Due to its colossal population of American and Canadian expats (around 10%!), San Miguel de Allende is derided as a destination by travellers looking for a more ‘authentic’ Mexican experience, but it is a beautiful town and it is worth staying a while. These are our tips to enjoying San Miguel de Allende.
Tips To Enjoying San Miguel de Allende
Our first tip to enjoying San Miguel de Allende is to get active. Plenty of expats come here to study art or learn Spanish. The Instituto Allende offers all kinds of classes in everything from painting to traditional textile making. We got a taste of silver making with Jose Antonio Lopez.
Shop for local souvenirs
San Miguel is famed for its fabulous shopping and you’ll find beautiful handicrafts from all over Mexico, as well as unique products by local designers at Ave Maria.
It’s undeniable that there are a lot of expats around and you’ll hear English nearly as much as Spanish, but it’s not hard to meet Mexicans if you try. Want some tips? Start with our new friend Giovanna.
Master the art of Mexican cooking
San Miguel doesn’t have a great dining scene – a lot of restaurants serve up ‘international’ cuisine and Tex-Mex to appeal to expat palates. Why not enrol in a traditional Mexican cooking course (we tried Marilau’s), rent a place with a great kitchen, and cook to your stomach’s content?
Stroll the streets
San Miguel oozes plenty of colonial charm from its cobblestone streets and splendid churches and is a delight to stroll. Don’t believe us? See this post and check out this video. Take a walk in the late afternoon to see the colours are their most stunning.
Hang out in El Jardin
There is always something going on in the pretty garden and adjacent main square: from folkloric performances and wedding parties to mariachis serenading couples in love. Simply sit back and soak it all up for a while.
Do taco-stand hops
Taste an array of terrific tacos and tostadas at the many taco stands that dot San Miguel’s streets. Most set up just before sunset and some don’t close until well after midnight. Look for the ones where loads of locals are eating or head straight to our favourite.
Sip tequila to the sound of rancheros
Listen to singer Benjamin Lara sing melancholy songs at his atmospheric bar until the wee hours.
Join a gang
Perhaps you’re here because you want to hang out with expats, you want to buy a house in San Miguel de Allende and retire, or maybe, like Richard Lander, you’re an anthropologist at heart – either way, get a guide to the local Gangs of San Miguel de Allende here. Enjoying San Miguel de Allende is not that difficult!
cindy espinoza says
I LOVE San Miguel de Allende. I was a bit skeptical visiting because I knew there were a lot of expats there, but I still had the feeling of authentic mexico. you are right about the restaurants serving more international food, but there are still great little places serving authentic food…especially in the market. I have some great pcitures and tips on my blog too if you want to check it out. http://cindyjespinoza.blogspot.com/2009/09/viva-mexico-4-san-miguel-de-allende.html
Lara Dunston says
Totally agree with you about authenticity – it’s still very local. We had some great local experiences, like stumbling across a wedding party that took over the central plaza and danced their way through the streets one night http://grantourismotravels.com/2010/09/23/a-wedding-party-san-miguel/ and the folkloric shows here http://grantourismotravels.com/2010/09/17/staged-tourism-or-a-celebration-of-culture/ where the audience was almost entirely locals (watching their kids, family, friends perform perhaps) and discovering these bars/music venues that were mostly full of locals and some more intrepid tourists/expats http://grantourismotravels.com/2010/09/22/the-sounds-of-san-miguel-de-allende/
Agree that there *are* still great little spots, they’re just harder to find than most Mexican towns. We’ll definitely be checking out your blog – thanks for the link :) And thanks for calling in! So sorry I missed this comment of yours when you posted it.
Hello! Just wondering if you would recommend the course with Antonio over the Instituto Allende? Both have offered to take me through a seven-to-ten- day crash course. I’m so short on time, but I’m pretty serious about getting myself started on the silver smithing trail! Thanks for your time :)
Lara Dunston says
Hi Sam – we don’t have any experience of the Instituto Allende course, so it’s difficult for us to make a comparison. Both got great reviews from what we heard. We thoroughly enjoyed meeting Antonio, he really knows his stuff, and people seem to love his workshops as they’re more flexible, relaxed, and allow people to go at their own pace. If you find you don’t enjoy it as much as you thought you might, then it’s not hard to let Antonio know and he completely understands. Let us know what you end up doing and how you enjoy it. Thanks for dropping by!
David MacLean says
If one only sticks to the Centro area of town, it can seem that the town is overrun with “expats.” But, if one wanders a bit outside the main parameters, it doesn’t take long to feel like you’re in the “real” Mexico. I never see many expats in the San Juan de Dios Market, which is a great place to find souvenirs at great prices (a fraction of what you’d spend in the touristy shops). One of my favorite places to have breakfast was little hole in the wall I found at the edge of town, and I could have an egg sandwich, cafe latte and fresh squeezed orange juice for a couple of dollars. I’d sit and watch all the local go about their business, I loved it! One just needs to be willing to look beyond the touristy parts, and you find great stuff. But, I love the fact also that there are expats here, as, I have a strong support system, and it’s easy to survive as an English speaker (while you’re trying to learn Spanish!).
Lara Dunston says
So true, David – and that’s why we focus on local travel and encourage people to get off the beaten track and get lost in the backstreets and connect with locals. And also do things that expats and other tourists don’t really do, like go to Benjamin Lara’s bar – one of my favourite things to do there: http://grantourismotravels.com/2010/09/22/the-sounds-of-san-miguel-de-allende/
Yes, it’s definitely great for expats having other expats! Although having been expats ourselves we actually prefer to mix with locals than other expats in some places – it depends on the type of expat, but some simply create a little bubble that is pretty much reflects life back home, while others are much more adventurous, also making local friends. For tourists, however, expats can be a great source of information with tips for interesting things to do that you don’t find in the guidebooks.
Thanks for dropping by! We have a lot more posts on San Miguel de Allende so feel free to share tips on those with our readers.