It's hard to be bored in San Miguel. The shopping is excellent, and you'll run out of time before you can try all the restaurants. The town is well situated for side trips to Dolores Hidalgo, Querétaro, and Guanajuato. It's popular for Spanish and art classes.
In 2008, UNESCO declared San Miguel and the outlying religious center, Atotonilco, a World Heritage Site (three other cities in this chapter are also designated as such). The colonial architecture tends more toward domestic than monumental and offers much to see -- fine courtyards, beautiful interiors, and rich architectural details. Of note are the town's lovely streetscapes, with narrow cobblestone lanes that invite aimless strolling and make it advisable to wear walking shoes with thick soles.
The House and Garden Tour, sponsored by the Biblioteca Pública, is universally enjoyed. The tour opens the doors of some of the city's most interesting colonial and contemporary houses. Tours leave Sunday at 11:30am from the library, Insurgentes 25 (tel. 415/152-0293), and last about 2 hours. The tour costs 200 pesos, which goes to support various library projects benefiting the youth of San Miguel.
Bill Levasseur of Casa de la Cuesta Bed and Breakfast has a mask museum called La Otra Cara de México (The Other Face of Mexico). It's a thoughtfully arranged exhibition of masks that provides a lot of cultural context. Masks have played an important role in many of Mexico's native cultures, usually as part of a dance or ritual. Over the years, Bill has collected some great pieces and has filmed dances and performances in which the masks were used. This museum is a treat for both serious collectors and casual travelers. Visits are by appointment (tel. 415/154-4324).
A couple of the most enjoyable walks in town are to the lookout point El Mirador, especially at sunset, which colors the entire town and the lake beyond, and to Parque Juárez, a large and shady park.
Special Events & Festivals
San Miguel celebrates 30 to 40 festivals a year. These are just the standouts: January 17 is the Blessing of the Animals. In the morning, locals bring their decorated pets and farm animals to the town's churches to be sprinkled with holy water. The first Friday in March celebrates Our Lord of the Conquest, and the day before is filled with music, fireworks, and decorated teams of oxen. After a celebratory Mass, there is dancing by the concheros (traditional costumed dancers). Two weeks before Holy Week is the procession of Our Lord of the Column. Between then and Easter Sunday are more processions, and altars are set up in honor of La Virgen Dolorosa. In May is the Festival of the Holy Cross. In June, around Saint Anthony's Day, is the Fiesta de los Locos (Festival of the Madmen), when many dress up in Carnavalesque costumes and go cavorting about the center of town. August begins the preparatory festivals for September 29, the festival of San Miguel's patron saint. Parades, fireworks, and band concerts continue throughout September. At the beginning of November is the Day of the Dead, followed by the Christmas fiestas. In addition to all of this, you have the Chamber Music Festival in summer, Jazz Music Festival in the fall, and a couple of arts fairs that occur on varying dates.
Just outside of San Miguel are several hot mineral springs that have been made into bathing spots. They're all just off the road leading to Dolores Hidalgo. La Taboada, La Gruta, and Escondido lie close to one another, just 8 to 10km (5-6 1/4 miles) outside San Miguel. La Gruta is perhaps the nicest, but La Taboada has a quiet old hotel reminiscent of an earlier Mexico and makes for a relaxing stay.
Near these hot springs is the sanctuary of Atotonilco el Grande, a complex of chapels, dormitories, dining rooms, and a church. UNESCO has declared the complex part of the World Heritage Site for San Miguel. The church was founded in 1740 by Father Luis Felipe Neri Alfaro, an austere mystic. He thought the area in dire need of a religious presence, as many people would gather at the thermal springs to bathe publicly and, in his eyes, licentiously. He commissioned a local artist, Martínez Pocasangre, to paint murals illustrating the instructive verses that Alfaro wrote, with much emphasis on the dangers lying in wait for the human soul. The murals and verses cover the church's ceiling and walls, adding color to an otherwise dark structure.
Father Alfaro built his sanctuary on the spot where he was granted an ecstatic vision of Christ. The location proved providential: Seventy years later, when Father Miguel Hidalgo was in the town of Dolores, he was warned of his imminent capture, so he hastily declared independence and then marched an impromptu army toward San Miguel. En route, he stopped at Atotonilco, where he took the church's image of the Virgin of Guadalupe as his banner, declaring her the protector of the new nation -- the first time that she was officially recognized as such.
The church and adjoining buildings still function throughout the year as a religious retreat for people who come from all over the country for a week of prayer, penance, and mortification. These spiritual exercises are conducted in private. You can get to Atotonilco by cab or via the bus marked EL SANTUARIO, at the market. It passes every hour on the hour and goes through Taboada on its way to Atotonilco.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.