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.
    Mary Calculated Traveller recently posted…Eye-Fi Mobi Memory Card ReviewMy Profile

  3. Looks so pretty and serene…
    Laura recently posted…The 5 Best Destinations for Multigenerational TravelMy Profile

    • 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.
    Devlin recently posted…Comment on Five Reasons to Live Abroad by T.W. AndersonMy Profile

    • 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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  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!

Thanks for reading! Feedback is always appreciated!


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