The Beauty and History of San Miguel de Allende
Parts of an article published November 10, 2013 in the Boston Globe Magazine
The beauty and history of San Miguel de Allende draw thousands of US expatriates, making the colonial Mexican city ideal for English-speaking visitors.
Located about three hours north of Mexico City, 6,200 feet above sea level, this prosperous city of about 160,000 residents unfolds like a brightly colored quilt in a dusty tan and sage landscape. Named a UNESCO World Heritage site in 2008, the historic district boasts well preserved -17th and 18th century buildings — with flowering courtyards, arched porticoes, and elaborate carved wood doors painted Venetian red, ocher, umber, mustard, cayenne, emerald, cerulean, and vermilion. When the sun rises, the city dazzles.
San Miguel is home to more than 17,000 expatriates, mainly from the United States, reportedly the largest concentration of expats in Mexico. Most shopkeepers and restaurateurs in the city center speak some English, and that comes in handy if, like me, your Spanish skills are limited. I stayed for a month, but the city — accessed by two flights and a long shuttle ride — is an ideal destination for a weeklong sojourn when it’s cold and gray in Boston.
AT THE HEART of the historic district, the Jardin Principal — referred to simply as “El Jardin” — is a raised park rimmed by laurel trees pruned like marshmallows. In the daytime, artists set up easels and paint amid street vendors. In the evening, townspeople, tourists, and mariachi bands promenade beneath the illuminated turrets of the neo-Gothic cathedral Parroquia San Miguel Arcangel.
The warren of cobblestone streets surrounding El Jardin is dense with clothing boutiques, arts-and-crafts galleries, touristy trinket shops, cafes, restaurants, and markets. The best way to get about the city is to walk. When you tire of walking, there’s no need to rent a car: In-town taxis are abundant and inexpensive, with daytime flat rates of 25 pesos ($1.90) and 30 pesos ($2.30) after dark.
San Miguel is known for its vibrant artisan community. A 10-minute stroll from the center, the sprawling Fabrica La Aurora is a 19th-century former textile factory where you can spend a day touring art galleries, interior design stores, artist studios, and shops selling jewelry, clothing, crafts, books, and more. A garden cafe serves small bites and beverages, or enjoy lunch, dinner, or cocktails at two more formal venues.
We felt safe navigating the streets at night, though, as in any city, we paid attention to our surroundings. For evening entertainment, we attended English-language films, concerts, lectures, and other cultural activities at the library, Biblioteca de San Miguel Allende A.C. The events are relatively inexpensive, such as theater tickets for 150 pesos ($11.50).
From Boston, fly to Mexico City (MEX) or Leon (BJX), with one stop to change planes en route. Travel by shuttle (bajiogoshuttle.com) to San Miguel. Approximate drive time: about three hours from Mexico City, one and a half hours from Leon.
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