Finding Timeless Charm in the Mexican Highlands: One Day in San Miguel de Allende

Timeless colonial architecture.
Casual afternoon strolls.
Endless charming alleys and boutiques.
Tiny courtyard cafes, tucked away from the street.
A relaxed pace of living, home to artists, expats and visitors from around the world.
Temperatures warm enough to be considered perpetual spring.
And, a culinary scene with some of the best food in Mexico. 

With over 500 years of history, San Miguel de Allende, a small town in the Mexican highlands, packs a punch. 

On our trip to San Miguel de Allende (SMDA), we spent the entire day turning down every street we happened across.

It’s the kind of place you don’t need an agenda- every street is picturesque, and has something worth observing. 

We visited on a day trip from CDMX, which made for a long journey, but was certainly worth it to visit this gorgeous place of cobbled streets and old-world charm.

Why Visit SMDA?

This small town in the gorgeous central Mexican state of Guanajuato has over 500 years of history, and is designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Timeless colonial architecture and a relaxed pace of life have long inspired artists.

With year-round temperatures averaging between 75-85 degrees, SMDA is in a state of perpetual spring.

SMDA is also known for being the cradle of Mexican independence, the first place to gain independence from Spanish rule.

In 1926, the Mexican government declared the town a historic and protected site, preserving San Miguel de Allende’s charming colonial architecture and layout.

Getting to SMDA

Getting to SMDA from CDMX is relatively easy.

From the airport, you can arrange a car transfer, or take a taxi to the bus station in the north of the city, and bus up from there.

Since we were leaving from and returning to Roma, we took an Uber to the northern bus station. We could’ve also taken a local bus or the metro to the station, but we felt the day trip was long enough without extra time navigating CDMX’s transit network.

There are a few different bus companies, but we’d read good things about Primera Plus, and decided to pre-book with them.

You can also book at the station, but because we had limited time options for a day trip, we wanted to ensure seats were available on the buses we’d need to take.

Return, it was $38 USD per person, which was absolutely worth it for the comfort of a luxury bus. 

At the station, the Primera Plus counter was easy to locate, and reps were waiting at the gate, leaving no question of which bus was ours.

The bus itself had WiFi, and plush, huge, reclining seats with footrests. Each seat pair has curtains, as well as a tv. When you board, you’re offered choice of snacks, plus a drink- and yes, there are toilets on board.

We slept most of the way there, and read/listened to podcasts on the way back.

Mid-week, when we went, the buses weren’t full either way, so we each had two seats to ourselves.

Whether you’re going for a speedy day, or longer, Primera Plus is an ultra comfortable way to travel.

If you’ve got over 3-4 people, you may be tempted to take a taxi since it’s direct, although, it’ll likely nowhere near as comfortable as the luxury bus. Taxi rates fluctuate, but I’ve heard they often average $120-147 each way.

Depending on where you stay in SMDA, you’ll either need to walk from the bus station (it’s about 10-15 minutes from the centre of town, but along a safe road with a sidewalk), or take a taxi (the rate is fixed).

How Much Time to Spend in SMDA

Originally, our plan was to spend three days in SMDA, but with me being so sick our first few days in CDMX, we lost time in the city.

And, from what I’d seen of CDMX, I knew I couldn’t leave without spending more time, exploring its different neighbourhoods.

After venturing to SMDA for a day, I had no doubt my decision was the right one.

Is SMDA worth visiting in a single day? 

Yes, but it’s an aggressive day trip. With the bus taking 3.5-4 hours each way, it’s long. 

However, if you take the luxury bus like we did, it’s comfortable and the time flies. 

If you’re like us and have the choice of either visiting SMDA or missing it altogether, go for a day.

But, if you can swing more time and are truly in the mood to relax, I’d go for at least 2-3 days. The town is small, but there are so many nooks and crannies, we kept commenting how lovely it would be to just sit in courtyard cafes and read the afternoon away. 

What to do in SMDA

The best part about SMDA?

You can do as much or as little as you’d like.

With roughly nine hours to see the best of town, we mostly explored at leisure, popping in a few places that looked interesting.

  • Don’t miss Mexican mochas (like a regular mocha, but with cinnamon and chill) in Cafe Oso Azul, a locally owned cafe with a beautiful courtyard
  • Pop into tiny courtyards you wander past, most are cafes or restaurants, and would be more than happy to serve you coffee while you relax in a lush garden oasis, and read or chat
  • Gawk at the stunning pink church in town centre. Originally constructed in the 17th century, the neo-Gothic facade was built in the 18th century by master builder Don Zeferino Gutierrez, who reputedly based the design on a Belgian church
    • Another beautiful church to see: Santuario de Atotonilco, oft hailed as the ‘Sistine Chapel’ of Mexico
  • Relax in the main garden square, the Jardin
  • Admire the street art in Guadalupe, an especially colorful neighborhood in San Miguel de Allende
  • Stroll the Artesian market for hand painted ceramics, mirrors, Day of the Dead artwork, and to sample pulque (fermented agave drink)
  • Bask in the afternoon sun while sipping refreshing fruit water, and enjoying savoury tacos on the rooftop of Baja Fish Taquito

Although we only had one day in San Miguel de Allende, we came armed with plenty of recommendations on where to eat, cheers margaritas, and drink coffee:

  • Coffee:
    • El Cafe de la Mancha (for serious coffee lovers)
    • Buen Dia Cafe (top floor terrace)
    • Lavanda (healthy breakfast)
    • Zenteno Cafe
    • Cafe Oso Azul (beautiful courtyard + Mexican mochas) 
  • Eat:
    • El Correo (classic Mexican breakfast)
    • Baja Fish Taquito (tacos)
    • Los Milagros (Mexican breakfast)
    • La Mesa Grande (bakery)
    • Panaderia La Colmena (Mexican bread shop, in operation since 1901)
    • Cafetería San Agustín (famous for its churros, and popular with visitors from across Mexico because of affiliation with Mexican soap opera star, Margarita Gralia)

    • Andy’s Taco Truck (opens at sundown)

  • Drink:
    • Luna Rooftop Tapas Bar (beautiful sunset view)
    • La Mezcaleria (mezcal cocktails)
    • Santos Crudoteca (local bar, jazz at night)
    • La Posadita (rooftop, famous for its tamarind margaritas)

Our jaunt to San Miguel de Allende was a gorgeous day outside CDMX.

I’d have loved to stay longer- especially since SMDA is so peaceful, but I’m grateful to have been able to visit.

Have you ever been somewhere like San Miguel de Allende that captivated you in only a matter of hours?

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2 thoughts on “Finding Timeless Charm in the Mexican Highlands: One Day in San Miguel de Allende

  1. Yum, I’d love to have a Mexican mocha! San Miguel de Allende is gorgeous at every twist and turn, and should I return to Mexico, there’s no doubt I’ll make the trip to see this colorful city!

    • Your comment inspired me to make my own ‘Mexican mocha’ this week with a bit of chili on top of my regular weekly mocha 🙂

      And, can’t recommend SMDA enough – I’ve heard it’s often overrun with visitors, but when I visited mid-week in January, there weren’t too many people around, and it was just the loviest, little town to explore.

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