Today, it’s hard to imagine that the picture-perfect city of San Miguel de Allende was once almost on the verge of ruin. However, in the years following Mexico’s independence, this colonial city was gradually abandoned leaving behind only ornate churches and empty mansions. Until, that is, the 1930s when foreign artists, lured by the blue skies, beautiful architecture and cheap cost of living, began to move in. These days, San Miguel continues to attract foreigners, particularly Americans, and the town is home to a large expatriate community.
This really is a fairy tale city dominated by the fantastical pink church, Parroquía de San Miguel Arcangel. Ochre and rose-colored colonial homes line narrow cobbled streets and on almost every corner you’ll discover a café or restaurant, gallery or boutique. The pace of life is pleasantly slow, interrupted only by church bells chiming. Just be prepared for some hilly streets! If you’ll be visiting San Miguel de Allende with kids, here are my recommendations of 4 great things to do, 1 great place to stay, and 1 great place to eat.
Activity 1: Have Fun at the Toy Museum
Your first stop when visiting San Miguel de Allende with kids must be Museo La Esquina, the city’s fantastic toy museum. El Museo is the work of Angélica Tijerina, an independent collector who began amassing toys as a child. But these are not your average toy store playthings; over the years Angélica has accumulated over 1,000 unique Mexican folk toys.
The collection is housed over three floors within a coffee-colored colonial home, and includes train sets and doll houses, puppets and Mariachi bands and an entire corner dedicated to toys relating to Lucha Libre, Mexico’s traditional wrestling. The toys are created from wood, fabric, clay, papier-mâché, corn husks and more.
It’s a really fun place to enjoy with kids and, if you’re lucky, your visit may coincide with a children’s workshop or class held with local artisans. There’s also a very good toy shop on the ground floor. www.museolaesquina.org.m
Activity 2: Tour the Streets on a Trolley Ride
San Miguel’s cobbled streets are steep and little legs soon get tired. A better way to get a feel for the city is to climb aboard a trolley bus for a tour of the main streets and surrounding areas. Stops along the way include El Chorro, the town’s bougainvillea-filled outdoor waterworks and public laundry, and a lookout point with a picture perfect view of the city.
If you speak Spanish, then you’ll enjoy the on board commentary that explains a little bit about the history of San Miguel. The best seats on this antique-looking trolley bus are in the open-air section at the back, so hop on quickly! www.operatur-imperial.com/tranv%C3%ADa.html
Activity 3: Walk on the Wild Side
On the outskirts of the pretty city streets is El Charco del Ingenio, an 88-hectare botanical garden and nature reserve. This untamed sanctuary celebrates the region’s diverse flora and is a wonderful place to wander. Winding dirt pathways lead through wetlands, past canyons and alongside a colorful array of cacti. Various lookout points afford some impressive views, including one over the eponymous canyon and freshwater spring.
There is a dedicated Children’s Garden where exhibits, such as the Scent and Touch Labyrinth, encourage kids to connect with nature. One tip, arrive early before it gets too hot and remember to bring water with you. A small café is on site next to the entrance. www.elcharco.org.mx
Activity 4: Admire the Pink Church
The dusty pink church, La Parroquia de San Miguel Arcángel, is San Miguel de Allende’s most recognizable symbol. Its gothic spire towers above the city skyline and its position, in the heart of town, makes it impossible to ignore. Upon closer inspection, you may feel like you’ve seen this church before. And for good reason.
Originally built in the 17th century, the church was given a facelift by a Gaudi-inspired architect in the late 19th century. Hence the resemblance to La Sagrada Familia in Barcelona, Spain. Take a wander inside and then stop for a rest in El Jardin, the shady square opposite. www.facebook.com/sanmiguel.org.ar
1 Great Place to Stay: Rosewood
The handsome Rosewood hotel sits south of El Jardin, the main city square, at the bottom of a steep cobbled street. It’s a beautiful hotel, reminiscent of a traditional hacienda, with huge rose-tinted colonial-style buildings. This is the hotel to book if you want to indulge yourself; the rooms are luxurious, the restaurants are superb and there’s an excellent kids’ program that includes such activities as T-shirt decorating, piñata-making and painting lessons.
One of my favorite things about this hotel, however, is the Luna Rooftop Tapas Bar. It’s best enjoyed with at dusk with a margarita in hand when you can watch the sparkling lights illuminate the town. www.rosewoodhotels.com/en/san-miguel-de-allende
1 Great Place to Eat: Cumpanio
You can eat very well in San Miguel de Allende but there’s one place that we returned to time and again (almost daily, in fact!) and that was Cumpanio. This restaurant and bakery became our breakfast go-to and it never disappointed. The chilaquiles were superb and the crepas de chicharrón (pancakes with pork crackling) were delicious.
But what kept us coming back for more were the pan dulce, literally “sweet breads” or pastries. In addition to traditional baked goods such as croissants and cinnamon rolls, Cumpanio produces Mexican staples such as conchas (a type of sweet bun that looks like a shell) and the most mouth-wateringly delicious cream-filled doughnuts. Needless to say, my kids loved this place! Cumpanio is also open for lunch and dinner. http://cumpanio.com
For more help planning your trip, follow this link for our comprehensive guide to San Miguel de Allende with kids at Globetotting.
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