From Guanajuato to San Miguel de Allende

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Words by Dalene Heck / Photography by Pete Heck

When we started faintly planning for our romp through Mexico, San Miguel de Allende, Guanajuato was near the top of our must-see list.

It had everything we were looking for: a small and colourful colonial city up in the Bajio mountains, a welcome refuge after the heat of a coastal stay, and San Miguel de Allende gets rave reviews from most everyone we know, including some Mexican friends.

La Parroquia San Miguel de Allende - Famous Shot

But then we heard several people also speak fondly of Guanajuato and we changed our minds. Only an hour away from San Miguel de Allende, the immediate draw to the state capital city was due to reports of fewer tourists and ex-pats and the ability to immerse ourselves in a truly Mexican city.

It was definitely all of that and more, and we were happy to spend a month there. But being so close to San Miguel de Allende, we decided to make a quick trip there to see if we had made the right choice.

First impressions had us second-guessing our decision.

San Miguel de Allende

San Miguel de Allende is a smaller and less congested city, and the variety of baroque Spanish architecture and colours across the historic center is truly captivating.

At the heart of the cobblestone-laden historic center stands the neo-Gothic Parroquia de San Miguel Arcángel, a striking church with pink towers that command attention above the main plaza of El Jardín.

Mirador - San Miguel de Allende

In a way, we were also happy to briefly be in a place with better tourist infrastructure – we didn’t need to rely on our terribly broken Spanish which made attractions more accessible.

I think on arrival I expected to not like it much at all, being fiercely protective of my love for Guanajuato. But there was little I could find to pick on – we enjoyed a variety of delicious food and found our endless bouts of wandering to be equally seductive as in Guanajuato.

Streets of San Miguel de Allende

San Miguel de Allende carried the same evening electricity where the locals poured into the streets to gather, perform, or just sit back and enjoy.

There were more gringos mixed into the crowd to be sure, but they never distracted from being an authentic experience.

Tips for Visiting San Miguel de Allende

Where San Miguel de Allende is Located

Nestled in Mexico’s central highlands, San Miguel de Allende is located in the state of Guanajuato, approximately 274 kilometres (170 miles) northwest of Mexico City.

Sitting at an elevation of about 1,900 meters (6,200 feet) above sea level, San Miguel de Allende is surrounded by rolling hills, scenic landscapes, and charming countryside.

San Miguel de Allende Sunset Silhouette

The city’s setting is characterized by cobblestone streets, historic buildings, and stunning vistas of the surrounding mountains.

The central location of San Miguel de Allende makes it a generally accessible destination, attracting visitors from Mexico City and aboard with its picturesque blend of colonial architecture, vibrant art galleries, cultural center, upscale restaurants, historical sites, and warm Mexican hospitality.

Practical Information

  • San Miguel de Allende has a temperate climate with warm days and cool nights.
  • Summers (June to September) can be the rainy season, while winters (November to February) are drier and cooler.
  • Pack layers and comfortable walking shoes.
  • The official currency is the Mexican Peso (MXN). Some businesses also accept $US, but you should carry some local currency for smaller transactions.
  • The historic center of San Miguel is best explored on foot due to its narrow streets.
  • Respect the local customs and traditions. When visiting churches or other religious sites, dress modestly.

How To Get There


If you’re arriving from within the country, you can opt for a bus, which offers comfortable and well-connected routes from major cities like Mexico City, Guadalajara, and Querétaro.

The bus journey not only provides scenic views of the countryside but also offers a more affordable and efficient travel option.

Quiet Corners of San Miguel de Allende


If you prefer air travel, the nearest major airport is Del Bajío International Airport (BJX), located in León, Guanajuato.

From the airport, you can arrange ground transportation to San Miguel de Allende, which is approximately a 1.5 to 2-hour drive away.

There are also shuttle services that offer direct transfers between the airport and San Miguel de Allende.


For those seeking a more personalized journey, driving to San Miguel de Allende is also an option.

The city is accessible via well-maintained highways, and the drive provides the opportunity to explore the beautiful hilly terrain at your own pace. Don’t have your own wheels? Renting a car in Mexico is easy!

Yellow VW Beetle San MIguel de Allende

Things To Do in San Miguel de Allende

Visit Parroquia de San Miguel Arcángel

Marvel at the iconic bright pink neo-Gothic church that dominates the main plaza, El Jardin.

La Parroquia San Miguel de Allende - Tilted

The intricate façade and soaring towers make this architectural work of art a must-see.

El Jardín Allende

Spend time in El Jardin, where you can relax on wrought iron benches and enjoy the lively atmosphere surrounded by local shops, coffee shops, and restaurants.

La Parroquia San Miguel de Allende - Parque Centrale

A lovely spot for a break during your tour of San Miguel de Allende.

Rest in the shade of the thick greenery, listen to the sounds of church bells and live music performances, after taking in all of the nearby street art, art exhibits, and cultural activities of the city center.

La Parroquia San Miguel de Allende - Dusk

Wine Tasting

Enjoy wine tasting at a local vineyard and winery in the surrounding countryside, and experience the quickly growing wine culture of the region.

Didn’t expect to go wine tasting in the mountains of central Mexico? You’ll be happily surprised.

Cooking Classes

Learn about traditional Mexican cuisine and regional delicacies by participating in a cooking class.

san miguel de allende cooking class

Cooking classes often include a visit to local market to source some of the fresh ingredients needed, so you’ll get a little bonus two-for-one market tour.

Hot Springs

Relax in the nearby hot springs, such as La Gruta or Escondido Place, where you can soak in mineral-rich waters surrounded by lush landscapes.

This is a great option for nature lovers looking for something a little different.

Sanctuary of Atotonilco

Take a short trip to this UNESCO World Heritage site, an intricately decorated church with stunning frescoes, vaulted ceilings, and religious artwork.

Botanical Garden El Charco del Ingenio

Discover this ecological reserve featuring fascinating cacti, lengthy walking trails, and stunning views of the city.

It’s a serene escape for nature enthusiasts.

La Parroquia San Miguel de Allende - Flowers

Mercado de Artesanías (Artisan Market)

Explore the local artisan market, where you can find a variety of handmade goods, textiles, jewelry, ceramics, and more, all showcasing the region’s craftsmanship.

You’re likely to get some better deals if you can speak Spanish, but it’s not entirely necessary.

Mercado Ignacio Ramirez

This Market is truly a lively hub of San Miguel de Allende that offers fresh produce, artisan crafts, international cuisine, and health-conscious options.

It’s a place to shop, dine, and experience local culture while supporting the community and enjoying a diverse array of flavours and products.

Plaza de la Soledad

A must see while exploring the historic district and city center of San Miguel de Allende, and a great place to sit a while and people watch.

Plaza Centrale - San Miguel de Allende

Where To Stay

There are a lot of options in San Miguel de Allende from luxury hotels to grungy hostels and we settled in a private room in La Catrina Hostel, on the edge of the historic center.

It was spotless, well located, and the staff were very pleasant and helpful. The bed wasn’t the most comfortable, plus the noise carried easily down our hallway, but overall it was a decent stay.

Visiting San Miguel de Allende, Guanajuato was, on a whole, thoroughly pleasurable. But as we boarded the bus to head back to Guanajuato and reflected on our stay, we realized that we were happy to be returning.

La Parroquia San Miguel de Allende - Sunset

In a word, San Miguel de Allende was just too polished, a little too built for the tourist. Nice for a visit, but for a longer stay, we felt more at home in Guanajuato.

We had made the right choice for us to live in Guanajuato, but definitely recommend visiting San Miguel de Allende.

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  1. Hmmm, decisions! We will be there later this year and we’re also trying to decide where to stay for a month. We’ve heard Guanajuato is lovely too, so I think we might pick that spot like you have 🙂

    1. If you’re looking for a quaint place in San Miguel for a month, try Tres Casitas. Four little apartments in the center of town, designed by artist Nanci Closson. Best of all, the price is right!

    2. How’s your Spanish? One thing to consider is that there is very little English in Guanajuato, making things a little more difficult.

      1. We’re by no means fluent at the moment – but we have six weeks of intensive classes before we get to Mexico so hopefully we’ll get by 🙂

      2. Hello, I’m planning to come to GTO and SMA this summer to visit a friend, last year he had a rental car so we drove from gto to sma, this year he will not. Flying into Leon/gto is there a service or transport to get to sma? And then from sma to gto?

        1. Hi Mark – I’ve never flown into the airport there (always came via Mexico City), but I am sure there must be transport. And there are plenty of buses that also run in between GTO and SMA daily (it’s only an hour drive).

  2. We felt the same as you about Guanajuato and SMA. It was a nice place to visit (as was Leon), but we’re definitely glad we stayed in Guanajuato.

    Now if only we could export the fantastic Mexican food around the world with no loss in quality. 🙁

  3. We’re on the other side of the fence. We have stayed in both San Miguel and Guanajuato (SMA for a week on two separate occasions, and Guanajuato for two nights at the end of our first week in SMA). We instantly loved SMA from the minute I started researching it, and we continue to love everything about it, even after continued research and two stays – so much so that we have decided to retire there this year. It is a very beautiful, welcoming small city and very easy to navigate. There is a very comfortable feeling one gets in SMA. It is easy to picture making a new life there even though we don’t speak Spanish yet.

    We visited Guanajuato for two days and found it a beautiful, fascinating city. We bumped into a few expats and spent some time with them and got the impression that they were there instead of SMA because they preferred not to have the company of other expats – not a particularly welcoming feeling. It is also a larger, busier city and didn’t have the intimate feeling that we found in SMA.

    Just my two pesos!

  4. The best option is to stay in both places! (Which we did) We found Guanajuato to be more Mexican, perhaps more authentic, whereas San Miguel de Allende is more of a resort town, with more expats. But really, both are lovely…

  5. I’ve found something similar—the picture-perfect places are great for, well, pictures, but they rarely sink their claws into me and I generally find myself a bit bored by them, like there’s nothing much beneath the surface. They are perfect for day trips or a long weekend, though!

  6. Not surprised (you and Pedro favor Guanajuato over SMdA) – no doubt much like my less than enchanted feeling about that likewise “expat darling” in Asia: Chiang Mai. imho, a nice enough place to visit, but…

    I too thought of heading to the mountains of MX upon my exodus from 3 years in Asia, but am convinced that SMdA is (sadly) a bit too “expatty” for my cup of tea. Rather, one of the smaller locales nearby (like Guanajuato) would likely suit me far better.

    But yes, that “tourist infrastructure” can be momentarily seductive (esp. if you’re an expat that’s been off the grid for a goodly while), but…

    For me, personally it gets old (actually, a good bit annoying) swiftly, and such is NOT the reason I choose to live in foreign lands.

    I actually was 85% sure I’d not like Cuenca, when I landed here in Ecuador 3 months ago. As it too, has the infamous “darling” reputation, I figured I’d have to head to smaller towns like Loja or Cotacatchi to find the cultural authenticity that I seek. But (relative to Chiang Mai, and perhaps SMdA) the ratio of expats/tourists to locals here is (happily) significantly lower, with just the right amount of Western infrastructure, and my Spanish is expanding by leaps and bounds.

    In short, I do believe I’ve found my new “home”, and am presently applying for permanent residency here in Ecuador!

    1. Interesting! We’ve been to Cuenca, over four years ago now, would love to return and see how much it has changed.

      And not surprised that Ecuador has got it’s grips on you! We spent four months there and adored it.

  7. Gorgeous photos! Unfortunately our travels through Mexico have not yet led us to this area but SMA and Guanajuato are definitely on our list. We do however understand what your saying as we have recently found a similar situation. We are currently house sitting in Jocotepec, a small traditional Mexican town on Lake Chapala with absolutely no tourists and only a handful of ex-pats. On the other hand Ajijic which is only 30 min down the lake has a huge community of ex-pats and therefore a bigger selection of restaurants and activities etc. Ajijic is definitely prettier and we like it very much but Jocotepec has its own charm as it is truly Mexican and therefore has more character and authenticity. Luckily for us it’s a cheap and short bus ride between the two!

    1. Sounds really lovely! That is one thing about being in Mexico – you are never too far from an expat town anyways, right? Can always go in to get a fix on good pizza. 🙂

  8. I like both equally, but seeing as friends and I picked up from D.F. to SMA for the weekend, I’m glad we got to see SMA more slowly, to drink in the feel of the town, to see both expats and residents in the city. I did not expect to see a lot of Canadians here, but if I had read about SMA before-hand, I’d have known. In a way, it’s a good thing I *didn’t* and went into the weekend with little prior knowledge, relying only on my friends’ enthusiasm. They were right. Thanks for writing about SMA!

  9. We’re doing the opposite, we’re living in San Miguel for 3 months, housesitting. We’ve only been here week but I’m really enjoying it. I’m really looking forward to visiting Guanajuato. Who knows we may end up staying there for a while after this.

  10. I have yet to explorer either but from your pictures San Miguel looks super charming! Love the cobble stone streets.


  11. Wow, amazing architecture! I feel like I could wander for hours around that town taking hundreds of photos! The cobble stone streets…my favorite.

  12. We chose San Miguel de Allende seven years ago for its combination of climate, culture and the basic warmth of its people. I became interested in the process of becoming an expat and wrote a book based on conversations with 32 Americans and Canadians who had also made the move. It’s mainly a way of getting inside their heads. Whether you’re thinking of settling on the beach, or in one of the colonial cities of the interior, you need to listen to this conversation. It’s called San Miguel de Allende: A Place in the Heart, and there is no other book like it. Here’s a link to an excerpt on my website:

  13. I just wrote a long comment and then when I learned that I had to enter http//: in front of my email, my entry went away.

    Too tired to reconstruct let me just say that it is absolutely appaling to read the moronic comments of those arrogant, self-centered, ignorant, self-righteous unfellow Americans who slime and slime around Mexico– Como no Otro–(of course without a word of Spanish they won’t even understand that slogan)–looking for that “all-Mexican community when it is right here in the Western, if not international Shangri-La of artsy, craftsy, bookish, musical, lecture, cinema, hot mineral spring, eternal spring, historic colonial San Miguel.

    But thank God, except for a very few occasions that prove the proverbial rule, I’ve never seen anyone screaming at a merchandise vendor in the huge market or in the stores or on the streets like the ones the self-styled author has described elsewhere in this SMA website in order to sell more of his egregiously incorrect and immoral books.

    No, in my 20 years here, even without my excellent Spanish, I interact daily with everyone from the shoeshine men in the Jardin to the tradespeople and the professionals; and other than from the aches and pains of my ever advancing old bones (83) I’ve not only never had a bad day for any reason but those two decades have been and are the greatest treasure of my life. And I’ve visited just about every other of the 32 states and the awful D.F.

    Thus w3hat may be the only possible good thing to be associated witrh those nasty naysayers who find SMA “too touristy” is that hopefully they have, or are going to decide to deliver their disgusting selves to Guanajuato, Ajijic or elsewhere to rail against the Mexicans unfortunate enough to cross their pitiful paths.

    For me, thank God that none of them are my neighbors. Viva San Miguel!

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