San Miguel de Allende


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San Miguel de Allende

busy street

Busy street leading into downtown

As I have written, I am very fond of Mexico, a country with a rich history and a welcoming people.  In recent years I have been drawn to San Miguel de Allende, a colonial historic city in the central mountains.  It is in the state of Guanajuato.

San Miguel de Allende (SMA) was founded in the mid 1500’s and over time  grew to prosperity as the home of important citizens, many of whom were wealthy mine owners.  The city of Guanajuato is the site of the richest silver mine ever known. And in the mountains around it are other rich mining areas.  The wealthy élite maintained haciendas and homes away from the mines.  SMA benefited.

In 1810, when Mexico’s war for independence from Spain began, SMA was larger than New York City at that time!  The building you see around the Jardin, the central plaza, were residences.  I find that pretty stunning.

residences bordering the Jardin

residences bordering the Jardin

Today, SMA and the immediate surrounds have a population of about 100,000 people.  Of these about ten percent are foreign permanent residents, mostly from the US and Canada.  They are attracted to the area by the mild climate, the rich cultural offerings and the relatively low cost of living.

SMA has become more expensive than most areas in Mexico because of the demand the foreign residents exert for quality and availability of services.  Still it is a bargain.  For example, the maid at the house we rent works six hours a day, six days a week for $70.  A nice dinner for two with a bottle of wine is about $50.

walking to town

walking to town

The recession has taken a toll on the town.  Normally when Jeanette and I would walk to the town center, the sidewalks would be filled with people and the narrow roads would be  crawling bumper to bumper with cars and trucks.  Last year there were days when we were the only people on the sidewalk and there were no cars in the street.   This has caused restaurants to fail and non-essential businesses, like car washes to close.  There are still foreign permanent residents, but the visitors have stopped coming, either because of financial issues or because of fear of the drug violence in the country.

Ignacio Allende

Statue of Ignacio Allende

We thought it would be booming last year because 2010 was Mexico’s Bicentennial of beginning of the War for Independence.  And, the revolution started in San Miguel de Allende.  In those days the town was known as San Miguel el Grande.  But when the revolution started, the military commander was Ignacio Allende, Mexico’s version of George Washington.  His home was in SMA. Once Independence was achieved the town became known as it is today, San Miguel de Allende.

We thought it would be booming, and it was, with Mexican tourists, but the foreign visitors did not materialize and the celebration was not as intense as I would have imagined.

I am often asked what we like about SMA.  It is not new.  It is far from the ocean.  What is the appeal?

Well, there are many.  I have mentioned the mild weather.  The winters do not get very cold.  generally the days will be in the 40-60° F  range.  In the summer, it rarely gets warmer than 85° F  and the humidity is low.  And, it is normally sunny.

court yard at Instituto de Allende

court yard at Instituto de Allende

Another appeal is depth of the cultural offerings.  A major institution in SMA is the Instituto de Allende, an arts and language school that is part of the University of Guanajuato.  Here you can study painting, print making, sculpture whatever!  They offer a Masters of Fine Arts program that draws students from around the world.

mural at Instituto de Allende ca. 1960

This has created a climate that has nurtured artists and galleries.  They are everywhere.  And it has been supportive of theater and music.  Nearly every week in the summer there are concerts, some free, others not, but inexpensive, featuring artists from Europe, South America and, of course, Mexico.

The very quality of the lifestyle is an appeal.  The restaurants are surprisingly good and most are independent.  The only franchises I recall are Starbucks, Dominoes pizza and a chicken place.  It is a walking town so people get out and about and feel healthy.  The services are good.  I’ve had repairmen come to the house the same day I called.  Even doctors! Jeanette became ill last year and I called a doctor at 10:30 PM on a Friday night and he was at our house by 11:15PM, diagnosed her issue, provided her the medicine she needed and charged us $80.  That doesn’t happen here at home!

So, of course, the cost of living is a draw.  There are two types of expatriates I frequently run into.  One is wealthy and has his or her second, third or fourth home in SMA.  Some are mansions.  But, many of the people who live there permanently,  do so on their social security check.  And, they live better than they would in the US.

So when you are thinking about where to go to get away give some thought to San Miguel de Allende.  I think you will like it.  If you fly, you can go into Leon and have a driver pick you up and take you to SMA.  Last year it was about $60 for a taxi and takes about an hour.  Or, you can fly into Mexico City and take a very nice bus up to SMA.  That takes about four hours.  Hasta luego.

More to come

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About Thomas L. Tribby

Professional artist: painter, sculptor, print maker. Maintains a studio in West Palm Beach, Florida
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