I just don’t get it. For years I’ve been hearing about San Miguel de Allende. People rave about it being the place to go in Mexico, pointing to its huge American expat community, its strong ties to arts and culture, its lovely architecture, etc., etc. But for some reason, I just could not make up my mind if I wanted to spend any time in San Miguel, so I opted for a day tour from Guanajuato to check it out.
It may have had something to do with the fact that I was on a detested tour, being subjected to stops at the guide’s preferred stores to shop and his favorite “excellent buffet” (isn’t that an oxymoron?) restaurant for lunch. Or it may just be that seeing Guanajuato first has ruined me for all other Mexican cities, but basically, I couldn’t wait to leave San Miguel de Allende.
Its central plaza is a lovely, lushly planted open space with the obligatory gazebo (band kiosk), shoeshine stands, and food vendors. But despite the placid scene, there was a heaviness about the city. People slouched on benches, immobile but for swatting at an occasional mosquito. The few people moving about the square seemed to dredge up their last ounce of energy to take the next sluggish step. Even the massive pink granite church anchoring the square has an inferiority complex: though it looks like a Cathedral it is only a parish church.
Walking up and down the hilly streets of the historic center I could appreciate the wealth of colonial architecture, but as almost every structure is painted in some shade of brown, gold, or terracotta I quickly grew weary of the sights to the point that I stopped taking pictures. Back at the Plaza, I noticed a real estate office and, being a former RE/MAX agent, I couldn’t help but poke my head in the door and introduce myself to the agent on duty while waiting for our tour guide to collect us for the return trip. Since real estate sales depend upon Americans who can pay cash, it’s been a tough couple of years for business in San Miguel; as the U.S. real estate market goes, so goes the San Miguel market. More than most Mexican cities it is feeling the depressed economy, and this may be the heavy energy that I felt.
I realize it is quite impossible to get to know a city in a couple of hours during a day tour, and there is undoubtedly much that I did not see or experience. San Miguel de Allende may indeed harbor a thriving cultural and arts community. The food (other than buffet lunches) may indeed be exquisite. But I always rely on my gut, and in this case it told me quite clearly that I don’t want to spend any more time in this Mexican city.