Central Mexico’s cool, cultural hub, San Miguel de Allende is rich with opportunities for activity, from learning to cook local cuisine to bartering at bustling city markets.
Located in the cool highlands of central Mexico, the colorful baroque and neoclassical streets of San Miguel de Allende have long been a favored domain of artists and culture seekers. Stand under the pink spire of the Parroquia de San Miguel Arcángel, shop for handwoven textiles or locally sourced honey at the Mercado de Artesanias or learn how to prepare fresh, spicy salsa at an acclaimed culinary school.
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If you love spicy salsa verde, crisp maize tortillas or a steaming hot bowl of pozole soup, then you’ll love the culinary experiences provided by Sazon. This is one of San Miguel de Allende’s many acclaimed cooking schools and it’s located within the historic 18th-century building that’s also home to the luxury Belmond Hotel. Mexican food lovers can join local chefs to collect fresh coriander and hand-pressed tortillas from the market before returning to the kitchen to learn how to prepare Mexican specialties.
San Miguel de Allende’s baroque and neoclassical architecture is impressive enough at ground level, but head to El Mirador and you’ll be in awe of the view from the best vantage point in the city. El Mirador – or The Lookout” – is located just a 15-minute walk from the historic city center. Slog uphill through the streets and you’ll see the pink spire of Parroquia de San Miguel Arcangel rising above the multicolored mansions and plazas of the old town. Grab a cold beer or a michelada from the bar over the road, then sit back on a bench and gaze over sumptuous San Miguel.
There’s a curious origin story behind San Miguel de Allende’s best-known and most photographed landmark. The Parroquia de San Miguel Arcángel is San Miguel de Allende’s parish church and you’ll spot the garishly pink spire from miles away. Built in a Gothic style that would be more at home in Barcelona or Bruges, the local architect who built the church’s facade and spire in the late 19th century is said to have based the entire design on a single postcard of a European gothic church he’d once been shown. Vivid, typically Catholic depictions of saints await those who step through the pink archways for a closer look inside.
If you’re on the hunt for handwoven textiles, painstakingly painted toys, hats, clothing, rugs and many more potential souvenirs from your stay in San Miguel de Allende, then the Mercado de Artesanias is the place to shop. Although it’s primarily billed to tourists as an artisanal handicraft market, you’ll soon find yourself snacking on sweetcorn and tasting sweet honey before staggering home with buckets of homemade salsa or mole sauce. Open every day of the week, the stalls of Mercado de Artesanías sprawl through the streets and suck you in for hours!
Charco del Ingenio is San Miguel de Allende’s botanical garden, but calling this vast nature preserve a garden doesn’t do it any justice at all. Located on the edge of the city, walk through the garden’s gates and emerge into a wild world of rare cacti and desert flora that covers 70ha (173 acres) of undulating terrain at the entrance to a wide valley. Hiking trails lead around the freshwater lagoon, leading deep into the trees, bush, brush and scrub of Charco del Ingenio, where you’ll soon forget just how close you are to San Miguel de Allende.
Make your way through the colonial-era streets of the Unesco-listed old town and in the corner of Plaza San Francisco you’ll spot the crumbling yet elaborate facade of Templo de San Francisco. Topped with an image of Saint Francis of Assisi, this unassuming 18th-century church, on closer inspection, reveals itself as architecturally spectacular. The tower is built in the Moorish fashion, while the elaborate entranceway was designed in the Churrigueresque style, otherwise known as ultra-baroque.
San Miguel de Allende might be located at altitude in Mexico’s Central Highlands, but that doesn’t mean it can’t get hot when the sun’s out. If you’re looking to cool off after a walking tour through colonial plazas and baroque churches, then take a stroll through the shaded climes of Parque Benito Juarez. Named for Mexico’s first indigenous president, Parque Benito Juarez offers weary travelers easy walking paths, relaxing benches and laid-back picnic spots hidden beneath tall trees and leafy greenery.
Leave the busy streets of San Miguel de Allende’s city centre behind as you step through the small blue doors of Lavanda Cafe into a quiet, enclosed courtyard. In the morning, order up a frothy cafe latte or a straight-up shot of espresso to enjoy in the sunlight. Visit in the afternoon and you’ll want an iced coffee in the shade. Lavanda Cafe is all about the coffee and all of the beans are sourced from Mexican growing regions such as Oaxaca or Veracruz before being freshly roasted on-site. They do brunch too, with everything from egg’s benedict to chilaquiles on offer.
Hidden away in the heart of the old town is Plaza de la Soledad, where you’ll find one of the city’s most important statues. San Miguel de Allende is in part named for the heroic Mexican hero Ignacio Allende – the Allende family home and museum is a few streets away next to Jardin Allende – who was born and raised in the city. The statue depicts Allende riding a horse in full military uniform, as he did against the Spanish in the Mexican Wars of Independence. The square is also shaded by hedges and offers an escape from the sun if you’re walking through the city.
This is an updated version of an article originally by Chrisa Theodoraki.
If you’re looking for somewhere to stay in San Miguel de Allende, why not book into one of the best hotels in town? Or, for the most unique experience, book one of these top boutique hotels. If you need more inspiration, here are the top reasons to visit this Mexican city. And for a true taste of the heart of Mexico, there is an incredible selection of top places to eat.
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