The Backpacker’s Guide to San Miguel de Allende | Mexico

One of Mexico’s most popular non-beach destinations is the city of San Miguel de Allende. It’s pretty easy to see why. San Miguel is a beautiful and historic city. For travelers who want to dip their toes into Mexico, San Miguel is a great introduction. It’s like a gateway drug to falling in love with the rest of Mexico. San Miguel is safe, clean, and modern, all while holding the authentic Mexican charm and history of the country’s most magical pueblos.

I heard mixed things about San Miguel before I went, but decided to go anyway. Most of the complaints I heard were that it had too many expats, was too touristy, and a little pricier than Mexico’s other destinations. All of those were true, but that doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy San Miguel. The way people described it to me, I was expecting the entire population to be elderly white Americans. Yes, there are quite a few, but if they bother you so much that it makes you hate San Miguel, then I think you might be the problem.

If you can get over the fact that some parts of town feel like an Olive Garden on Friday night, then you’ll be just fine in San Miguel. It is pricier, but that’s coming from someone who stretches their budget out to be travel indefinitely. If you’re just traveling in Mexico for a short while, San Miguel is pretty affordable. On a scale between San Cristobal de las Casas and Tulum, it’s somewhere right in the middle. And yes, there will be tourists around. All the best places will have tourists. I came to San Miguel during a holiday weekend and was kind of overwhelmed when I first set foot in the main plaza.

The weekends can get crazy, but the rest of the week, San Miguel is pretty chill. It’s a great destination for wanderers who like to take it slow and smell the roses. For the more adventurous traveler, it might be a little boring. I didn’t do too much while I was here, but spent the week enjoying the vibe, the views, the golden hours, and the food.

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How To Get To San Miguel de Allende

Being a popular travel destination, San Miguel de Allende is pretty straightforward to get to. If you are driving from Mexico City, it’ll take a little over three hours. From Guadalajara, it’ll be about four hours. Buses take a little longer, but is usually how I travel around Mexico. San Miguel is pretty close to other popular travel destinations like Queretaro and Guanajuato. Even though bus travel takes a little longer, it’s worth making the journey so you can visit San Miguel, Queretaro, and Guanajuato.

San Miguel de Allende doesn’t have an airport, but it is close to the bigger cities of Queretaro and Leon. Both airports are about an hour and a half away from San MIguel. From there, you can catch a cheap bus to San Miguel de Allende. It might be cheaper to fly into Mexico City International Airport and then catch a bus from there.

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Where To Stay in San Miguel de Allende for Backpackers

San Miguel is a bit pricier compared to other destinations in Mexico, but there are a few hostels that will help you explore San Miguel while sticking to a budget. The best area to stay in would be the historic city center. You’ll find plenty of hotels and hostels in this area. For travelers, you’ll likely want to stay around this area.

I stayed at a place called Hostal del Sol which was about four blocks from the main plaza. It was a great location, although didn’t really have the hostel vibe. There was a garden to hang out in, as well as a terrace and a common kitchen.

Looking on Hostelworld, Hostal Lool Beh seems to be the most popular one for travelers.

View all hostels in San Miguel de Allende

The Best Things to do in San Miguel de Allende

Like I said earlier, the best thing to do in San Miguel is to just wander around and explore the city. Every cobblestone street and narrow alleyway has beauty and charm to it. Roam through the many church plazas, parks, and gardens. Get an ice cream from the main plaza and take it on an adventure. Visit the markets, even if you’re not into shopping. Nibble on an elote while taking in the sights. Bring your camera out once golden hour hits those smooth cobblestone roads, making for an ethereal sight.

San Miguel’s a city to take it slow, roam aimlessly, and treat yourself to some good food and drinks. There’s also no shortage of day trips from San Miguel. It has a great central location.

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Explore the Historic Center’s Churches, Museums, and Plazas

This is where most of San Miguel’s most beautiful attractions are. The city itself feels like a work of art. The cathedrals and many churches are gorgeous, both inside and out. Of course, none are as beautiful as the Parroquia de San Miguel Arcangel, the stunning structure towering over the main plaza. The plazas with their statues and greenery add a serene vibe to an often bustling city. There are many museums to visit, so you can learn more about Mexico, its culture, and San Miguel de Allende.

Visit the Local Mercados

While San Miguel is one of the expat capitals of Mexico, it was never too hard to find traces of the real Mexico that lie underneath. Mercados are always a go-to whenever I want to feel the hustle and bustle of a Mexican city. Shopping for fresh fruits and vegetables, having a cheap breakfast of greasy chilaquiles, or just taking in the sensory overload. It’s always a guaranteed good time.

Wander Through San Miguel’s Alleyways and Cobbled Roads

One of my favorite things to do in San Miguel was to wander around during golden hour. The fading golden rays of the sun just added an extra layer of beauty to an already gorgeous city. There are no shortage of cute alleyways and cobblestone roads in San Miguel. Seriously, this city is annoyingly picturesque. You’ll be stopping to take pictures every few seconds.

san miguel de allende travel guide mexico

Sip on a Cocktail at a Rooftop Bar

There are few things that I love more than a rooftop bar. Sipping on a cocktail with the sun on your face and a gorgeous view, perfection. Thankfully, San Miguel has quite a few of those. One of the must-visits in San Miguel is Bekeb, a bar close to the city center with excellent cocktails.

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Best Day Trips From San Miguel de Allende

Dolores Hidalgo

A short bus ride away is the birthplace of Mexican independence. I took a bus from San Miguel to Dolores Hidalgo, spent a few hours, then hopped on a bus back. It’s the perfect distance away for a quick day trip, especially if you’re into history, culture, and ice cream.

Guanajuato

One of my favorite cities in Mexico is neighboring Guanajuato City. It’s like San Miguel’s cooler, trendier younger brother. This colorful city is a university town, so the crowd is much younger than San Miguel’s aging expat populace. For the partying traveler, Guanajuato was a dream city. You can visit Guanajuato on a day trip, but you’ll want to stay much longer.

guanajuato mexico pipila monument view

Queretaro and Peña de Bernal

An hour and a half away from San Miguel is the bustling city of Queretaro. The colonial city center here is one of my favorites in Mexico. It is really beautiful, but compared to Mexico’s other cities, relatively quiet from a tourism standpoint. It’s like a glimpse at what San Miguel might have looked like before the tourism boom and expat takeover.

Another hour away from Queretaro will take you to one of Mexico’s most unique villages. The pueblo magico of Bernal is home to one of the world’s biggest monoliths. Visit during a weekend and the vibe here is immaculate. People drinking in the streets, music in every corner of the city center, and plenty of great views to be had.

pena de bernal queretaro mexico

There are a few other places that I didn’t get a chance to visit while I was in San Miguel, whether it was lack of time or due to COVID closures. I’ve listed them below.

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Cañada de la Virgen

An archaeological site about 15 miles west of San Miguel.

Sanctuary of Atotonilco

A historical site a few miles outside of San Miguel.

Mineral de Pozos

A pueblo magico that is a little further away.

This region of Mexico is excellent for travelers, with no shortage of things to do. No matter how popular San Miguel may get, it is always worth the trip there.

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