Last week, the web was abuzz with superlatives as Travel + Leisure released its annual World’s Best Awards. San Miguel de Allende was named the No. 1 city in Mexico and Central and South America and No. 3 in the overall category of World’s Best City. This shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone who has sold this colonial gem three hours north of Mexico City.
The city is a true melting pot, comprising locals and an expat population representing 63 nationalities. Located in the Bajio region of Mexico, in the state of Guanajuato, San Miguel de Allende has long been a favorite vacation spot among U.S. travelers because of its colonial architecture, year-round temperate climate, colorful celebrations, gastronomy and luxury hotels.
“San Miguel de Allende is a place where you can stay at least a week and see real, authentic Mexico,” said Guillermo Gonzalez, director of the San Miguel de Allende Tourism Board. “You can buy art, take a painting class, a sculpting class, a Spanish-language class. There are always activities throughout the year, from a chamber music festival, to traditional fiestas, Independence Day and Day of the Dead. No matter the time of year, you will find something going on.”
The latest place to open in San Miguel is Doce-18 Concept House, an 18th century home-turned-shopping center that includes a boutique hotel, L'Otel. “This has one of the finest restaurants in San Miguel de Allende [Jacinto 1930, a Mexican restaurant from Mateo Salas] as well as a food court in the back selling sophisticated tacos, Italian food, hamburgers and more. There is a fine-art gallery, a French bakery and specific boutiques with spices, chocolate, a Champagne bar and wineries selling local wine,” said Gonzalez.
Travelers should also consider Cuna Quince, a small plaza with a bar and restaurant and a view of the main church. Around this square, travelers will also find many shops selling furniture hand-made in Mexico.
San Miguel de Allende is also a wonderful home base for exploring the culturally rich Magic Towns in the region. Nearby is Dolores Hidalgo, where Mexico’s independence movement began in 1810. Dolores Hidalgo is a great spot to purchase local Talavera pottery as well as see how it’s made. From Dolores Hidalgo, continue to the hot springs, many of which are found in caves. There are several wineries in the region, as well, where you can sample the locally produced wines. Consider Cuna de Tierra or La Santisima Trinidad.
Also consider nearby Mineral de Pozos, which is now a ghost town but was once very important in the silver mining industry in Mexico. Today all that remains are the shells of buildings and an eerie sense of a past life, which makes it a great spot for taking pictures; travelers are permitted to venture inside the mines. Inhabitants are slowly trickling back in to rescue the town’s old houses and buildings, and there are actually several boutique hotels that are available. Also consider the town of San Jose Iturbide, which is great for adventure tourists into rappelling, paragliding and mountain biking.
San Miguel de Allende currently has 2,400 hotel rooms, with 2,000 more rooms in private residences that are available through Airbnb. According to Gonzalez, the city hosted 1.3 million overnight visitors in 2015, showing a growth of 21% over the previous year. For this year tourism numbers are up 30% over the same months last year.
There are a few options for getting to San Miguel. The quickest would be to fly into Leon, which is served direct from Houston, Dallas, Atlanta, Los Angeles, and Oakland. From there it is an hour-and-20-minute shuttle ride to San Miguel, which is $29 each way. Travelers flying into Mexico City can take the 3.5-hour bus ride to San Miguel; there also is a direct bus from the Mexico City airport to Queretaro, and from there, visitors can take a 40-minute taxi ride to San Miguel.