After what felt like a lifetime of lockdowns and restrictions, the world is finally open-ish. Many destinations are still closed to Americans and others are working through what it means to welcome international travelers in a newly vaccinated and unvaccinated world. Unlike the rest of the world, Mexico has always been open to Americans and the past year saw travelers flocking to the sandy shores of Cancun, Riviera Maya, and Tulum. Many, like myself, were coming down with Mexico fatigue and itching for somewhere new.
If you ask many frequent travelers to Mexico, they have never even heard of San Miguel de Allende. Yet the small colonial city, located a short three-hour drive from Mexico City, has made a huge name for itself in the travel industry. What San Miguel lacks in beaches and flashy resorts it makes up for in charm. From the colorful architecture and cobblestone streets to the vibrant culture and burgeoning culinary scene, the city has something for every type of traveler, minus the throngs of ocean-seeking tourists.
So once again I grabbed my Away bag and mask to set off on a weeklong Mexican adventure in an underrated paradise.
While Mexico as a whole has never denied entry to Americans throughout the pandemic and COVID-19 tests or vaccinations are not required for travel, it does have structures in place to mitigate the spread of the virus. In July of last year it introduced the “Health First” program and a “Safe Travels” seal from the World Travel and Tourism Council for adopting certain health and safety protocols, which includes limiting non-resident access to the city without a hotel or restaurant reservation. Once your reservation is made, visitors will receive a QR code that must be shown at checkpoints leading into the city. Showing the code on your phone is accepted, but carry a printed copy as backup.
Getting to San Miguel
The nearest airport is Guanajuato International Airport (BJX), which is about a 2-hour drive from San Miguel de Allende. Most flights involve a connection and, in my case, I flew out from New York and connected in Mexico City. Your hotel should be able to arrange an airport transfer, or you can rent a car and drive into the city yourself. I opted for the hotel transfer which cost $185 one way.
Where to Stay
There are many accommodation options to choose from in the city, but on this trip there was only one option for me: Rosewood San Miguel de Allende. The property effortlessly blends in with the traditional style of the area and creates a serene oasis that even locals find welcoming. It was a breath of fresh air to see local residents enjoying cocktails with friends when I arrived instead of hordes of tourists.
The spacious rooms resembled a chic hacienda and the hand-carved artisan décor paid homage to the city’s history and culture. In fact, you can find beautiful paintings and sculptures by emerging and well-known Mexican artists throughout the property and in the on-site art gallery.
For families or groups looking for a bit of privacy or a long-term stay, Rosewood also offers colonial-style residences that are essentially a home away from home. They offer garden patios, rooftop terraces, full kitchens, elevators, Jacuzzis, private garages, and gorgeous views. Residences are set on a quiet, colorful stone path reminiscent of Spain or Italy, and separate from the main hotel.
Despite travel picking up again, COVID safety was still very much apparent, but unobtrusive, with discreet temperature checks and hand sanitizing stations. Masks were required for both staff and guests. For your convenience, Rosewood offers on-site Antigen COVID-19 testing for around $550 Pesos (approximately $28 USD) per guest and results are back in 24-hours or less.
A Whole New World
When most people think of Mexico, they think Cancun, Tulum, Puerta Vallarta and adventures filled with beaches, parties, and tequila. However, there is so much more to Mexico than that — and San Miguel de Allende is proof. I’ve been to San Miguel a few times yet, with each visit, I discover something new. This time my search for new adventure led me to Via Organica, a non-profit organization located 40-minutes outside the city center, with a mission to promote good nutrition through organic agriculture, fair trade, and a healthy lifestyle. I was fortunate to spend the day with one of the organization’s founders, Rosana Álvarez, a native of San Miguel, who taught our group all about Via Organica, her journey, and how to eat and live holistically.
Despite being a tequila lover, I opted to skip the usual Mexican tequila tour in favor of something many visitors to the country don’t indulge in — a winery. That’s right, Mexico has a booming wine industry and at the top of the pack is Cuna De Tierra, Guanajuato’s first winery. I spent the day strolling through fields of Cabernet Sauvignon, learning about the vineyard’s wine making process, and enjoying a heavenly food and wine tasting.
If you’re looking for some relaxation after running around the city, I highly recommend exploring the exclusive underground mineral and thermal water sanctuary of Mayan Baths. Throughout a series of candle lit tunnels made of stone, quartz, and glass, guests can relax in the tranquil waters, opt for therapeutic massages, or hang by the pool to catch the stunning city sunset.
These days, Mexico and Mexican cuisine is pretty much synonymous with tacos, but in case you didn’t know, Mexico is at the forefront of a culinary revolution. From Cancun to Mexico City and beyond, the food scene in the country is changing at the hands of savvy chefs determined to break Mexico out of its stereotypical shell. Rosewood San Miguel de Allende prides itself on being a place that locals can enjoy, so it’s no surprise that the hotel’s dining options reflect that.
I got a hands-on introduction into true Mexican cuisine by taking a cooking class on property at Los Pirules Artisan Kitchen & Garden Bar with Executive Chef Vincent Wallez, who has spent the last 17 years in Mexico studying its culture and flavors. Luna Rooftop Tapas Bar was another favorite, not just because of the spectacular views of the city and live band, but because I got to inhale delicious dishes like Sinaloa-style seafood aguachile, pear, gorgonzola, and white truffle flatbread, and my favorite, churros with Bailey´s chocolate sauce and cinnamon caramel.
However, Mexican dishes are not all that you’ll find within San Miguel’s colorful walls. Cumpanio serves classic French and Italian cuisine and hotspot BEKEB is an artisanal mixology bar with a special focus on local agave, plants, flowers, and roots led by cocktail icon Fabiola Padilla. You can even get some pretty good ramen at Müi Ramen Bar. I recommend the chicken bao buns and the Matilda milk punch made with Casa Dragones tequila and condensed milk — trust me.
San Miguel de Allende may not be top of mind for many travelers when they plan trips to Mexico, but there’s a reason the city was voted one of Travel + Leisure’s Best Cities in the World to Visit in 2020. It’s a hidden gem full of art, food, culture, and romance — not to mention colorful streets and charming people that make you feel at home. There’s no doubt that after one visit, you’ll be ready to come back for more.