In Defense of San Miguel de Allende

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.

san miguel de allende

“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.

san miguel de allende

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.

san miguel de allende

“It’s expensive!”

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?

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8 Comments

  1. Ugh, I totally hate when people claim some place isn’t “real Mexico”. To me, that suggests they haven’t done very much traveling throughout the country because the one thing I have learned during our time in the country is just how diverse it really is. Places like Oaxaca and Morelia and La Peñita are all incredibly different from one another, yet I think you’d be hard pressed to call any of them inauthentic. People just get stupid ideas in their heads about what Mexico is “supposed to” be like and anywhere that doesn’t conform to that, then they claim it is inauthentic.

    Much of what you write about SMA I could write about Playa del Carmen, to be honest. Most people we know either pan it as being too touristy or skip it altogether without ever giving it a shot. It’s true that if you only hang out on 5th Ave, then you will find the town touristy, but you actually don’t have to go very far to find yourself in what I would consider a pretty typical Mexican beach town… one that is pretty low-key and actually quite scruffy around the edges. Same goes for the food—if you eat at the tourist restaurants, it will be expensive, but Tony & I know the places where you can eat for less than $3US per person… and the food is excellent! Rent is slightly more expensive here than other places in Mexico (though maybe not as compared to the Pacific coast…), but if you hunt around and are willing to stay for a month or more, there are definitely deals to be had! Our rent is actually lower than yours (and includes all utilities + internet), but we are only in a 1 bedroom unit.

    Anyway, I get that not every place is going to work for every person. And certainly, the things you look for when seeking out a base is different than what you want when traveling. But most times, I think people pan places after spending just a day or two there and without really making an effort to get to know the place. Hopefully your post clears some things up for people who would skip SMA without giving it a chance!

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    • You can easily find much cheaper 1-bedroom places here. And even 2-bedroom places, but we came during the early part of high season which made it a bit more of a challenge.

      It is always interesting to me when people label a place “too touristy” mostly because of the presence of foreigners. If that’s true, then cities like London, Paris, Prague, etc., aren’t worth a visit. Come on! lol

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  2. Really love this blog. Talon, you have a wonderful way with words, and after finishing each of your posts, with the wonderful photos, I really feel I am experiencing the places quite well and vividly from my desk chair 🙂 Best to you and your son!

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  3. Hi Talon, Joy Clein pointed me to your site. We’re staying together in Playa Del Carmen right now, and planning to go to San Miguel around Feb 19. About to book a place to stay, just wondering if you have any tips to save on accommodation? We are a family of 5 on a small budget.

    Thanks,
    Gerry

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    • Right now it’s high season so it’s going to be tricky to save much on accommodation unless you’re outside of centro and San Antonio.

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  4. Are you going to miss the food when you’re back in Budapest?!

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    • I will definitely miss the Mexican food, although there are some places to try in Budapest that sound promising. I may just have to bring a tortilla press with me so I can make homemade food when I have a big craving. 😀

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