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San Miguel de Allende
San Miguel de Allende, in the heart of colonial Mexico, is an attractive city that has drawn visitors for nearly 100 years. Its color and charm have prompted many visitors to return as permanent residents; many of them are artists and writers contributing to the city's cultural milieu. Though it's not the easiest place to reach, loyalists—and they are legion—contend that if you reach San Miguel, your first visit is unlikely to be your last.
San Miguel de Allende is a classic colonial Mexican town, meaning it's full of landmark sites just waiting to be explored by curious, enthusiastic visitors. Cobblestone streets lead to architectural achievements dating to the 17th and 18th centuries, structures that gave UNESCO impetus to designate San Miguel a World Heritage Site. While there, don't miss iconic sights like La Parroquia, a neo-Gothic church that is just as interesting when seen from above (via rooftop bars or the hill above town) as at ground level. And don't dismiss the possibility of exploring just beyond the town; El Charco del Ingenio is a nature preserve offering opportunities for immersive outdoor and cultural experiences.
There's a little bit of everything when it comes to eating out in San Miguel de Allende. From modern Mexican at popular upscale restaurants like Moxi—the San Miguel eatery of star chef Enrique Olvera—to highly-ranked Japanese, Thai, Peruvian, and Argentinean restaurants, you'll find chefs eager to share their considerable talents with you. A large variety of international sweets can be found here, especially at the bakery El Petit Four. And if you're looking for drinks in atmospheric settings, the rooftop bars La Azotea and Luna can't be beat—especially at sunset.
Important chapters in Mexican history were written in San Miguel de Allende, whose very name references one such chapter and its central protagonist: Ignacio Allende, a Spanish Army captain who ultimately embraced and advanced Mexican independence. Colonial influences are visible throughout the city, primarily in its well-preserved architecture, which was one of the justifications for UNESCO's 2008 designation of San Miguel as a World Heritage Site. But contemporary San Miguel also reflects the influences of its large expat population. Artists and writers, most of them from the United States, have flocked here for decades, making their mark on cultural life and serving as the impetus for the city to be as bilingual and bicultural as it is.
Arts and crafts are the thing to buy in San Miguel de Allende, and despite—or perhaps because of—its large expat population, San Miguel's traditional and local crafts thrive, and are widely available at local markets, galleries, and workshops. Look for products made of wool, wood, and metal at the town's artisan market. Contemporary crafts and artworks are available, too, both by expat and Mexican artists; one excellent place to find them is at Fabrica La Aurora, an art and design center located in a former textile factory. Today, it's home to more than 40 galleries and shops, and artists host open studios in their workshops each week.
San Miguel de Allende, located in the state of Guanajuato, is one of the key cities in Mexico's colonial heartland. However, it's hardly the most accessible by air; the closest airports are Querétaro (QRO) and León (BJX), approximately 45 and 70 miles away, respectively. Renting a car at the airport is recommended, but be aware that parking in San Miguel is limited. Temperatures average between 74 and 81 degrees year-round, making the city an excellent four-season destination. Bring layers, though; mountainous environs make for quick temperature changes. The official language is Spanish and the currency is the Mexican peso. Tipping is appreciated in restaurants and for hotel and taxi services. Voltage is the same as in the United States.
Julie Schwietert Collazo
Julie Schwietert Collazo has been a bilingual freelance writer, editor, and translator for the past 10 years and loves (almost) every minute of it, but tells people if she could have any other job, it would be a gig as a Mexico City evangelist. The Mexican capital is her former home and the first place she always wants to go when she gets on a plane. Read more at collazoprojects.com and Cuaderno Inedito.