Monday, April 22, 2024

The 20+ Best Things to do in San Miguel De Allende


Perched atop the rolling central highlands of Mexico lies the enchanting colonial city of San Miguel de Allende, its cotton candy hued structures and cobblestone lanes emanating an irresistible allure. This UNESCO World Heritage Site esteemed for its Baroque architecture and thriving arts scene serves as a time capsule providing travelers an intimate glimpse into Mexico’s complex past and vibrant culture.

Through thoughtful wanderings in storied neighborhoods, reverent observations of stunning architecture, and tongue-tingling bites of rich moles and fresh local specialties, visitors can craft unforgettable memories in this city voted “The Best City in the World” by Travel + Leisure. Follow this comprehensive guide to insider tips for navigating beyond the tourist traps and immerse yourself in the true heartbeat of the city locals affectionately call San Miguel.

Immerse Yourself in Captivating History and Architecture

1. Parroquia de San Miguel Arcángel

The iconic Parroquia de San Miguel Arcángel with its soaring Gothic spires is the exquisite crown jewel anchoring the main plaza of San Miguel called El Jardín. Ascend the 108 steps leading to the top of the bell towers for a 360 degree panorama reveals the church’s striking architecture and the city’s layout. Glimpse the green and white steeples of the Templo de San Francisco church in the distance beckoning further exploration through atmospheric alleyways and hidden plazas.

Insider Tip: Arrive early before the crowds for a quieter experience taking in views of the waking city. For optimal lighting, late afternoon bathes the pink limestone facade of the church in a warm golden glow.

2. El Jardín

This leafy plaza serves as the energetic epicenter of activity in San Miguel with musicians serenading and children laughing and chasing pigeons by the ornate wrought iron bandstand kiosk. From a bench beneath the Jacaranda trees, admire Parroquia de San Miguel Arcángel, people watch local families, or nibble on classic Mexican street eats like elote (grilled corn on the cob slathered with cheese, lime, and chili powder).

Insider Tip: Indulge your sweet tooth with cajeta on a stick, a caramelized goat’s milk candy sold by vendors roaming El Jardín. The delicate floral notes pair wonderfully with San Miguel’s renowned gourmet coffee scene.

3. Templo de San Francisco

Dating back to the late 16th century, the Templo de San Francisco’s splendid churrigueresque façade intricately carved from pink cantera stone dazzles all who enter the church doors. Marvel at the extraordinary stone retablo framing the main altar and decorate side chapels glittering in gold leaf, housing ornate statues and remains of past monks. Climb the church tower for views over San Miguel’s tiled rooftops to El Chorro waterfall.

Insider Tip: Arrive on a Sunday morning to experience the church filled with revelry during a lively Catholic mass with hymns sung in Spanish resonating off the arched ceilings.

4. Casa de Ignacio Allende

Walk in the footsteps of the great heroes of Mexican independence at Casa de Ignacio Allende, the stately 18th-century home of Ignacio Allende. Peruse personal artifacts like Allende’s sword and medal from the Batalla de las Cruces while learning the pivotal role he played alongside Miguel Hidalgo in the fight for freedom from Spanish rule. Stroll through beautiful interior courtyards awash in bougainvillea and silence that seems to still echo with intense revolutionary plotting of visionaries who forever changed the destiny of a nation.

Insider Tip: Admission to Casa de Ignacio Allende is free on Mondays for Mexican nationals and permanent residents. Arrive early to avoid queues since budget-conscious travelers and students tend to take advantage of the free day.

5. Fábrica La Aurora

A former textile mill transformed into a vibrant arts and design complex, Fábrica La Aurora provides visitors a glimpse into San Miguel de Allende’s rich creative heritage. Watch resident artists as they handcraft rebozos, ornate shawls worn by Mexican women for centuries in onsite workshops. Explore two dozen unique art galleries and boutiques selling quality souvenirs showcasing regional art forms, like brightalebache pottery or works by prominent local artists.

Insider Tip: Look for whimsical winged cats by acclaimed naif abstract artist Gonzalo de la Paz Pérez throughout the complex, inside Galería ÁreaOcho and painted on exterior murals. His surrealist works incorporating angels and animals have become iconic city symbols.

Embrace the Bustling Art Scene

6. Galería ÁreaOcho

Discerning art collectors praise San Miguel de Allende as the artistic heart of Mexico thanks to world-class galleries like Galería ÁreaOcho representing both emerging and established Mexican and international artists. Surround yourself with vibrant abstract works in painting, sculpture, and photography within a stunning 17th century mansion also housing Cafe Ocho restaurant serving creative Mexican fusion cuisine on their courtyard patio.

Insider Tip: Time your visit to coincide with the free Saturday art walks from 5 PM to 8 PM when 40+ galleries and studios like Galería ÁreaOcho stay open late hosting special exhibitions, artist talks, live music, and complimentary drinks and snacks for guests.

Discover visionary and outsider art unlike anything you’ve seen before at the Chapel of Jimmy Ray Gallery. Once a private home, every surface has been reimagined by artist owner Jim Ray into a psychedelic work of art with mind-bending rooms covered in intricate tile mosaics, paintings, and relief sculptures crafted over three decades. Custom tours provide fascinating insight into his creative process and the symbolism incorporated into the space he considers his life’s work.

Insider Tip: Keep an eye out for the secret passageways hidden behind walls covered in mosaics leading to intimate chapels and peaceful patios filled with Ray’s whimsical sculptures.

8. Casa de la Cuesta

History buffs and art enthusiasts alike will appreciate a visit to Casa de la Cuesta, a 16th century colonial mansion and museum housing one of central Mexico’s premier collections of antique Mexican folk art encompassing thousands of pieces. Wander through rooms containing extraordinary relics of saints, votives, santos carvings, tin ware, textiles, pottery, and more from all 32 states of Mexico spanning five centuries.

Insider Tip: Ask to access the roof for elevated views over San Miguel’s terracotta tiled rooftops and nearby orchards plus photo opportunities with a giant winged cat statue by Gonzalo de la Paz Pérez.

9. Bellas Artes Instituto de San Miguel de Allende

Visitors with a passion to develop their creative talents should visit the Bellas Artes Institute, considered Mexico’s leading international center for exploration in visual arts. Take a class in painting, sculpting, photography, jewelry metal arts, and more taught by distinguished faculty during sessions lasting from one week to three months. Students exhibit final works in their beautiful onsite gallery every month.

Insider Tip: There is no formal application process to take adult classes as long as you meet age requirements and facility space allows. Look for special programs like sensory art sessions for the vision impaired too.

Delve into Delectable Culinary Delights

El Jardín is ringed by elegant restaurants primed for discreet observation of passersby, but discerning palates know San Miguel menu’s revealing authentic regional flavors exist down its atmospheric side streets and countryside.

10. Áperi Restaurant

Intimate yet convivial Áperi Restaurant resides on the top floor of Casa No Name boutique hotel, allowing 180 degree vistas over San Miguel’s central historic district. Their market-driven tasting menus masterfully prepared with classical French techniques incorporate seasonal ingredients from local farms and purveyors. Pair the five or seven course menu with their expertly curated wine list for a truly indulgent epicurean evening.

Insider Tip: Request a table on the open air terrace for romantic sunset views, but come prepared to dine slowly and savor every artful bite. Reservations essential.

11. Cuna de Tierra Vineyards

San Miguel de Allende serves as an ideal base to explore the burgeoning wine region enveloping Guanajuato’s peaceful countryside. Cuna de Tierra vineyards specializing in cabernet sauvignon, merlot and Tempranillo varietals offers intimate wine tastings and tours providing insight into the entire wine making process. Savor award-winning vintages alongside locally sourced cheeses and charcuterie boards on their scenic patio against the backdrop of the Sierra de Lobos mountains.

Insider Tip: Try to coordinate your tasting with sunset when the vines are bathed in golden light or opt for an evening visit to enjoy a bottle outdoors under a canopy of glittering stars. Reservations recommended.

12. Mercado Ignacio Ramírez

There is no better place to become immersed in San Miguel de Allende’s vibrant food culture than elbow-to-elbow with shoppers and cooks inside Mercado Ignacio Ramírez. Navigate through narrow aisles past burrito stands, spice vendors, and carnicerias with hanging chorizo links to discover regional specialties like sweet breads, dried chilies, fresh produce, aged cheeses, and tropical fruit aguas frescas in a dizzying array of colors and flavor.

Insider Tip: Look for the stand selling bowls piled high with guacamole or grab a made-to-order grilled quesadilla filled with huitlacoche, a prized edible corn fungus with an earthy, umami richness revered by locals.

Unleash Your Sense of Adventure in San Miguel’s Great Outdoors

From birdwatching expeditions through remote ecosystems to extreme adrenaline pumping excursions down ancient lava tubes, majestic natural attractions cradling San Miguel de Allende beckon the intrepid to venture beyond the UNESCO zone.

13. Hot Air Balloon Rides

Float above the colonial city of San Miguel de Allende just after sunrise wrapped in stirred silence broken only by the occasional roar of the burners. Watch the countryside awaken as farm animals exit barns while villages emerge from early morning mist clinging to lush hillsides. Toast your elevated perspective of life in rural Mexico with mimosas after landing.

Insider Tip: Opt for the small basket balloons holding just you and your travel companions for a private, intimate flight over the Rio Laja river valley with no more than 4 people.

14. Birdwatching Tours

Grab your binoculars for a professionally guided custom birdwatching expedition to spot some of the 558 bird species recorded in the San Miguel de Allende area like wild turkeys, roadrunners, and golden eagles. Depending on season and traveler stamina, tours visit high quality birding habitats encompassing mangroves, deciduous forests, grasslands, wetlands, and river ecosystems rich with avian and other wildlife.

Insider Tip: Pack patience and your best camera lens to increase odds of snapping the perfect photo of San Miguel’s most beloved feathered resident, the great horned owl. Tours typically begin before dawn when birds are most active.

15. Sótano de las Golondrinas

The massive Sótano de las Golondrinas sinkhole, one of the largest cave shafts in the world, attracts extreme adventurers and nature lovers alike. Peer over the edge of the 1,100 foot precipice into the damp darkness sitting on the floor far below before descending on cables, ziplines, or rappelling along the granite rock face through the cavern’s cool constant 52°F temperature.

Insider Tip: Schedule your descent to witness thousands of birds spiraling upwards out of the darkness at sunset when the swallow colony living within the cavern emerges in a choreographed cloud to roost outside on cliffs overhead. Reservations required.

Ancient Tradition Meets Cutting Edge at San Miguel Spas

Surrender yourself mind and body to urban spa sanctuaries and remote hot springs nestled amidst San Miguel’s rugged natural beauty harnessing ancient therapeutic traditions dating back centuries to the pre-Hispanic period.

16. Luna Rosa through Tunel Spa

Slip into subterranean thermal hot springs within the Tunel Spa, a natural grotto just outside San Miguel de Allende burrowed deep inside an extinct volcano. Float weightlessly in calcium rich, geothermally heated water flowing from an underground river believed to impart curative and healing powers while surrounded by flickering candlelight. Couples can indulge side by side in luxurious hydrotherapy treatments like mineral infused soaks and massages inside candlelit Moroccan themed treatment rooms afterward upstairs at sister property Luna Rosa.

Insider Tip: Try their signature 80 minute Mezcal Ritual Massage incorporating heated stones and pure Mexican mezcal applied directly on pulse points to stimulate circulation. Their all inclusive spa packages add private roundtrip transport from your hotel.

17. Rosewood San Miguel de Allende

Even the most urbane jetsetter who believes they have experienced world class accommodations and spa pampering will find their preconceptions pleasantly shattered upon entering the rarefied air of Rosewood San Miguel de Allende. Their magnificent property sensitively converted from a former monastery and lavish celebrity estate encompasses stunning residences, top tier dining, and the acclaimed Sense, A Rosewood Spa seemingly at one with surrounding nature. Surrender to signature treatments incorporating indigenous herbs, flowers, fruits, healing Mexican rituals passed down through generations combined with cutting edge therapies that awaken and restore.

Insider Tip: Indulge fully by reserving The Mansion exclusively for you and up to seven guests with its own butler, chef team, and spa therapists at your personal beck and call 24/7. The only difficult decision lies in which of its plush spaces like the Swedish sauna, movie theater, poolside cabanas or private rooftop terrace to ensconce within next.

Beyond San Miguel de Allende’s City Gates

Should wanderlust take hold, San Miguel serves as an ideal base to discover the diversity of central Mexico’s natural and cultural attractions, off the beaten path hidden gems, and UNESCO World Heritage Sites all within easy day trip distance.

18. Mineral de Pozos Ghost Town

Once a prosperous mining hub supplying ore to fuel Mexico’s industrial revolution until early 20th century abandonment, today Mineral de Pozos serves as an open air museum where nearly 300 decaying ruins seem frozen in time. Get pleasantly lost wandering the dusty streets of this ghost town-turned-artists colony to uncover weather worn structures that serve as haunting yet beautiful reminders of human dreams, ambition, and mortality.

19. Dolores Hidalgo

Raise a toast to Mexican independence while exploring Dolores Hidalgo, hometown of beloved priest Miguel Hidalgo who kickstarted Mexico’s liberation from 300 years of Spanish rule. Visit the iconic church where El Grito de Dolores call to arms was issued, browse colorful Talavera pottery stores and workshops, and honor insurgent heroes at The Column of Independence memorial.

Insider Tip: Laguna Seca Meadery produces internationally award winning artisanal honey wine from local wildflower and eucalyptus honey imbuing unique terroir. Sample and buy their certified organic varietals next door in their tasting room and gift shop housed in a 19th century hacienda. Reservations recommended.

20. Monarch Butterfly Biosphere Reserve

Witness one of nature’s most awe inspiring phenomena as millions of vibrant orange and black Monarch butterflies flutter among the oyamel fir trees of the forested mountains northwest of San Miguel de Allende from November through March during their annual migration from Canada to Mexico. The sound of their wings and swaying branches accompanies the hypnotic sight floating before your eyes.

Insider Tip: Visit on a cool, still morning right after sunrise when melting frost sends cascades of shimmering butterfly clusters drifting downwards through sun dappled trees like fluttering autumn leaves to fully immerse yourself in the magic.

21. Atotonilco Sanctuary

Sometimes referred to as the Sistine Chapel of Mexico, the remote 18th century Sanctuario de Atotonilco is renown for its interior adorned with masterful colorful Baroque murals and plasterwork covering nearly every surface. Contemplate the suffering of Christ depicted in vivid detail as you stand inside this UNESCO site where Father Hidalgo brought his independence fighters to bolster morale during their liberation campaign.

Insider Tip: Look closely to spot one wayward mural featuring bullets holes damaged in a 1915 skirmish between forces loyal to Venustiano Carranza and Pancho Villa, haunting battle scars hinting at the sanctuary’s role as shelter for revolutionary fighters.

Planning Your Time Exploring San Miguel de Allende

San Miguel de Allende hospitality peaks during the six month high season stretching from late October until Easter when cooler, sunny weather brings an influx of international visitors. As a result, lodging rates can double and popular restaurants require reservations booked well in advance.

Alternatively, visiting during the quieter summer shoulder seasons means smaller crowds, easier walk-in restaurant seating, warmer weather ideal for swimming, lower hotel prices, and festive cultural events like music and food festivals are plentiful. Whenever you visit, spending at least three nights allows adequate time to experience iconic attractions while still leaving room for serendipitous wandering.

Budget-conscious travelers need not shy away from visiting San Miguel since economic lodging options and inexpensive authentic local eateries exist alongside the luxury boutique hotels and fine dining establishments catering to its affluent expat community. Payment in pesos typically equals better value, otherwise always confirm if quoted rates include tax and anticipate tipping 15-20% at restaurants.

Pack layers of lightweight clothing to adjust for San Miguel’srange between cool alpine evenings around 50°F dipping into 30’s in winter and hot mid 80’s Fahrenheit afternoons from March through May. Comfortable walking shoes prove essential while exploring the hilly cobblestone terrain. Reusable water bottles come in handy since potable water is safe to drink from public fountains around the main plazas.

Leona D. Hansard
Leona D. Hansard
Leona D. Hansard is not just a travel writer; she's a storyteller weaving adventures through her words. With a passport in one hand and a pen in the other, Leona explores the world, capturing the essence of each destination with vivid descriptions and immersive narratives. Her passion for travel is matched only by her love for discovering hidden gems and sharing them with fellow wanderers

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