GratiTuesday: Walkable San Miguel de Allende

Tell someone that you are going to Mexico and often the first things they’ll picture are beautiful sandy beaches, warm ocean water, and sipping margaritas in a cantina. While I have nothing against any of these pursuits – and have happily done all three on past trips – that “Mexican experience” never felt very authentic to me.

Our five-week trip to the city of Oaxaca last year was the first time we visited an area of the country that wasn’t next to a large body of water… and we loved it. After that experience, we were anxious to explore other parts of Mexico’s interior, and San Miguel de Allende was high on our list of possibilities.

San Miguel de Allende is a small colonial town located in Mexico’s semi-arid central highlands. It is known for its charming atmosphere, historical architecture, vibrant culture, and artsy expatriate community. The region is also known as the cradle of the Mexican independence movement and San Miguel was the birthplace of many of its heroes, including the city’s namesake, Ignacio Allende.

According to local history, the self-taught draftsman who designed the facade based his design on a postcard depicting a French Gothic cathedral.

The most famous landmark in San Miguel is La Parroquia (which simply means parish church), a neo-gothic church whose pink sandstone facade, towering spires, and pointed arches preside over the lively town square.

One benefit of slow travel (staying in one place for an extended period) is being able to explore with a relaxed schedule. Many mornings, we just picked a direction and walked. We could hardly turn a corner without finding an interesting scene: a beautiful old church, an intriguingly narrow walkway, richly painted facades, or a street vendor selling everything from colorful trinkets and toys to straw hats and flowered hair pieces.

I bought a hat from him on the condition that I could take his picture.
Women in traditional dress sell their wares to tourists.
Templo de la Inmaculada Concepcion
A horse-drawn carriage transporting newlyweds to their reception.
Dos amigos enjoying a rest.
The Bellas Artes courtyard is the perfect spot to relax and cool off. 

It was hard not to be constantly looking around as we walked San Miguel’s streets, but it was also important to be aware of where we were stepping… the narrow sidewalks and cobblestone streets made turning an ankle or tripping a very real possibility.

It was important to watch where we were walking.

Much of what there is to do, see, eat, and experience in San Miguel can be accessed by foot. For anything outside of walking range, there are plenty of options such as the ubiquitous green taxis, Uber, and hired drivers. We enjoyed being car-free for the seven weeks we were there and, although I didn’t bring my Fitbit, I am confident that I easily met my daily goal of 10,000 steps… and then some.

We learned the importance of taking it slow and staying hydrated.
More stairs!
The evening’s golden hour paints a picture with light.
You can see the spires of the Parroquia peeking out from behind the dome.
An early morning balloon flight.
The Parroquia could be seen from all over the city.

My husband and I love to walk, and I am very grateful that we are fit enough to navigate the sometimes hilly terrain. San Miguel is a city best enjoyed by foot.

Author: RetirementallyChallenged.com

My blog is about travel, relationships, photography, and whatever else pops into my head (even, sometimes, issues surrounding retirement and aging).

81 thoughts on “GratiTuesday: Walkable San Miguel de Allende”

  1. Beautiful photos of San Miguel de Allende! And thanks for showing all the stairs — not sure my arthritic knee would allow me to enjoy San Miguel again at this stage. ;-( Glad you have the freedom to enjoy slow travel. It’s the best!

  2. Any city or town that is walkable gets higher points on my score sheet of places to visit. Thanks, Janis, for sharing your recap and beautiful photos of SMdA.

    1. Not having to deal with a car for seven weeks was pure bliss. I wish I could do that here where we live but it would be much harder (and involve a lot of cab/Uber rides). The drivers in SMA were amazingly deferential to pedestrians (how often do you see that??) so getting around was pretty easy… except for the cobblestones 🙂 .

  3. Hi Janis! I LOVED your photos and they brought back wonderful memories of SMA from when we were there last year. Where was the house you stayed in? We stayed north of the town partly up the hill so YES< we got tons of exercise from back and forth to the Zocolo and around. And did you get to the restaurant that made jicama tacos! My mouth waters just thinking of them. It is a wonderful town and it's very cool that you were able to spend so much time there. ~Kathy

    1. Our housesit was in Colonia San Antonio (flat) and our Airbnb was closer to Centro (also fairly flat). Any major hill climbing was optional… but we loved seeing what was on top! And, YES! we had jicama tacos! They became our go-to treat when we didn’t want a big meal.

  4. Looks like a good work out and beautiful. The photo of the cobble stone street with the red and orange buildings is my favorite! I love the perspective.

    1. That shot was lucky, Terri. I forced myself to get up early one morning so I could get some shots before the people descended on the central garden area. I just happened to be looking down that street when the balloon floated by.

  5. Your photos certainly illustrate that you and your husband had a marvelous time. You both are lucky that you retired at a time when you are physically fit and able to do this type of travel. Poster couple for planning your retirement, and I mean that as a sincere compliment. 🙂

  6. What a fascinating place, Janis and I loved ‘visiting’ there with you through your photos. I loved the cobbled roads and staircases and of course the door with the vendor and all of those hats balanced on his head. The balloon flight would have been amazing!

    1. I would have loved to take a balloon flight but it never happened (a reason to return?). There were several hat vendors who wore their wares like that. I can’t imagine how sore their necks and shoulders must be at the end of the day.

  7. Your beautiful photos look like they were taken on a Hollywood back lot. I mean that as a compliment because they are exactly what I envision Mexico to look like. That pic of a cobblestone street made my ankles hurt just looking at it.

  8. Awesome photo’s Janis. Mexico was never on my list to visit, but now might be! I like the smaller city, slow travel idea as well. Something to definitely consider.

  9. That is the best way to get to know an area. The cobblestone road made my feet hurt just looking at it! Was the food good? I love Mexican food but don’t know if having it all the time would get old. The city is also bigger than I thought. Very beautiful.

    1. Saying “Mexican food” is kind of like saying “American food.” What is offered in our (the U.S.) Mexican restaurants don’t really reflect the cuisine of various parts of the country. Also, San Miguel has a ton of ethnic restaurants, like Italian, Thai, Peruvian, French, etc., so we really didn’t feel overloaded on a single type of food. That being said, I did get a little tired of some of the heavier, spicy sauces. I really looked forward to coming home and making a stir fry using simple spices and sauces that we are used to.

  10. Wonderful photos, Janis, and description of your ‘slow vacation.’ I believe that type of travel would suit me well – taking lots of time and doing miles of walking. I’m not a beach person, so even though I enjoy visiting coastal areas, I wouldn’t mind ‘interior’ travel. Your seven weeks looked divine!

  11. Janis, my question is did you yank a hat from the tower that you liked? Did he say size 6 1/2, that would be from the third hat to the tenth hat from my head. Keith

  12. Beautiful photos and mementos, Janis. You surely did San Miguel justice with this post. I just love the atmosphere it exudes, all the colors, and the fact that it is walk-able. Slow travel is the way to go. My favorite shot is the one of the cobble stone street with its lined up buildings. And, all the photos taken during the golden hour. 🙂 I had no idea that the city was the cradle of the Mexican independence movement .

  13. Wow – these are great photos Janis, you have sure captured the flavor of San Miguel. The architecture and stairs, and that bumpy cobblestone street was just incredible. I did a double-take when I saw it. That looks like it was a lot of steps … you were getting an eyeful as well as your daily 10,000 steps that is recommended for good health – good for both of you.

    1. Since you also love to walk, you would enjoy spending time in San Miguel. You can take out in just about any direction and find yourself in an interesting neighborhood, or someplace with beautiful vistas. But, yes, you need to be careful where you step. Not all the streets had cobblestones like that but most all were uneven and had “challenging” sidewalks. That being said, I wouldn’t want it to be any other way.

      1. Everything about San Miguel was authentic looking like it should look in an old Mexican town. The burro for example. And, I really liked the man with the hats too and how you bartered buying a hat from him in exchange for his picture. He was wearing an awfully large stack of hats.

  14. It’s really nice to see parts of a country that don’t look like they’ve been forced to change to accommodate tourists. The Mexican Riviera and seaside towns are so often geared to the large hotels and resorts. Your self-paced walking tours must have been exciting each and every time you headed out! The photos are fantastic. 🙂

    1. You are right. As much as I enjoy relaxing by a pool or the shoreline (well-covered-up, of course), those Mexican experiences are really all about the tourists. San Miguel also has tourists, of course, but life went on around us… it didn’t feel like the city was creating a Disney-esque facade for our comfort.

  15. Hi, Janis – This sounds and looks like an amazing trip. Slow travel, waking up leisurely, picking a direction and walking to no destination in particular….what could be better?! I can’t wait to get together soon and hear more about your time away. BTW – If you are ever thinking of a second career (she says when out of striking distance) you should seriously consider travel writer/photographer. I would definitely buy your books!

      1. Thanks, Janis. It’s good to be back. Except that WordPress and Jetpack still hate me! I did receive notice of this post….but not of your reply to my comment. Glad that I double-checked. Also, Hugh and Natalie (and others?) were both mysteriously kicked off of my subscription list and did not receive notice of my August 2 post. In July, I had a friend (visiting from Beijing) who offered to help me switch from WP.org to WP.com. Shoulda, coulda, woulda. Why or why didn’t I?
        I’m looking forward to catching up!

        1. Wait… you posted yesterday? I guess you can add me to the list of those who have been bumped off your subscriber list. I wonder if I’ll have to subscribe again. I’m off to read your post and see (fingers crossed) if I can comment “normally” or if I have to comment via Reader. It just shouldn’t bee that hard.

  16. What a beautiful place! As for your first paragraph – I remember being quite wrong when a friend told me they were going to Mexico on honeymoon. I assumed ancient sites and it turned out to be a beach holiday. I had no idea, though admittedly this was 15-20 years ago and I would know better now (still seems a long way to go from Scotland for a beach holiday though).

    1. Wow, that is a long way to go! Funny how you had the opposite reaction to the one I wrote about. But, you are an explorer at heart so I guess I’m not surprised that you pictured archeological sites rather than laying on the beach, sipping fancy drinks with little umbrellas in them.

  17. Oh Janis, that was such a beautiful tour! We’ve never ventured to Mexico – well just over the border from Arizona many years ago. You make me want to visit the way you have! Slowly and away from the “tourist traps.” My one question is, “Did you feel safe the entire time you were there?” I’m pretty sure I have a big misconception about Mexican travel based on the stupid media! I really want to put that to rest! Oh, and I agree with Donna – You could write travel guides! Beautiful photography! ~ Lynn

    1. We felt very safe. Just like everywhere, it’s important to know your surroundings but we never felt that we were in any danger. San Miguel works very hard to maintain its cultural heritage and beauty (and, from what we heard, during the “high season” it can be rather overrun by tourists) and the people are very welcoming. Mexico is such a large country and there are safer spots and not-so-safe spots. That being said, crime gets the headlines whereas good people just going about their lives doesn’t.

      1. Isn’t that the case with just about everything! The media only sensationalized the very bad. It’s easy to ignore all the good things around us! Thanks for the feedback. Hopefully we’ll visit Mexico in the not too distant future. ~ Lynn

  18. You have some excellent photos, here. I especially like the one with the balloon in the distance between the rows of buildings. And the hat guy! He reminds me of the scarf ladies I encountered in Peru. 😉 I also bought a scarf so I could photograph the vendor.

  19. HI Janis
    Your photos are absolutely beautiful. I went back to try and pick a favorite, but I love them all. They all tell a story, even the two amigos. Ha! If they could only talk.
    Thank you for sharing. Parroquia looks like a wonderful town to visit. How did you choose it?
    Laura

    1. Thank you! The Parroquia (parish church) is the name of the church, San Miguel de Allende is the city we visited. I had had San Miguel on my radar for quite a while. When my brother and SIL said they were going, we eagerly agreed to join them. Then, the housesitting opportunity came our way and our 2 – 3 week stay turned into a 7-week stay. The benefits of retirement and a flexible schedule!

  20. Hi Janis,
    I heard of San Miguel for the first time a year or so ago when a friend was considering buying a second home there. She described it as a beautiful place with a strong arts community, but when I searched it online I didn’t see much of what she was referring to. Thanks to your blog post and the great photos, I now get it. What a beautiful place to have lived in for seven weeks. Slow travel, especially in a place like this one, sounds idyllic.

    1. Hi Karen. Did your friend end up buying there? I talked to quite a few expats who – after a brief visit, or several trips over the years – decided to buy a house in San Miguel. In fact, many people we met asked us if we were considering a purchase. There were many, many opportunities to take art workshops: drawing, painting, photography, sculpture, jewelry- making, writing, etc. In addition, it was fairly easy to find free or low-cost musical presentations almost daily.

  21. Janis, your photos are fantastic! I like them all, but especially the low angle shot of the cobblestones and the the evening golden light photo. Even though San Miguel de Allende is very picturesque, it is not easy to capture it photographically the way you have. Well done!

    Jude

  22. Looks like a great trip Janis. That is really a good way to get to know a country, by immersing yourself in their culture. I loved the hat guy! The rest of your pictures are beautiful and make me want to go there!!

  23. We have not been there yet but have heard a LOT about how beautiful this city is and your photos make us want to go there even more than we did before. We also know a couple that just moved there, so more reason to visit this beautiful and historic city. Love the photos of the narrow walkways, the arches, the cobblestones and of course the little donkey….. As artists it seems like a good match for us… One day hopefully we will get there…
    Peta

  24. What magnificent photos! I must admit, I don’t know about this ‘part’ of Mexico. We learn about the sandy beaches, and about the drug cartels, but not much about the history and beautiful architecture and walkable towns. Thanks for bringing us along. Wonder where you’ll go on the next long get-away…

  25. Oh my goodness! Your exquisite photos and unique camera angles really capture the character and beauty of colonial Mexico. There is nothing quite like the earth tones and soft light of golden hour in San Miguel de Allende.

      1. San Miguel has so much character, and a rich patina of browns and yellows, that seem to come alive during those early and late hours of sunlight. I’m sure you have a lot more beautiful impressions and photos to share.

  26. I haven’t been to Mexico yet but when I decide to do so, I wouldn’t hesitate to explore San Miguel de Allende. Mexico has so much to offer and there’s a lot to be seen there. Is it a good road trip destination?

    1. That’s a really good question! I do know some people who have driven there but I really don’t know anything about the general safety or the road conditions you’d find on such a trip. Since we live in Southern California, it is so easy to walk over the border (via the CBX bridge in Otay Mesa) and catch a reasonably-priced flight out of the Tijuana airport. Once you are there, everything is so walkable that you probably wouldn’t want a car.

  27. This place is a dream. The fact that it’s not near water isn’t a deterrent if we can find a marina to leave the boat when we make our way back to North America. This is buckets list stuff. I would have bought the hat too! Stellar images every one 😍.

    1. How about leaving your boat in San Diego (we’ll take care of it as long as it is safely docked… and by “take care of it” I mean visit regularly for cocktail hour on the water) and fly down via the Tijuana airport? Sounds like a great plan!

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