San Miguel de Allende, Mexico is Central America’s Most Charming Historic Town
It’s almost noon in San Miguel de Allende. It’s a perfect time to stroll down cobblestone streets, to poke your head into cozy restaurants, and to choose your favorite rooftop deck for a lazy lunch. It’s a time when Sanmiguelenses (San Miguel residents) congregate on benches in El Jardín, the town’s central park, in search of a shady respite beneath beautifully pruned topiaries. It’s a time for church bells – the iconic harmonies of the Parroquia de San Miguel Arcángel, the town’s pink-sandstone church known for its Gothic spires and Moorish bell tower.
At this midday hour, it’s easy to see why nearly 18% of the town’s residents are expatriates and retirees: San Miguel is worthy in so many ways. This is a city of centuries-old buildings, their weathered shutters flung wide in welcome. It’s a town of year-round spring (60º to 80º, always!) and reasonable cost-of-living (San Miguel de Allende real estate prices recently hit an all-time low, but are now recovering fast!). It’s a place of strong community and even stronger cultural offerings. And San Miguel is also a city of safety and low crime, far removed from the sensationalist headlines that plague much of Mexico.
Many beautiful hideaways keep you an arm’s distance away, fated always to be an outsider: lucky enough to admire but never welcome to enter, to participate, to inhabit. San Miguel doesn’t believe in arm’s distance. From young artists to vacation home investors to seniors retiring in San Miguel, the town offers the promise of community – the potential for good investment and the guarantee of open arms and new friends.
Just a little over 3 hours northwest of Mexico City, the small mountain town of San Miguel de Allende sits perched on a mesa a mile above sea level – and a world away from the Mexico of travel stereotypes. Here, there are no beaches, no scorching temperatures, no tourist throngs. Here, colonial charm and friendly intimacy amble together down picturesque streets – safe streets far removed from the violence that plagues other areas of Mexico.
San Miguel’s lovely historic district covers just 68 square blocks – a melee of cobblestone streets, bustling art galleries, convivial bars, architectural curiosities, and elegant restaurants. This eclectically wonderful combination has drawn a varied bunch of urbanites, art lovers, foodies and retirees – an expatriate population estimated at 14,000, or nearly 18% of the city’s total population.
And it’s not just the art galleries and restaurants that make this such a coveted place to live: San Miguel is insulated from large-scale tourism, so it retains a certain mystique – a sense of old Mexico, where the streets are dusty and the walls are ancient. But the town is also decidedly modern, with amenities like high-speed Internet, a small mall and world-class medical facilities.
If there’s one thing San Miguel de Allende doesn’t lack, it’s the “cool” factor. Cool practically paints the town with its wide brushstrokes, from the historic walls covered in ivy to the hidden courtyards secreted into secluded corners, and from the smoky jazz clubs that buzz with nightlife to the tiny art galleries that sprinkle the historic district.
Since the 1930s, San Miguel has attracted artists, restaurateurs, and aesthetes from around the globe. The result is a city with the class and sophistication of Europe, the amenities of the New World, and the charm of Old World Mexico. At night, the city unrolls its cobblestone carpet to welcome you to live bands, strong cocktails, and rooftop dining, complete with cool mountain air and twinkling lights.
The food, the art, the culture, the skyline – the entire San Miguel scene is what makes this tiny town, secreted away in the middle of nowhere, Latin America’s most sought-after colonial city. It doesn’t hurt that Mexico’s cost of living is a fraction of that in the United States, Canada and Europe: expats, transplants and retirees can live well for less than they ever could at home.
But in San Miguel, expatriates do more than live: they inhabit. They own small businesses; they make new friends; they write about their town; they volunteer; they teach. Here, expats contribute. They participate. They live the lives they’ve always dreamed. You can find a touch of luxury and some wide-open spaces if you like, some residents turn to upscale San Miguel de Allende real estate, like the communities of Ventanas de San Miguel, Capilla de Piedra and Villas de Candelabria. These communities offer extras like golf, tennis, swimming pools, and spas – perfect for discerning buyers looking to purchase San Miguel vacation homes, second-home investments, and retirement “dream homes.”
For some, that dream involves a tiny colonial home in San Miguel’s historic district. But the price of history is steep – and not just for the wallet. Historic homes, with their labyrinths of tiny rooms and tinier courtyards, comprise some of the city’s most expensive real estate per square meter. But no price, no matter how high, can buy an escape from downtown’s noisy streets, where there is no zoning to separate commerce from residential living. No amount can eliminate the hustle and bustle (and accompanying smog) of life in a busy historic district.
More and more, expatriates, second homeowners, and retirees are moving just outside San Miguel’s historic hub. Communities outside of San Miguel’s Centro offer the best of both worlds: peace, quiet and space to roam, just minutes from downtown’s art, restaurant and cultural scene. Tack on amenities like a golf course, tennis courts, a swimming pool, and spa, and it’s easy to see why so many residents agree that you don’t have to live in town, to enjoy the town.