Concerned about safety when traveling to Mexico? Don’t worry! Mexico still offers many great stimulating, affordable and safe travel opportunities.
High on my list is San Miguel de Allende — one of Mexico’s best kept secrets.
Culture abounds in San Miguel de Allende, often referred to simply as San Miguel, or even abbreviated as “SMA.” The city has been designated a UNESCO World Heritage Cultural Site.
San Miguel is isolated in the highlands of Central Mexico. Perhaps that’s part of its attraction and mystique. Its pleasant year-round climate is an added bonus.
From Southern California, fly into Leon Airport in the state of Guanajuato and take a reasonably-priced 90-minute shuttle ride into town.
With plenty of activities and amenities to entice them, the town — with a population of about 80,000 — has attracted as many as 12,000 American and Canadian expatriates to retire there. That’s a significant 15% of the population.
The lifestyle is casual, and somewhat Bohemian, filled with numerous educational opportunities. Art, music, cooking and language schools are everywhere.
The famous Mexican artist Diego Rivera was born in nearby Guanajuato and did much of his work in San Miguel.
My wife and I rented an apartment in San Miguel for two weeks. I took Spanish classes at a language school and she took classes at a cooking school — both schools near our “hacienda.” The morning classes left plenty of time to explore.
Downtown we visited museums, art shows and a huge library that boasts a large collection of English language books, all nestled among buildings constructed in the Mexican Baroque style of architecture.
The crown jewel is the Parroquia de San Miguel Arcangel — the Parish Church — built in a Gothic Baroque style overlooking the Central Plaza where everything happens — especially in the evenings and on weekends.
We saw parades, wedding processions, costumed mimes and acrobats, mariachis, dancers, school ceremonies, street vendors, military exhibitions and more. All taking place right in front of the Parroquia!
At other times we only saw a few locals strolling to the bus stop around the corner.
Check out the live, 24-hour webcam that focuses on the Central Plaza at http://www.sanmiguelrealestate.com/san-miguel-de-allende/live-webcam.
You can’t see them, but to the left of the webcam scene is the Parroquia and to the right is the Central Plaza with a huge gazebo stage in the center. You will have to go there to see the rest of the scene.
Renting a car might sound like a good idea for your visit — but it’s not. I was warned before going that, “A car will only get in the way and probably never be used.” I took the advice and it was true.
Even though there are no traffic lights in San Miguel, the streets are narrow and traffic moves slowly. Besides, parking is a real problem.
Colorful cobblestoned streets beg you to walk on them instead of the narrow sidewalks. San Miguel is a walking city. A typical street scene looks like a picture ripped from the pages of a fairy tale.
Safety warning. Cobblestones are difficult to walk on, a lesson many visitors learn the hard way. Every day you will see some poor soul walking around with a cast — on an arm, wrist, ankle or leg.
A convenient alternative is the local bus. Bus fare is only five pesos, currently that’s about 30 cents. Most passengers are local residents who don’t mind sharing a seat, and of course, you can always take a taxi.
My final appraisal is this — “I hope to return to San Miguel de Allende!”