Since we’ve spent a good amount of time in San Miguel so far, I’ve heard and read some rather unflattering things about this lovely colonial town. While this isn’t a place I would want to spend a year, it definitely has its positive sides and is a great place to visit. It really just depends on what you’re looking for.
“Too Many Expats”
We arrived before the start of the high season (January through March, but things start picking up around mid December), and we hardly ever saw more than 1-2 gringos a day. Unless you stopped at Starbucks. We have seen way more Mexican tourists.
Even during the height of the high season, we have only seen a high number of gringos in specific areas. For instance, there is a large concentration of foreign visitors in the San Antonio neighborhood. Consequently, most of the more chi-chi places are located in that area. That is also where the organic tianguis is located.
We live in the very popular area known as centro; however, almost everyone in our immediate neighborhood is Mexican.
I think the perception that there are so many foreigners here is mostly because they really stick out. Just like the Mexico City denizens who are here for a weekend or holiday.
While we’re talking about expats, I’d also like to give the local expat community some props. Many of them are very community focused, and I have seen many of them remind whining expats that they are guests here and that respecting the local culture is important.
Another thing that has surprised me is how many of them speak or attempt to speak Spanish. I’ve been around other expat communities where that was a rarity. Even when passing by some on the street, they’ll often greet me in Spanish.
For the most part, I’d say these are people who have chosen to live here because of all that San Miguel offers and aren’t necessarily trying to re-create a different version of North America.
Sure, the town has altered a bit in response to the foreign population (like the newly opened pretentious Mercado Central, a trendy food court you’d expect to see in the US), but for the most part the local culture remains nicely intact.
It isn’t “real Mexico”
Perhaps they have San Miguel confused with Cancun. I’ve been all over Mexico, and I have to say this town is definitely a great representation of “authentic” Mexico.
Perhaps people are expecting Mexico to be like the old Western shows where you see some dilapidated adobe buildings, lots of cacti, and shabbily dressed men taking a nap while leaning against a building, their ginormous sombrero providing shade for them and their mangy canine companion. Cue the donkey braying.
San Miguel is one of Mexico’s colonial towns and thus it provides a very different backdrop from what many people experience of Mexico. Because of its well-deserved attraction, you see various levels of Mexican life here.
And, yes, you will occasionally see a guy walking a donkey or two down the street or parked outside a building.
Most of the people who I have heard express this were here during the high season. Rent and lodging are more pricy here than in other areas of Mexico, especially if you’re here during the high season. But it’s still extremely reasonable.
We have a 2-bedroom fully furnished apartment with an equipped kitchen. Before the peso dropped in value, we were paying about $530 USD/month (now it’s about $487). However, that also includes utilities (except electricity, which costs us about $4/month), including WiFi, and also includes weekly clean linens and towels. We can walk from our place to the center of town in about 6 minutes.
If we had signed a contract for a longer period, the rent would’ve been even less.
Groceries and restaurants for the most part are very cheap. Two people can enjoy a great meal for about $6-7 USD total easily. We eat rather well and spend about $120 per week on food for 2 people (1 of whom is a teen), which is a mix of cooking at home and eating out.
An eating out splurge usually comes to $10 or less per person at the more moderately priced places.
A taxi around town will generally cost about $2. The buses cost around 25 cents. We pretty much walk everywhere, though. Most places are within 10 minutes of our apartment. The farthest location we’ve visited was a 30-minute walk.
San Miguel is a gorgeous town with amazing light (for you artists and photographers) and a very laidback and welcoming vibe. There is always something going on, so you’ll find plenty of cultural experiences.
My experience of the town has been very different from most of the critiques I’ve seen.
Would I recommend a visit and/or a long-term stay? Absolutely! If you’re coming for a short stay, 2-3 days is pretty reasonable. If you’re looking for a place to just settle for a bit, get work done, to focus on a project, etc., this is a great choice. I think 6 months would be my maximum, but I can understand why others come and never leave.
Have you been to San Miguel de Allende? What did you think about it?