San Miguel de Allende, Mexico

We left the sprawl of Mexico City and headed towards a city that's been voted the #1 travel destination by Travel & Leisure and other review boards, San Miguel de Allende. A city of cobblestone streets, a UNESCO heritage site with a construction style that hasn't changed for 100 years, this colorful city was on our list of places to visit when we first started planning.

Getting there:

There isn't an airport in San Miguel. Most travelers take one of the first-class buses (we use Rome2Rio to compare) from Mexico City or fly into Leon and take a lengthy cab ride from there. We took the Metro from our AirBnB to the Terminal de Autobuses del Norte. Mexico City has four bus terminals so make sure you're at the correct terminal, most long distance trips leave from Norte. 

The terminal looks much like your standard airport gate waiting area. Figuring out which bus is yours is overwhelming at first since you don't have a gate, just a general waiting area (Sala 1). As we were pacing, a couple of cute older American ladies asked us if we were going to San Miguel also, and we helped direct them to the right waiting area. They told us that they were visiting a friend that had just purchased a retirement home there. It turns out one of them did a trip around the world like us 30 years ago, and she said her RTW ticket cost her... $400!

About 20 minutes prior to departure we left our seats and headed through a metal detector and out to our bus, with the destination sprawling across the front of the bus message board. Our backpacks were stored underneath, the attendant handed us a sack lunch and a drink, and we settled in for our 3.5 hour ride. The bus was like flying first class with assigned reclining seats, a leg rest, and a screen in every seat. We each watched a movie (in Spanish of course) and before we knew it we were in San Miguel de Allende. 

Upon arrival our plan was to figure out the second class (local) bus, and it was waiting right outside. Truth be told, we felt pretty cool that we weren't one of the tourists that was waiting for a taxi! Later we learned that the local buses have their destinations written on the windshield, ours had "Centro" written on the front. But because we were nervous we got to practice our Spanish and ask "va al Centro?", we got a nod and so we hopped on. While the Primera Plus bus was like flying first class, this was like getting into a propeller plane missing half a wing. We paid our 8 pesos each and we were off. The bus jerked down the road, bopping up and down on the cobblestones, weaving around pedestrians and traffic, and 15 sweaty minutes later we were out and walking towards our hostel. 
The outskirts of San Miguel de Allende, from the bus ride in.

Where we stayed: 

We stayed at La Catrina Hostel in a private room. The room was cozy and the hostel was covered in creative murals depicting Dia de los Muertos. The "terrazas", or rooftop terraces, were expansive and covered in inviting chairs and tables. Most exciting to us was the free breakfast with coffee every morning, so we could just pop downstairs and be fed.

While we kept this trip under budget (our room was ~$20 per night), San Miguel is littered with luxury hotels that are beautiful and historic. Some bloggers also recommend renting entire villas with an interior courtyard and cleaning staff, but that is more appropriate for a luxury traveler, which was a theme that popped up throughout our time in San Miguel. So many things are for luxury travelers or ex-pats.

What we did, divided by day

Day 1:

Arrival to town, a straightforward bus ride to the Centro and an easy walk to the hostel. We unpacked and ventured out blindly to find some street food and a grocery store. We stumbled into the small Mercado San Miguel where we bought some veggies and fruit from a local vendor (2 squash, an avocado, 2 bananas, 1 bell pepper) for 40 pesos (~2 USD)! After extensive google research, we found a small supermercado that had some basics, but it was nothing like the grocery stores of Mexico City. It's possible that Monday is a slow day in San Miguel, but we could struggled to find any street food!  Finally we found a guy selling roasted chickens out of a small shop, so we bought a half chicken to eat and resigned ourselves to returning to the hostel to cook some of the vegetables we got from the market. Food continued to be a struggle here, and we visited the chicken guy twice more on our trip since it was cheap, healthy, and easy. Who knew it would be so hard to find food in Mexico!

Day 2: 

We walked 2 kilometers from our hostel to the Charco de Ingenio nature preserve, uphill in hot weather. (Along the street up to the park we enjoyed seeing the construction of beautiful new fancy houses, which made us wonder later if gentrification is a problem in San Miguel.) The preserve was established to preserve desert plants from all over Mexico and the historical site of the Chaco (pond). Some of these wonderful cacti are endangered due to loss of their habitat or overharvesting for commercial reasons. At the entrance they give you a map, and you can easily spend a few hours wandering the trails. After a few hours we decided to reward ourselves with margaritas (2 for 1!). One or two margaritas later and we were really enjoying the rooftop view of the city, plus the misters that helped cool us down. 

Day 3: 

After a full day in the sun the day before, we mostly took it easy and visited the local churches and did some pleasure reading in a local park (Juarez park). For lunch we had THE BEST ceviche and fish tacos at Bata Fish Taquito. As recommended by online guides, we took a nighttime stroll into town to see the main church and square lit up. It was peaceful with many tourists and locals just strolling around and taking in the sights. 

Day 4: 

For the famous views of San Miguel de Allende we hiked up the narrow streets to la mirador (viewpoint of the city). We snapped some photos and then rewarded ourselves with the famous chocolate churros from Chocolates y Churros San Agustín. Unfortunately we both agreed that they were exceptionally underwhelming! The unfilled churros were the best, and if you want one that is filled, the Nutella churro was more interesting than the rest.

Overall thoughts:

Ok, this is an unpopular opinion, but we didn't fall in love with San Miguel de Allende. It's a cute town with charm and a beautiful church - Parroquia de San Miguel Arcángel especially is spectacular. Compared to Mexico City, the street food is hard to come by, more expensive, and not as good (although Carolyn still dreams about those fish tacos... ) The streets are hard to navigate by foot because the sidewalks are tiny, really only one person can walk at a time, so when you cross another pedestrian someone has to sacrifice themselves into the stream of cars, and cars are driving everywhere crazy with not a lot of extra space. Buses aren't too bad, but the cobblestone streets make it one heck of a bumpy ride no matter what vehicle you're in. It felt like foreign money and the influx of retirees has changed the town, and one or two days to see the sights should be enough for most folks.