San Miguel is the central part of the country, which is known for its beautifully preserved colonial silver-mining cities – other prominent ones include Guanajuato, Queretaro, San Luis Potosi and Zacatecas. It’s hundreds of miles from any of the drug or political violence alluded to earlier and is situated at an elevation of 6,500 feet, which translates to cool temperatures, clear air and sunny skies. Throughout the year, high temperatures hover around 70 to 80 degrees, and with lows dipping into the 50s and – in winter – even the lower 40s. Rainfall is highest in summer, as afternoon thunderstorms are a regular occurrence from mid-June through mid-September.
Part of the fun of experiencing San Miguel is simply wandering about on foot, without a plan. The city’s narrow, hilly cobblestone streets are lined with brightly painted stucco houses with carved wood trim, flower pots, and wrought-iron balconies and sconces. UNESCO designated the city a World Heritage Site in 2008.
The most distinctive site in the city center is soaring La Parroquia, whose beautiful if florid facade recalls the ornate Gothic churches of Europe (on which its design was based). The church lies on the east side of San Miguel’s main plaza, El Jardin, which is shaded with neatly trimmed trees, lined with benches and within steps of cafes and hotels in all directions. Just off the plaza you’ll find the interesting Museo Casa de Allende, a history museum that documents the city’s rich history.
A couple of blocks away, be sure to visit the Bellas Artes, a prestigious school of fine arts set within a cloistered former convent that dates to the 1750s. Walk through the two-story galleried courtyard and admire the murals on the inner walls by Mexican master painter David Alfaro Siqueiros, and note the fanciful sculptures throughout the gardens.
Dozens of art and traditional crafts galleries line the streets in the city center, but the definitive arts destination in town is Fabrica La Aurora, an ancient textile factory that’s been converted into galleries. This beautiful building with its high ceilings and tile floors is a marvel to walk through, its galleries filled with statuary, carved wooden furniture, religious artifacts, modern art, and beautiful books. There are also a few dining spots at La Aurora, including Food Factory restaurant, elegant D’Vino wine and tapas bar, and open-air Cafe La Aurora for light sandwiches and salads.
In addition to galleries, San Miguel has a number of shops selling antiques and decorative arts. There’s also an excellent bookstore, Garrison & Garrison, set in a vintage brick building and carrying many English titles, new and used. For a quiet walk on a pretty day, stroll through Parque Benito Juarez, a 10-minute walk from El Jardin.