Saturday, August 10, 2013

My Thoughts On San Miguel de Allende
Before I even left for San Miguel de Allende I received emails asking me to post my thoughts on what I had discovered about the city, the people and its surroundings.  It's a long story and I'll try to post some pictures along the way to make it a bit  more interesting.

As some of you know, we have rented places in SMA in the past usually for a few days or a week, and we also rented rv space from the now defunct La Siesta Hotel and Rv Park (QEPD or RIP).  We have also boondocked with the rv in front of the Charco del Ingenio Botanical Gardens with great success.

VRPO is a famous condo and house rental website.  We have rented through them on two occasions and have never been let down.  It is very detailed and explicit, deposits are made and returned without any issue and the instructions, pictures and any details are all spelled out and posted up front.  One rental the owner and I corresponded a couple of times regarding my concerns on location and amenities and it all worked out for the good.

This rental I found posted on the infamous Yahoo Group called The Civil List.   Not very civil as sometimes, like on any forum, people can get hot-headed and out of hand but the moderators seem to have some  tolerance.   My criteria for this trip was "cheap".   We wanted to spend most of the hottest part of Monterrey summer in cool climes.   We had gone to Hacienda Contreras where the weather, people, food and hiking are the best but because of changes in the rv park we opted for SMA.  Cheap is what we got at $280 (u.s.) per month.  It was a three room casita; living room, kitchen, bedroom with full bath.   Spartan would be a good description.  The big advantage was location.  It was literally a few minutes walk from just about everything and because of that we rarely used the car except for trips outside of the city.   Even walking to the Tuesday market in Luciernaga is very doable if you are in good physical condition. 

Parking in SMA is an issue, albeit not a big one.   Parking lots are available throughout the centro historico and you can get lucky and find street parking during the week and early on weekends.   Traffic tends to back up during rush hour, if you want to call it that, although remember it is a city and people do work.   Weekends can find you regretting the taxi fare or driving in centro when you see people you may have passed 15 minutes ago walking ahead of your vehicle.  Our casita was located in the San Antonio area which some consider on the lower side of centro and in the past notorious for car break ins.  We parked on the street without any issues for almost two months.  I always put the "club" on the steering wheel and set the alarm which shows a flashing light on the door next to the lock as a deterrent.   Never an issue.  Monthly parking lots exist and there were two on our street.  I didn't check the cost but I estimate it at 400 pesos a month.

San Miguel de Allende was designated a World Heritage Site and to this day I am still a bit confused about what that really means and what it does for the city.  The city has water from underground wells that is chlorinated but it is not purified.  Does it need to be?  I've never tested the water but drink it without issue.  We use bottled for coffee and to fill some reusable bottles but the tap water seems to work.  There is open sewage in some parts of the city.   We had an open sewage stream about three blocks from the house that runs under the street near the well-known section of La Aldea, that area always smells of sewage.  Not knocking the town but it is the reality and the reason I mention it is that I wonder what UNESCO does exactly when it designates a place as a World Heritage Site?   I checked a few months ago and it appeared there hadn't been a meeting about it in the last 15 years.   It has put SMA on the map but other than that I'm suspicious of what they really do.

Food runs the gamut.   I stopped recommending restaurants years ago.  It seemed no matter what I recommended it never panned out for the person that I sent there.   In SMA there are touristy places that cater to the ex-pat community and the Mexican tourists.  At the famous Rosewood Hotel a glass of wine is 95 pesos while at the Berlin Bar and Eatery they have hard liquor cocktails, two for one, at 35 pesos each, much more my style and a really nice place, very quaint.  The famous Pueblo Viejo is another hot spot and draws quite a crowd but the same two vodkas came to 75 pesos each.   I don't push food much anymore as I have become bitter about restaurants that serve old food or buy things premade at Costco and Sam's.   There is one Argentinian restaurant on Zacateros that was offering a top sirloin dinner for 120 pesos this week.   Cafe Monet looks pretty she-she but in reality it is a very good deal.  Les had coffee with us there and I can't remember ordering a piece of pie for 35 pesos in years.  The atmosphere, furnishing, food and service made it a fun afternoon.   They also have a movie night which includes the movie, full dinner, wine, dessert and coffee for 120 pesos.  Right at the bottom of San Antonio by the Aldea.   Taco Don Tequila on Hernandez Macia was a recommendation from mi tacayo (guy with the same name) at the gym.  Chris recommended this place.  It is small, quaint and very Mexican.   Great simple food that includes tacos, quesadillas, gringas, stuffed baked potatoes along with some great salsas and chips.   Cheap, cheap, cheap.  We went there twice it was so good.   Along Ancha de San Antonio which is the main drag into Centro from the Mega or known as the salida a Celaya, are several outdoor cafes that we used for breakfast.  Who can turn down a complete breakfast, under an umbrella along the street for 35 pesos.   A great place to see people walking by or zipping by on their scooters (and you know who I'm talking about).

Ex-pats.   No w we get into touchy turf and thanks to Juan we divided them into three groups.  The tourists, permanents that don't mix with the Mexican community and those that do mix with the Mexican community.  I would bet that close to 90% of all ex-pats living in SMA for over 10 years speak little to no Español.  I will quote again research being done by a Canadian from Calgary who said,

"But moving to a new country - even if it's an inexpensive tropical paradise - is never easy, and O'Brien says people go through several phases as they adapt to their new life. They start out, he says, by thinking they're going to be living like kings in paradise; eventuality, reality sets in.

For most expatriates, reality is that they end up living in a pleasant but isolated enclave.

O'Brien says the expats in the community he studied had essentially recreated a North American lifestyle in one small corner of the Yucatan. "They are living exactly the same life they'd live at home, but in a different location," he says. Most "absolutely love" the life, but his study showed some problems.

The first, he says, is that the expat community is negatively affecting the local population "even though they don't notice it themselves." For example, he said the expats often make no attempt to learn Spanish, and expect to be dealt with in English. And their relationships with the locals are based on service, not friendship. As a result, says O'Brien, the expats' relationship to the locals is often condescending.

He also explains that expats have surprisingly little contact with their families back home. "It's kind of shocking," he says, adding that most people he talked to report that missing family members is the most difficult part of living abroad. Part of that may be due the fact that the community he studied was not on the tourist circuit, and therefore not as easy to get to as some of the cities or resorts."

We witnessed many such instances where people would look down on locals, shake their finger, shake their head and pretty much leave the person who was assisting them, humiliated.   

If you want to buy a place to live in SMA they are in abundance.  Everyone has a "for sale" sign on their house even though they probably don't have it listed with a  realtor.  They're really not looking to sell but what the heck if a foreigner comes along and makes them an offer.  Be prepared to pay through the nose.   Amazing that many places are long, narrow properties with little to no construction and can go for an easy $500,000 (u.s.).    We are talking lots that are 8 meters by 30 meters.  That's roughly 2600 sq feet or $195 (u.s.) per square foot.   I think they're nuts.   Some people we met found a house with great views, 192 sqm of land and 190 sqm of construction for $220,000 (u.s.).  The street is cobblestone, at the top of a hill on a street so narrow a car can barely pass.   I guess views really do have a price.

What about outdoor activities.  There are plenty of opportunities and many are nearby.  The Charco del Ingenio is the botanical gardens on the other side of the glorieta leading to Queretaro.  A few minutes from downtown, it offers great hiking, birdwatching as well as the opportunity to become familiar with local as well as surrounding flora.   You can purchase a membership there and visit as many times as you like even bring a friend.   Volunteers are always needed to help with the upkeep, maintenance and general policing of the gardens.   Just outside the city is true countryside with many mountain area accesses such as Jalpa.   In Queretaro is the famous Peña de Bernal which is a monolith and also the town has been named as a pueblo magico.   Just about all roads out of SMA lead to some type of hiking or walking along with the thermal springs in outside of Atotonilco which is accessible by bus as well.

The "Cuna de Independencia", Dolores Hidalgo, is a short drive and offers a museum, wonderful historical sites, good food and the most amazing flavors of ice cream.  We took advantage day trips to other nearby towns such as Salva Tierra, Celaya, and Comonfort.   All have amazing plazas and checking their websites you can always find some local fair, festival or activity going on.

We're hoping to have our place there soon if not someday in the near future.  I wouldn't want to live there 24/7 but it makes for a fantastic base for rv travel.  Again, the weather is the best and living in a small but touristic city makes for a lot of activities, volunteering and all around fun.

If there is anything I didn't cover, feel free to ask.


  1. Great Blog about SMA. I enjoyed reading it but what happened to the pictures?
    Glad Juan broke up the ex pats into three categories. We all know that everyone is not as that article describes. Some but not all. I would hope that most ex pats are nice people who do speak a little Spanish.
    Again great article.

  2. Been to San Miguel twice. The first time, we were left unimpressed and couldn't see what all the fuss was about. Then we figured it out. It's like Chapala. There really is no attraction (other than the weather) but the expats like to go where there are other expats. Then we also learned that many of them have been to nowhere else in Mexico! Sure, it's a generality, but generalities exist for a reason. Anyhow, no ambition to go back to San Miguel. Well, unless it was to visit you guys!

  3. what a shame Kevin you are missing out on a gem of a town and the people are wonderful Mexican and otherwise..each to his own..I love it here cheers Les

  4. Bill & I have spent only a few days in San M., but thought it a place we could stay an extended time. So far we've not made it back... but your observations actually make me want to return and wander the streets again. As you know, though, we will never be expats... more temporary than that... but try to take in as much as the local flavor as possible. If you guys ever do get a house there, we'd probably be some of your first renters ;-)

  5. We have been to SMA a few times, stayed at the RV Park with the tennis courts. Loved walking the town but a week at a time was more than enough. It has retained a lot of the charm of a regular Mexican town but it is now really an overpriced haven for wealthy expats. We much prefer Guanajauto or dozens of other towns, including several of the "Pueblo Magicos". As you mentioned Mazamitla would certainly be a great refuge from the summer heat, or even Patzcuaro.

  6. We have been to SMA a few times, stayed at the RV Park with the tennis courts. Loved walking the town but a week at a time was more than enough. It has retained a lot of the charm of a regular Mexican town but it is now really an overpriced haven for wealthy expats. We much prefer Guanajauto or dozens of other towns, including several of the "Pueblo Magicos". As you mentioned Mazamitla would certainly be a great refuge from the summer heat, or even Patzcuaro.

  7. Live here for a while then make comments and or quote people.The Yucatan is a thousand miles from here

    1. John, could you expand a bit on your comment? Not quite sure what or who you are referring to. You can also drop me an email, the email address is always at the top of the blog post. Thanks

  8. Please leave your racism back in the States..