I first read about San Miguel de Allende (SMA) when I was looking up places to visit around Mexico City. I found it was voted best in the world by ‘Travel and Leisure’ two years in a row, so it would be silly not to pay it a visit and validate this for myself.
San Miguel de Allende has no beaches and no turquoise blue waters and so it’s not where most tourists come when visiting Mexico. San Miguel de Allende is a colonial-era city in Mexico’s central highlands, is known for its baroque Spanish architecture, thriving arts scene and cultural festivals. In the city’s historic, cobblestoned center lies the neo-Gothic church Parroquia de San Miguel Arcángel, whose dramatic pink towers rise above the main plaza. The streets remain cobble stoned and there’s local as well as artisan markets to explore.
To get to San Miguel de Allende we took a Primera Plus bus from Mexico City (Norte). This was our first bus experience in Mexico and it was the best bus I’ve ever been on in the world. You get a TV screen with loads of films and shows to choose from, a USB charging port, plenty of leg room (very important when travelling with a 6″6ft human) a sandwich, nutrigrain bar and a drink all included in our ticket. If you purchase tickets 3 days in advance online (via clickbus) the tickets are around 450MXP return (£17/18). The bus also felt really safe with a door between the passengers and the driver.
On the 4 hour bus journey over from Mexico City we met a local, he was an interior designer called Eduado who travels often to San Miguel de Allende. He described San Miguel de Allende as “The Disneyland of Mexico”.
Arriving in San Miguel de Allende
On arrival to SMA bus station, the main part of town is just under 2km. We decided not to hop on a bus or in a taxi, but instead to walk (30 minutes) from the bus station to the hostel (after we checked if it was safe). After a week of tacos and enchiladas in the city, were all desperate for a bit of “exercise” – not that we’re complaining, the food has been delicious and cheap to what we’re used to.
We stayed at Hostal Alcatraz which was perfect for the 4 of us, just 2 blocks from the main square and down the road from the artisan market – as well as a free breakfast! We had our own 4 bed dorm with a Juliette balcony overlooking a courtyard with a papaya tree. So we felt like we’d found a good place, and just one step out of the hostel, you were surrounded by all the many autumnal shades of San Miguel de Allende.
After checking in we decided to have a chilled life admin day and to just find a nice cafe as it was raining and after some “exercise” (carrying our large backpacks across town) we all thought we deserved some cake. After a Google session of recommended cafes, we found Cafe Rama. After a 15 minute walk over cobbled stones in the rain, we were surprised to find there was a 40 minute wait. I think the waitress was more surprised that I said that was fine. At this point I couldn’t be bothered to find another cafe and I also clocked tacos across the road at Rama Jardin. So it made sense, a taco brunch followed by cake.
I can’t speak Spanish, but I’m trying to learn as we go along. So until I can string a sentence together has been via the SpanishDict app or through my excellent charade skills, but more so the app. It really comes in handy working out what items on the menu says. On this day I had el huevo y chorizo tacos (egg and chorizo tacos).
When we finally got into Cafe Rama I was surprised. This cafe was really beautiful and surprisingly “western” – there was a warm fireplace, a pianist, a random buffet of fruit, granola and yoghurt and for us, a wide selection of cakes. It looked expensive and it was (more so than the 50MXP (£2) we’d been spending per meal). So with all of this spender came a pricier bill than what we’d experienced in Mexico City (cake was 80MXP – £3.20).
For us coming to Cafe Rama was an eye opener of what to expect in San Miguel de Allende. From the decor, the menu, the prices and the people around us – it became clear to us that San Miguel de Allende was more so an expat town for American retirees – so the higher prices and the western menus catered for that. But we didn’t see it as a negative because for one, what a beautiful place to retire, and two, it was a good thing for us as it’s nice to have a bit of variety in food choices to cater to (we’d eaten fried tacos every day by this point) and I personally always seek out a good cup of coffee. For me, San Miguel de Allende had a very similar vibe to Bali, a place you could live and work as a digital nomad, or simply to retire and relax but less culture and history then other places in Mexico.
For dinner that night we had the BEST on a budget plan. We purchased x2 cooked rotisserie chickens (which came with tortillas and salad for 90MXP a chicken). So for just 45MXP (a little over £2) we were able to have the same priced meals we had in Mexico City and honestly – this is still one of my favourite meals of the trip! We had this every night and purchased pasta and avocados to accompany!
On the second day, the sun was out and we decided to explore by foot to see what we could find. We had a few points of interest on maps.me so we ventured out to take photos and to find out what makes this city voted as the best in the world.
It didn’t disappoint.
This blog is photo overload but this day I must have taken over 1000 photos because every where you look is a photograph waiting to be taken. I imagine this town to be an instagrammers dream.
The colours, the little lanes, the cafes, the way every building is painted in a vibrant shade of yellows, reds and oranges. I found myself excited to reach the end of each street to see what was down the next.
Yes, this town is very touristy. But would I come back? Yes! During my time here I read a few mixed reviews by bloggers about how it’s not really a backpacker destination because of the price tag and unauthentic nature however I loved this town for my personal experience. You can eat cheaply and everything is walkable! In the evening after dinner, we read that the “must do” thing is to find a roof top bar. However we walked into the one voted ‘number one rooftop bar in the world’, took a look around at the venue and menu and walked straight out again. It felt like something you’d expect in London or Sydney – very modern and cool. For us, the main square was the place to be! We sat outside Centro bar surrounded by mariachi bands serenading groups of people near by us (who had the money to pay for it as the bands ask you if you want a performance) so we just sat alongside with our cocktails whilst we had a view of this.
Final day in San Miguel de Allende
The next day we had a bus back to Mexico City at 4:30pm and during the free breakfast at the hostel we met the fabulous Lisa (a blogger from the UK) and Magnus (a traveller from Denmark).
Lisa used to be a teacher in Dubai and I really enjoyed getting to know her! She’s had an interesting life and also has the balls to write all about it on her blogl (which I highly recommend). She’s travelling Mexico/Guatemala/Cuba solo and is taking her time – I certainly do hope our paths cross again!
Magnus is 19 and whilst chatting to him at breakfast about how safe I felt in Mexico so far, he on the other hand had the opposite. The night before he and an American guy he met in town were walking back to their hostel at midnight when a car pulled over and out came two local men, one with his face covered and the other a man who looked like he didn’t want a part of this. The American thought he could take on the masked man and threw a bunch, only to find that the man was holding a machete. 🤦🏽♀️ Magnus was unharmed thankfully but the American had a sliced hand which needed surgery. Magnus said the men didn’t seem to want anything and the unmasked man just said that he friend was crazy before leaving… Before coming to Mexico I read that these things do happen but they are non violent *touch wood*. Your best option is just to be smart about where you go and not to go out at night. If it happens, hand over your stuff and don’t try to fight. I personally travel with two purses and just my phone. It would be really sad for something to happen on this trip but I’d rather we were unharmed.
Following this story, all us felt a bit anxious about going out, but we needed to face the day. After all, we felt safe here and like Mexico City we avoided going out late at night. So on our final day explored some of the local street art, La Aurora (the design centre) and returned back to some of our favourite places from the day before.
We also found another recommended cafe called Cafe De La Mancha. It’s known for having various coffee options from around the world. I got Turkish, Lisa got Japanese and Stu got a mixture of coffee and orange juice – it’s as foul as it sounds! Again, not exactly an authentic Mexican experience but we enjoyed it!
Verdict of San Miguel de Allende:
Simply beautiful, colourful, touristy (in a good way as it feels safe) and a lovely weekend away for those visiting Mexico City. You can get a cultural experience if you take the time to look in the Parroquia de San Miguel Arcángel or the 18th Century churches around the city OR you can just relax and unwind in the many cafes.