San Miguel de Allende
Widely heralded as one of the world’s most beautiful cities, the culture, history, and gastronomy of Mexico’s San Miguel de Allende offer a seductive ambience for any international traveller
Writer: Phoebe Harper | Project Manager: Krisha Canlas
Nestled amongst the Sierra Mountains in the state of Guanajuato in Mexico’s central highlands, the high desert city of San Miguel de Allende is an eclectic oasis of colour and creativity.
San Miguel de Allende preserves a rich artistic and cultural heritage that continues to attract young creatives from around the world, as seen in the Instituto Allende and Bellas Artes. The city itself is a protected UNESCO site, thanks to its integral role in the early stages of the Mexican War of Independence and General Ignacio Allende, from whom it takes its name.
Defined by its quaint cobblestoned streets, the colonial facades of its buildings and ornate Baroque architecture, the city combines old-world charm with a youthful, energetic and cosmopolitan feel. This mixture is as compelling a cocktail as the enticing concoctions served by the city’s renowned mixologists in one of its many rooftop bars. San Miguel de Allende also boasts exquisite viticulture, thanks to the multiple vineyards found in its environs.
Equally mouth-watering is the local gastronomy scene, leading to San Miguel de Allende being named as the Gastronomic Destination of Guanajuato. The region’s culinary heritage pays reverence to the local produce which can be found in the weekly organic markets. World-renowned chefs congregate within the city’s restaurants to deliver ingenious fusions, best enjoyed over rooftop dining. After 11pm, the town’s nightlife comes alive as the famous local tequila starts to flow.
Venture outside of the city to discover the hot springs of La Gruta, Escondido Place and Mayan Baths, the breathtaking Jesuit Sanctuary of Atotonilco or, for the more adventurous, hot air balloon rides over jaw-dropping canyons, horseback riding and intrepid desert hikes.
With the city unfurling around the picturesque centre of La Parroquia, a pink neo-Gothic church that looks like something out of a fairytale, it is no surprise that this is one of the world’s most popular wedding destinations. Within easy reach of Mexico City, succumb to the undeniable allure of San Miguel de Allende.
Industry Insights: San Miguel de Allende
Tasked with keeping alive the culture and traditions of this historic city whilst simultaneously developing creative and unique tourism experiences, we speak with Tania Castillo, Tourism Director at San Miguel de Allende.
Outlook Travel (OT): Tell us about the vision and mission behind San Miguel de Allende.
Tania Castillo, Tourism Director (TC): San Miguel de Allende is one of the most touristic cities around the world. We are known for our unique restaurants, hotels, vineyards, architecture, weddings, culture and more.
One of our main objectives is to give locals, visitors and tourists another reason to visit us and explore the different attractions we have in our beautiful city - from walking tours to delicious meals, wine and tequila tastings, hot air balloon experiences, 5-star hotels and more. Above all, we try to keep alive our cultural events and traditions.
Details are important for us - we want your visit to be perfect, to walk around the cobbled streets feeling safe and happy while enjoying the views, the people, the cultural events, festivals, markets and more. The idea is to be different, to innovate and create various ways to attract new markets, and not to be afraid to make things different.
OT: In your opinion, why should someone visit San Miguel de Allende?
TC: San Miguel de Allende is a city that has evolved its cultural, gastronomic and artistic value to an international level. A beautiful destination not far from Mexico City, we have great connectivity and appeal to all tourism trends, including wellness, sustainability, romance, incentives, adventure and nature. Just by walking around town, visiting our marvellous stores and eating delicious meals, you can get to know a little bit more about the history of beautiful San Miguel de Allende.
We have a world full of possibilities, with wineries just a 20-minute drive from downtown, hot springs that are rich with minerals that promote health and well-being, as well as horseback riding tours, ATV tours, bike tours, zip line circuits, archaeological walks, and hot air balloon rides. Also close to the city is the historical site of the Sanctuary of Jesus Nazareno in Atotonilco, named by UNESCO Cultural Heritage of Humanity.
We are proud to be a city rich in art and culture. Since the opening of the Instituto Allende and Bellas Artes with their plastic arts workshops, San Miguel de Allende has become a stage for local, regional and international artists. A paradise for curators, collectors and art enthusiasts, everywhere you walk there’s a gallery two steps ahead or a store. You will find incredible pieces at our design stores and from our local artists at the artisan market where you see the effort, hard work and talent each and every one possesses in their craftmanship.
And last but not least, people come for our excellent food made by renowned chefs. Our famous rooftops are the cherry on top of the cake; what’s better than a really nice meal with an amazing view and good company? They are sure to entice you to stay with their views, food and music.
“San Miguel de Allende is a city that has evolved its cultural, gastronomic and artistic value to an international level”
OT: How does San Miguel de Allende cater to sustainable and eco-friendly travel experiences?
TC: We are not just a beautiful city with architecture, history and mountains - we are also characterised by our firm commitment to economic and social development in balance with care for the environment and natural resources.
One of the activities that follows this mission is in Agustín González, a community located within a 15-minute drive from downtown. 15 women spend part of their time hooking up rugs and producing textiles to boost their economy giving the “Rancho Tour” - an excursion in which visitors can live the daily life of this community with demonstrations of typical cooking, stone carving, Otomi language classes, among other activities. All this can be enjoyed in an environment surrounded by nature with cacti, cows, horses, donkeys, flowers, traditional houses and more.
San Miguel de Allende has incredible tourist sites that impress all national and international travellers, and there is no better way to get to know them than through a bike ride. A bike tour is a sustainable activity that shows the other side of town going through places such as the Allende Dam, the Laja River, the Indian Chapels, ruins and the beautiful landscapes of the farm fields on the outskirts of the city.
There’s also Rancho Xotolar which is a stroll through the countryside with horseback riding, hiking, camping, tours of the pyramids, even cooking classes with crops from the land and other elements of the region.
OT: What are some of the major tourism trends in your area?
TC: Architecture is a huge part of our charm, with beautiful boutique hotels and houses, as well as the iconic Parish of San Miguel Archangel which you see in pictures and postcards. We also have Atotonilco’s sanctuary, the baroque-style church of the Oratory San Felipe Neri, the church of San Francisco de Asís, the historic house of Allende Museum, Casa Canal, and La Aurora Factory – an old textile factory now converted into a Cultural Center of Art and Design full of canvases, sculptures and handicrafts from great artists.
Our cuisine is something you cannot miss, and tourists will appreciate a local walk around town where you can try ice cream, tacos and esquites or eat at one of our more glamorous restaurants. Almost every bar and restaurant downtown combines the antique charm of the house with the renewed cosmopolitan version of the city.
Finally, weddings in San Miguel de Allende are a unique and special feature here. These begin with the typical callejoneada in the cobbled streets with the Mojigangas, dancing, singing and having the most wonderful time. We boast some breathtaking venues that offer tailor made experiences for brides and grooms. If you are planning on getting married, there is no better option!
OT: As a small city, how can overtourism be avoided?
TC: We focus on high quality tourism. San Miguel de Allende is, as mentioned, a cosmopolitan city with more than 60 different nationalities living here and 10 percent of our population are Americans. This creates a certain kind of bubble, an oasis, which attracts luxury hoteliers, entrepreneurs, and investors to settle here. Our actions cater to a high-end market, like the tourism agreements that we have with specific cities for cultural events, festivals, happenings in different spots in San Miguel de Allende and much more.
“We are not just a beautiful city with architecture, history and mountains - we are also characterized by our firm commitment to economic and social development in balance with care for the environment and natural resources”
OT: What are your key priorities for the coming year?
TC: We hope to increase our numbers of foreign tourists, giving everyone a reason to come back and enjoy their stay. Most importantly, we want to give our locals back their culture and traditions with more festivals and happenings.
OT: Finally, what would you like to highlight that might be overlooked by international visitors?
TC: Not many visitors know about our wineries. We have good, award-winning wine, some with restaurants that allow you to try a delicious meal or even stay for the night if you would like to wake up to a beautiful scenery outside of town.
Our hot springs are a great idea for something different to restart your body and mind from the stress of everyday life. Another unknown for most visitors is tasting our local products such as tequila Casa Dragones - a top-of-the-line tequila inspired by our history with its colours and design, but also the beer Allende, as another of our local products loved by many.
FOR AUTHENTIC ADVENTURE...
Coyote Canyon Adventures
is a family-owned sustainable tourism operator specialising in adventure and eco-tourism. Experiences include horseback riding excursions, rappelling down Coyote Canyon, hot air balloon rides, archaeological and cultural tours, plus much more. The company is committed to making a low impact on both the environment and local culture.
FOR COUNTRYSIDE LUXURY...
Escape from the city to the picturesque vineyards Viñedos San Lucas and Viñedos San Francisco
. A stay at either hotel is sure to indulge all your senses, as both properties are surrounded by scenic nature, and offer a host of experiences including wine tastings, equestrian activities, spas and yoga.
FOR A 4-STAR CELEBRATION OF THE SENSES...
is a top choice for international travellers combining a sophisticated setting with a reverence for the Latin art scene. Here you will find sophisticated accommodation, gourmet dining and personalised spa experiences. In 2021, the hotel was recognised as the number one hotel in Mexico in Condé Nast Traveler’s Reader’s Choice Awards. The ideal location for a romantic escape or a bespoke getaway in the heart of San Miguel de Allende, Hotel Matilda is the epitome of a boutique hotel. Offering a selection of rooms, the exclusive Owner’s Suite provides a private balcony from which to enjoy the city’s famous sunsets.
Fábrica La Aurora
A must-visit to sample the city’s famous art scene, this former textile factory is now the Cultural Center of Art and Design and houses artworks and handicrafts from the region’s most celebrated artists and artisans. For nine decades, this building played an integral role in the city’s industrial history. Spend an afternoon strolling through its galleries and open studios to meet the creators.
Pyramids of Cañada de la Virgen
A 30-minute drive outside of the city centre, this ancient archaeological zone comprises four complexes of sacred pyramids. The site was originally occupied between 540 and 1050 AD and has only relatively recently been uncovered in archaeological excavations to offer a fascinating insight into ancient Mesoamerican culture. You can visit every day of the week except Sundays.
Parroquia de San Miguel Arcángel
The parish church is one of the city’s most iconic attractions. Its pink stone and ornate turrets, designed by Mexican stonemason Zeferino Gutiérrez in the late 19th century, are described by many to resemble a wedding cake. An impressive architectural feat inspired by churches in Belgium and Germany, its towering spires are a useful point of navigation throughout the city.
Getting There and Around
The closest airports to San Miguel de Allende include León (BJX – 1.5 hrs), Querétaro (AIQ – 1 hrs) and Ciudad de México (MX – 3.5 hrs). From each, it is possible to take a taxi or use a direct shuttle service to reach the city. Primera Plus also offers a reliable and comfortable bus service, with reclining seats, TVs and Wi-Fi on board. Rental cars are also available, although this is typically an expensive option and not the most practical choice once in San Miguel de Allende.
In terms of getting around the city itself, San Miguel de Allende’s compact size means that the majority of the attractions are within walking distance. It is an extremely pedestrian-friendly location, although a certain level of fitness is required since the terrain is hilly. A host of walking tours are available pinned to different themes to explore the city with a local guide depending on your area of interest – whether religion, gastronomy, or the local art scene to name just a few.
While its winding cobblestoned streets are best explored on foot, taxis are also widely available to take you anywhere within and around the city. If travelling to attractions further afield by taxi, it is advisable to arrange a price in advance.
For travelling further into the countryside, bike tours are a fantastic way to explore with multiple companies available throughout the city offering such excursions.