Guanajuato is a lively and colorful city with colonial architecture, cobblestone streets, and a distinct European-esque charm that almost made us completely forget we were in Mexico. We visited the mirador and a few museums but quickly felt like we were running out of the things to do.
Upon the recommendation of some friends and family, we decided to take a day trip to nearby San Miguel de Allende. We recruited a few friends from our hostel and boarded the 11:50 am Primera Plus bus (see below for transportation info and costs). We spent about 6 hours wandering the Pueblo Magico. We all felt that 6 hours gave us a good feel for the town as it is quite small, making it a perfect day trip or weekend destination.
What to do:
In basically every direction outside of the center of San Miguel, there are picturesque streets lined with beautiful doors and widows perfect for getting lost. I don’t think I’ve ever taken so many photos of doors or windows in my life and to be honest, I wish I took more. I can’t count how many courtyards we accidentally stumbled into and found adorable cafes, restaurants, or art galleries. There are surprises around every corner in San Miguel – you may even run into a car covered in toys, a burro covered in flowers, or a paper mâché bride and groom.
Visit the Churches
With all of the charming architecture in the city, it is no surprise the churches in San Miguel are pretty spectacular. We were there on a Saturday in April and it appeared to be quite a busy day for weddings at the churches which made for lively celebrations in the streets (hence the paper mâché groom pictured above). The Parroquia de San Miguel Arcangel is in the center of the city and is considered one of the most beautiful colonial churches in Mexico. Some of our other favorite churches were the Templo de San Francisco and The Oratorio of San Felipe Neri.
Check out the View
The hillsides of San Miguel are not quite as colorful as those in Guanajuato but they are still incredibly beautiful, especially in the spring when the Jacaranda trees are in full bloom. There are a number of rooftop bars and restaurants in San Miguel but one of the most popular is the Luna Tapas Bar at the Rosewood Hotel. The drinks and food are pricey by Mexico standards but the view was too amazing to pass up. We found out later that there is actually a mirador (view point) in town that is free. Either way, do not miss a chance to get a view of the city!
Taste Balsamic and Olive Oils at Olio Fino
We accidentally discovered Olio Fino and I am so happy we did. They have an amazing assortment of unique, delicious balsamic and olive oils. Some of my favorite balsamics were the pomegranate, mint, herbs de Provence, and the balsamico oscuro anejado (pictured below), which is aged for 18 years. They also have a variety of other products, including balsamic infused chocolate (aka heaven in chocolate form). It was a delightful surprise and a nice break while we were roaming the streets of San Miguel.
Sit Back and Relax
If you want to escape the crowds, you can take a break at Parque Benito Juarez. The shaded paths and benches were welcomed after a few hours of walking in the afternoon sun. You may find a few vendors selling crafts or snacks and some children playing but the park was generally very quiet. Another hidden oasis is the Centro Cultural Ignacio Ramírez El Nigromante. There are a number of art exhibits but we mostly loved it for the quiet courtyard.
We didn’t really shop or eat at any restaurants but these are certainly other great activities for your day trip to San Miguel. We were shocked at the amount of cute boutiques. There were tons of people with their hands full of shopping bags, so the shopping must be good! Enrique Olvera, who is considered Mexico’s top chef, has a restaurant (Moxi at the Hotel Matilda) so there are clearly exciting things happening in the San Miguel culinary scene. We wandered by a number of other restaurants, primarily out of the center, that also looked interesting.
If you are a wine lover, you may also want to dedicate a few hours to go wine tasting at the wineries in or nearby San Miguel de Allende: Vega Manchon, Bodega Dos Buhos, and Vinicola Toyan. We didn’t have enough time to taste any wines this trip so I guess we have yet another reason to go back!
How to Get There:
- Bus from Guanajuato Centro to Guanajuato Estación Central de Autobuses: The easiest place to catch the bus in Guanajuato Centro is near Mercado Hidalgo. The bus should say “estación” on the front window and takes about 15 minutes. If you have time, check out the mercardo for delicious tacos de carnitas, tacos de barbacoa, or sopa de mariscos (seafood soup). Cost: MXN $5 (USD $0.25) each way. Total of MXN $10 (USD $0.50)
- Primera Plus bus from Guanajuato Estación Central de Autobuses to San Miguel de Allende Central de Autobuses: There are buses approximately every hour from Primera Plus. On the weekends, I recommend purchasing your ticket(s) in the center prior to your trip since the buses fill up quickly. The bus ride is 1 1/2 hours. Cost: MXN $140 (USD $7) each way. Total of MXN $280 (USD $14)
- Bus from San Miguel de Allende Central de Autobuses to San Miguel de Allende Centro: Total of MXN $10 (USD $0.50). The bus should say “centro” on the front and takes about 15 minutes. We could tell we were in the center because we started seeing the large churches and basically the enter bus got off. Cost: MXN $5 (USD $0.25) each wayTotal transportation cost/time by bus: MXN $300 (USD $15), 4 hours
- Personal car: the drive from Guanajuato to San Miguel de Allende is approximately 1 1/2 hours. This is a great option if you do not have a full day to spend in San Miguel. The main consideration is the limited availability of parking near the center but compared to Guanajuato, parking in San Miguel should be a breeze!
- Rental car: Unless you already have a rental car upon arrival to Guanajuato city, I would recommend taking the bus. To my understanding, the closest car rental is in Leon (the opposite direction of San Miguel). It seems like it would take just as much time and more effort to retrieve and return the rental car than it would to take the bus.