Wednesday, April 27, 2011

What is it about San Miguel de Allende, Mexico?

Huh, you have never heard of San Miguel de Allende? It is one of the travel gems of the world and a destination for serious travelers, who whisper its name in the same breath with London, Paris, and Venice. San Miguel arrived on the tourist map in the 1930’s when the Instituto Allende was founded for the purpose of serious art, music, and language education. After World War II it grew into quite a U.S. expatriate community when the G.I.’s found that they could use their G.I. Bill for education in San Miguel. As a result the community of about 70,000 people has a permanent Anglo population of between 7 and 10 thousand. However, San Miguel for the tourist (or resident) has become much more than an institution of higher education.

San Miguel de Allende is in the heart of what is known as the colonial district of Mexico. This is where Father Don Miguel Hidalgo, now considered the father of the Mexican nation, started the revolution in 1810 for independence from Spain with his fellow revolutionaries Ignacio Allende, José Mariano Jiménez and Juan Aldama, all who were eventually executed for their trouble. The town was originally founded in 1542 as San Miguel by Father Juan de San Miguel. In 1926 San Miguel de Allende was declared a National Monument by the Mexican government, thus preserving the cobblestone, colonial nature of the town, free of traffic lights, neon signs and fast food franchises. Because of its position historically on the silver road from the mines in the North with the road going to Mexico City and Veracruz, San Miguel became a very wealthy city, and it remains so today.

Well, just where is San Miguel? It is not easy to find it on the map, as it is not one of the huge Mexican cities like Guadalajara, Mexico City, or Monterrey. Specifically, it is 171 miles (3½ hours by bus) northwest of Mexico City and due east of Guadalajara. The nearest large city is Leon where the Leon/Guanajuato airport is located and where most people fly as there is regular daily service from Houston, Dallas and Los Angeles. It is about a 1½ hour drive from the airport to San Miguel. A 24 hour van service is available as there is a lot of visiting going on in the community. The terrain is dry hills similar to Arizona and Southern California, but the town has a high altitude at 6150 feet. The wet season is June through September, and the rest of the months see little precipitation. The temperature is pretty constant ranging from monthly average highs of 71 to 84 degrees Fahrenheit.

Now how did your intrepid adventuresome traveling judge end up spending 10 weeks in San Miguel? Following the recent retirement it was always our plan to spend a couple of months during the Chelan cold months in some warm location elsewhere in the world. Twenty five years ago we visited San Miguel with our then small children. We loved the town and always hoped to return. It was a natural for our first winter/spring trip. As you know from the last issue of the newsletter, when we decided to drive instead of fly, it really did become more exciting than we wanted. We are living in a beautiful Mexican style casa which we leased for the ten weeks. Booking homes in foreign countries is obviously a subject for a future article.

So what is the attraction? How about live theatre, world class art shows, wonderful restaurants, international musicians and an event schedule (in English) that is close to exhausting. The central square (the Jardin) is in constant motion being enjoyed by Anglos and Mexicans alike. Several of the historic district streets have been closed to traffic so it is enjoyed by all the inhabitants. So you can get a feel for what is going on, and if you are interested I suggest two websites. The first has a lot of information for travelers, including such things as real estate, shopping, home rentals, and a daily event schedule. Take a look at San Miguel has an English language weekly newspaper, called Atención San Miguel that is online. It is at A unique aspect of life in San Miguel is the volunteer programs sponsored to benefit the Mexican residents and the local quality of life. This is directly attributable to the large gringo retirement community. An example is the Biblioteca, the center of expat community life, and the largest English/Spanish library in Central America. The Atención is published by the Biblioteca.

If you are just coming to San Miguel as a tourist for a few days, the city has some wonderful high quality hotels and B&B’s. Shopping is also a great attraction for those so inclined (like my wife) with a huge selection of high quality native handicrafts, clothing, jewelry, and ceramics. How can you beat a combination of great hotels, great food, great touring, and great shopping? Because of the large numbers of Anglos, there really is no problem with not speaking Spanish. Everyone will help you. But, if you do want to dip into language learning, there are many language schools ready to immerse you! What a great place, for short term or long term. While in San Miguel I wrote a travel blog which will give you a lot more perspective. It is accessible on the web with daily experiences: Now, just call your travel agent!

(Published in the 2007 ABA Fall JD Record; Published in the June 2007 The Good Life magazine)

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