Americas Mexico Travels

San Miguel de Allende Part 1 – El Centro

January 28, 2017

Magical, enchanting, ‘Disneyesque’… just a few of the many adjectives used to describe San Miguel de Allende, one of Mexico’s prettiest towns. You won’t find any palm-fringed beaches here or blue waters, only some of the most picturesque cobblestoned streets and colorful colonial architecture.

Everyone is falling in love with the striking destination, from artists who have been flocking here since the 1930s to expats who for the past few decades have chosen San Miguel to settle down. They got hooked on the pure beauty, the eternal spring climate, and the people who created one of the most vibrant culture around…you will too.

San Miguel de Allende

It’s not easy to get to (you’ll most likely need a connection and a 1+ hour shuttle) and that’s part of its charms. Once there you’ll immediately feel like home and set out to explore it’s compact historical center, starting at the main plaza of El Jardin.

San Miguel de Allende - El Jardin

The heart of San Miguel truly has everything you came here for: friendly locals, delicious local food…

San Miguel de Allende - El Jardin

…a spring-like setting year round for you to just sit back and breathe in the fresh mountain air…

San Miguel de Allende - El Jardin

…and stunning architecture right in front of you. This is La Parroquia, one of the few major sights, whose dramatic gothic façade was inspired by Gaudi’s Sagrada Familia in Barcelona. 

San Miguel de Allende - La Parroquia

For a good intro to the city, step inside the Historical Museum next to the church which is housed in the home of San Miguel’s most famous son – Ignacio Allende, a hero of the Mexican War of Independence. You’ll learn all about San Miguel from the prehistoric times to today and will be able to see staged rooms from Ignacio’s era, depicting life in the 18th century.

San Miguel de Allende - Museo Historico

Most of the rest of your visit will be just wandering around the blocks of narrow streets and alleys as the city itself is truly the attraction here.

San Miguel de Allende - Casa Rosada

There’s an Instagram moment waiting at every turn and an irrepressible urge to use the term ‘cute’ in repetition. 

San Miguel de Allende - Aldama

San Miguel de Allende - Cuadrante

Shops here are a mix of art galleries, modern boutiques and souvenirs stalls, enticing you in with bohemian entryways and sunny courtyards. You’ll feel as if you’re walking into someone else’s mansion every time, some pretty gorgeous ones at that!

San Miguel de Allende - Mixta

San Miguel de Allende - Courtyard

Adorable cafes abound, and one of the favorites is Lavanda Cafe.

San Miguel de Allende - Lavanda Cafe

Cue the homey interior which is perfect for their famous breakfasts.

San Miguel de Allende - Lavanda Cafe

It’s the rustic courtyard that stole my heart though.

San Miguel de Allende - Lavanda Cafe

And their equally famous Lavender Latte – as the name implies, they use lavender in their menu items to great effect!

San Miguel de Allende - Lavanda Cafe

Besides cute cafes, there’s a thriving culinary scene brought on by the increase in international visitors, and La Canica is one of the latest openings.

San Miguel de Allende - La Canica

A Michelin-starred Spanish Chef paired with a celebrated local chef to create a fusion restaurant of tapas and inventive spins on local cuisine.

San Miguel de Allende - La Canica

San Miguel de Allende - La Canica

Embrace both worlds by ordering the house sangria to sip after the complimentary shot of tequila, it’ll get any meal off to a good start. 

San Miguel de Allende - La Canica

Watermelon and asparagus tempura is just one example of the eclectic cuisine served here, ideal for soaking up cocktails with a couple of friends.

San Miguel de Allende - La Canica

San Miguel de Allende - Cuadrante

The first time you walk around San Miguel you’re mainly distracted by all the colors and massive mansions towering each side of these tiny streets, taking large angle pictures to try and capture the general aesthetic of the place. When it’s your second time around though, you start noticing the minute details and especially the doors, not one of them identical.

San Miguel de Allende - Facades

There are entire photo books solely dedicated to the doors of San Miguel and you’ll have no trouble understanding why. The wood work, the stain, the symbols…each its own personality.

San Miguel de Allende - Facades

San Miguel de Allende - Facades

The closer you get to the center, the more lavish the streets become, a lot of the mansions having been turned into high-end boutique hotels.

San Miguel de Allende - Hotels

Still, the culture shines through with Mexican artifacts and artworks slipping through, death being the number one inspiration. 

San Miguel de Allende - Skull

You’ll eventually stumble upon a busy corner flanked by an enormous yellow building – go towards it!

San Miguel de Allende

The imposing Bellas Artes Centro Cultural is firstly an art school…

San Miguel de Allende - Centro Cultural

…and secondly an oasis of beauty and peace in the middle of the city. 

San Miguel de Allende - Centro Cultural

Peak around to hear and glimpse at the various classes taking place, from classical music to folkloric dance, and admire the art filled courtyard at the core of it all. It’s worth settling in for a bit on the lawn and feel (and hear!) the San Miguel magic. 

San Miguel de Allende - Centro Cultural

You’re also almost guaranteed to witness some form of festival or parade while you’re here as there are too many to count. A great occasion for the young ones to put their classes into practice.

San Miguel de Allende - Dancing

Another prevalent feature – adorable commercial courtyards. Unlike the ones mentioned previously inside gallery/stores, these appear out of nowhere under every other open archways and will lead you to tiny cafes, flea markets and artists studios. Visit as many as you can.

San Miguel de Allende - Courtyard

In the ‘unexpected’ category, only rarely do you see a Public Library listed among the major tourist sites…except for here. Check the courtyard and their leafy vegetarian cafe and then come back by the entrance for the stunning gift shop with the incredible wall art.

San Miguel de Allende - Library

San Miguel de Allende - Library

San Miguel de Allende - Library

If all that sightseeing got you hungry, there’s a quick and traditional restaurant across the street, El Comal de Dona Meche, where for a mere $2 you can feast like a king on freshly made gorditas, fried masa stuffed with a variety of fillings.

San Miguel de Allende - Tortas

Walk down Relox street towards El Jardin for some great shopping. Besides local sweets and apparel stores, you’ll also find Doce-18, a hip hybrid retail and dining space. 

San Miguel de Allende - Doce 18

Housed in a lovingly restored 18th century building, the collective concept brings together high-end boutiques, designer clothing and gourmet cuisine. 

San Miguel de Allende - Doce 18

Your shopping adventure ends in a light-filled food court featuring some of Mexico’s most celebrated chefs’ offerings.

San Miguel de Allende - Doce 18

At the other end of the spectrum, you must go to the local market a few blocks away for the ultimate local experience (with local prices!).

San Miguel de Allende - Mercado

Make your way around the corner to Plaza de la Soledad for more local food options, from traditional baked goods…

San Miguel de Allende - Bakery

…to morning tamales for less than $0,25! 

Tamale

You’ll also find some of the town’s nicest churches, such as the Oratorio de San Felipe Neri. 

San Miguel de Allende - Templo del Oratorio

Turn around to see the back of the even more beautiful Church of San Francisco

San Miguel de Allende

Its front is worth admiring, an elaborate late-18th-century Churrigueresque facade in dusty pink. The garden is yet another mini oasis in this ever-so-charming town.

San Miguel de Allende - Templo de San Francisco

Right across the street (everything is so close together here!) you’ll find Cafe San Agustin, usually with a long line out the door (this was weekday morning, good time to go!).

San Miguel de Allende - Cafe San Agustin

The old school cafe is on everyone’s ‘must-do’ list when in San Miguel and a solid recommendation for breakfast.

San Miguel de Allende - Cafe San Agustin

The main reason to come here and most probably wait though? The chocolate and churros. Don’t even think to leave without eating at least an order.

San Miguel de Allende - Cafe San Agustin

There are quite a few more options if like me you have a sweet tooth in the morning. Cumpanio is ideal if your travel companions don’t agree on the best way to start the day.

San Miguel de Allende - Cumpanio

The all day restaurant, cafe and bakery has something for everyone, from freshly baked delicacies (they’re particularly known from their bread)…

San Miguel de Allende - Cumpanio

…to savory meals like this cactus and mozzarella brunch dish. 

San Miguel de Allende - Cumpanio

And just slightly outside the center you’ll find Mesa Grande in a nondescript building.

San Miguel de Allende - Mesa Grande

The bakery/cafe has the best pains au chocolat and a homey feel that’ll make you want to sit down and do nothing…or read a book about it! 

San Miguel de Allende - Mesa Grande

The midday meal is usually a quick stop at a taco bar or eaten off the street. Don Taco Tequila has some of the best tacos and amazing salsas to accompany your complimentary tortilla chips – that alone could be your meal!

San Miguel de Allende - Don Taco

You’ll never go wrong with meat-filled tacos here, though it’s interesting to also try vegetarian options like this nopales and mushrooms taco. 

San Miguel de Allende - Don Taco

Simple cheese tacos can be found anywhere and are a great vehicle for all the salsas and pickles.

San Miguel de Allende - Cheese Tacos

After a busy day of eating and walking around, there is still the best to come in that magical hour right before sunset. The hues of San Miguel really come into their own then and you’ll want to revisit all your favorite spots of the day to capture them in all their glory.

San Miguel de Allende - Sunset

San Miguel de Allende - Sunset

It’s also when a lot of cultural festivities kick off, usually centered around El Jardin.

San Miguel de Allende - Sunset

San Miguel de Allende - Sunset

The whole town seems to be here and the people-watching is endless.

San Miguel de Allende - Sunset

Food carts sell traditional snacks of corn with cheese and mayo (trolelotes) and bags of chips that get topped with vegetables, spices, and sauces (Dorilocos). 

San Miguel de Allende - Sunset

Eat yours while browsing the shops or simply admiring the stunning architecture giving its best performance.

San Miguel de Allende - Sunset

San Miguel de Allende - Sunset

When dinner time calls, there are plenty of options a few blocks from the main plaza in surprisingly quiet streets. 

San Miguel de Allende - Sunset

The Restaurant is a must try, as much to soak in its elegant, Moorish architecture as to indulge in its superb modern cuisine.

San Miguel de Allende - The Restaurant

The menu is international but you can also stay local and enjoy some terrific duck tostadas.

San Miguel de Allende - The Restaurant

Burnt caramel ice cream sundae with marshmallow sauce and salted Spanish Peanuts
San Miguel de Allende - The Restaurant

For something a little less upscale but still special, La Mezcaleria is a stylish and hip eatery focusing on small plates and obviously some pretty amazing Mezcal-based drinks.

San Miguel de Allende - La Mezcaleria

San Miguel de Allende - La Mezcaleria

The grilled octopus with pineapple was a perfect match with my cucumber margarita .

San Miguel de Allende - La Mezcaleria

And you should definitely end your meal with their smooth avocado ice cream.

San Miguel de Allende - La Mezcaleria

Many more things to eat and see right outside the center of San Miguel in my next blog post…stay tuned!

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