I first decided to spend 2 days in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico after seeing it designated as the “world’s best city” by Travel and Leisure. (Also, let’s face it, I hadn’t even heard of it before that.) It turned out I was going to be back in Mexico City for a time and, at just a few hours away, I figured a couple days in San Miguel de Allende would be the perfect side trip. Plus, I mean, that’s quite a claim right? There’s gotta be at least one gazillion billion cities on this planet, and you’re telling me this is the best single one? Clearly that statement needed validating.
When the “world’s best gelato” is staring you in the face, you can’t not lick it. When a company claims to sell the “world’s best stain remover” you have to spray it on the now giant stain you’ve just acquired from shoving the world’s best gelato into your face. And when you’re an avid traveler and a single city has now been twice voted the world’s best, you can’t not go there, spend way too much money, and get shamed in its churches because you forgot you were wearing a hat. You just can’t.
Sometimes the “world’s best cup of coffee” is just “a crappy cup of coffee.”
2 DAYS IN SAN MIGUEL DE ALLENDE… WILL NOT BE WHAT YOU EXPECT
“World’s Best City”, you say? So that means it’s going to be quaintly and authentically Mexican, affordable, delicious, and photogenic, with friendly locals, a plethora of interesting things to do, and a puppy on every corner, right? EEERRRRRRR (that’s a buzzer sound; work with me here)! Not quite and, actually, not even close.
Well, that’s not entirely true—San Miguel de Allende is one of the most photogenic places I’ve ever visited. And if all I cared about were Instagram backdrops like seemingly every other visitor to San Miguel de Allende under the age of 45 is, then I’d be in hashtag Heaven. #bucketlist #allmyphotosarestaged #whateverotherdumbthingswannabeinstagrammodelssay But alas! Where are all the world-class points of interest in San Miguel de Allende, a city often referred to as a Mexican Disneyland (and not in a good way, for those who don’t speak sarcasm)? The priceless historical artifacts? The cheap street food? Anyone who isn’t a well-to-do white American aged 55+? And where are the doggone puppies already? Not. Here. For that, you can go literally almost anywhere else in Mexico. (And for puppies on every corner specifically, head to the Condesa neighborhood of Mexico City. Their crosswalks look like this ⇣⇣⇣ if that’s any indication as to the validity of my statement.)
San Miguel de Allende being voted the “world best city” by Travel and Leisure readers tells me everything I need to know about Travel and Leisure readers. They’re not travelers interested in trying cheap local cuisine from a cart on the corner; they prefer to spend their time getting spa treatments and talking about sailing at a place with ‘bistro’ in the name; they go to church with Meryl Streep and spend their afternoons perusing art galleries and sipping champagne with their pinkies out. Well, I’ve got a finger up for you too Travel and Leisure.
If you think San Miguel de Allende, the “world’s best city”, is going to be a catch-all of your favorite things about experiencing new places around the world (like I had hoped), you’re going to be sorely disappointed. Like, “Ooh, yummy, chocolate chips! Oh… these are raisins.” disappointed. But that’s not to say it doesn’t have its good points too. (San Miguel de Allende, obviously. Not raisins, ew.) Am I glad I visited? Yes. Will I visit again? Probably not. Will I recommend a visit here to other travelers? Sure, but with conditions.
First, you must read this article. One of my travel companions for my 2 days in San Miguel de Allende wrote this amazing post on why its distinction as the “world’s best city” is so astronomically misguided. Reading this article may very well change your desire to visit San Miguel de Allende, moral compass and all. Tim has expressed perfectly everything that I, too, want to say about San Miguel de Allende but, like, he did it first so at this point it would just look like plagiarism. Actually, just go read his post first then come back. It opens in a new tab. I’ll wait. The second condition being…
2 DAYS IN SAN MIGUEL DE ALLENDE… IS ALL YOU NEED
Look, I know. It’s the “world’s best city”—you must visit it, as we’ve discussed. No amount of anyone telling you otherwise is going to sway you–it’s the kind of thing you have to figure out on your own. Like how terrible iPhones are. Obviously I’m the crazy one because San Miguel de Allende WAS VOTED the winner. So just know I understand completely. But, you should know that 2 days in San Miguel de Allende is going to be all you really need.
And lemme tell ya – 48 hours has never felt so long.
Okay so maybe San Miguel de Allende was voted the “world’s best city” – chances are that wasn’t by people who were looking to spend any less than the duration of their retirement there. For people looking to jam-pack a long weekend? You’re sh*t out of luck, amigo.
There are a handful of interesting and worthwhile things to see and do in San Miguel de Allende… if you have a tiny baby hand or maybe even a hook for that matter. We spent most of our 2 days in San Miguel de Allende bored and being bored while traveling the world feels like such an intense failure. Some of us even spent our time WORKING in our Airbnb. Working, blech! We desperately tried to find ways to occupy our time but kept coming up empty handed. Our standard, adult-sized hands, that is. And this is a group of avid world travelers I’m talking about.
Before you plan on spending any more than 2 days in San Miguel de Allende, make sure you really consider just how long you can handle sipping cappuccino and walking the streets. (Spoiler alert: it’s not as long as you think.)
2 DAYS IN SAN MIGUEL DE ALLENDE… IS ROUGH ON YOUR FEET
San Miguel de Allende’s historic city center remains, for the most part, as it has for the past 250 years ($12 croque madames aside). That means one thing: cobblestones! Let’s face it–as pretty as they are, and as lovely as hoofsteps sound upon them, cobblestones are a pain in the ass. And back. And feet. And especially in the tailbone if you get stuck in the middle seat of a circa-1980 taxi. But let’s just say, it really is no wonder San Miguel de Allende is so popular among expat retirees—they’ve already got a closet full of practical, orthopedic shoes.
The primitive terrain of San Miguel de Allende, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is very steep and hilly, very uneven and cobblestone-y, very dirt-y, and very you could totally injure yourself here if you don’t pay proper attention. You’ll need to bring good, solid shoes—flip-flops and sandals are pure garbage at this point—and a pumice stone, because so is your pedicure. Remember that time you and your gardener walked all the way from the Shire to Mordor in your bare feet? After 2 days in San Miguel de Allende your feet will be like, “*Sigh* Remember those carefree days?” Hobbit feet, yo. Remember that.
2 DAYS IN SAN MIGUEL DE ALLENDE… HAS WEIRD HOURS
While googling “What to do in San Miguel de Allende” (while we were in San Miguel de Allende—that’s how dire the situation became), we found one thing that could potentially temporarily satisfy our boredom: the hot springs of San Miguel de Allende. Fine, whatever, it was looking like we were going to have to hit up a spa while in town. Turns out there are three certainties in life: death, taxes, and that someone in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico is going to make you relax and charge you a bunch of money to do it.
We all rushed back to our Airbnb and bathing-suited-up as fast as we could. And just as we were about to call an Uber we saw “closes at 5.” We checked another place, and another. Some were only open certain days, some for limited hours, etc. And these were supposedly some of the top attractions in SMA.
Because there are so few “things to do in San Miguel de Allende”, if the hot springs are on your wish list, be sure to plan around them. Remember, this town runs on retiree hours—everyone’s gotta get to their early bird specials. (And by that I mean $17 martinis while the sun’s still out so they can *be seen* in a place Meryl Streep went to once.) Either that or they just don’t want them getting any prunier than they already are. Or they don’t want your hobbit feet getting too soft—you won’t be able to walk through town after that. Whatever the reason, make sure to call ahead and confirm opening hours (the website was different from what the actual hours were on the day we tried to go). The whole experience was like a State Farm commercial: Ohh, you almost had it. Gotta be quicker than that!
2 DAYS IN SAN MIGUEL DE ALLENDE… REQUIRES APPOINTMENTS
Another on the short list of things to do during your 2 days in San Miguel de Allende is a visit to the Mask Museum, formally known as Another Face of Mexico. The Mask Museum is the owner’s private collection of ceremonial masks worn by remote indigenous Mexican cultures around the country. They’re all 100% real, were all used in actual ceremonies witnessed by the owner, and are all totally terrifying—but you knew that as soon as I said “mask museum”. *shudder*
This incredibly interesting museum is owned and run by—you guessed it—a Yankee and is housed right there in his very own home, which also happens to be a kickass bed and breakfast (because while Americans are great at many things, taking it easy during retirement is not one of them). Because of this, you must. make. an appointment. I mean, I totally get this. If you were going to host 100 strangers in your living room (which is literally the meeting point but don’t worry, there’s still enough space for all your childhood baggage), you’d like a lil advance notice too, right? We made our appointment the day before and you can do so by emailing the owner via this page.
What else should you know about the Mask Museum?
- Admission is 100 pesos (about $5 US) and all proceeds are donated to a local day care center. It’s only appropriate that your admission dollars to the place that makes you cry like a baby goes towards helping some.
- Photography is not allowed inside the museum but is allowed in the… gift shop? Is that what we’re calling the nightmare room?
- Masks in the museum are not for sale, but the ones in the “gift shop” are. For when you need a really scary gift for someone you don’t like very much. All of the “for sale” masks are shippable, completely authentic, and were once on display in the museum themselves.
- Give yourself enough time to climb the urban mountain jungle that is San Miguel de Allende and locate the Mask Museum. You’ll probably need more time than you think. Simply speaking, it’s going to take moderate effort to get to the kind of place you’ve been hiding from your whole life. 👺
2 DAYS IN SAN MIGUEL DE ALLENDE… IS A LOOKER
All boredom aside, 2 days in San Miguel de Allende will be the most photogenic two days of your year. The city is endlessly colorful and eye-catching, rustic, decrepit in a sexy, Instagram-y kind of way, and every so often there’s a donkey carrying sombreros down the street and you just won’t believe your ojos. Most of your 2 days in San Miguel de Allende will be spent simply walking around this old Colonial town taking pictures and being like, “Shut the hell up with how cute you are!” Know this now. Embrace it. Prepare to get purposefully and incredibly lost in the maze of places that look more like a movie set than real life. Bring an empty SD card.
So where should you go for the best pictures in San Miguel de Allende? Start from the city’s main square, El Jardin, and work your way out in any direction. Go wherever the wind takes you. (Just kidding, there’s no wind in SMA.) Or gravity. Don’t feel bad about wanting to just walk downhill. It’s all beautiful. Head back to the center and start over in another direction. Repeat until the soles of your shoes have worn away or until you’ve reached Mt. Doom – whichever happens first.
However, one spot you’ll definitely want to hit up is El Mirador, the elevated area overlooking the whole of the city. The walk there is stunning and the views from there are even stunning-er.
2 DAYS IN SAN MIGUEL DE ALLENDE… FOR BOOZE + VIEWS
And speaking of incredible views, know that during your 2 days in San Miguel de Allende you don’t necessarily have to walk a mile to get a fantastic birds eye view of the city. I mean, you should, physical fitness and all that, but if all you brought were Birkenstocks, there is another way.
San Miguel de Allende boasts a plethora of rooftop eating and drinking experiences and you should try them all. Well, as many as your wallet and vertigo will allow. The rooftop experience is a big part of life in San Miguel de Allende with restaurants and bars of all types and budgets around the city. For starters, check out:
2 DAYS IN SAN MIGUEL DE ALLENDE… DOES NOT COME CHEAP
If you’ve spent any time in Mexico, you’re familiar with the country’s… let’s say… “affordability”. But speaking frankly, ‘cause that’s what we do here, Mexico be dirt cheap, yo. Well, the rest of Mexico, that is. If you arrive for your 2 days in San Miguel de Allende from Mexico City, prepare to face a harsh reality. A reality that’s more financially on par with Boston and San Francisco. Clearly, if you wanna hang in the “world’s best” it’s going to cost you. (Personally, I’d rather hang in the “really cool place that everyone wrongly assumes is too dangerous so no American tourists go there” but anyway.) If you arrive to San Miguel de Allende via business class well, meh, you’ll be aiight.
You may think San Miguel de Allende is popular as a spa treatment, fine dining, and wine tasting destination because you can get all these shiny things but at Mexican prices. Well touché, babay! The American retirement dream comes with an American price tag, regardless of what side of the border you’re on. In my defense, I’ve been working pretty hard on not spending more for food than I would on a Laffy Taffy at 7/11 and it shows.
TOURS TO TAKE IN SAN MIGUEL DE ALLENDE
Perhaps where I missed the mark during my 2 days in San Miguel de Allende (besides thinking I look great in straw hats) was not participating in more organized tours. Led by people who know what’s up about town, ya know? Here’s what I would recommend:
⇢ The Historical Walking Tour // This is the one tour my group and I did take. The tour lasts about 2.5 hours, covers a 10-block radius, and will take you places in town you would never have known existed otherwise. The tours are volunteer run and your donation helps significantly fund the work of Patronato Pro Niños, an organization that provides dental and medical care to children in the neediest of local families. You will learn some interesting stuff. But you will think you’re at a meetup for singles sponsored by AARP.
⇢ Taste of San Miguel Food Tour // While most other San Miguel de Allende food tours focus on world renowned chefs, “culinary experiences”, and wine pairings, this tour focuses on introducing you to traditional regional Mexican cuisine in family-owned restaurants. This food/walking tour is led by a local guide, includes all food tastings, has a 5-star rating, and can accommodate special food requirements and requests.
⇢ Canada de la Virgin Archaeological Site Tour // Visiting this archaeological site just outside San Miguel de Allende comes as a highly recommend stop (now that I’m home and that info helps me zero) though possibly hard to get to. This 6-hour tour includes all transportation, a professional guide, and all entrance fees as well as a 5-star rating.
⇢ Full Day Trail Riding with Hot Springs // You know the best way to fit the hot springs into your 2 days in San Miguel de Allende? Pay someone else to do it for you. Horseback riding is apparently pretty popular in SMA and some time spent outside the center of town could be nice. This tour also includes lunch at a Mexican ranch (I love that they felt they needed to specify that the ranch is Mexican), bottled water, a professional tour guide, entrance fees, and all transportation (in addition to the horse).
WHERE TO STAY IN SAN MIGUEL DE ALLENDE
My travel companions and I stayed in an Airbnb owned by an American expat who splits her time between San Miguel de Allende and Los Angeles who has made running Airbnbs her retirement game. While it was pleasant enough, I’d highly recommend renting a space from a local owner rather than contributing to a foreigner’s rental empire.
Care for $40 off your Airbnb rental? Click here to activate the no-strings discount then check out these properties:
- Cozy Apartment in the Center of San Miguel // Rated highly for its friendly and attentive owner, its cleanliness, and its superb location.
- Casa Tinajitas // A charming owner, a colorful casa, and a wicked cute terrace.
- Depa Dos Aguas // Adorable apartment with fabulous views just a short ride away from the center of downtown SMA.
- La Casa del Poeta // All 5-star reviews in a perfect location.
As great as my Airbnb experiences have been, I’m still a hotel girl through and through. That makes me sound like a prostitute but you know what I mean, right? Check out San Miguel de Allende hotel reviews on Tripadvisor or just go ahead and book a great room using this box ⇣⇣⇣
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