evening to get much past midnight before the dancing starts. El Grito is only open Fridays and Saturdays, or on certain holidays, like New Year's Eve (when they jack the price up to $50).
- Dos Casas Wine Bar. Quebrada 101, Large selection of international wines in a an intimate setting. 2 blocks from the town center. Bistro menu.
- Mama Mia's (8 Umaran, a few doors from the jardin): Mama Mia's is actually four clubs in one. There's a restaurant and bar in the center with some amazing Italian food, a sports bar to the left (usually displaying a soccer or football game of some kind), a music bar to the right where local acts frequently play (especially Pilaseca, a very popular funk-blues band that tours most of Mexico and the States), and a hard-to-find rooftop lounge overlooking the city. This is a great default place to while away the hours when nothing else is appealing - the music is worth it, if nothing else.
- La Fragua (the Forge) is an historical landmark just off the Jardin which has jazz music afternoons and weekends, as well as a full menu. Mostly tourists, fewer expats, very few locals, but a nice place to rest up, as the location makes it an easy rendezvous point.
- Manolo's Sports Bar Zacateros # 26, Complete coverage of national and international sports if it is on TV they have it
- La Cava de la Princesa
- Planeta Dorado
- Cafe de la Parroquia (changes name for dinner to La Brasserie), Jesus 11 (One block from the Jardin), ☎ 152-3161. 8AM-10PM. Beautiful courtyard dining on fresh, local ingredients. Although many menu items seem at first to be the "usual", there's nothing ordinary about them. Try in particular the chicken soup (throw in all the onions and cilantro), tacos and any omelette. $6-12 entrees.
Any type of Mexican artwork that you can think of. In addition to its cultural staples, San Miguel de Allende is known for its amazing shopping. Being near the geographical center of the country, artisans from every part of Mexico have been known to send their artwork to San Miguel to be sold. Whenever possible buy directly from the artisan. Many amazingly, talented artists are not able to support their families due to the low prices they receive for their art. At times it is very necessary to barter and at other times inappropriate -- use your intuition and allow for mistakes. We can afford to be generous in this developing nation!
The best place to get great quality Mexican and international art is at Fabrica La Aurora. This old textile factory has been converted into a unique art and design center that now houses over 30 artists, galleries, restaurants, antique shops, and specialty stores. It is about 10 minutes from the main square down Hidalgo Street on Calzada de la Aurora. Inside the Fabrica la Aurora you will see galleries such as Galeria Atelier. Artists are usually in-house and demonstrating on Thursdays. See galeria/atelier.
The streets around the Jardin are full of specialty shops selling common souvenirs, clothing, art, furniture, and Mexican tile. The open-air Mercado Ignacio Ramirez (Ignacio Ramirez market) a few blocks from the zocalo (locally called the "Jardin") is several blocks long where you'll find reasonably-priced jewelry from beads to silver, tile, mirrors, and other accessories for the home. It winds down the side of a hill, ending on yet another street of stores where you'll find (among other things) local pewter which can be very attractive and a real bargain. Some still call it by the name "El Nigromante", which is not as loaded a term in Spanish. There's the local food market indoors, and as one goes more downhill there are the usual clothing and music kiosks. The artsy-craftsy merchandise is found in the sunlight and down by the stream-side as one progresses through the area. Kiosk food is safe, by and large.
Also of note is the Tuesday Market - acres of native crafts, cheap Lakers t-shirts, fly swatters, cheap leather jackets and miscellaneous stuff that you really need, like flypaper, sewing kits, and more flyswatters. This correspondent is six foot tall, and feels like an NBA star walking through the crowds there. This correspondent cannot find any clothing to fit him there, either Tamano Grande (sorry can't access tilde) is US Medium. T. Ex-G does not exist. Still. it's worth it, if only for some of the more occult candies on offer.
Fair Trade Shopping includes the following:
Casa de Las Artesania de Michoacan, Calzada de la Aurora #23, a non-profit shop where the artist profits 60% of the retail price.
Save the Children shop on Hidalgo, this store offers crafts from various villages around Mexico. Artists receive a fair price for their arts and crafts, entire villages have become sustainable through Save The Children Mexico projects.
There is also a women’s co-op shop.
Ladies: don't forget to pick up a pair of San Miguel shoes as soon as you arrive. Your walk around town will be much more comfortable.
This article is based on Creative Commons Attribution/Share-Alike 3.0 Licensed text from the article San Miguel de Allende on Wikivoyage.