When I saw La vida inmoral de la pareja ideal, I was really impressed with the setting of the adult Lucio and Martina storyline. The vibe felt uniquely European but with a Mexican twist. When the credits started rolling, I found out that the town is called San Miguel de Allende, in the state of Guanajuato, not far from Querétaro. Without thinking twice, I added it to my priority list before leaving Latin America this December. Well, now that I’ve visited the place, I’m really glad that I did!
UNESCO has its world heritage sites. Mexico has its pueblos mágicos. Roughly translating to “Magical Village”, the tag has been in use since 2001, giving around 100 towns bearing the label some sort of prestige. A Pueblo Mágico is something that you must experience yourself, because describing it with words just won’t suffice. San Miguel de Allende used to be a pueblo mágico since 2002. Why was the tag revoked, then? Well, the town got promoted in 2008. It’s now a UNESCO World Heritage site.
No, there’s nothing occult about this town. Sorry to disappoint you if you thought that it would be full of witches flying around on broomsticks or whatever idea of magic you might have in mind. SMA is a pretty colonial town characterized by the uniform primary colors en vogue during the Spanish occupation. Getting to know such villages is inevitable when you are traveling around Latin America. In fact, I’ve seen quite a few in the last few months: Antigua, Havana, San Juan, Panama, Mérida, Valladolid. The list is long.
I easily get bored with monotony. But those colonial houses are far from monotonous, thanks to the splash of bright pastel colors. If the sun cooperates, then your photos will be spectacular. I guess my point with monotony is that the string of villages of such type that I’ve visited over the last few months make it seem as though I’ve seen nothing new. However, when I end up analyzing my trips, I always realize how the feeling is different every time. The vibe is never the same, despite the similarity in terms of appearance.
So far, I consider SMA as my favorite Spanish colonial town, with Antigua coming in at close second. Antigua was plain surreal. I couldn’t explain it, but perhaps the volcano and the mist were to blame. It just felt like a different world in spite of the tourist infestation. SMA feels more like a living organism in touch with reality, which is the daily lives of its residents. It feels magical, but not completely detached. You just feel like you can move there and be fine, as opposed to Antigua which feels more like a tourist destination.
Okay, enough raving for now. How do you get to SMA? Guanajuato is a big state, and I believe the closest international airport is in León. There is no shortage of comfortable luxury buses from Mexico City, may it be from the airport or the northern bus terminal. I ended up with Primera Plus. Buying the ticket online, I just had to print the itinerary with the barcode at home. The trip is almost four hours long, which is why getting on a good bus is essential if you still want to be in a good mood once you get there.
You can just walk toward the town center from the main bus terminal. SMA is compact, although the cobblestoned streets make it a bit of a challenge, but not as big as having a car and finding a place where to park it. Good luck with that. If you are tired, just hop on a pesero for the 10-minute journey. The one-way fare is standard at MXN5 (~PHP12.50). I booked my accommodation via Airbnb as always. It was located close to the Handicrafts Market. The road was really chill and typically Spanish colonial.
It got a bit cold in the evening, but the afternoon was just fine and warm enough thanks to the sun. I haven’t taken good photos in a while because of the rather gloomy atmosphere blanketing the capital and its surrounding provinces in the last few weeks. I’m so glad that it wasn’t the case for SMA because there’s just so many colonial architecture you can revel in spread out across the town. Most of them are churches and cathedrals, as well as the ubiquitous old houses that give the village its Spanish flavor.
The highlight of the trip was the Parroquia de San Miguel Arcángel. Google “San Miguel de Allende” and you’re sure to stumble upon the photo of a cathedral with several spires shooting toward the heavens. Personally, I prefer those over domes, and this cathedral gives me flashbacks of Barcelona’s la Sagrada Familia, albeit way more petite. It’s still magical nonetheless, and is as charming in the morning under broad daylight as it is at night when it transforms into a tower of lights illuminating the plaza.
The iconic photo of the narrow cobblestoned street leading to the church and flanked by colorful houses on both sides must be taken from a back alley, which I no longer explored because I was just too distracted by the social activities unfolding at the plaza in front of it. The place seems perpetually jampacked with both tourists and locals, and I guess we can’t blame them because the ambiance is that conducive for strolling. The center of town life, the vicinity is abound with restaurants and bars.
There are several other churches and “temples” that you can visit. As for me, I had pasta for lunch before chilling at El Nigromante, the cultural center housing works of art and a courtyard complete with a verdant garden and seats that allow you to bask under the warm sun. I went out again in the evening for a stroll, which I highly recommend. The town is neither bright nor dark at night, but rather dimly lit which gives it a very romantic vibe, especially with that cool breeze brushing your face. If you’re lucky, you might even witness a wedding at one of the churches, which I did. I so love this place!
[SAN MIGUEL DE ALLENDE] A Town of Magic