2017 SMA Trip

Aug 26th, 2017, 11:05 AM
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Join Date: Jun 2014
Posts: 416
2017 SMA Trip

A recap on my February trip to San Miguel de Allende. I went with my mom and we are very close, but can suffer some turbulence sometimes so I was a little anxious about spending a solid week together out of the country. We got on great though and I credit that to two things: having our own separate hotel rooms and the fact that our hotel didn’t have a bar, haha.

San Miguel is really lovely, very pretty. The locals are sweet. A lot of boomer expats and snowbirds from the US and Canada. The short stay tourists that I observed tended to be 50+ too. On the weekend however, young Mexicans from Mexico City and Guadalajara poured into town to party and the city took on a very different vibe which was fun to see. We found that little English is spoken, even by hotel and travel agency staff. This came as a surprise to me but we managed just fine between our limited Spanish and interwebs/apps.

The weather was great, the light is beautiful there. The town square is referred to as the Jardin and it is boxed in by cafes and small shops under porticos. Facing the Jardin to the south is the tall, pink church called Parroquia de San Miguel Arcangel. Several blocks radiate out from there in all directions full of shopping, art galleries, restaurants, churches, a couple museums and art schools, a library, and a theater or two. It’s a really chill place, not a lot of busy sight seeing but enough to keep us occupied for the week. Many long, leisurely coffee hours were spent in the library courtyard and on the town square.

Like most any new place I visit, I try to do a walking tour early in the trip to get my bearings and introductions. There is a good historical walking tour that departs from the Jardin at 9:45am. The ticket fee is reasonable and the revenue they bring in is put to good use through Patronato Pro Ninos, which is a non profit organization that provides medical and dental services to needy children in the community and outlying areas. If I remember correctly the tour guides work purely as volunteers so the ticket fee and tips both go towards this organization and the children they serve. https://historicalwalkingtour.org/

The trip highlights for me:

- Bellas Artes art school and it’s Siqueiros mural.

- The Ignacio Allende Museum. I love me some independence heroes.

- The Mask Museum. A collection of ceremonial masks worn by various indigenous communities across Mexico. This museum is a labor of love by a very bright guy named Bill LeVasseur. He acts at the owner, curator and docent and he brings this museum to life on his tour. He also owns and runs the gorgeous inn attached the museum, Casa de la Cuesta. We did not stay there but I have no doubt that Bill and his wife would be great hosts.

- Fabrica la Aurora-an old textile mill turned art and design complex-this was super cool. The art, decor and accessories were great but I liked seeing the history of the mill documented on the hallway walls the most.|

- El Charco del Ingenio-the botanical garden that was most magical. There are a couple observatories and paths filled with all kinds of cacti and other native flora. There was also an area of wide open space that looked out over a gorge and further to the west the whole city was in view below. There were big celestial ceremonial structures plotted here and there and all I could hear was the wind and birds. It was awesome. The botanical garden is high up in the hills and you drive through a higher end residential section to get to it and these houses, landscaping, gardens, etc. are gorgeous so that was cool to see too. (There is a house and garden tour every Sunday that departs from the library but we did not make it, regrettably).

- Day trip to Guanajuato-the capital city of the state by the same name. A university town and more of a contemporary living-working city vs predominately a tourist town. Went to the Diego Rivera museum there but a lot of the works it normally houses were out on loan but still worth a short visit. Also really enjoyed the Don Quixote museum even though I’ve never read the book.

Sight seeing aside, the absolute best experiences we had were watching the locals just celebrate life. In the course of our stay we saw a political rally followed by a folk festival, a funeral, a wedding, and a marriage proposal. All of which was accompanied by spirited fanfare. Our last night of the trip fell on Valentine’s day and boy did the place come alive with couples of all ages celebrating arm in arm, strolling the town carrying teddy bears and flowers. So sweet. We were sitting on the town square having our last nightcap watching it all when a mariachi band started into song on our sidewalk, and a minute later there was a proposal at the table right next to us. The girl started crying and then I started crying and then the small crowd around all applauded and cheered. The girl and I made eye contact and both smiled ear to ear at each other and it was a connection that I don’t want to ever forget. This was the best last day of vacation nightcap ever.

If I had a warning on San Miguel it’s that the the pedestrian center is limited to just the main square and there are a lot of whizzing cars on all the other streets which makes walking the very narrow sidewalks a little stressful but drivers are extremely courteous. The fumes form the cars can be a bit much sometimes. Navigating the steep, narrow sidewalks with lots of breaks in them would be a challenge for anyone with mobility issues.

I found SMA to be budget friendly and good for a week stay. My mom moves at a slower pace than me and I’d have covered the same ground quicker alone but there are a few day trips to nearby cities (part of the independence route called La Ruta de la Libertad, I believe) and some wineries and horseback riding nearby to fill in the gaps.

We stayed at Casa Luna Boutique Hoel which was well located, clean and nicely furnished. Our rooms were spacious and comfy, so were the bathrooms. It does not have a proper restaurant or lounge though if that is of importance. The hot breakfast was pretty weak but the fruit and yogurt sufficed for us anyway. Staff was very sweet.
limmy is offline  
Aug 26th, 2017, 11:06 AM
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Whoops, I accidentally posted this without tagging it Mexico or marking it as a report. Is there a way to add now?
limmy is offline  
Aug 27th, 2017, 01:36 PM
Join Date: Jun 2010
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Nice report, limmy. As a former SMA resident, I found it very accurate. Traffic is indeed an issue, and it will only get worse, I'm afraid, with all the construction of weekend homes for Mexicans. The largest parking lot in town has been sold to be converted into a hotel.
You mentioned possible day trips to nearby cities; here's a link to my report on Pozos:
Of course, Queretaro is a fine option as well. Dolores Hidalgo of course is another, but it was never one of my favorites.
Interesting how you found Guanajuato to be not-so-touristy. Actually, studies commissioned by SECTUR over the last few years show Guanajuato having nearly twice the number of tourists as San Miguel. But that should not deter anyone from visiting, as it is a must-see.
Well done.
baldone is online now  
Aug 27th, 2017, 05:11 PM
Join Date: Jul 2013
Posts: 497
Thank you kindly, as we are planning to visit for the first time this coming winter... Your comments do confirm that we are on the right track...
Rohelio is offline  
Oct 10th, 2017, 07:12 PM
Join Date: Oct 2017
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Limmy, very nice trip report. We will be visiting San Miguel for Christmas and I plan to follow your suggestions. Thank you for taking the time to share your experiences and advice.
wondermore is online now  
Oct 11th, 2017, 12:04 PM
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Thanks everyone, for reading and the kind replies.

Baldone, indeed on the traffic. It's not hard to see it becoming a real issue as the cities grows and attracts more people, (between weekenders and residents) if it's not thoughtfully managed somehow. It wasn't a bother to me but my mom was a bit unnerved by it at first, though she got used to it pretty quickly. The weekend was much worse than the week days.

I would't say that I found Guanajuato to have less tourists in it than SMA. It was more that Guanajuato felt like a dynamic living/working city with universities and commerce well outside of the tourist realm. SMA felt like more of a touristic town comparatively.

Rohelio and wondermore, I hope you both have wonderful trips and enjoy the area as much as we did. It cast a spell on me for sure, I'm currently planning a trip back to Mexico myself. I have a feeling it's going to be an itch I can't quite scratch for a long while.
limmy is offline  
Oct 12th, 2017, 07:09 AM
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What a nice report! I think SMA gets a bad rap from some foreigners who think of it as entirely devoted to tourists and the hotels and businesses that cater to them. Ii thought this way, too, beforeo I made my most recent visit to the town.

Yes, there are a lot of tourists, domestic and international. But I found the tourist aspect to be a small part of the place. Get out of the immediate Centro and in 5 minutes you are in any typical Mexican small city, if there is such a thing. We ate in at least two restaurants where we seemed to be the only foreigners in the place.

If you (for next time) or anyone else is interested, I can highly recommend Carnitas Bautista which, like many eating spots catering to a local crowd, is housed in the garage of a private home, is very casual, and has outstanding carnitas and other local dishes. It's in a residential neighborhood just off the main route to Celaya. No website.

ekscrunchy is online now  
Oct 12th, 2017, 05:07 PM
Join Date: Jun 2010
Posts: 867
I can vouch for Bautista's. On Sundays they also set up a big green tent just up from 5 de mayo on Salida a Celaya.
Another worthy food blog in addition to cupcakes is this one:
baldone is online now  
Oct 13th, 2017, 04:56 PM
Join Date: Oct 2017
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Ekscrunchy and baldone thank you for the food blog links. I’m very excited to visit San Miguel. I have visited numerous tourist destinations in Mexico and would say the least tourist filled cities/towns I’ve been to are Guadalajara and Tlaquepaque and both were amazing. I’m expecting to really like San Miguel as well.
wondermore is online now  
Oct 13th, 2017, 05:46 PM
Join Date: Jun 2010
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San Miguel has 2 different faces. On the weekends, the city fills (over-fills?) with people from Mexico City. Midweek, there are certainly tourists, but in the Jardin it's the local's family time at night and far quieter. We now live in Queretaro after 7 years in San Miguel and had to spend a weekend there during the Arcángel de San Miguel's festival. It was chaos in Centro.
baldone is online now  
Oct 14th, 2017, 11:39 AM
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Posts: 416
Great info on food, thank you for sharing. I agree, while yes, there are tourists (or expats), SMA did not feel inauthentic or contrived. Didn't feel overrun or overwhelmed by tourists either. And we didn't see any "bad" tourists or obsessive selfie stick types.

We saw one American woman be what we considered to be rude to wait staff at a restaurant, she asked every single employee there if they liked Trump, which was so bizarre. They were very gracious in their response and used good humor to keep it light. But if they responded with anything less than excited positivity she then questioned them on why they didn't like him and told them why she did like him, she was really trying to prod and bait them. It was very strange (and just plain mean). But that was the one single isolated thing.
limmy is offline  
Oct 15th, 2017, 02:20 PM
Join Date: Jan 2003
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Hi Limmy

I enjoyed reading your perceptions of San Miguel Allende, a city I visited for the first time about 2 1/2 years ago. I too loved the Ignacio Allende Museum and found the la Parroquia absolutely stunning. Like you, I was very much drawn to the love of life on the streets. I agree with ekscrunchy that San Miguel gets a bit of a bad rap as being overrun with expats, but I found its overrun-ness (if that's a word) a fraction of the scale of what one sees in Antigua, Guatemala. While you hear more English in San Miguel than in Queretaro, San Miguel still feels very much like Mexico. I found there's a uniquely local charm in San Miguel which shines through (for that matter even relatively more overrun Antigua is not as overrun as some places in Europe and has a unique energy I found delightful).

Thanks for a great report! Daniel
Daniel_Williams is online now  
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