Warm up in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico

Revisiting my trip to Beijing proved so enjoyable on a cold winter day that I’m continuing the travel theme. Next up: Mexico! In March 2006, just one month after I started this blog, my husband and I traveled to San Miguel de Allende in central Mexico. I don’t know why I didn’t post any photos from the trip, especially since the city’s rooftop and courtyard gardens and colorful streets captivated me. Well, better late than never! As most of the U.S. shivers under the so-called polar vortex, a virtual visit to Mexico may be just the ticket for a warm-up.

With narrow cobblestone streets bordered by pumpkin-, ocher-, and mango-colored homes and quaint shops, with gothic cathedrals and a central park lined with tree-shaded benches, San Miguel de Allende is often described as a European city in Mexico.

Built under Spanish rule during the silver rush of the mid-1500s, this colonial city’s architecture has been beautifully preserved.

The city declined in the 1800s but was rediscovered by artists after World War II and by hippies in the 1960s. Today it’s home to a sizeable ex-pat community of Americans, including many retirees, and continues to support a thriving artists’ community.

When we visited, the grand parish church on the square, the Parroquia, was under renovation, with scaffolding clinging to the gothic facade.

Topiaried laurels in the jardin shade people-watchers camped out on park benches.

Beautiful churches abound in San Miguel…

…and they are not merely tourist attractions like many churches in northern Europe, but in daily use.

We saw that a bullfight was to be held on the day we departed, and I was glad we wouldn’t be there then.

We stayed at a bed-and-breakfast on Recreo, pictured here.

Look for the pomegranate. Ah, Casa Granada — that’s us!

Owned by American artist Gerry Gill (but no longer operated as a B&B, I believe), Casa Granada is a beautiful, colonial-style home centered around a sunny courtyard garden and fountain.

Flowers tumbled over the walls from the rooftop garden.

Charming details everywhere you look

Gerry displayed a few of her paintings in the dining and living spaces for guests.

Upstairs, an arched doorway beckons you into the rooftop garden.

Potted topiary trees, colorful bougainvillea, an old stone fountain, and a small table and chairs invite you to relax and take in the view.

San Miguel’s temperate climate allows for indoor-outdoor living in style. Here’s a beautiful sala, or living room, walled on three sides but open to the rooftop garden. Check out the brick ceiling.

I wondered if this was a religious relic over the mantel.

The view from the sala — that’s a neighbor’s rooftop garden across the way.

A closer look

Ready for a day of strolling around town

One day we came across a repair crew working on a cobblestone street.

We took a closer look to see how it was constructed.

The public laundry was interesting too. It’s all quite lovely, with the bougainvillea and the architectural detail on the basins. But I’m not going to romanticize it — hand-washing is hard work. My grandma did it this way.

We happened onto a festive St. Patrick’s Day parade on the 17th. I had no idea Mexicans celebrated St. Patrick’s Day, but they do seem to do it differently than in the U.S. We didn’t see any green beer or shamrocks. Instead, a parade of schoolchildren marched down the street, with kids dressed up as vaqueros…

…pigs and other farm animals…

…and even ants!

This little boy dressed in a tiger suit seemed to be having fun.

As the day ended, we climbed the hilly streets back to our B&B.

One of many dogs we spotted standing sentinel on rooftops

On the way to dinner we glimpsed this romantic courtyard — just lovely.

One day we hired a driver and a guide to take us to Guanajuato, the capital of the state of Guanajuato and a university town an hour away from San Miguel.

A hilltop overlook provides a spectacular view of the city’s Crayola-bright, boxy buildings.

Our guide, Alicia, had lived in the U.S. for a number of years before returning to her home country. Personable and knowledgeable about the region, she was an excellent companion for the day.

Indian carving on a church door

Religious figure in one of the many churches

Alicia asked this boy to tell us the story of the Callejón del Beso, or Alley of the Kiss. Visible in the background, the narrow, stair-stepped alley has a tragically romantic past (if such tales are believed). Legend says two young lovers, forbidden from seeing each other, met across the nearly touching balconies. The girl’s father discovered them and killed her in a rage, leaving her lover to kiss her cold hand as she died. Mystifyingly, it’s said to be lucky to kiss on the steps, so we did.

Afterward we strolled in the jardin along with the locals…

…listening to mariachis play and sing songs of love and loss.

How lovely it was.

In 2006, when we visited, we felt quite safe in Mexico since San Miguel de Allende is far inland from the troubled U.S.-Mexico border. I hope that’s still the case today. It’s only a couple of hours by air from central Texas, although you do have to fly into nearby Leon or Queretaro and arrange for a cab or shuttle for the approximately one-hour drive to San Miguel. But you won’t need a car once you arrive, as the city is very walkable. Cabs and hired cars are readily available if you want to explore farther afield.

I’d like to return one day. I’m imagining the warm sunshine of San Miguel on my face right now.

All material © 2006-2014 by Pam Penick for Digging. Unauthorized reproduction prohibited.

50 Responses

  1. Another place I hope to visit, someday. I’ve just barely been across the border in Nogales, not even close to your experience. Today was a grey rainy one here, and while I’m not complaining (because at least we’re not experiencing the POLAR VORTEX) these bright happy color filled visit certainly brightened my day. Thank you!

    • Pam/Digging says:

      POLAR VORTEX really does require all-caps, doesn’t it? What silly phrases the weathermen come up with. I’m glad you’re not under the PV in Portland, Loree. And yes, a border visit (I’ve been to Laredo) is nothing like the interior of Mexico. I hope you are able to visit one day! —Pam

  2. Alison says:

    Such bright, colorful pictures! I’ve never been to Mexico. So they really do have mariachi bands that play in the streets! For some reason I always thought that was just the Hollywood version of Mexico.

  3. Lisa at Greenbow says:

    Such a colorful place. I love Mexico in pictures. I have never been there except just across the borders from the US. Not near as pretty. I probably wouldn’t even go anymore. When I crossed for the day a couple of different times it was long ago and it was a different world then.

    • Pam/Digging says:

      I wouldn’t go to the border again right now either, Lisa. But flying into certain Mexican cities far from the border is a different matter. It’s a big country, and I’m sure there’s much more to see. I hope someday the current safety concerns will be a distant memory. —Pam

  4. Caren cross says:

    Yes, there are mariachis in San Miguel…every night . And the town is as beautiful as these photos. They aren’t photoshopped!!
    And for anyone interested in visiting this beautiful city, know that it is safe. Very safe.

    • Pam/Digging says:

      Ha — no, my pics are definitely not photoshopped. :-) I’m glad to hear that San Miguel de Allende is still a safe place to visit. It’s such a lovely city with so much history. —Pam

  5. Sandy Watson says:

    We drove down through Mexico, all the way to Guadalajara, over to Mazatlan, over the mtns and back to the states through Presidio. Fantastic trip and San Miguel was one of our many stops, along with Guanajuato. This was 1994 and while there were plenty of gringos, they seemed to stay more in their part of town. We stayed somewhere very close to you. I didn’t have a good camera back then so it’s wonderful to see these pictures and know exactly where you were. Loved the steep streets, houses stair-stepping up the hills and the occasional peeks into the gorgeous gardens behind the huge wooden doors! Thank you so much for posting this – brought back a wonderful flood of memories.

  6. susan harris says:

    Great photos, Pam – as always. Just a note or two about the safety in SMA, which I’m very familiar with because my sister lived there for 10 years until recently. It IS far from the drug-related crime, but it’s still not safe for women to live alone (there was a rash of rapes of older American women living alone). Also, resist the urge to buy a home there – many have lost their shirts and life savings. (No mortgages for Americans. No title searches. Etc.)

    • Pam/Digging says:

      Thanks for sharing, Susan. Actually, though, I think U.S. mortgage companies do now offer mortgage loans for people buying in Mexico. However, in my research for this post I learned that house values have plummeted in San Miguel in recent years, thanks to the double whammy of the Great Recession and tourist fears of drug crime. —Pam

      • susan harris says:

        Well, that’s an improvement. And yes, prices sure did plummet, and my sister was affected by that.

        • jim brown says:


          Just as many people lost their savings when the USA market collapsed. I have owned a home in San Miguel for over 20 years. Since few of the homes are mortgaged, but are rather mostly paid for in cash, if they loose their value, you can at least sell a home for the remaining value. Unlike in the USA, where the bank takes your home back. There are just as may good home ownership stories in San Miguel as there are bad ownership stories. What you do hear in San Miguel are Americans that do lots of volunteer work, enjoy a wonderful climate, a more relaxed pace, and a town where people still stop and talk with their neighbors.

  7. Martha Cray says:

    Pam, you brought back so many memories for me!! Were you awoken at 4 am by church bells and fireworks as we were on our first morning there??? The hostess for our BB (quite similar to yours) said it was someone’s birthday. Ah well!

    • Pam/Digging says:

      I don’t remember being woken early, but I’m a good sleeper. :-) However, I do remember seeing a festive wedding party in the main square one evening. It was a destination wedding for a U.S. couple, and everyone was having such a good time. What a romantic place to get married. —Pam

  8. Steven Michael says:

    Thank you for the great photos Pam!

    The deep purple trees in the ‘hilly street’ pic look like Jacarandas…were you able to confirm?

  9. Terry Smithson says:

    Susan, there are many single women that live alone here. The rash of rapes you mention was 2, the person caught, and convicted and that was years ago. As for real estate, we know far
    more that have made a fortune here vs losing a fortune. Perhaps your sister had a bad experience but single woman outnumber men here 5-1 so clearly many disagree with your points. Real estate prices are back on the rise and their fall was due to the US mortgage crisis and sinking economy more than SMA related.

    • susan harris says:

      There were 5 rapes of older English-speaking women before the rapist was caught. THe first rape was incidental to breaking in to steal from single women, and the serial rapist continued from there. He was only caught because the FBI finally got involved – because rapes aren’t customarily reported or pursued in the courts in Mexico. And it’s extremely hard to get a conviction.
      Here’s an interview with the third victim: http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=5259286
      The last victim was the writer Beverly DOnofrio, who wrote about it extensively. That brought lots of attention to the problem.

  10. Patty Soriano says:

    Pam, I work for a couple who go to internal Mexico regularly with their second business, Tierra del Sol, taking small tour groups to San Miguel as well as other beautiful historic towns. Many people ask about the safety and are told how safe it is, given the owners’ experiences. They have been going for many years with nary an episode. Of course, as you know, it can be just as dangerous on some streets in Austin or San Antonio as it is in parts of Mexico. We were on a cruise last year and even though I felt relatively safe, I held onto my purse just as tight in Cozumel and Belize as I do at my local mall. Your pictures are great and make me want to take a trip there myself. Thanks for sharing on this shivery day. p.s. our weatherman said that the polar vortex has always been there, but some reporter used the wording and it caught on quickly as a good phrase for this recent icy event across our country. (I guess we shouldn’t tell your readers that you and I will have mid-70’s this week, hmmm?) :-)

    • Pam/Digging says:

      I’m glad you enjoyed the virtual visit on a cold day, Patty, and hope you get to visit in person one day. I’m looking forward to those promised 70-degree temps! —Pam

  11. Kris P says:

    Your post certainly generated a degree of controversy! I haven’t visited Mexico for some time despite its proximity, partly due to the ongoing safety issues – the number of cruise ships leaving the LA harbor I can see from our backyard has also been dramatically reduced, which is attributed to the combination of safety concerns and lingering effects of the economic downturn. It’s too bad as towns like the one you depicted are certainly worthy of attention. Thanks for sharing your visit.

  12. peter schaar says:

    Splendid photos, Pam! They bring out the wonderful qualities of Mexican towns and make me wonder why, having seen these and beautiful and functional towns elsewhere, we continue to put up with ours.

  13. Jeanette says:

    Charming photos. You captured a great variety of city life scenery and activity. Thanks for the virtual tour. Remember the movie, Under the Tuscan Sun? There is something reasonable and alluring and says volumes about living in an area with such history, heritage, and culture.

  14. rebecca says:

    Just beautiful! I loved seeing this intriguing and colorful spot via your camera lens and well-traveled, knowledgeable observations!

  15. What a fantastic post. I loved your photos! They brought back fond memories of San Miguel. It’s been way too long since I was there. You really captured the spirit of this special place. And those photos of Guanajuato, wow!! I didn’t make it there on my 2005 trip, but I have friends who have been there several times and loved it.

  16. cheryl says:

    How fun to travel “with” you! You always tell us where the photos were taken, what they are, etc, and I thank you for that. Drives me nuts when folks post their lovely travel photos but do not explain who,what,where or why.

  17. Denise says:

    There have been some great expat gardens made in SMA that would be wonderful to tour. Loved seeing your visit, Pam!

  18. Oh, thanks Pam! I so needed that! I actually sighed when I saw the sun and colors in this post. It looks like a fabulous destination for a vacation–especially during/after a winter like the one we’re having now.

  19. […] hope you’re enjoying these virtual vacations too. Recently I posted about Beijing, China, and San Miguel de Allende, Mexico. Today I begin an in-depth series about a Tanzanian safari I took in June […]

  20. Jean says:

    Beautiful. I’ve always wanted to go there. Some day!

  21. Heather says:

    I’ve been to Mexico more times than I can count and I love it there. The people are so wonderful. I’ve never been to SMA but it’s going on the short list!

  22. Robin says:

    Oh, you’ve made me so sentimental! We visited San Miguel just last February, and I loved it so much that I actually wrote two blog posts about it.

    I’ve never been more enchanted on any trip I’ve taken! It’s a beautiful spot, and still as lovely as you remember. Thanks for the reminder.

    • Pam/Digging says:

      Thanks for sharing your posts, Robin! I enjoyed seeing the city again through your lens. Now why don’t we paint our homes and businesses such cheerful colors here in the States? —Pam

  23. Wendy says:

    Thank you Pam for your website. Have had it with Canadian winters, and have been longing to stay in SMA for at least 5 years. I appreciated to pictures, and all of the discussion. Am trying to do my research before I take a big leap. Thanks