San Miguel de Allende is almost 500 years old, and for more than 50 it’s been a beloved tourist destination. Nevertheless, it’s still possible for newness to wash over this famous Mexican mountain city of snaking cobblestone streets and colonial buildings in delectable fruit-bowl-meets-spice-rack colors (think mango and avocado next to paprika and turmeric). After a spell when some Americans hesitated to travel to their southern neighbor, San Miguel — a Unesco World Heritage site — feels fresh again, with rebooted energy from an influx of sophisticates far younger than the expatriate retirees traditionally associated with the town. Stores focus on regional designers and artists, and restaurants specialize in the locally grown — organic produce and livestock from surrounding farms that thrive year-round in the eternal spring climate at roughly 6,100 feet. Lovely as always and livelier than ever, it’s a new old San Miguel.
Named one of the best cities in the world
500 years of history and a UNESCO Heritage Site
Once an important stop on the silver route between Zacatecas and Mexico City, its historic center is filled with well-preserved buildings from the 17th and 18th centuries. With its narrow cobblestone streets, leafy courtyards, fine architectural details and sumptuous interiors, San Miguel de Allende is arguably the prettiest town in Mexico. Treasures can be found on every San Miguel street, but with limited time for exploration, you need a cheat sheet. The most famous building in town is the multispired pink Parroquia church, which stands guard over the town’s heart, the Jardín. But the most beautiful building is the nearly 250-year-old Centro Cultural Ignacio Ramírez “El Nigromante,” a k a Bellas Artes on Hernandez Macias. First a convent, then an art college, it’s now a newly renovated community center and art gallery.
HOW TO GET THERE
Located in Guanajuato state, 265 km (165 miles) northeast of Mexico City and 96 km (60 miles) from the state capital, Guanajuato city, San Miguel is located within Mexico's hilly central highlands. San Miguel de Allende has no international airport so visitors usually fly into either the Leon/Bajio airport or the Mexico City airport and then take a bus. This is not a major drawback and may in fact add to the city's charm: the sound of an airplane coming in for a landing never disrupts the pealing of church bells, plus the effort required to get here makes it all the more enjoyable.
Walking is undoubtedly the best way to explore San Miguel. A car can be more of a hindrance than a help in town, though it can be useful for day trips to the nearby cities of Guanajuato, Dolores Hidalgo or Queretaro. When your feet get tired, hop on the sightseeing trolley that departs from the tourism office on the north side of the Jardín Principal. After a tour of the main points of interest, it will take you to the Mirador, a lookout point where you'll be able to have a panoramic view of the city.