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San Miguel de Allende is a city located in the far eastern part of the state of Guanajuato in Central Mexico.
San Miguel waned during and after the Mexican War of Independence and, at the beginning of the 20th century, it was in danger of becoming a ghost town.
However, its Baroque / Neoclassical colonial structures were “discovered” by foreign artists which gave the town a reputation.
The main attraction of the town is its well-preserved historic center, filled with buildings from the 17th and 18th centuries. San Miguel was declared a World Heritage Site in 2008.
For GRANDPAckers, San Miguel is expensive. Read on …
A BIT ABOUT THE CITY:
San Miguel is one of Mexico’s ‘Magic Towns’. The historic centre remains much as it was 250 years ago.
These roads are lined with colonial era homes and churches.
With a few exceptions, the architecture is domestic rather than monumental, with well-tended courtyards and rich architectural details.
Many of the larger structures have large front doors which used to be used by horses and carriages.
There are no parking meters, no traffic signals and no fast food restaurants.
In the historic center, there are an estimated two thousand doors, behind which there are at least two thousand courtyards of various sizes.
The town is noted for its streetscapes with narrow cobblestone lanes, that rise and fall over the hilly terrain, and occasionally defy colonial attempts to make a straight grid.
Its cultural and artistic reputation has brought many people from Mexico and abroad here to live. Several publications have named it one of the top 10 places to retire.
Since the 1920s, steps have been taken to preserve the historic centre’s charm. To preserve the city’s trademark colonial look, a civil society regulates the renovation and maintenance of the city, especially its historic centre.
WHEN TO GO:
The climate in the area is mostly temperate and semi-arid, with average temperatures varying between 16 and 22 °C.
Summers are moderately hot with a rainy season that produces sporadic thunderstorms. Winters are moderate.
I made my own way from Guanajuato to San Miguel on a Primera Plus bus.
These long distance buses stop at the Central De Autobuses which is about 2kms out from the city centre.
From there, you can either catch Taxi for about MXP30 or a local bus to the city centre (MXP5).
In San Miguel, free internet is widely available in the restaurants and bars. Your accommodation usually includes free internet too.
This means that you won’t need the usual GRANDPAcker 2GB Mobile Phone Data Package; you should be able to get away with less data.
TELCEL only cell ‘call + text + data’ packages – most of which provide unlimited calls and texts within Mexico, USA, and Canada. I suggest that you look at either their MXP100 or MXP150 Package.
The MXP100 last 25 days and provides 300MB of data. The MXP150 lasts 30 days and provides 400MB of Data. On the face of it, the MXP100 Package looks better value for money.
Trike / Tuk Tuk:
You don’t find things like Trikes or TukTuks in Mexico, so those ‘supercheap’ options are not available to you.
There are local buses coming and going from the centre … but I never found out where they were going to … no doubt out to the suburbs at the usual cheap rates.
For the long distance buses, you have to go to the Central De Autobuses which is 2-3kms out from the centre (about MXP30-40 by Taxi depending on exactly where you are).
I saw no Scooter Rental options in San Miguel, so I cannot provide indicative costs. I did see some that looked like they were available for rental in one or two Backpacker Hostels. However, I am not sure that I would recommend that GRANDPAckers rent a scooter anyway.
A standard taxi to any destination within central San Miguel should cost about MXP25-30.
Taxis do not use meters and the price should be confirmed first. The guideline is MXP5 for the ‘flag fall’ plus MXP10 / km.
So far, I have found the UBER Taxis to be a safer and cheaper option than using the Taxis on the street. But, alas, UBER does not operate well in San Miguel … they are meant to operate there but there were never any cars available when I signed into the UBER app.
WHERE TO STAY:
Unlike Guanajuato, the terrain around the City Centre is mainly flat with gentle inclines of only 5-10% (except for 1 major exception). This means that you can easily stay anywhere around town within walking distance of the central plaza.
I stayed in the ‘Artesano’, about 500m north east of the central plaza.
But, most of the good bars and restaurants are in the south western area of the old town (in the green shaded area). I would advise you to get into or as near as possible to the green shaded area if you want the most fun …
If you are coming to San Miguel, you need to start your search for accommodation early. Wait for ‘specials’. Don’t be shy to contact the owner and ask for a discount.
HOTELS & HOSTELS (Nightly Rates):
A simple future search on BOOKING.COM demonstrates this nicely:
DON’T FORGET: Sites like AGODA and BOOKING display prices EXCLUSIVE of TAXES. You, usually, have to add 18% to the displayed price to get the final price.
If you start your search early, you may be able to find the ‘deep’ discounts that you need.
The time of year is, also, very important … expect November through April (Peak Season) to be a lot more difficult.
In the, above, example the ‘Hotellito San Miguel’ comes with a private bathroom. This is the only one in the ‘cheapest 9’ that does for under MXP500 / night … and, that’s only because of the 52% discount on the rack rate.
HOLIDAY RENTALS (Weekly Rates):
If you plan to stay a week or more, another good option is to use TRIPADVISOR.COM to book a Holiday Rental / Vacation Rental.
Holiday Rentals are usually rented by the week. A simple future search on TRIPADVISOR.COM demonstrates this nicely:
Holiday Rental prices are normally displayed INCLUSIVE of taxes.
One small problem with Vacation Rentals, is that they advertise on a number of different sites and they do not, always, keep their availability up-to-date on all of those sites. When you make a booking, you have to wait 24-36 hours to find out if the booking is successful or not. If not, this can prove frustrating. I have been let down on several occasions.
I tried to book too late … there were no Vacation Rentals available in my price range.
Another problem with Vacation Rentals is that they can be a long way out from the centre of town. This means that you can miss out on the ‘ambiance’ that you are looking for from living in the heart of such a beautiful place. Choose your location wisely and / or make sure that you are on a good bus route.
The positive is that Holiday Rentals, usually, offer better quality accommodation than Hotels for a lower price. The lower price can justify you catching a Taxi or public transport to / from the centre … and, still, end up with a cheaper overall cost per day.
The cheapest Rental, above, is the “Penthouse’ which works out to be MXP473 / night. This is the ONLY Rental within GRANDPAcking price range. When I looked at its availability in August, it was already fully booked from November 2017 through to March 2018.
With your chance of a Vacation Rental being very slim and your main alternative being a stay in a Hostel with a Shared Bathroom … longer term stayers will need to be inventive.
Look for ‘House Sitting’ options … Look to share a 2 Bedroom Vacation Rental with another couple …
I booked 2 weeks before my arrival. Even in August (towards the end of the rainy season) I couldn’t find any Hotels within our GRANDPAcking price range online.
I had made a mistake in Guanajuato … and, I wasn’t going to make the same mistake in San Miguel …
The one that I chose is the ‘La Posada Del Artesano‘, above.
At the Artesano, I had to take a Triple Room because all of the Doubles were booked.
So too were all of the Doubles in all of the other Hostels that I could afford.
The Artesano was not what I was expecting; I was expecting a Hostel where I could meet other travellers in a common area.
I had to walk another 75 meters down the road to find the reception.
The reception for the Artesan was, actually, in another Hostel.
The Artesan has 6 rooms sharing 2 bathrooms and a kitchen.
The rooms are basic.
You get a fan, a bed, and a bedside table. That’s it.
No wardrobe, etc.
Have a look yourself:
About half of the central colonial buildings have been partially or fully converted into businesses such as stores, restaurants, galleries, workshops and hotels.
Since there is no zoning, residential and commercial establishments are well-mixed.
Although it is small and rural, it has a wide variety of upscale and ethnic restaurants, specialty shops and art galleries.
This is San Miguel De Allende … it is a UNESCO World Heritage Site … and a top Tourist destination in Mexico … meals are available to suit all budgets.
You do find street food but it is not as common as it is in other Mexican towns. As with Guanajuato, the problem seems to be the lack of available street space.
At the north entrance to the Artesan Market a burger stall sets up at night. The locals literally flock to it. the queue can be quite long and you may need to wait 15 minutes for your turn … but for MXP50, you will get a ‘works burger’ with beef patty, sausage meat, bacon, cheese, and salsa with french fries.
Another cheap place is Plaza De La Solidad where a large street stall sets up every day. Here you can get a meal for MXP15-25. I tried the most expensive dish on their menu: Menudo for MXP45. It was a traditional ‘offal’ soup with side dishes … I won’t be eating it again. 🙂
THE ARTESAN MARKET:
There are plenty of food stalls to choose from with plenty of meal options in the MXP60 range.
They close at 5:30pm, so it is a Breakfast / Lunch option … not a Dinner option.
BUDGET CAFES / RESTAURANTS:
You will find plenty of cheap little cafes splattered around town to choose from.
They had an ‘Eggs & Coffee’ special for MXP45; plus MXP5 to upgrade your coffee to a cappuccino. You could have your eggs in any style … I liked the Italian Omelette filled with mushrooms and greens.
For MXP85, the Cafe Martin had another special that included fruit juice and fruit.
MXP45 to MXP90 is a typical price range for a Breakfast in these cafes.
MID RANGE RESTAURANTS:
Expect to pay MXP90-130 for something from the lower quartile of the menu.
All around the historic centre there are over 80 bars and cantinas as well as various nightclubs.
To compete, many offer two-for-one drink specials (but you won’t find many ‘specials’ on beer).
Others rely on gimmicks such as the frontier themed bar on Mesones Street called “El Gato” with swinging cantina doors like those seen on “Old West” movies.
Expect to pay MXP30 for a bottle of Corona beer. More if you go ‘up market’. You can find the odd ‘Dive Bar’ selling beers for MXP20.
Expect to pay about MXP75 for house wines & cocktails (which become excellent value in the 2-for-1 Happy Hours). Most Happy Hours go from 5:00pm to 8:00pm.
But, once you scale the stairs up to the rooftop you find a small bar which, often, has live music. I like it.
Hank’s has a Taco Tuesday where you get a good quality crispy Taco for MXP20 or a Burrito for MXP30. The bar is one of the busiest in town during Happy Hour … and it’s a great place to meet people.
Most bars are non-smoking. Smokers may like to try out the rooftop bars that you find around town … like the La Azotea (Happy Hour 5:00pm – 7:00pm). It is a more ‘relaxed’ and intimate bar than Hank’s.
YOUR HEALTH & SAFETY:
There is no reason to feel unsafe in San Miguel. But, as always, exercise normal levels of caution … don’t make yourself an obvious target.
There are plenty of Tourist Police around to protect you. If there is a problem, it is usually from rogues coming from out of town … tempted by rich western tourist pickings.
It is still a small city, and at night, you can wander the narrow streets with relative safety.
There are none.
You don’t come to San Miguel for a beach lifestyle.
WHERE TO GO / WHAT TO SEE / WHAT TO DO:
THE ARTESAN MARKET:
It is interesting to walk around and to while away some time.
THE (SATURDAY) ORGANIC MARKET:
The Organic Market is a pleasant place to meet people, have Breakfast / Brunch, and do some ‘people watching’.
There are plenty of Day Trip options.
Most of which you can make you own way to on public bus.
Sorry, I didn’t do any myself … but I hear that a trip to the hot pools is nice.
THE CENTRAL PLAZA:
This is the main meeting place.
Street musicians wander around to make their living.
MONEY / PRICES / SHOPPING:
There are several banks and ATMs around the city centre; they all seem to have permanent and long queues of people.
Alas, there is no HSBC bank (in the city centre) offering an MXP7,000 ATM withdrawal.
The ‘de facto’ ATM withdrawal limit in other banks is MXP5,000.
San Miguel city centre is riddled with small shops with slightly higher ‘convenience’ prices.
You won’t find any ‘real’ Supermarkets in the centre. There are a couple of places that call themselves Supermarkets … but, they a just big Convenience Stores.
- 1kg Natural Unsweetened Yoghurt: MXP29
- 1Kg Grapes: MXP40
- 6L Water: MXP22.50
- 1Kg Toasted Muesli: MXP44
- Corona Beer: MXP30
- House Wines / Cocktails: MXP75 (2 for 1 in Happy Hour)
The main fruit & veg market is at the north end of the Artesan Market.
From Guanajuato I will be heading to Queretaro.
I will tell you more about that in a future post.
Many expats (about 5,000 of them – mainly from the USA) call San Miguel de Allende home. For good reason.
The weather is very pleasant all year round with only 2 months of the year getting into the upper 30 degrees c with humidity. The best time for GRANDPAckers to come is ‘Shoulder Season’: April, May, September or October.
San Miguel accommodation is not cheap. Accommodation will eat deeply into your GRANDPAcking Budget. In Shoulder Season you get a good compromise between the weather and the cost of accommodation.