You’ve let the magic take hold. San Miguel de Allende, in Mexico’s central highlands, has captured your heart, and you want to spend more time here. Maybe retirement beckons and San Miguel is starting to feel like the right place to call home. Or you want a second home where you can spend a season or two each year. Or maybe you're a Mexican looking for a peaceful space to get away from the hustle of big-city life, a weekend home in a place totally different from where you spend your regular days. And you've decided San Miguel can be that perfect place.
But where should you begin looking for that home? Which neighborhood or area in San Miguel will give you all the magic you want, along with convenience, quiet, beauty, and at the right price? Are there advantages to living outside the historic centro in San Miguel de Allende?
Yes, there definitely are.
It’s natural to think at first that El Centro, the UNESCO recognized part of this town, is the only place you’d want to live in San Miguel. With its gorgeous colonial buildings, its elegant churches, dozens of art galleries, world-class restaurants, history at every turn, it’s a big part of the San Miguel magic.
But there is much more to the town beyond this small neighborhood.
San Miguel is no longer the sleepy pueblo it was 30-40 years ago, when there was little traffic, burros on the streets were still common, and everything closed for siesta in the afternoon.
Growth and popularity have brought some traffic problems, crowded streets (especially on big holiday weekends) and noise. Naturally, everyone wants to explore the beautiful centro, discovering all the reasons it was named a UNESCO World Heritage Site and has also been called “The Best Small City in the World.”
But when your day of exploration is done, it's lovely to retreat to the peace of a quieter, less bustling neighborhood or the calm and natural beauty of the countryside. The outlying colonias, such as Guadalupe (the city’s Art District), Independencia, and San Antonio, are much quieter and less crowded residential neighborhoods, and all are merely a short walk from the Jardín.
You will sleep better in them.
Even here, though, you’ll often hear the usual 4 am fireworks explosions and barking roof dogs, part of the daily soundtrack of living in a Mexican town. For serious peace and quiet, you might decide to actually get out of town, and that is far easier than it used to be.
There are many lovely property developments, such as TAO San Miguel, located in Valle de Los Senderos, springing up within a few short miles of the center but feeling like oases of quiet in the country. These are the places where you can actually hear songbirds instead of roof dogs and splashing fountains instead of car engines. In the country, you can walk among nature, let your dog run free, spot new entries for your birding life list.
With less light pollution, you'll enjoy more dramatic night skies. Horseback riding across the desert on a sunny afternoon or under a full moon, tasting a fresh local wine right at the vineyard, or feeling your muscles melt into the naturally heated water of one of several thermal hot springs nearby... these are more benefits of getting out of the center of town.
This is what getting away in San Miguel is really about.
Thirty years ago, the shops facing onto the Jardín included two small supermarkets, an art supply store, a bar, a used furniture store, a place to get keys made, etc. You know, the everyday businesses people need and use in a small town.
Today’s high rents for businesses in the centro have priced such places out of the market. Today, if you are shopping for fine art, boutique clothing, or high-grade souvenirs, or if you want to sit at a sidewalk café, then el Jardin is the place to be. But getting a key made or picking up a can of soup? Not possible. You'll need to leave the neighborhood to obtain these basic services that are part of living in a place.
The outlying colonias are still real neighborhoods. There’s a mom-and-pop tienda (tiny grocery store) on nearly every corner. You can get your car washed, buy a mop, pay a phone bill, and buy organic vegetables, all without leaving the ‘hood. Colonia San Antonio has it own “Restaurant Row” with eateries at every price level.
If you opt for being out of town altogether, but near enough to pop in any time you want in just minutes, there’s the convenience of knowing you’ll always have the quiet of the country. You'll be surrounded by wide-open views of the high desert and mountains and the skyline of San Miguel just a couple of miles away. You're close to world-class golf courses, wineries, horseback stables.
In the Fall, after the summer rainy season ends, the hillsides around you will be covered in a sea of purple cosmos flowers and yellow-gold wild marigolds. Tall Mexican sunflowers will be nodding beside every roadway and along the rows of every cornfield. It's like living in an impressionist painting.
As residents opt more and more for homes out of town--either for living in full-time or as seasonal or weekend second homes--businesses are springing up to serve them.
El Vergel Bistro and Market, just off the Dolores Highway, will serve you a fine French-accented bistro meal or sell you the high-quality gourmet foodstuffs to go home and cook one yourself. With more than 2 dozen cheeses, five kinds of rice, quinoa and couscous and a range of fresh fruits and vegetables, you’ll have dinner sorted in no time. And they deliver!
In the same neighborhood, you’ll find the wonderful new French restaurant La Bastide, at the turn-off for Camino a Taboada and near Los Senderos. If you’re not a vegetarian, order the duck confit and the charcuterie platter. You’ll think you’re in France…but with cactus.
No, it is no longer necessary to come into the center of town to dine very well indeed in San Miguel de Allende.
One of the appeals of buying real estate in San Miguel de Allende is the rise in value. Once the town recovered from the economic slump of 2008, the value of property took off and is now once again an excellent investment. But that means that buying a house right in the historic center of San Miguel will be cost prohibitive for many. And you will get much less house for your money.
By opting for the outlying colonias or the developed communities outside of town, your dollars/pesos/euros will stretch a lot farther. Also, buying new construction has its benefits, in upkeep and peace of mind. You’ll sleep better when you’re not worried about the 200-year-old boveda ceiling above your bed leaking all over you.
Whether building or buying in San Miguel de Allende, you will get far more footage and finishing for a lower per-square-foot price in the colonias and communities outside of the centro.
El Centro of San Miguel de Allende is beautiful, colorful, magical… all those things you’ve read about in the glossy travel magazine articles. Yes, it really is all those things, and yes, you really are going to fall in love with it. But for residents and frequent weekenders, it's often nicer to come into the center for the day and then return to the peace and quiet of the countryside.
In the outer colonias, you can walk, ride a public bus, or hail a taxi into the centro for a few pesos.
From outside town, you can call an Uber car or a radio taxi from town, or drive yourself into the center and park in any of a number of public parking garages. Then walk the ancient cobblestoned streets, sit under the laurel trees in the Jardín, listen to the church bells, enjoy the full panoply of San Miguel's magic. Then return to the quiet of home, the fresh air of the country, the sounds of birds and views of the Santa Rosa Mountains to the west.
May 17, 2018