A must-read travel guide for first-time visitors! Get all the answers to your questions including, is San Miguel de Allende safe, how do you get there, and which airport to fly into. This San Miguel guide will show you where to stay and eat, things to do in San Miguel de Allende, and more.
San Miguel de Allende had been on my list of places to visit since it was named #1 city in the world by Travel and Leisure in 2017. It seemed the perfect destination for Jake and me to celebrate our 7-year anniversary.
I love anything with a European vibe. Jake leans towards destinations that have a "realness" to them where they aren't picture perfect. San Miguel de Allende fit the bill.
I would describe San Miguel de Allende as a mix of Europe, Mexico, and Morocco. It's charming with cobblestoned streets and colorful buildings, boasts amazing Mexican cuisine, and has a touch of unordered chaos to it.
By chaos, I mean you'll be walking down a lovely cobblestoned street complete with azalea-covered walls, turn the corner, and bam...there's a tangle of about 500 wires and electricity cables.
For some, things like that would be "a shame". For Jake and me, we look at that tangled mess and can't help but laugh.
One thing that really stood out in San Miguel de Allende was the restaurant and rooftop scene. The food and drinks were incredible and the prices were much lower than what you'd find in a typical American city.
If you're looking for a getaway filled with rooftop dining, market shopping, pleasant weather, and charming boutique hotels...San Miguel de Allende will not disappoint.
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WHERE IS SAN MIGUEL DE ALLENDE
First things first…where is San Miguel de Allende? San Miguel de Allende is located in the Bajio mountains in Guanajuato, Mexico (think central Mexico). This colorful mountain town is 170 miles northwest of Mexico City making it a popular getaway for locals.
The location is a nice change from the typical oceanside resorts most tourists come to Mexico for. San Miguel de Allende is perfect if you've done the typical Mexico beach vacation and are looking for something different, unique, and filled with personality.
WHAT IS SAN MIGUEL DE ALLENDE KNOWN FOR?
San Miguel de Allende is now known as an art town. It's attracted artists from around the world for the last few decades and has several renowned art schools including the Instituto Allende.
San Miguel de Allende became a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2008 and has been gaining popularity ever since. The city was voted #1 city in the world by Travel and Leisure's World Best Awards two years in a row. 2017 and 2018. This has brought an influx of American visitors.
The city has a large ex-pat community consisting mainly of Americans, Europeans, and Canadians. Because of this, English (or at least basic English) is pretty standard in restaurants, shops, and hotels.
The walkable Centro (city center), colorful buildings, cobblestoned streets, picturesque rooftop restaurants, lively markets, art galleries, and temperate mountain weather have made this a favorite destination for visitors around the globe.
Is San Miguel de Allende safe?
With all the negative press Mexico has had in recent years in terms of safety, asking "is San Miguel de Allende safe" is a logical question. From my trip and my personal experience, San Miguel de Allende felt perfectly safe.
Because the city has a considerable ex-pat population from America, Canada, and Europe, and because the economy depends on ex-pats continuing to come to the city and spend money, keeping the city safe is a priority.
I felt 100% safe jogging by myself in the mornings and exploring the city alone in the afternoons. I also know young women who have rented Airbnbs for weeks at a time and worked remotely. Alone.
It was also common to see police around town keeping an eye on things.
Now that I've been to San Miguel de Allende, I would absolutely come back solo or with a group of girls.
So, is San Miguel de Allende safe? I personally think it is and felt safer there than I have in most major US cities.
Do note, like many tourist cities, petty crime does happen. Don't keep your valuables within easy reach, like a cell phone hanging out of your back pocket or a handbag sitting on the floor of a restaurant.
GETTING TO SAN MIGUEL DE ALLENDE | AIRPORTS
Though there isn't an airport located in the city, getting to San Miguel de Allende is a breeze. You have two main San Miguel de Allende airport options.
The Leon airport, BJX, is a popular option with Americans as there are several non-stop flights from major US cities. Getting to San Miguel de Allende from BJX will take about 1.5 hours by car. I highly recommend booking a private car or shuttle to ensure a safe and easy arrival. See next section.
The second San Miguel de Allende airport option is Queretaro Airport, QRO. Though it may look like it's closer than BJX, it's still about an hour to an hour fifteen away.
Lastly, some visitors choose to fly into the Mexico City airport, MEX, as there are often cheap fares up for grabs. Get ready though, because it’s at least a three-hour drive to San Miguel from MEX.
How to get from the airport - MEX, QRO, and BJX - to San Miguel de Allende
As mentioned earlier, I highly recommend booking a private car or shuttle to get from MEX, QRO, or BJX to San Miguel de Allende. Getting to San Miguel de Allende will take anywhere from one to four hours depending on which airport you choose.
Having a driver is not only safe but more enjoyable. You won’t have to hassle at the rental car counter, worry about getting lost, and can enjoy the views on your way to the city. Plus, you really don't need a car once in the city. Parking can also be a huge headache.
I used Bajiogo shuttle and highly recommend it. BJX to San Miguel de Allende was $25 per person ($50 roundtrip). Private and shared shuttles are available for all three airports, MEX, QRO, and BJX.
The driver waited for Jake and me in arrivals and dropped us off right by the hotel. We were the only passengers on the ride from BJX to San Miguel de Allende. On the way back there was one other couple. The ride was smooth, comfortable, safe, and most importantly, on time. I would use this company again in a heartbeat.
Where to stay in San Miguel de Allende
If you can find a decent rate at Rosewood San Miguel, I highly recommend booking that hotel. The location is perfect as it's just outside the city center. You won't have to deal with the noise that comes with being in the center, yet you're a quick walk away.
An alternative would be the most adorable boutique hotel just steps from Rosewood San Miguel. Hotel Matilda. It was voted the #1 hotel in Mexico by Travel and Leisure in 2019. Casa 1810 is another nice boutique hotel in the city center.
Live Aqua is a trendy new hotel located just north of the city center. The rooftop pool is gorgeous and the overall vibe is a mix of BoHo and modern.
How many days to spend in San Miguel de Allende
A weekend in San Miguel de Allende would give just enough time to get a feel for the city, shop the markets, hit a few rooftops, and visit a handful of art galleries.
Four days would be perfect if you book a hotel with an awesome pool and want time to relax.
Jake and I stayed a full week because we were working remotely and not sightseeing the entire time. This would have been too long for the average tourist...unless you want multiple days laying by the hotel pool.
Getting around San Miguel de Allende
The city center of San Miguel de Allende is 100% walkable. Just be sure to wear comfortable shoes as many of the streets are made of uneven cobblestones. Most shops, sights, and restaurants are no more than 20 minutes away by foot from the very center of the city.
Public buses and taxis are available, but with how cheap and widely available Uber is, I would just book an Uber when you need a ride. If you do use a taxi, make sure it’s an official taxi painted in white and green.
The best time to visit San Miguel de Allende
Spring is the best time to visit San Miguel de Allende. You won't have to worry about rain as it's dry season and you'll enjoy daytime temperatures in the 70s and 80s.
Bring a light jacket or sweater if you visit in early spring. The mornings and evenings can get quite chilly. By mid-spring (April) it will be perfectly comfortable to wear a t-shirt or dress all day and night long and be perfectly comfortable.
Seeing the jacaranda trees in full bloom is another reason why early spring is the best time to visit San Miguel de Allende. The contrast of the lavender-colored blooms against the terracotta tones of the buildings is stunning.
Keep in mind that holidays, like Easter, bring an influx of visitors. Avoid all holidays if you want to skip the crowds and steep hotel prices.
Things to do in San Miguel de Allende
Parroquia de San Miguel Arcangel Church – the very centerpiece of San Miguel and one of the most photographed churches in Mexico. Self-taught architect, Zeferino Gutierrez, apparently came up with the design after seeing postcards and lithographs from gothic churches in Europe.
Entrance is free, so a quick visit is a no-brainer. Be sure to wander around the surrounding square, El Jardin, before and after your visit.
Join a walking tour – if you’ve been following Abroad with Ash, you’ll know I’m a huge fan of walking tours. It’s the perfect way to learn the history of the city and get a feel for where things are. Your tour guide is also a wonderful resource for recommendations on restaurants and things to do in the city.
Take pictures on Aldama street - the most asked question I've received from my posts and stories on Instagram is "where was this street?". Aldama street is hands down one of the most Instagrammable places in San Miguel de Allende. Get here in the morning because during the day there's a continuous stream of tourists snapping pictures.
Mercado de Artesanias and surrounding markets – one of the most popular things to do in San Miguel de Allende is shopping the markets. There are several back-to-back markets around Mercado de Artesanias.
Start here and wander aimlessly. You’ll walk through buildings and twisting narrow streets filled with tiny little shops selling cheap trinkets, colorful home décor, textiles, and jewelry.
To be honest, a lot of the items seemed cheap. But I did manage to find a few hidden gems. One of which was a shop selling glassware for $1.25 a glass. The cups, goblets, and Margherita glasses were very similar to Pottery Barn's recycled glassware collection...for about a tenth of the cost.
I snagged 12! Outside of some additional pottery items, that’s all I bought in San Miguel. Even so, the 2 hours I spent wandering the markets was time well spent.
Stop at Lavanda for a coffee break...it's in the heart of the market area and my favorite coffee shop in San Miguel.
Take a walk up to the El Mirado viewpoint – this is one of the best viewpoints in the city and a must on the list of things to do in San Miguel de Allende. I would often walk up here in the morning when it was quiet and empty.
Visit Fabrica La Aurora – located in an old textile factory, this is the place to get your fill of art, sculptures, and other artisan products. It’s a showcase of artists who live in San Miguel.
You could spend an entire afternoon browsing the galleries looking for the next painting that will adorn your entryway or the perfect sculpture that will sit on your patio. The prices were a bit out of my reach, so I browsed for about two hours. There are also several onsite restaurants and cafes.
Horseback riding – this was my favorite activity during our trip! Jake and I did the private sunset horseback riding experience and loved every minute. The views were incredible.
Beth, the owner, and our guides made sure we were comfortable with our horses and had a memorable experience. I can’t recommend joining a horseback riding tour enough! It’s a great way to see something outside the city.
If you're looking for something off the beaten path (literally), this is one of the best things to do in San Miguel de Allende.
Additional horseback riding experiences
Visit as many rooftops as possible - perfect introduction to the next topic.
San Miguel de Allende restaurants - where to eat and drink
Best rooftops in San Miguel de Allende - for food and ambiance
The rooftop scene in San Miguel is where it's at. Once Jake and I arrived in San Miguel de Allende and had our first rooftop dinner, we canceled all dinner reservations that were not on a rooftop.
Perfect evening weather combined with spectacular sunsets and views; it just didn't make sense to not dine on a rooftop. The below places were my favorite by far. These are the absolute best rooftops in San Miguel de Allende for dinner and drinks.
Quince - voted the #1 rooftop in the world, this is a great place to share an assortment of appetizers and sushi rolls. The drinks are delicious, most notably the Black Forest made with activated charcoal, mezcal, lime, and rosemary syrup.
Ask to sit on the side facing the mountains to watch the sunset. The other side overlooks the cathedral and is a good option if it's cloudy or it's already dark and you want to see the cathedral lit up.
Atrio - this ended up being our favorite rooftop as it's the highest (i.e. incredible views) and a bit more relaxed. Quince is lively with a "party scene" vibe later in the evening. The food and drinks really stood out.
Order the Aloha drink and several appetizers including the guacamole, polpo tacos (octopus), and charred cauliflower. Skip the dessert. It wasn't that great and I would have rather had another appetizer or drink.
La Posadita - located right next to Quince, and by right next to I mean you could throw a lime on their patio. La Posadito is perfect if you want a casual vibe. The guacamole was one of my favorites from our trip and they are known for their frozen pina coladas.
Luna Rooftop (at Rosewood San Miguel)- this is the one rooftop that offers a different view than the rest of the rooftops listed. Instead of being in the center of the city and nestled right next to the cathedral...Luna rooftop is just outside Centro and offers views of the city center and cathedral from afar.
I will say, this is the most expensive place for drinks and appetizers (think $10 to $14 vs. $6 to $8), but I still think it's worth at least one visit for a different view and perspective.
I would stick to drinks and skip the food. Not only are prices higher here, but the food is also better at the other places listed.
La Unica - beautiful views overlooking the city center and cathedral paired with an extensive drink menu, eight different types of tacos to choose from, among other classic Mexican dishes. The chocolate bomb dessert was pretty darn good. La Unica had a definite party atmosphere to it without being too over the top.
Other San Miguel de Allende restaurants to note
The Restaurant - if you're not feeling a rooftop, The Restaurant is a lovely spot with a gorgeous Moroccan courtyard. The menu is an assortment of "global comfort" food. Thursday nights are burger night which I heard several locals/ex-pats rave about.
La Azotea - a great rooftop spot for lunch. The jicama tacos are incredible...one of the best things I ate on the trip. It was more like a sushi roll taco than a true taco with fried leeks, crispy shrimp, and spicy mayo.
1826 (at Rosewood San Miguel) - Sunday brunch is a must at 1826. For about $26 you get access to all the live food stations with Mexican classics, unlimited coffee, tea, juice, and an a la carte item of your choice.
This was one of the best meals of the trip. The courtyard is gorgeous and the service is outstanding. I only wish I didn't eat the night before so I could have enjoyed more of the stations!
Lavanda Cafe - the best coffee shop in San Miguel de Allende (don't worry I tried them all and will be publishing a San Miguel coffee shop post soon). I visited Lavanda at least once a day.
Try the lavender latte, or my personal favorite, the mareado lavanda. This drink took me back to my espresso freddo days in Greece. Frothed espresso, poured over ice, with lavender and a touch of brown sugar.
Andy's Taco Cart - I can't not include Andy's taco cart when discussing San Miguel de Allende restaurants...even if it's not technically a restaurant. Andy's by far was Jake's favorite. I say Jake because it was Jake's mission on this trip to try all the top taco carts.
Not only is Andy beyond friendly, but his el pastor tacos truly were the best. The cart opens up at 7:00 pm and can be found on the corner of Hidalgo and Insurgentes. In fact, these tacos were so delicious, Jake would often get an "after-dinner" snack on our way back to the hotel.
I hope this San Miguel de Allende guide helps with planning your upcoming trip. I look forward to returning to this colorful city and can't believe it took me so long to get here! Bring your camera, plan to spend lots of time outdoors, book as many rooftop dinners as possible, and snag a few souvenirs from the markets!