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The central church is the real showstopper | © Joseph Martinez / Flickr
The central church is the real showstopper | © Joseph Martinez / Flickr
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This Mexican Destination Was Just Voted the Best City to Visit in 2017

Picture of Lauren Cocking
Mexico Writer
Updated: 2 August 2017
Mexico’s colonial city of San Miguel de Allende has topped the reader-voted Travel + Leisure World’s Best City list for the first time in the 22-year history of the award, beating out fellow Mexican favourite Oaxaca, as well as Barcelona, Siem Riep and Kyoto, along the way. But what exactly makes it so special and why should you visit San Miguel de Allende?

Dominated by a picturesque pink church, San Miguel de Allende’s appeal is really nothing new, as travellers have been stopping by to soak up its colonial charms and indulge in its world-class street food and dining scene for years, with The New York Times doing a feature on the city as far back as 2009. Plus, it’s long held the title (something which you’ll love or loathe, depending on your perspective) as one of Mexico’s premiere US and Canadian immigrant hidey-holes for those wanting to while away their sunset years or winter months in the relative balmy safety of this tranquil city. As a result of this massive immigrant community from English-speaking areas, English is widely spoken, thus, making San Miguel hugely accessible for the linguistically challenged traveller who couldn’t find five minutes to do a quick crash course in Mexican Spanish before arriving.

Cobbled, colourful streets make up much of San Miguel’s appeal
Cobbled, colourful streets make up much of San Miguel’s appeal | © Christopher Michel/Flickr

However, don’t be put off by this image of greying North Americans cluttering up the place and speaking English. San Miguel de Allende is also a traditional yet cultural hot spot for youthful travellers who want to see a snapshot of Mexico’s vibrant art scene and enjoy a slice of the cuisine while they’re at it. As proof of this, consider that some of the most unmissable San Miguel spots are the Fábrica La Aurora (a converted textile factory-turned-art gallery hub) and the many street food markets. You also can’t leave without eating some traditional sweets or a bun from one of the city’s best bakeries – Cumpanio or Petit Four – and a street art tour is unmissable.

Modern-day mariachis in SMA
Modern-day mariachis in SMA | © Christopher Michel/Flickr

Alternatively, if you prefer something a little more lively than an art gallery, San Miguel de Allende is also well known for hosting some of the country’s most traditional celebrations (during Easter and Independence Day, to name but a few key dates). The city also throws some truly modern spectacles into the mix, such as June’s spectacular, if strange, Fiesta de los Locos.

There are also plenty of activities in and around the city that will satisfy adventure hunters and history lovers. Taking a ride in a hot air balloon is a popular activity; the little-known Cañada de la Virgen Otomi archaeological site is close by, and the Mayan Bath hot springs are but a stone’s throw away.

A festival in San Miguel de Allende
A festival in San Miguel de Allende | © Christopher Michel/Flickr

Another major plus of San Miguel de Allende has to be its convenient location in the central, yet famously conservative, state of Guanajuato, which boasts regular connections to the buzzing Mexican capital. Its five-hour-away status makes it a great weekend trip for chilangos looking for a break from their daily grind and for travellers who need a quick weekend break away from the hectic capital. In San Miguel, you can wander the charming and colourful cobbled streets, or people-watch in the plaza, rather than get stuffed up with smog in Mexico City.

The central church is the real showstopper
The central church is the real showstopper | © Joseph Martinez / Flickr

Still not convinced? Well, don’t just take it from us. Here’s what one T + L reader had to say about the place: “San Miguel is one of the most authentic, creative and cost-effective destinations we’ve visited. Over the years we’ve discovered more great restaurants and activities, but the town still maintains its Mexican heritage, culture and charm.” Trust us – San Miguel de Allende is one to add to the bucket list.