San Miguel de Allende is a relaxing getaway for all ages. Nearly the perfect definition of charming, the town is filled with cobblestone streets, endless celebrations in “El Jardín,” and patient locals as tourists stumble through their Spanish.
San Miguel was founded in 1542 by Franciscan monk Juan de San Miguel. The ending “de Allende” was added in 1826 to honor locally-born Ignacio Allende, a hero of the revolution against Spain.
El Jardín is the central plaza. It earned the nickname of “The Garden” due to its substantially treed park in the middle. Take a seat on a bench under one of the large trees, read a book, or simply be distracted by all the going-ons around you.
A plethora of restaurants and the Parroquia–a parish that looks as grand as a cathedral–surround El Jardín. Also going in loops around the plaza are the festive and musical wedding celebrations. Here, couples don’t quietly transfer to a reception venue after saying ‘I do.’ Where’s the fun in that? Instead, they and their entire guest list–plus a mariachi band and mojigangas (see photo below)–begin their procession around the town, ending in front of the Parroquia. These joyous affairs usually start up on Friday and go through the wee hours of Sunday morning. There isn’t a weekend in San Miguel without multiple weddings, birthdays, or holiday celebrations.
The Artisan Market (Mercado de Artesanias) and Ignacio Ramirez markets are nestled between the streets of Hidalgo and Colegio. While hidden away, once you find the entrance on Lucas Balderas Street, the markets seem to be never-ending with one block rolling into the next. You’ll know which market you’re at as the Artisan Market is along the street and the Ignacio Ramirez Market is one large building. At the markets, you can find just about anything you would want as a souvenir: mirrors, colorful tiles, leather belts, La Catrina trinkets, hand-painted ceramic dishware, plus decoratively sewn shirts and dresses.
Bring your appetite to the Mercado Sano on Saturday. The air is filled with the aroma of freshly-made tamales, paella, carne asada, and salsas. Sticky sweets, woven rugs, and original artwork also enter the mix just to stir up your senses even more.
Fabrica La Aurora is an old textile mill now turned into a high-end art and pottery shopping area. It’s nice to walk around through but don’t expect to find good bargains.
At first I thought I was seeing Día de los Muertos skeleton figures all around town. In actually, these fancy skeleton figurines are Catrinas. From what locals tell me, the history of this artwork dates back to the early 1900s. At the time, the upper-class women dressed like the ladies of Europe with the wide-rimmed hats and petticoat dresses. Lower- and middle-class women decided they could dress that way too and began parading through town in their raggedy version of the elegant dress. Artists, including Diego Rivera, caught onto this and began depicted the women as skeletons all dolled up in their elegant gowns. Now, La Catrina is somewhat of a national symbol, and she does indeed relive her glory every year on the Day of the Dead.
I came to San Miguel de Allende with my mom to brush up on Spanish. There are a couple of places in the area to take classes, and we studied at the Academia Hispano Americana. Other options include Warren Hardy , Habla Hispana, and Centro Americana de Lengua y Cultura. I don’t know how these other courses compare, but I will say I thoroughly enjoyed my classes at Academia Hispano Americana with flexible class selections plus historical and sociological lessons (hence my learning about La Catrina).