Visiting San Miguel de Allende, Mexico (and why it is not the best city in the world)

san miguel de allende header

San Miguel de Allende has a reputation as an American enclave in Mexico. Ex-pats living in other parts of Mexico (including other Americans) often malign the Americans who live here: “They have no interest in the culture, they don’t speak the language”, “they inflate prices because of the money they throw around”, “unlike ex-pats in other parts of the country, ex-pats in San Miguel don’t integrate”. I heard ex-pats say that you can identify Americans living in San Miguel by their fake boobs and inflated lips.

There’s a lot of truth to the above. My mom showed me around town and there are indeed a lot of Americans. If you walk into a restaurant in the center of San Miguel it is filled exclusively with Americans being served by Mexicans. You’d think that you were somewhere in Southern California. I got the sense of two distinct societies not mixing but living very seperately, and at different economic levels, in the same space. There were also a lot of older people, Americans in their 80’s. But I also tried to put myself in their shoes; at that age I think I would probably want to be with like-minded and similar aged people. The weather is perfect for an oldie; very dry, always sunny, never really hot. And the infrastructure is there. They have an incredible library in San Miguel where an ex-pat can find all the English literature he/she could ever want. Even German and French. I can see how all that would make San Miguel very appealing as a retirement destination.

views over san miguel de allende, mexico

colors in san miguel de allende, mexico (1)

churches in san miguel de allende, mexico

san miguel cathedral

colors in san miguel de allende, mexico (4)


The downside of the ex-pat invasion however is that San Miguel lacks the life of other Mexican towns – no locals hanging around in plazas, no kids running around. The bars seemed empty. Don’t get me wrong – it’s a beautiful town and has some very pretty churches. But it just didn’t feel “as Mexican” as some of the other towns we visited on this trip. And that’s what was missing for me.

And as far as being voted the world’s best city? Well, Conde Nast Traveler wins the award for the most ridiculous travel list of 2013. San Miguel is a town, not a city, and I can’t understand how can anyone compare it to any of the cities on that list (while excluding such cities as New York and London?).

For more on Mexico, visit our Destination Guide page HERE.


Have a different opinion on San Miguel? Let me know!


Related: My post on revisiting San Miguel  (you may want to read it before jumping all over me  :) )



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  1. I don’t know if I’ll ever visit Mexico, but this looks like a terrific place to visit. I am so happy to see your travels shared online.
    Lori recently posted…London, Rio de Janeiro and Jakarta are Top Socially Popular Cities [Infographic]My Profile

  2. Looks like a lovely place to retire but I wish there weren’t so many old people around! tee hee.
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  3. Looks so pretty and serene…
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    • That’s because the oldies were taking their siestas. It livens up on Sundays between 10:30 and 10:45 at the food market behind the church. After that you have to wait until the following Sunday…ok, just kidding.

  4. So the old farts sucked the life out of the place, FAN-tastic. The description kind of sounds like what Costa Rica, regarding Expats & inflated prices.
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    • Oh no, all these comments are going to get me in trouble. It’s still a very nice town – and I prefer it 10 times more than Costa Rica!!

  5. I really don’t have any desire to visit Mexico, but i definitely wouldn’t want to go where all the Americans are!
    Jennifer recently posted…Carol of the Bells #gAdvRussiaMy Profile

  6. San Miguel reminds me of some of the other cities that have been taken over by Western retirees;

    Granada, Nicaragua
    Juan del Sur, Nicaragua
    Antigua, Guatemala
    Bocas del Toro, Panama
    Boquete, Panama

    The problem is not just that the atmosphere gets ruined in these places, or that social divisions arise, or that prices inflate, the worst thing is all the aggressive land-grabbing that goes with these expatriate invasions, and the sheer misery it brings (the law being so ‘flexible’ and the land registry such a mess). If tourists only knew the truth about so many ‘paradise’ enclaves in Mexico and Central America, it’s often very ugly.
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    • Donald James says:

      Not to mention that as the Gringo force builds in the area, the effort to reconstruct the local settlement into the exact image they just left behind gains momentum until you as the latest arrival discover that in moving there, you never left home after all. Additionally, there is typically no significant number who wishes to learn Spanish or integrate into the local culture, so a sort of “Lord of the Flies” scenario develops where the locked-in Gringo community can become quite harsh to the lesser of the fittest of the new inhabitants, leaving many to suffer deep emotional trauma. Often also, the refusal or inability to adapt to the local people and new society leaves the small group of Gringos “all dressed up with no place to go”. So a daily routine develops which most of time includes hopping from bar to bar or from one java shop to the next until left with no apparent alternative, one by one the new inhabitants keel over from excessive amounts of alcohol or caffeine, if not the sheer boredom.

      • Frank (bbqboy) says:

        Ha, good analysis. My mom has lived there a few years now and generally loves the town but as a non-American she sometimes feels like she doesn’t fit it to the expat community, unlike a place like Chiang Mai where it was a much more international crowd.
        It’s a pretty city and after a few more visits I’ve come to like it more. But it is still “Mexico-lite” to me.
        Thanks for your comment Donald, I know a few people in SMA who feel the way you’ve described.

  7. This is a biased report. We chose San Miguel de Allende six years ago and have never been sorry. The combination of climate, culture, and people is unbeatable.
    For a more balanced and in-depth assessment, my book…(link deleted)

    • I’m always open to differing opinions and other people sharing their experiences. But to say it’s biased, offer no reasoning behind that, then shamelessly plug you book? Nope, sorry.

  8. How long did you actually spend here? Yes, if one goes during the high season, it is full of foreigners. But San Miguel has many facets and isn’t really summed up and figured out with a week’s vacation. Yes, I would agree that at times, it is overrun with tourists and they’re not just Americans, but also a lot of very wealthy Mexicans who invade the place on the weekends. You wouldn’t have noticed that if you only go to the expat places, though.

    If only Mexico would live up your stereo type. Perhaps we need to hand out more somberos and burros? Would that be more to your liking of what Mexico is supposed to be?

    Gringos have been coming to Mexico for a very long time. It’s nothing new. For your info. the expat pop. in SMA is about 10%. So I wonder how you didn’t see any locals? I guess you must have been hanging out in all of those gringo bars and restaurants yourself.

    • Thanks for the comment. Actually my post was based on both my observances and by speaking with expats who’ve lived there 6+ months (and who’ve moved elsewhere precisely because of my points). And the 10% doesn’t surprise me – there are a lot of areas outside of town within San Miguel proper which don’t have many foreigners (I stayed in Santa Cecilia where almost everyone is Mexican). My point is that the character of downtown, where expats live, definitely has been shaped by the expat population. That’s not altogether negative either, depending on what you’re looking for (I’ve mentioned some of the positive points of SMA as well).

      But I appreciate your feedback and opinion, you’re obviously an expat and you probably know the town well enough to strike a good balance between the two cultures.

  9. Why all the foreigners who come to Mexico only want to see Mexicans? If they see Americans, Germans, French, Japaneses or whoever they are , they say Mexico its not Mexico. Have you traveled to another countries? all of them have people of different countries. I don’t understand why you want cities with only Mexicans int them, we are in the XXI century.

    • Frank (bbqboy) says:

      So I should visit Thailand to hang out with tourists?

      Why travel at all if you don’t want to interact with locals?

      So I guess Americans in the South-West should just accept the Mexicans that have crossed the border and are living in their towns and imposing their culture? I don’t see them celebrating, just as I don’t see many Europeans celebrating the influx of Muslims into their suburbs.

      I believe in integration, not in foreigners setting up enclaves in other countries where local customs/economy are drastically altered because of their actions. That’s my issue with San Miguel.

  10. Carol Hammond says:

    Can you say ageism? Your article is rife with misinformation….I have lived in in San Miguel for six years and Ex-pats are not in the majority. In fact, I live in a neighborhood with three foreign households…everyone else is Mexican. Next time you visit San Miguel… try talking to a national. They will explain the contributions of the foreign residents to the local economy.

    • Frank (bbqboy) says:

      Please tell me where I said that expats are in the “majority”. My mom stayed in Santa Cecilia where almost everyone is Mexican, so I know very well the composition of some of the neighborhoods. Contributions of foreign residents? Of course, that’s why San Miguel is the way it is. So where exactly is the “Misinformation”?

      You might prefer my follow up post on San Miguel.

  11. San Miguel is just awful, crowded with ugly old gringos and pending water shortages. If I were you, I’d go somewhere else – and leave it for me!

  12. Drew Petro says:

    I can see your points, valid, especially with the difference of economic levels living side by side (not just americans though). My 2 cents are this – I am a gringo living in the North, in Monterrey. The #1 place all of our mexican friends recommend that we visit is San Miguel, with minimally mentioning the expat community there (we have visited twice so far). Pretty much every friend has said this. And from other conversations, this seems to be the #1 wish list location for a Mexican wedding – grant it probably the affluent and well-off families of Mexico. Nonetheless, yes there are americans in San Miguel, however this is also a treasure for the local and national community, so its not very fair to say that the americans are americanizing everything there.

    • Frank (bbqboy) says:

      Hi Drew,
      I’m actually just back from another visit to San Miguel, my 5th so far. My mom lives there so between my visits and her accounts of life there, I’m pretty familiar with the town.
      Yes, there are Mexican weddings for sure and you’re right, it’s the more affluent Mexican families. But you can’t bring up San Miguel without a mention of the large expat community who’ve largely been behind the development of the town. While not “Americanizing everything”, it is definitely an “American enclave” where you can easily pay 50% more for a meal than anywhere else in Mexico.
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  13. Beth Murphy says:

    Wow, an awful lot of ageist (“old and ugly”???–shame on you) comments here. Remember, you too will get old if you are lucky, and in doing so you will probably also require a mild climate, and you may find that your retirement income requires you to move out of your home country. Not all retirees are wealthy here, not by a long shot. There is a lot of truth to what the writer of the article says. A lot of foreigners do change the culture, I agree with the comment about going from bar to bar. We do tend to be a bit isolated and San Miguel is amazingly lacking in educational museums. But there are educational films and entertainment movies at the wonderful biblioteca, more musical events than anyone could possibly take in, a wonderful Rotary Club, and on-going classes on a variety of topics. Not to me many cooperative (between foreigners and Mexicans) charities doing important work, much of which The Mexican government should be doing. There has been much made about San Miguel being such a walkable City, but I don’t think I know anybody who hasn’t fallen down at least once with some people sustaining some pretty serious injuries. That is frightening to older people and so yes, we do rely on taxis and delivery services that we really can’t afford even though they are reasonably priced. This keeps us further isolated. Crime has grown and it’s no longer safe to be out after dark unless you are in the Jardin itself. This prevents leisurely evening strolls. The infrastructure needs work. Wealthy Mexicans from all over the country come for the weekend, in addition to foreign tourists, and that plus the 25+ weddings parading through town makes it hard for pedestrians and drivers, including public transportation. Prices are rapidly increasing. Correct, it’s a a town, not a city. A beautiful town it is, but the lopsided writing of travel writers is making me think that these folks are no longer journalists. San Miguel has its pros and cons; just like a lot of places it certainly won’t suit everybody. It’s annoying to read about it as if it were some kind of Fairytale Land.

    • Frank (bbqboy) says:

      Thanks Beth, you’ve described San Miguel perfectly, for good and bad. My mum has lived there for the last 4 years so I know that town quite well and I do enjoy going back…but that doesn’t take away from the negatives that I cite. You might have missed my follow up post on it HERE.
      “Old and Ugly” ??. Where did I write that?? Bothers me to no end when people misquote or infer. I said that there are “oldies” and “older people”. And this is a personal travel blog, I’m not a journalist.
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