San Miguel de Allende: Paradise Under Pressure?

About 20 minutes later this beautiful cloud transformed into an late afternoon rain.

About 20 minutes later this beautiful cloud transformed into a late afternoon rainstorm.

Any number of flattering adjectives describe one of Mexico’s most popular travel destinations: vibrant, serene, idyllic, or simply drop-dead gorgeous. San Miguel de Allende provides stunning eye appeal, pleasant year round temperatures, brilliant blue skies and dazzling clouds.

The Instituto Allende offers a great location to captures some of the city's churches.

The Instituto Allende is a great location to capture the city’s most prominent church.

Salida Real a Queretaro offers a panoramic lookout of the city below.

Salida Real a Queretaro offers a panoramic lookout of the city below.

In 2008, UNESCO was so taken with San Miguel de Allende that the 64-square block of El Centro was named a World Heritage site (along with the Sanctuary of Jesús Nazareno de Atotonilco, a few miles outside of town). Among the reasons UNESCO cited were preservation of the Baroque and Neo Gothic architecture and the city’s efforts to retain its historical feel. You won’t find parking meters, traffic lights, fast food chains, or stop signs in the central city.

Look down almost any street in San Miguel de Allende and you will find color and charm.

Look down almost any street in San Miguel de Allende and you see color and charm.

What you do find is a riot of color, cobblestone streets, neatly trimmed trees in inviting plazas, pavers set in concrete that serve as sidewalks and building facades preserved in the style of their original era. Ignore the vehicles and buses and San Miguel de Allende takes you back to another time and place.

Color is everywhere and adds to the beauty of the place.

Color is everywhere and adds to the beauty of the place.

The town’s fortunes ebbed and flowed, but in the mid 1940s San Miguel de Allende’s most famous American expatriate, Stirling Dickinson, put the town on the map for artists and writers.

The town is nestled into hillsides, meaning that streets can be steep and at 6,200 ASL, one can easily get winded.

The town is nestled into hillsides, streets can be steep, and at 6,200 feet ASL, one can easily get winded.

More recently, quaint charm has become a land rush as Americans, Canadians and Mexicans flock here, driving up real estate prices and transforming a once-sleepy town into a sometimes-crowded community of well over 100,000 people. (Population figures are hard to nail down as the total figure of 140,000 people includes the entire municipality, or county.)

A mason deftly trims off a brick during the construction of a new home high in the hills.

A mason deftly trims a brick during construction of a new home high in the hills.

A weekend during the summer season means streets can become congested -- and noisy.

Weekends during the summer season means streets can become congested — and noisy.

There are anywhere from 10,000 to 12,000 expats who live here. And with upwards of 250,000 visitors a years, summer weekends transform San Miguel de Allende into something of an awkward attempt at Mexico Disneyfication, replete with traffic congestion, visitors anxious to squeeze in every activity and vendors hawking wares. For example, the Parish Church, across from El Jardin, is the most photographed churches in Mexico and a wildly popular venue for weddings.

The Parish Church, across from El Jardin.

The most photographed church in Mexico, Parroquia de San Miguel Arcangel, across from El Jardin.

Accompanied by well wishers, a band and over-sized puppets, these newlyweds have left the church enroute to their reception.

Well wishers, a band and over-sized puppets, escort newlyweds from the church to their reception.

Walking anywhere in town demands your attention. The stone pavers are uneven and there are occasional holes in sidewalks that often narrow to a couple of feet in width. In some parts of the city dog droppings remain until the next good rain. But cabs are easy to catch and as of this writing, local, in-town rides run about 40 pesos.

Bright green taxis are easy to spot and flat-rate fares make getting around quick and easy.

Bright green taxis are easy to spot and flat-rate fares make getting around quick and easy.

San Miguel de Allende is a compact city and can be noisy – from the eruption of fireworks (so popular, first-timers wonder if a firefight has broken out), church bells (one guide suggested as many as 40 churches, chapels and temples are here), and ever-increasing vehicle noise (motorcycles and four-wheel ATVs can shatter a serene moment or afternoon nap). Increased urbanization is beginning to affect air quality from the vehicles along with lax air quality enforcement from operations such as brick kilns that feed the area’s booming home construction.

While there are no parking meters, drivers can spend a good amount of time looking for street parking. Parking garages can be found throughout the city.

With no parking meters, drivers can spend time looking for parking. Garages are throughout the city.

But whatever negatives the city struggles with there are many pluses that make this a enchanting destination. For example, fiestas abound and many weekends there is a party with music and festive costumes. And a strong law enforcement presence keeps locals and tourists safe.

The morning shape-up for the traffic enforcement team is augmented by local and state police, making San Miguel de Allende very safe.

The morning shape-up for the traffic enforcement team is augmented by local and state police, making San Miguel de Allende very safe.

The town’s reputation as Mexico’s number two food city (after Mexico City), is proven time and again; from trendy and creative restaurants, any one of the well-regarded street vendors, or a family eatery that serves simple, but scrumptious local fare.

A group of friends gathers for a nightcap at one of the many popular bars in the city.

A group of friends gather for a nightcap at one of the many bars in the city.

Beyond the museums, art galleries, shops and markets, other nearby attractions offer a chance to appreciate the local culture and the area’s rich history; Cañada de la Virgen and its ancient temple, the Botanical Gardens, the orchid garden Los Pocitos, and the hot springs at either La Gruta or Escondido Place (just a short cab ride from El Centro). And the Biblioteca Publico in El Centro has the second-largest English language book collection in Mexico.

Shopping means you go one place for food, another for staple goods and yet somewhere else for meat. This fruit and vegetable stand always does a brisk business.

Shopping means you go one place for food, another for staple goods and yet somewhere else for meat. This fruit and vegetable stand always does a brisk business.

San Miguel de Allende is many things, but most of all it is a city well worth the visit. Like many, you may fall in love and stay for the rest of your life.

Often found in El Jardin, these 'dolls' pose for pictures with tourists.

Often found in El Jardin, this ‘mojiganga’ poses for pictures with tourists.

A young boy hurries up the steps as vehicles wend their way down the street.

A young boy hurries up the steps as an ATV wends its way down the street.

whc.unesco.org/en/list/1274

en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ca%C3%B1ada_de_la_Virgen

visitsanmiguel.travel/0ing/

experience-san-miguel-de-allende.com/

internetsanmiguel.com/

sanmiguelgringo.com/tour/hot-springs/

 

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