When I sit down to write these travel diary posts I sometimes get a bit of writer's block. And the more I love a place the more that little block sets in. Mostly here's why: there's that thing people say - "instagram is the highlight reel" or a blog post only showcases the best moments of an experience and in some regards that is true. But I get that block because for me - when I'm traveling - my intention is to settle in, slow down, ground in, seek out a fresh perspective and pay attention to all of the little things. Those little things are the moments that don't typically make it into that reel. So when I finally write about a place I don't want to miss the bits that truly give a place it's soul.
What does make it into the reel is the "working" part of my travels. I intentionally make time to create the images that I share - however the beautiful, mystical and often deeply life altering moments that happen in between are rarely photographed and therefore are simply committed to memory. That's what a mystical vacation, a mystication, is all about! When I begin to get overwhelmed about what to share I remind myself that my mission here is to inspire you to plan your own trip, to create your own mystical moments, and if I'm able to accomplish that then working through those little blocks is worth it!
San Miguel De Allende
We arrived into Mexico City, braved the central Mexico roads and arrived for our time in San Miguel. As our trip began Ben and I made the time each day to pull out the camera and snap, however, for 8 of any 10 hours that we would be out exploring on foot each day the camera was tucked away, or left behind at our townhouse in the city center ("centro").
When we prepared for our trip we didn't spend time looking at the "must do" lists - Ben lived in San Miguel as a child and much of what was important to him to explore was in his memory from so many year's past. For me, in a town like SMA getting out on foot and using my intuition as a guide is how I like to start things off - and for this trip we had almost 2 weeks - so there would be plenty of time for that.
The town’s reputation as an artistic bohemian hideaway is long gone, which tends to happen when a magazine like Travel & Leisure names a place the "World's Top City of 2017." I'm certainly not blaming T&L - when a place is this good it's bound to be discovered by expats and tourists alike. Despite the tourism that's become a prevalent part of the activities in SMA - there are incredible artists and intellectuals, from both Mexico and abroad, enjoying life in this gorgeous town.
At one time San Miguel was a traditional Mexican pueblo with day to day life centering around the family owned tiendas, as well as the fruit, gordita and taco stands. Families filled the central plaza after daily Mass. That's all still present today however San Miguel is now one of Mexico’s best-known cultural destinations so there's also art galleries, organic food shops and boutique hotels peppered throughout the city.
All of these things, btw - make it easy to visit, exceptionally safe and a place that I'd highly recommend as a female traveling solo or for a trip with your loved ones, friends or family.
Where to Stay
Having an entire home or apartment to yourself is one of the best ways to enjoy a new city. Especially when the apartment is centrally located. I'd recommend choosing something close to the city center, so you can get out and easily explore each day. See the Airbnb listings here.
If you are a new user on Airbnb, you can get $20 off your first stay with this code.
There are tons of options in SMA, here's a few I'd recommend, and there's plenty more on Trip Advisor as well:
Where to Eat
Fruit Stands: try the "tunas" - the fruit inside the prickly pear cactus plant (we got ours at a stand outside the Benito Juarez Park, so good!)
Elote & Esquites Stands: these are located throughout the city, it's corn prepared several ways - dusted with cheese, chili, mayonnaise or just boiled and slightly charred.
The Markets: In the northeastern section of Centro, adjacent to the art market, is the city’s organic foods market: Ignacio Ramirez Mercado. Locals come to buy produce from local farmers as well as staples like freshly pressed tortillas. Toward the back you’ll find a collection of food stalls, we sampled the organic tamales and then stepped into the organic grocer for natural frozen yogurt that was simply amazing.
For Coffee: Café Catedral (for good, strong organic coffee - our local family friends recommended this place), La Sacristía Café (pictured here and my personal favorite for the delicious smoothies, and the gorgeous outdoor patio - we went several mornings for that and enjoyed their perfect Americanos).
I was a little surprised to find that there wasn't coffee on every corner, but loved these places mentioned above and went back daily (and I was a bit bothered to find a Starbucks smack in the middle of the city directly across from Parroquia de San Miguel Arcángel, the neo-gothic pink church in the center of the square).
For Breakfast, Lunch & Dinner: We tried all sorts of local places for tacos, flautas, pozole, gorditas and more. A notable favorite: La Pozoleria - we get the chicken flautas and the pozole of course. Café Del Viajero had the most incredible mole and guacamole - we decided to dine here after peaking in the window as the chef (pictured below) prepped for service. There was no way we could turn her down. Our breakfast spot of choice was Mi Bistro 300, this place was directly across from our townhouse and every dish on the menu was super fresh (including the homemade breads!) and perfect.
For Drinks: Oso Azul - we stopped in on two separate occasions for Micheladas Classico and they were refreshing and delicious. I'd also recommend spending an evening watching the sunset from any one of the number of rooftop bars, many of the boutique hotels have them and they're open to the public
Other Can't Miss Places
The Markets: Instituto Allende is worth a visit just to take in the beauty of the building and the murals; there's an artist market open on some days as well, and we were glad to catch it and do some shopping for crystals, essential oils and incense. In the rear of the building is one of the best views of the city. There's also a cafe and an art gallery in the back courtyard with work from famous artists. Direct up the street there's additional markets, craft fairs, flower stands and more.
The Landmarks: The Public Library - home to tons of books, more murals and a beautiful courtyard and cafe. We spent an afternoon reading about Mayan culture and history.
El Mirador - the scenic overlook at the top of the city
Benito Juarez Park - the park was full of palms, butterflies and a botanical garden
There's multiple day trips to be found just outside of the city: Cañada de la Virgen is an Otomi archaeological site that has been recently excavated - tours are offered by Albert Coffee, an Archaeologist from Louisiana (so I have to meet him next time!). There's also several hot springs locations worth checking into.
To Help You Prepare:
San Miguel de Allende is located on the sun-drenched central highlands, about 150 miles north of Mexico City. The weather is usually dry and sunny year-round, however, at 6,000+ feet, the temperature swings significantly from the morning to midday and again in the evenings. We were warned in advance to apply sunscreen and wear hats before even stepping out for morning coffee, and we did as told.
Credit cards are widely accepted, but have pesos on hand for local shopping, street food and arts and crafts markets. If you go to the Tuesday Market - "Tianguis de los Martes" bring pesos - the market is massive, packed with locals and an incredible experience - go early to avoid the crowds.
There is no Uber, however taxis are super convenient - hail a cab just like you do in New York. Tell the driver where you're intending to go and they'll agree or sometimes not depending on the area they're working in - if they don't want to take you somewhere it's not about safety, they may just not be going that direction. When you're dropped off ask what the price is - it's all cheap so it'll be less than a few dollars.
How to get there: we rented a car, and I trusted that Ben could handle it. He was very comfortable driving, the driving rules are pretty much this: keep your eyes open and go for it. Everyone is merging and moving at the same - controlled chaos. Be certain you have enough cash for tolls, we had a very unfortunate experience on the way back to the airport in which we were just barely short of cash, had heard we could use our credit card and were literally turned around after sitting in toll traffic for over an hour. We weren't given any information about where to find an ATM so we drove another 45 minutes until we found one. We heard that buses are super easy as an alternative option. From the airport you can book any of the bus companies. These buses supposedly make the 4-5 hour trip easy and run about $25ish dollars each way.
In regards to water cleanliness, street food safety, and traveler's diarrhea (I think this is the first time I've ever written about diarrhea, ha): there's plenty of stories about how you get it and what to do to avoid it. We were instructed not to drink the water and to use bottled water even for brushing our teeth and washing our faces. We avoided ice cubes in drinks too. We didn't stay in a boutique hotel (we stayed in a friend's vacation home) so perhaps the standards are different depending on your accommodations. We ate street food almost daily and followed these general rules: choose food stands with one person cooking and another handling money (germs often live on money), choose busy stands serving women and children - the busier the better to ensure the food hasn't been sitting out in the hot sun... also my guess is that if a child's stomach can handle something surely mine can too... don't eat fruits and veggies that are rinsed in tap water... we heard that more people get sick choosing things like salads than going for the local fare, and despite following the rules, we still had a few days of uneasy stomachs.
I certainly can't wait to go back again. San Miguel is truly a dream and as always, I'm happy to answer any other questions you all might have! Feel free to leave a comment below or DM me on instagram! Btw! If you need a capsule wardrobe for your next holiday or simply want to see more from my San Miguel trip - check this post here!