Founded in 1542 as a way station for wagon trains, San Miguel de Allende, Mexico, is popular with U.S. and Canadian retirees, artists and writers. The town's centro zone is a national monument and UNESCO World Heritage site, so changes to its beautiful buildings and cobblestoned streets are prohibited.
Take time to admire the Gothic Revival La Parroquia church built by a self-taught mason and the carved-wood doors on homes lining the narrow streets. San Miguel de Allende is very touristy, however, with many art galleries and T-shirt shops filling those lovely buildings.
The influence of foreign residents has resulted in a bilingual community blessed with language schools, art institutes and cultural activities, but that also illustrates the considerable economic disparities between its foreign residents (who now outnumber natives 4-to-1) and its original Mexican residents.
There's also a world-famous chamber-music festival (August), a jazz festival (late November), and frequent concerts and lectures. The town still retains an authentic Mexican flair with many fiesta days and dances. Strollers and mariachi players fill the town square at night.
To the north of town and set within a rocky canyon is El Charco del Ingenio, a nature reserve and botanical garden with many varieties of cacti. It's a great place to bike or take a stroll.
San Miguel de Allende and nearby Dolores Hidalgo (25 mi/40 km north) were both birthplaces of the Mexican War of Independence. Padre Hidalgo and Ignacio Allende planned—in both towns—the insurrection that started the 1810 revolution.
San Miguel de Allende is located 180 mi/290 km northwest of Mexico City.
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