Guide to San Miguel de Allende - Part One

    The weather, the history, the vibe, and how to get there.

    Part I – Guide to San Miguel de Allende

    Preface to This Guide:

    If you’re reading this guide, then you’re in luck! This guide is coming to you from locals. Our company has had an office in San Miguel and much of our staff work there, so you’ll get the real inside scoop. Learn where to eat, what to do—and more—when you’re in San Miguel!

    The first part of this guide will cover the typical aspects found in any of our expat travel guides: the weather, the history, the vibe, and how to get there.

    The second part of this guide will offer you a more in-depth look at San Miguel from the perspective of the locals who live here.

    The third part will cover the practicals of living in San Miguel as an expat/nomad. Rentals & Housing, Neighborhoods, utilities, and legalities/banking/visas.

    Introduction to San Miguel de Allende:

    Often called, “San Mike” for the influx of American expats that have come to leave their mark on the pueblo, San Miguel de Allende is consistently voted one of “the best places to live” in the world. As recently as 2020, Forbes voted it The Best Small City in the World.

    This is because it has found a perfect balance between being a rustic pueblo and a modern city—which is no easy feat. An idyllic Mexican environment with almost all the benefits of any developed nation.

    San Miguel de Allende is over 450 years old. This pueblo is situated in the eastern part Guanajuato state, on a huge, high-altitude plain called El Bajío, which spans parts of four states (Aguascalientes, Guanajuato, Jalisco, and Querétaro). This region has been characterized as having the best quality of life in Mexico, one of the safest regions overall in Mexico, and one of the most economically progressive regions in all of Latin America.

    San Miguel is arguably the most-visited pueblo mágico of all 121 magical pueblos of Mexico. In 2008, San Miguel de Allende was designated as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO (United Nations, Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization).

    History of San Miguel de Allende:

    – Prehispanic History of San Miguel –

    San Miguel has a rich and complex history, which began even before the conquest of Mexico when the pueblo of San Miguel de Allende was known as Izcuinapan. It was founded by the indigenous Chichimeca people.

    That said, it wasn’t until just after the Spanish Conquest that San Miguel began to resemble the pueblo we see today. Near the Chichimeca settlement of Izcuinapan, a small chapel was built by a Franciscan friar named Juan de San Miguel, and thus, the pueblo would carry his name from that day forward. (It would not be until after Mexico’s independence from Spain that the “de Allende” would be added in honor of the revolutionary leader Ignacio Allende.)

    The silver mines in the area provided a lucrative opportunity for the avaricious Spaniards of San Miguel. But after their attempts to enslave Chichimecas to work the mines—many of them women and children—the climate between the Spaniards and the Chichimeca locals turned hostile. By 1551, the Chichimeca Confederation had successfully attacked and pushed out the Spanish inhabitants.

    This period of indigenous governance would be short-lived (only lasting for 4 years) because by 1555, a new village was founded one mile east of the original settlement of San Miguel. Located between two natural springs, this new location is where San Miguel is located to the present day.

    *The two natural springs would provide water for the village until 1970, when they dried up and groundwater became the main source of freshwater for the growing population.

    The situation with the Chichimecas progressively deteriorated for the next 40 years. This period of conflict would come to be known as the Chichimeca War. The Viceroy of Mexico attempted to appease the Chichimecas by granting them a measure of autonomy and excluding them from taxation. That said, he also gave Spaniards free land and cattle in the area of El Bajío—some of this in the surrounding areas of San Miguel—to boost the population as a defense against the tribal threat.

    – Colonial History of San Miguel –

    In the 17th century, San Miguel’s main attraction was as a military outpost—an important stop along the route transporting silver from mines in Guanajuato and Zacatecas to the capital of Mexico City. This also led San Miguel to prosper as a commercial town and mission dedicated to the Catholic conversion of the natives.

    The town’s wealth and prosperity in the 17th century continued to build, and by the 18th century, the village of San Miguel had reached its peak as a prosperous colonial city. By the mid-1700s, the population of San Miguel had grown to 30,000 people. (By comparison, the population of Boston at that time was 16,000, and New York only had 25,000 inhabitants.)

    During this period, San Miguel attracted a wealthy bourgeoisie who built many of the town’s colonial structures, including haciendas, churches, government buildings, and palaces, many of which still stand today.

    *NOTE ABOUT ARCHITECTURE: This period when San Miguel’s major architectural development occurred marks a period of transition between the Baroque-churrigueresque style and the Neoclassical period. Many buildings dating from that period show an amalgamation of both styles.

    – San Miguel during the Independence from Spain –

    By the beginning of the 19th century, San Miguel’s influence had begun to decline, but its role in Mexican Independence had yet to take place. This would cement San Miguel’s role in Mexican history as an important one.

    Not only were two of the great figures of the independence movement born in San Miguel (one of them being Ignacio Allende—for which the second part of San Miguel de Allende gets its name), but it also played an important role in the birth of Mexican Independence.

    It was only 40 kilometers from San Miguel that El Grito de Dolores took place in the town of Dolores (now named Dolores Hidalgo after another prominent figure in the Mexican Independence). The pueblo of San Miguel was the first place the new Mexican army stopped after Dolores.

    It was in San Miguel that the father of Mexican Independence, Miguel Hidalgo, grabbed the standard for the new Mexican army: a banner bearing the image of la Virgen de Guadalupe. (This banner now lies in the Museo del Ejército in Spain).

    Like the storming of the Bastille in Paris, the new army freed rebel prisoners from the local jail, and effectively San Miguel became the first Mexican pueblo to gain its independence from Spain.

    San Miguel would continue to be torn between liberal and conservative forces throughout the 19th century. Though it was officially declared a Mexican city in 1826 under the name San Miguel de Allende, this political conflict only furthered the decline of the city’s influence and population.

    – San Miguel during the Porfiriato –

    During the reign of Mexican president Porfirio Díaz in the late 19th century, San Miguel de Allende experienced a brief boom when many government infrastructure projects were constructed, such as railroads, damns, and aqueducts. This prosperous period lasted for only a short period of time. Soon San Miguel de Allende would revert to a primarily agrarian economy. Many fruit orchards were planted.

    – San Miguel during the Mexican Revolution –

    By the time of the Mexican Revolution, the silver veins that the mining industry in Guanajuato depended on had been exhausted, and the new agricultural economy wasn’t able to sustain any growth throughout San Miguel de Allende. The town’s population declined and the once-thriving metropolis nearly became a ghost town.

    It was not until 1926 that San Miguel de Allende became a culturally protected site, though to what extent is up to some debate. What is clear is that many Catholic structures from the colonial period, and possibly other colonial buildings as well, were recognized for their unique architectural heritage. This allowed San Miguel de Allende to preserve its architecture which has allowed the pueblo to gain international recognition in modern times.

    – San Miguel in Modern History –

    In 1937, American writer and artist Sterling Dickinson would be the first to tote the virtues of San Miguel to an international audience. (One of the main thoroughfares in the city bears his name.) In effect, he would spur San Miguel de Allende’s notoriety as a tourist destination.

    A prominent art school was founded in the 1940s on the site of an old convent. This school gained notoriety by attracting soldiers who fought in World War II, many of them American veterans who were permitted to study abroad through the G.I. Bill. This influx of artistically-minded foreigners would initiate a rebirth for the pueblo. The artsy climate would attract more artists, and soon, San Miguel de Allende saw the construction of shops, restaurants, and hotels in order to accommodate the influx of visitors and residents.

    Between the 1950s and the 1970s, San Miguel de Allende would come to embrace this bohemian and artistic identity (though it would not be without conflict. For example, in the 1970s, hippies were forcibly made to cut their hair by the authorities of the town). Nevertheless, eventually, this cultural climate became synonymous with San Miguel—a legacy that has lasted to this day.

    Climate of San Miguel de Allende:

    The weather in San Miguel de Allende is relatively temperate considering the whole planet, though it does seem extreme for Central Mexico. San Miguel de Allende is situated on a high-altitude desert plateau. This arid, dry climate leads to hot days and surprisingly cold nights during some parts of the year.

    *NOTE: The humidity gets very low when it’s not raining in San Miguel de Allende. I’ve seen it drop to as low as 7% humidity. Bring tons of lip balm and skin moisturizer, you’ll be grateful you did. For dry skin, I found that tattoo balm (which is made to moisturize broken skin is a brilliant product to keep around.

    – San Miguel de Allende in the Winter –

    Winters are one of the best times to visit San Miguel. The average daily temperature is about 60 ℉ (24 ℃), but this is factoring in a very cold nighttime temperature. By 11:00, you’ll start to feel the weather warming up to a pleasant temperature, leading up to an average high temperature of 75 ℉ – 80 ℉ (24 ℃ – 27 ℃).

    However, the nights can get quite cold so bring a warm jacket. The average low temperature during the winter is 42 ℉ – 45 ℉ (6 ℃ – 7 ℃), but trust me, there will be a few weeks during the year (around January) when temperatures dip to around 32 ℉ (0 ℃), so be sure to check the weather forecast for your trip!

    Staying Warm in the Winter

    The first year I came to San Miguel de Allende, I visited in early February. I was not prepared for the cold, and even a northern English person who was visiting me in Mexico was caught off guard by the cold. If you stay in an Airbnb during the winter, be sure to check out their heating situation. Many houses in San Mike only have a fireplace to warm the house without central heating. If not, you might want to bring some long johns or warm PJs and hope they have good blankets.

    – San Miguel de Allende in the Spring –

    Many foreigners are surprised to learn that spring is Central Mexico’s hottest season. The average temperature is about 72 ℉ (22 ℃), but once again, that’s factoring a fairly cold night temperature that gets down to 50 ℉ (19 ℃) – 58 ℉ ( 14.5 ℃). During the spring, the nights will begin quite warm and temperate, but by early morning, they will drop substantially. So if you’re planning for a late-night excursion, bring a jacket.

    It will get hot during the day in San Miguel de Allende. The average daily high temperature is 87 ℉ (30 ℃), but don’t be surprised if you catch a heatwave when the daily high can increase to 97 ℉ (36 ℃).

    *The all-time recorded high temperature never exceeds 104 ℉ (40 ℃).

    Staying Cool in the Spring

    Unless you’re staying in a hotel, your residence will likely not have air conditioning. This is because it’s only hot in San Miguel for three months out of the year, and colonial architecture is designed to keep a relatively cool climate indoors while the outside is hot. Be sure that you have fans to keep cool with, and I tend to take a nap during the heat of the day directly in the fan’s path.

    Another great piece of advice is that one-story buildings tend to get hotter than two-or-more-story buildings. Many colonial structures are made from adobe brick and the lower floors will stay surprisingly cool and tolerable during the hotter months, whereas the upper levels will not stay as cool.

    Many establishments have misters that spray cool misty water and fans that help for this mist to evaporate, cooling the people and the air around them. Other establishments will have full-on air conditioning—though once again, this is rare.

    – San Miguel de Allende in the Summer –

    If you’re in San Miguel de Allende during the summer, then you’re a very fortunate person. This is the perfect time to visit San Miguel. All of Central Mexico is blessed with rains that come and cool down San Miguel de Allende when the rest of the world is scorching. Plus, you have the added benefit that it’s not incredibly dry like the rest of the year.

    During the summer, the average daily high temperature falls to about 81 ℉ (27 ℃) – 78 ℉ (25.5 ℃). Your standard day is about 69 ℉ (20.5 ℃). The average low temperature stays about the same as in the spring, being about 56 ℉ ( 14 ℃).

    Staying Dry in the Summer

    Don’t worry too much about the rain. It’s rare that it will rain all day. Instead, you will get torrential downpours that serve to cool everything down while the rest of the day is partly cloudy and cool. Bring an umbrella in case you get stuck somewhere, but no need to pack a raincoat from my experience. If it starts pouring—which can happen at a moment’s notice—grab a drink or an appetizer in some restaurant and chances are by the time you’re done, the rain will have subsided.

    – San Miguel de Allende in Autumn –

    The cool summer rains will tend to linger into the beginning of the fall season, through the start of October. This helps to keep the weather cool. And by the end of the fall, you’re starting to get into the colder winter weather patterns, so you’ll be fine with a light jacket and a scarf until the winter season begins.

    With that said, around the end of October when the rains cease and before the weather truly starts to cool off, there’s generally a second summer heatwave that doesn’t get starkly cold until the early morning hours. For this reason, the average temperatures of each month can’t really predict the weather during the fall.

    *Our advice for the fall is to dress in layers and watch the weather patterns closely.

    The average daily temperature is 66 ℉ (19 ℃) – 60 ℉ ( 15 ℃). The daily high temperature gets to about 80 ℉ (25.5 ℃) in October to 73 ℉ ( 23 ℃) in December. Lastly, the daily low temperature falls drastically from 52 ℉ (11 ℃) in October to 43 ℉ (6.5 ℃) in December.

    Getting to San Miguel de Allende

    There are basically three ways to get to San Miguel de Allende: by car, by bus, and by airplane/taxi.

    – Getting to San Miguel de Allende by Air –

    There are four nearby and international airports that you can take to get to San Miguel de Allende:

    • Bajío International Airport (BJX)
    • Querétaro Intercontinental Airport (QRO)
    • Mexico City International Airport (MEX)
    • Toluca International Airport (TLC)

    Many of the flights to BJX and QRO are routed through Mexico City International Airport. The choice is yours whether you want to take a bus from the airport or whether you want to take a connecting flight.

    If you have the money, I recommend a connecting flight. You can usually find one within a short time period and you get a chance to sit down and grab a bite to eat. Flights will be more expensive, but they take about the same amount of time, and you don’t have to haul your luggage through taxi stands and bus terminals.

    *To learn about taking the bus from Mexico City International Airport (MEX), see the bus section below.

    *NOTE: Realistically, no one goes to Toluca. I assume you’d have to take a bus to Queretaro bus station and then grab a car or another bus to San Miguel de Allende

    Once you land at any one of these airports you can either rent a car, take a taxi, or take a bus.

    – Getting to San Miguel de Allende by Car –

    Renting a Car

    If you decide to rent a car, the prices can be rather reasonable considering that the farthest you’ll have to travel is about 4 hours.

    *To find San Miguel de Allende on Google Maps, click here. Then you can get directions from your current location.

    Taking a Taxi

    Taking a taxi is relatively inexpensive if you’re coming in from either Bajío International Airport (BJX) or Querétaro Intercontinental Airport (QRO). These airports are both a bit over an hour from San Miguel de Allende.

    If you’re taking a taxi, it’ll cost roughly $60 USD – $75 USD. Always get a taxi from inside the airport. Do not get a taxi from the street. Don’t get a taxi from someone standing outside. Grab a taxi from a reputable stand with signs before you exit security.

    Uber and Didi (both rideshare apps) may also work, but most drivers will ask you to cancel and then pay them in cash or they won’t accept the ride. I’ve seen this more in San Miguel trying to get to the airport than the other way around. I usually try and budget the taxi because, after a long flight, it’s nice to walk through customs in a small airport and then just go right to a taxi and be on your way.

    *If you’re trying to save money, a rideshare app will likely be half the price or less than half.

    Taking a Bus

    If you’re in Mexico City International Airport (MEX), then you have two real options. You can either take a bus to Terminal Central de Autobuses del Norte or you can take a bus from the airport to nearby Querétaro Bus Station. From there, it’s a direct bus to San Miguel.

    From the Terminal Central de Autobuses del Norte, you can either grab a Primera Plus bus to Querétaro, which leaves every 40 minutes between the hours of 05:20 and 17:20. Then it leaves about every hour until 21:00, and the final bus leaves at 23:00 hours. These buses cost $329 MXN.

    *Click here to buy Primera Plus buses.

    Or from Terminal Central de Autobuses del Norte, you can take an ETN bus to Querétaro Bus Station. You can either grab an ETN bus that is comparable in price to the Primera Plus bus listed about, about $400 MXN (at the time of this article, the tickets were $375 MXN marked down from $415), or you can take a direct bus to San Miguel’s small bus station.

    **NOTE: From Querétaro Bus Station, you can take an inexpensive Uber which generally takes you to the location without asking for you to pay in cash (like they do in San Miguel de Allende). You can also take a taxi which would cost more—especially if you take a taxi from inside the establishment as we recommend. *

    **NOTE: There are also private car companies such as BajioGo, which now offer inexpensive trips for short distances such as these. *

    The ETN direct bus to San Miguel de Allende leaves every two hours between 06:10 and 16:10. The bus takes 4.5 hours to get to San Miguel and at the time of this article, it costs $531 MXN.

    *NOTE: The ETN “direct bus” is not a non-stop bus. It stops in Tepotzotlán (not to be confused with Tepoztlán) and then a second stop at Querétaro Bus Station. The direct bus simply means that it ends at San Miguel de Allende and you never have to get off.

    In our opinion, the ETN buses are slightly nicer than the Primera Plus buses—but only slightly. We tend to recommend ETN if possible, but Primera Plus is fine in a pinch.

    *Click here to purchase ETN tickets.

    *NOTE: Both Primera Plus and ETN are not currently providing food or drinks on the buses because of covid-19. Hopefully, it will return. In the meantime, bring your own food and water.

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    Meet the writer

    Raf Bracho

    For several years, Rafael has been crafting articles to help expats and nomads in their journey abroad. He takes great pride in meticulously researching the ins-and-outs of bureaucratic processes in different countries around the world. A digital nomad for almost a decade, Rafael also enjoys exploring cultural phenomena in his articles to better help expats and nomads assimilate. If you have any questions or issues with the content of an article, he’s the one to contact for further information.