27 Things We Love About visiting San Miguel de Allende, Mexico — Travel With Kids
Our time in San Miguel de Allende ended all too soon. We spent 6 months living in the beautiful city, and for the first time in my life, I truly fell in love with the place where we lived.
When we first arrived in Mexico, we’d heard very little about San Miguel. In fact, I’d not heard of it at all, but in true worldschooling fashion, we’d left our plans open, which allowed us to visit places based on other’s recommendations, one of which was San Miguel.
Our Journey Through Mexico
When we first arrived in Mexico, we spent an amazing two weeks in Playa del Carmen. The beaches were beautiful, the cenotes stunning, but the weather was a little hot.
This was followed by Merida, where I felt like the radiating heat from the concrete buildings and paved streets were literally going to melt me into a puddle.
Next came Valladolid, a tiny town in the Yucatan region, completely void of advertising on buildings — the absence of which was quite striking!
A slightly longer visit in Campeche was up next, and in all honesty, there was much of this city that had a similar feel to San Miguel. The historical center is beautifully maintained and it has an incredible amount of character and lots of color. We made some lovely friends while visiting and got to know Campeche from a local’s perspective. Campeche is way off the tourist path and is definitely a city to visit, as long as you can handle the heat!
Guadalajara followed, and for us, it just felt like any other large city in the world.
Ajijic, near Lake Chapala, was next, and while it was charming, the town is completely overrun by expats, and we spent the majority of our stay battling Typhoid, so sadly didn’t get to experience much at all.
And then… we arrived in San Miguel…
Before arriving, we’d heard time and time again that San Miguel is a city that is easy to fall in love with. My original intro to San Miguel was a 60 second video, a highlights reel so to speak. It definitely peaked my interest…
And when we arrived, it took less than 24 hours for us to fall in love and want to stay for a while! We’d thoroughly enjoyed our time in Mexico up until this point, but San Miguel was different… charming, beautiful, and unlike any other place we’d visited! Before we arrived in SMA we’d averaged 10.2 days per place… so 6 months in San Miguel was a big change, but we’ve loved (almost) every second of it!
What Is So Special About San Miguel?
So what exactly is it about San Miguel that we love? The kids and I sat down and put together a list. Our list of everything we love about San Miguel, and why we will miss it when we say goodbye. There is so much to love about San Miguel… the list started at 15 things, and just kept growing and growing!
So, without further ado, in no particular order, here is list of all the things we love about San Miguel de Allende, Mexico.
1) The Streets
The first thing that struck us when we arrived in San Miguel is the gorgeous cobblestone streets. It is part of the charm of the city and one can’t help but feel the history of the city, and wonder what these cobblestone streets have witnessed. Interesting to note, that they regularly build new cobblestone streets, so not every street is as old as one might think!
I should warn at this point that good footwear is ESSENTIAL in San Miguel. Leave the heals at home (and the baby strollers)… getting around in San Miguel is all about practicality.
The other part of any discussion on the streets of San Miguel, has to be the incredibly crazy, tiny, narrow streets of SMA. We used to laugh out loud at how taxi drivers would navigate the tiny streets, some only wide enough for a single car with a few centimeters on either side of the mirrors. But navigate them they do, and they do it with ease.
The majority of streets are 1 way!!! So it is vital to keep an eye out for the arrows on buildings as you approach!
The hills are the other one we’ve loved. Ridiculously steep hills, one-way streets, and cobblestones to boot. An interesting, and sometimes worrying combination, especially in the rain, but it makes for a whole lot of fun!
2) Roof Dogs
This one always makes us laugh.
In San Miguel, many homes, especially in the Centro area, do not have the luxury of backyards. Space is limited and houses are built immediately next to each other. But they do have terraces. Which means in San Miguel, a pet dog that in another city may run around in the garden, takes ownership of the terrace.
Of course, what this means that where we might be used to dogs barking from behind a big fence, in San Miguel, we have ROOF DOGS!!!
When you first arrive in San Miguel, it’s not unusual to get a bit of a fright as a roof dog barks at you from above… but after a while, we just giggle when we see them and call out hello!
It is definitely not something we’ve seen anywhere else!
Oh, the food! Having been an exchange student in South America when I was 18, I’ve always had a love of the food, from this part of the world. While back in Australia, I couldn’t always get my hands on true South American food, so I spent my 20’s and 30’s making do with Mexican food (well, Aussie style Mexican). So to arrive in Mexico and be able to eat Mexican food for breakfast, lunch and dinner has been incredible!
From the first mouth wathering burrito I tasted in Playa del Carmen, to the myriad of dishes we’ve tried since, there really isn’t anything like TRUE Mexican food!
And how can you argue with a 10 peso ($USD0.50/$AUD0.70) taco, with mouth-watering Pastor topped with onion, coriander,and pineapple? Oh, I’m hungry just thinking about it. Guess what I’m having for dinner tonight!!!
An interesting point to make is that Mexicans eat their meals very differently to what we might know as normal! Breakfast is often later (10am-11am), lunch is the biggest meal of the day (4pm-5pm) and dinner is usually not much more than a very light meal, like sweet bread with a cup of Nescafe!
Another interesting point is that the Mexican food seems to fill you up so much more! As yummy as the food is here, we all find ourselves eating far less than normal!
Oh, and then there is the Roasted Chickens. The city is dotted with little stores that roast chickens, marinated with the most delicious flavors and served with salad, tortillas, and salsa. I’m desperate to get the recipe because I am sure I’ll be craving it when I go home.
Another favorite has been the green chorizo! Yes, green! BRIGHT GREEN!! It took us a good 3 months to get up the courage to try them, but boy oh boy… they are so good. Green in color because it is filled with green ingredients. Pork based, but with coriander, green tomatoes, oregano, parsley and sometimes green chile, the color is crazy bright, but sliced thinly and pan fried, they are soooo good!
4) Playing Spotto
The VW Beetle, known here in Mexico as “Bocho”, is a much-loved mainstay on the streets of San Miguel. Seen as affordable, easy to fix and a fun ride, the Bocho became so popular here in Mexico that VW built a plant, and continued manufacturing the car well after it ceased operations elsewhere. In 1973, 1/3 of the cars sold in Mexico were Bochos!
While it’s popularity has died off in other parts of Mexico, here in San Miguel, they are still super popular and can be seen EVERYWHERE! So much so, we began playing a game of Spotto… where the first person to yell Spotto when you see a VW wins a point! After a while, and as a bonus for those wanting to learn Spanish, we added a level of difficulty to help the kids learn colors… you only got the point if you could say “Spotto” followed by the name of the color in Spanish!
As a visitor to San Miguel, you cannot help but get swept away in the incredible architecture of the city, and of course the beautiful colors of it’s buildings. In the inner city area, homes are essentially built as one long facade, separated by color! But within the bounds of the gates, the Mexican design is incredible.
Through the city areas, you can enter many of the buildings, as many are established as businesses, giving you a lovely peek into the world of Mexican homes and buildings. And as you wander the streets, try and catch a glimpse through any open doorways, as each building is unique, and quite often, what one might expect from the outside is completely different internally.
Buildings feature incredible colors, unique artworks of all forms (hand painted toilet anyone?) and design ideas that we’d never seen before arriving in Mexico.
The people of San Miguel are amongst the nicest we’ve ever met, and I am so happy to say that I have made some lovely Mexican friends during my time here. They are so warm, so helpful, so polite, and so welcoming. Greetings are always with a kiss on the cheek (as are farewells) and locals have gone out of their way to help us.
It is said that Mexicans don’t like “Gringos”, a word that we always thought meant “white tourist”. But here in Mexico, the word Gringo is specifically given to people from the United States. While there is some negativity towards “Gringos”, I feel like it is less so here, as the locals tell me they are “used to them”. Initially, people assume we are Gringos, but interestingly, the minute we tell them we are from Australia, their demeanor changes greatly and they are very inquisitive about our country that is “muy muy lejos” (very very far!)
Mexican people are happy people. In our culture, “he who dies richest wins!” But here in Mexico, “he who dies happiest wins!” and as a result, their values are very different. Something that comes through very clearly in all aspects of the way they live and interact with us as visitors.
Learning Spanish has been a highlight of our stay, and the people of San Miguel have been incredible teachers. From the taxi and Uber drivers, our housekeepers, and gardeners, to the friends we’ve made, the local people have been incredibly patient and have loved helping us learn.
There is no better way to learn the language than through emersion!
The weather here in San Miguel, in my opinion, would have to be close to perfect! While many parts of Mexico are struck with extraordinary heat throughout the year, the altitude of San Miguel completely changes the experience!
In Summer, it gets hot, but a benefit of being in San Miguel is that you need simply step into the shade, and the temperature drops significantly. In Winter, the nights are cool, but the days are still warm, giving you the best of both worlds.
And in the wet season, the rains are incredible. The sheer volume of water that falls is beyond anything we’ve ever seen. In our wet season at home, we average 50mm/month. Here, in San Miguel, the average is closer to 250mm! And in a very wet season, it’s closer to 500mm! But be warned. The streets are not designed to handle the amount of water that falls and they flood very easily. A puddle may appear to be small, but you’ll be surprised how deep it may be (we learned that from experience!)
In a class we did with the fabulous Michelle Garrison, we spent three days learning about the Mexican Culture, and the differences between it and our own.
What stood out for us is that Mexico is much like the US/Australia/UK from 50 years ago. Gas attendants still pump fuel, those older than ourselves are shown respect by using Señor & Señora (Mr & Mrs), and on the whole, everything operates at a much slower pace, reminiscent of a time gone by.
The other big difference is the distinct lack of needing to be “the best”. Our cultures are so competitive, yet here in Mexico, happiness is the end goal, even at the expense of earning a dollar.
A few more observations:
- Respect is highly prevalent, and the elderly are incredibly well cared for by their family. Most wouldn’t dream of putting their elders into a home, and family members pitch in to care for them.
- Life is slower, and with happiness as the goal, people take the time to enjoy the many celebrations that occur in the city.
- Rules and regulations are not as prevalent, and not at the expense of safety. Seatbelts are far less popular, sitting in the back of a pickup driving down the highway is common, and people don’t appear to need to be regulated, to behave like decent people and to keep themselves safe.
Who wouldn’t smile to see a donkey (or burro) walking down the street! In Mexico, Donkeys are a symbol of rural life and are renown for their ability to carry large loads. These days, donkeys are often seen in the streets of SMA with their handlers, and put a smile on our faces each time we pass!
11) Lack of Traffic Lights
Lack maybe isn’t the word. In San Miguel, there are zero traffic lights. Now that might suggest complete confusion and lots of near misses, but the drivers of San Miguel have their system so well ingrained that it just works.
No traffic lights at intersections in San Miguel! Just a 1:1 rule.[/caption]
What is the rule? 1:1! The cars literally take it in turn. And it doesn’t matter if you are driving down the main street, if a car comes to the intersection from a side street, and a car has already passed in front of them, you stop, you give way, and then you continue. Just like that!
It took a while to get used to, and even after 3 months of driving, I still often sit patiently waiting for people to go (just being polite), but the rule is 1:1, so once one goes, it’s my turn, whether I like it or not! LOL
Mexicans sure do know how to party! It seems that every day there is a parade, a fireworks display, church bells or some other type of festivity going on in San Miguel.
For visitors, it can be someone infuriating, because locals don’t care what time of day it is (fireworks at 4am anyone?), but after spending time in San Miguel, you learn to sleep through the noise, wear earplugs, or put up with it!
For me, it’s a sign that someone, somewhere is happy! And with so much seriousness in the world, it puts a smile on my face to hear someone celebrating something, whatever that may be!
If you love a good market, then San Miguel is the place for you! From the massive Tuesday market, where you can buy just about anything, to the numerous fresh food markets, art markets, clothing markets and more!
The Tuesday market is a regular attraction for visitors and locals alike. No matter what you are after there’s a good chance you’ll find it there, and if not, you’ll enjoy a great local meal while you’re there.
I absolutely love fireworks, and there is no place like San Miguel for fireworks. Unlike Australia, and I imagine many other parts of the world, the regulations on fireworks here are decidedly lax, which means they are far more accessible and therefore far more common!
Plus they are a huge part of every religious celebration (which in San Miguel seems to be nearly every day!) and on big events like Independence Day, the fireworks displays are absolutely incredible!
Having said that though, there are numerous festivities where fireworks are tossed out into the crowd, something we weren’t so interested in taking part in!
San Miguel is known for it’s art. From the stunning street murals of Colonia Guadalupe (a suburb of SMA), the beautiful Artisan Markets, to the local nicknacks and souvenirs, there is something very special about the craft in San Miguel.
As you wander the art markets and watch stall holders painting their clay molds, or visit a gallery with some of the most beautiful artwork you’ll ever see — there really is something for everyone in San Miguel.
16) Treasure Hunting
I’ve often referred to San Miguel as a Treasure Hunt! By that, I mean that every time you go out, you stumble across new streets, new stores, new restaurants and any number of new activities!
With so many small streets, it is easy to get deliberately lost in the city and spend hours finding new and amazing treasures. A quick trip down the street is hard in San Miguel, with so much to see and discover!
17) The Doors
The doors of San Miguel, are a tourist attraction on their own! It is easy to spend hours wandering the cobblestone streets, just admiring the individuality of each and every door. But the big question was always, what’s behind them! Because when you would walk past an open one, it was never what you might expect!
18) El Jardin & The Parroquia
el Jardin, the center of town and home to the stunning Parroquia, is a popular meeting place and the center of many events and celebrations in San Miguel.
The trees in el Jardin are meticulously pruned into a gorgeous round shape, creating not only a lovely garden setting to meet with friends, but a beautiful, almost artistic masterpiece in the centre of town.
The Parroquia truly is the heart of San Miguel, and with its stunning pink facade and huge towers, it is little wonder that this church is so popular!
19) The Views
San Miguel is built down side of a mountain, with the heart of the city built in the valley. This combination creates some incredible views from various vantage points within the city, all with the Parroquia in el Jardin as the central point!
20) The Road Rules
One thing we noticed as soon as we got here, is just how considerate local drivers are. In our country, road rage is a big problem, and it often feels like people worry only about themselves. Here though, drivers are so considerate! Maybe it has to do with the slower pace, or maybe it’s just completely different values. Whatever it is, it’s been so lovely!
We recently noticed the road rules, as displayed on the back of buses here in SMA… and they explained a lot! Many we may all know and are rules that are enforced in our own countries, but adherence to these seems to be very selective, but interestingly the ones that are observed are the ones that involve others!
- 1:1 — Take it in turns
- First the Pedestrians (Pedestrians have right of way)
- Yield to allow them to get past
- Use your seatbelt (doesn’t really happen here!)
- Use your helmet (again, another that isn’t followed often)
- Avoid using Mobiles (yet again, another that is not observed!)
- Do not use your horn (this one is followed strictly!)
- Drive without alcohol
21) Day of the Dead
One of our favorite celebrations here in San Miguel was Day of the Dead. More than just enjoying the celebration, we enjoyed getting to understand the way Mexicans view death and the afterlife.
They believe that life begins at death, that death is not a time of sadness, but the moment when you move to the land of the remembered, and life truly begins. It is said that there are three parts to life — 1) here on earth 2) after passing and 3) when no-one here on earth is around to remember the deceased, the final being a truly sad moment.
Each year, families gather to remember those that have passed. They create altars to celebrate the life of the deceased and to invite them back to celebrate Day of the Dead.
In terms of our experience here in San Miguel, Dia de los Muertos was part of a 5 day festival, when streets were teeming with people dressed as Skeletons! And you know you are in Mexico when it is completely normal for every third person walking the street to have skeleton facepaint!
el Jardin, the centre of town was full of Catrinas and Catrines (the popular figure associated with Day of the Dead) and the sidewalks were fully decorated with Ofrendas or offerings, to help the dead return for the celebrations.
To get a better understanding of the way Mexicans view the afterlife, I highly recommend watching the animated movie “The Book of Life”, along with the brand new Disney Movie “Coco”!
22) Bebidas (Drinks)
Infused water drinks and fruit juices are super popular here in Mexico, and a staple for many people. The markets are teeming with vendors with their big jars of juice, and can be found on restaurant menus all over town.
There is nothing better than a refreshing juice on a warm afternoon. From my favorites Jamaica (water infused with hibiscus flowers) and Chia with Pineapple, to the kid’s favorite Horcharta (ground almonds, sesame seeds, rice, barley, tigernuts (chufas), or melon seeds), there is something for everyone! And many more, that we still haven’t tried!
So they might just look like bread rolls, but these yummy Mexican staples, known as Bolillos have been a favorite family. These delicious, freshly baked rolls are cooked in huge quantities throughout the day, and it is unusual to not purchase them HOT!
We often giggle and the lines of people waiting for fresh bolillos to be put out, but we are forever thankful as we cut into a freshly cooked roll, with a little butter and a thin layer of vegemite! Of course locals skip the vegemite and enjoy toppings of all descriptions. Tortas (filled bolillos) are a very popular local dish!
24) The Teddy Bear Car
Anyone who has been to San Miguel will tell you about the Teddy Bear Car. The funny little pink VW, that drives around town, covered in teddy bears, themed to suit the time of year.
At first, we thought it was all a little crazy (well, let’s be honest, it is!) but then we got to know the owner of the car, Colin, and his lovely Mexican wife Martha.
Colin is in his 70’s, a little eccentric and quite the comedian, who decorates his car with the sole purpose of making people smile!
Colin and Martha drive around in their heavily laden car, complete with sound effects (currently it’s a crowing rooster that would drive me crazy!!), visiting orphanages to hand out candy. They stop in the street to let visitors have a look, and they’ve even been known to get pulled up by the Federales (Federal Police), so that they could have their photograph taken with the car!
If you ever come to visit San Miguel, be sure to look out for the Teddy Bear Car, and wave hello as they drive by!
25) The Street Dogs & S.P.A
Street dogs are a huge problem here in San Miguel. But through the tireless work of the S.P.A (Sociedad Protectora de Animales or Society for Protection of Animals) the stray cats and dogs of San Miguel have a home, loving carers, and medical help, until they can be adopted.
Volunteers (and donations) are warmly welcomed and it is a place we have loved to visit, whenever possible. Caring for the cats, cuddling the kittens, and getting pounced on by the puppies, created memories we’ll never forget!
In Australia, we don’t have hummingbirds. But here in Mexico, hummingbirds are everywhere… and it took some getting used to. I’ve grown up in a family with a Mum that is hummingbird crazy. But until we arrived in Mexico, I’d never seen one for myself.
The excitement of seeing my very first hummingbird quickly faded as I realized that it was something I would experience EVERY DAY. Standing in the kitchen looking out the window. Sitting at the kitchen table and watching the hummingbird feeder. Walking through a garden full of hummingbird friendly flowers!
And of course, then there is the Hummingbird Garden on Zacateros. A garden where one can sit and enjoy watching these tiny little beauties as they come to feed from the gorgeous array of feeders!
But nothing could ever compare to the moment I spent in the garden of a Mexican friend. I was told to stand with my face just 20cm away from one of her feeders. With strict instructions to stand very still, I waited patiently. Her garden is FULL of hummingbirds (100+ at any time) and it took only minutes before I was literally surrounded by hummingbirds, just centimeters from my face. Tears of joy rolled down my cheeks as I stood and watched, the hum of their wings and the movement of air all around me. I was told it would be an incredible experience… and it was certainly one I will never forget!
27) Things You Just Don’t See Anywhere Else!
The list goes on and on… but every now and then you see something and your immediate response is “only in Mexico!” Sure, these things might happen elsewhere, but they are strange things, that we would never see at home. Little things that are just another reason to love San Miguel and Mexico.
Life in San Miguel has been an incredible adventure. I often get asked if I would return, and of course, the answer is “in a heartbeat”. Unfortunately, though, to live here means living halfway around the world from our family. The downside of being Australian is that we are a long way from EVERYTHING!
But one day, we will return. And in the meantime, with tears streaming down my face, I will say a sad goodbye to this amazing city that will always hold a special place in our hearts! Viva Mexico!
For information about traveling with kids — check out Worldschooling Central — a free resource for families that love family travel.
Karen King is a Mom, Wife and Full Time Traveler who sold everything in 2015 to travel the world full time with kids. She runs the super popular Family Travel Site Worldschooling Central that is designed to help families learn how to educate their kids through travel.