Day Trip from Guanajuato to San Miguel de Allende

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:

Get Lost

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.

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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!

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View at Luna Tapas Bar at the Rosewood Hotel

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.

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Centro Cultural Ignacio Ramírez El Nigromante

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:

    • 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
  • Other options:

    • 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.

Southeast Asia: the Highlights

My hopes of blogging throughout our journey quickly diminished as the wifi connections got weaker and the time it took me to write one post seemed to keep getting longer and longer. I applaud all the travel bloggers who are able to accomplish so many posts while on the road. I think someday I’ll be able to get there but for now, I will catch everyone up on the highlights of our trip. Most of these places happened to be some of the most touristy places, but they are touristy for a reason, right? Of course, there are countless other places, people, and sights that we encountered that I will never forget, but these places will hold a special place in my memory forever.


angkorwat

Six days after we flew into Southeast Asia we found ourselves in Siem Reap, the small yet lively city filled with thousands of people all there for the same reason — to marvel at the ancient temples and ruins of Angkor Wat. A few acquittances recommended that we should hire a guide for Angkor Wat and since we knew very little information about Cambodian history, we did just that.

Our guide arrived at our hostel at 4:30 AM so we could see sunrise at the main temple. Sunrise, for us, was disappointing due to the massive crowds and the cloud cover on the day we chose to go. (Side note: I have heard it is better at the Pink Temple, Banteay Srei, which is about an hour and a half away from Siem Reap). After the clouds cleared and the sun began to shine upon us, we spent the rest of the day touring with our lovely guide, Janny, who gave us endless amounts of information on ancient and modern Cambodian history. The best moments were not those at the busy Angkor Thom (where they filmed Tomb Raider), but those when we found ourselves alone somehow in the midst of ancient ruins and jungle with no one else around.

Here are my top recommendations if you are planning a trip to Angkor Wat: (1) Research before you go. Take some time to learn something about Angkor Wat prior to your trip. If you are going to Cambodia, I also highly recommend learning about their more recent history to enrich your experience in the country; (2) Hire a guide and tuk-tuk. It will be worth every penny; (3) Wear comfortable shoes. We walked almost 30 miles in the two days we explored Angkor; (4) Prepare for the heat and the massive crowds.


hoian

We walked out of our sleeper bus weary eyed and exhausted, barley being able to feel the excitement that we had finally arrived in Hoi An. All backpackers know that as soon as you get off a bus, you are bombarded with taxi drivers (and con artists 🙂 ) who try to get you to take a ride with them. At this hour neither of us felt like dealing with an over-priced taxi ride and we believed our home stay was only a ten minute walk, easy right? Within twenty minutes we quickly realized our map was incorrect. Although people were happy to help, they all seemed to be pointing in opposite directions. We decided to stop for coffee and tea and hopefully get some wi-fi to get our bearings. It must have been apparent that we were both exhausted and totally lost. The owner of the shop spoke with us and made it his mission to help us. He drove Raul on his motorbike until they found the home stay and negotiated a cheap cab ride for us ($1.50 USD).

This genuine kindness and incredible hospitality became a theme throughout our visit to Hoi An. We stayed with a lovely family who opened their home and their culture to us (Mongolia Homestay, we love you). We got suits and dresses made and the girls happily catered to our every request. The service at the restaurants was impeccable and the best we encountered all throughout Asia. We ended up going to the same restaurant three times because the friendly manager would spoil us with tea and discounts on food. Although we usually tell people Hoi An was our favorite place because of the food, there was something unequivocally special about this small ancient city and its people.


halongbay

The further north we traveled in Vietnam, the more things we heard about Ha Long Bay. Most of things we heard were good things but once we got to Hanoi, it seemed like everyone we met wasn’t going to Ha Long Bay. They said it was “too touristy,” but how did they know if they had never been there? We went to decided for ourselves and booked a 3 day, 2 night cruise trip with Royal Palace Cruises.  Our boat first took us Bai Tu Long Bay, which is supposed to be less crowded than Ha Long Bay. There were still a lot of boats around but it did not bother us at all. It is easy to get lost in your own world amongst this almost 2000 island and islet archipelago. We spent the day exploring a cave, kayaking, squid fishing, making new friends, and Raul even was bartending for some of the night. 

The next day some people were brought back to the harbor while we joined another boat to go to an island resort just south of Cat Ba Island. We saw no other tourist boats on our way to the island, just small fishing boats and villages floating on the turquoise sea. Whatever expectations we had were completely surpassed as we approached the twenty-something bungalows lining the beach. We quickly realized that the only people here were the people on our boat. Since everyone on our boat had quickly developed friendships, we were happy to share what felt like our own private island with them. The boys played soccer with the Vietnamese boys, “Vietnam vs. the World.” Since “the World” won, the beer was flowing all night along with countless games of pool and good conversation.

We didn’t want to leave our private little island but the next morning we got on the boat to make our way back to the harbor. We cruised through Lan Ha Bay and once again we saw no other tourist boats. We let ourselves get lost in the immense beauty of the bay.


elephant

My birthday was approaching and we thought the Elephant Nature Park in Chiang Mai would be the perfect place to celebrate it. Well that, and getting a massage at a luxury spa, of course. The Elephant Nature Park is not a place to go if you want to ride elephants or watch them do tricks. If you are planning on doing that on your trip to Thailand, I highly recommend reconsidering and checking out the Elephant Nature Park. We literally spent the  whole day hanging out with elephants. Do I really need to continue? We fed the elephants, bathed the elephants, and got to know the elephants.

Lek Chailert‘s has made it her life’s work to rescue elephants from mistreatment and create a safe and healthy environment for them. Hearing the stories of elephant mistreatment and exploitation in Asia were heartbreaking. Most of the elephants were rescued from timber logging in Myanmar, land mine explosions, illegal poaching, or abuse for tourist entertainment purposes. Although all of this sounds rather grim, this sanctuary in the jungle provides an opportunity to learn about and appreciate the elephants. For us, being so close to the elephants was a truly unforgettable experience.

If you are considering a visit to the Elephant Nature Park, be sure to book well in advanced. Do not be put off by the number of visitors they accept a day. Visitors are broken into smaller groups so that everyone can get the most out of the experience. Be sure to check out their options such as an overnight visit or volunteering options as well!


singapore

We quickly developed a love-hate relationship with Singapore. We loved the malls. There is basically a mall around every corner in Singapore, some being incredibly high-end, filled with hundreds of designer stores. Others were more reasonable like our favorite “bargain” mall filled with hundreds of stalls and small booths selling the most unusual and funky clothes, hats, and sunglasses we have ever seen. We hated the food, our only reasonable priced options seemed to be McDonalds, Dominos, or Burger King and even those seemed overpriced. We loved the cleanliness and efficiency of the city — their public transportation is on point. We disliked the place we stayed.

The things that Singapore prides itself most on, its gardens, made up for any and all of the things we disliked. Because of Singapore’s small size, it is almost inevitable that you eventually find yourself wandering around one of the magnificent gardens. We went to the Botanic Gardens, National Orchid Garden, and the Cloud Forest at Gardens by the Bay. The Botanic Gardens were filled with locals, tourists, tai-chi and yoga do-ers, and couples all taking a break from the day to enjoy the sun. We spent the day lounging in the grass, taking pictures of the hundreds of turtles in the lake, and admiring the surreal scenery. At one point we even saw a komodo dragon wandering around!

The Cloud Forest at Gardens by the Bay was my favorite. As soon as you enter the misty and humid glass dome, you are greeted by a 115 ft waterfall. It was like stepping into another world. The Cloud Forest is said to contain some of the rarest tropical plants in the world and the diversity of colorful flora and fauna will keep you entertained the whole way to the top. The glass dome allows you to see the entire city and although we were enjoying this tropical oasis in the middle of Singapore, it also really made us want to jump on a plane to South America to see some of this tropical plant life for ourselves!


thai

We were planning on getting our diving certificates in Koh Tao, but totally blowing our budgeting and running out time we decided to save it for next time and use it as an excuse to come back to Thailand. We met Raul’s brother in Phuket and spent the next two weeks exploring the beaches and islands on the Andaman side of Thailand: Phuket, Krabi (Railay Beach), Koh Lanta, and Koh Phi Phi. Already two weeks into our month long Thai islands portion of the trip, we were running out of things to do. Our options usually included going to the beach, going for a sweaty hike to a viewpoint, partying all night, or doing basically nothing. Our hotel in Koh Lanta was offering an excursion for “the best snorkeling in Thailand,” so we decided to give it a try.

We went on a boat trip to an island off the coast of Koh Lanta, Koh Rok, and had our minds totally blown away! The snorkeling in this area is said to be the best in Thailand because of the huge variety of coral. Snorkeling in these amazing coral reefs did not disappoint. Once we arrived on Koh Rok, the beach was crowded with other snorkelers and divers but it didn’t matter. The beach had some of the most clear and pristine water either of us had ever seen. When I think about this beach, I don’t remember the crowds, I remember feeling so lucky that I even got to see a beach this beautiful.

On the other side of Thailand, in the Gulf of Siam, we went on a snorkeling excursion around the island of Koh Tao. We were generally unimpressed until we went to a little island of the coast of Koh Tao, Nangyuan. While the Andaman side is generally known for its rich variety of coral, the Gulf of Siam offers a wider variety of fish. We became observers to their the world and didn’t take our masks off until it was time to leave.


Have you been to any of these places and had similar experiences?
Or did you try to avoid these very touristy places?
Share your stories with me! 

Also, if you are planning a trip to any of these places,
feel free to ask me any questions and I’d be happy to help!

♡ Lehshel


Cambodian Beaches You May Never Want to Leave

1. Otres Beach, Sihanoukville

In my opinion, Otres is the perfect place to stay in Sihanoukville. You can lay out on the beach all day with a good book or swim in the calm refreshing water. People will come up to you asking you to buy sunglasses, fruit, massages, even fortune readings, but we found the amount of people to be much less than nearby Serendipity Beach. At sunset, grab a $.50 beer and watch the sun melt into the sea. At night, walk along the beach to one of the many restaurants/guesthouses serving all sorts of delicious foods (Indigo, Everythang, Papa Pippo). Late night, you can take a tuk-tuk to the party scene in Serendipity or swim with the bioluminescent plankton. The great thing about Otres is that you can almost guarantee you will be able to hear the ocean from your guesthouse, meaning you can fall asleep to the sound of waves crashing upon the shore. On Saturday night, head to the Otres Night Market for food, drinks, live music, and good company.

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2. Koh Ta Kiev

About an hour boat ride from Otres Beach lies the island of Koh Ta Kiev. Accommodations are very basic as the island is sparsely populated and not yet developed but you can find dorm rooms, bungalows, and hammocks (yes, you can sleep on a hammock on the beach or the jungle!) for next to nothing. There is something quite magical about one of the places on Koh Ta Kiev, Ten103 Treehouse Bay. The food is delicious – we enjoyed the best fish we’ve had on our trip, Trai Jin Jou Aim, and caramelized chicken and veggies with rice, Bai Srope. There are plenty of places to read a book, take a snooze, or meet other travelers while chillin in this jungle/beach oasis. Head to the Absinthe bar in the trees to try some “real” Absinthe and have a few laughs. Just be careful while swimming in certain areas, we saw the after-math of a bad sea urchin sting!

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3. Lonely Beach, Koh Rong

After walking along the main Koh Rong beach, you will see a sign saying “Woodfired Pizza.” Follow the path through the trees and alongside the rocky beach. You will pass some bungalows and the pizza place. The walk is a piece of cake (or should I say pizza?) compared to the hike to the more popular and less stunning Long Beach on the other side of the island. Continue to follow the path (10-15 minutes) until you find yourself with a dark turquoise lagoon on your left and the stunning bay to your right. Now you have found Lonely Beach! The beach’s name says it all – there is practically no one there. For us, it was the perfect escape from the high season tourist rush that is difficult to avoid on the small strip of Koh Rong. Even if it’s not high season, you won’t want to leave this beach for its secluded location and its stunning views!

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Did we miss out on any other awesome beaches in Cambodia? Let us know!