Overlooking the town, the Jardín Botanicó showcases the botanical diversity of Guanajuato's high desert ecosystem, as well as an impressive collection of succulents from Mexico. Stroll 10 kilometers of cactus-lined paths and enjoy the view of the wild canyon below. The botanical garden is part of a larger nature preserve, and the organizers host educational events, including bird watching tours, workshops for kids, traditional sweat lodges, and a monthly full moon ceremony.
Due to the architectural and historical significance of the carefully preserved central neighborhood, the town itself is a UNESCO site, as is the nearby Jesuit sanctuary of Jesús Nazareno de Atotonilco, an unparalleled example of Mexican baroque architecture and interior décor. UNESCO added San Miguel de Allende and Atotonilco to the list in 2008, noting that both sites were significant in the country's movement for Independence from Spain, and that the art and architecture of Atotonilco displays the melding of Spanish, Creole, and Amerindian traditions.
Housed in the former Convento de la Concepción, the Bellas Artes has been the cultural center of San Miguel since its founding in 1939. The state-run institution offers affordable classes in art, dance, and music, as well as concerts and exhibits. If you don't have time to enroll in a workshop or take in a show, stop by for an espresso and the extraordinary Siquieros mural that depicts scenes from the life of revolutionary and native son Ignacio Allende.
Best Day Trip
La Gruta and La Escondida hot springs are both within 15 minutes of town. The parklike grounds encompass swimming pools, hot tubs in graduated temperatures, restaurants and spa rooms. At both sites, visitors can swim through tunnels to an artificial cave with a hot waterfall that delivers a perfect shoulder massage. For a more tranquil experience, visit on a weekday.
Off the Beaten Path
For a real taste of Mexico, head to the outskirts of town for the Tuesday tianguis, a giant flea market where you can buy everything from regional spices to used clothing to fleece blankets emblazoned with the Virgin of Guadalupe. Be sure to check out the food stalls, which serve mouth-watering traditional fare.
Most Iconic Place
With its pink spires and turrets, La ParoquÍa de San Miguel Arcángel looks straight out of a fairytale. In fact, the façade is the work of Zeferino Gutiérrez, a 19th-century stonemason who supposedly learned his trade by studying postcards of French cathedrals. Today the towering neo-gothic church is the centerpiece of town celebrations and souvenirs are ubiquitous.
San Miguel's nightlife doesn't get hopping until after 11 p.m., when the tequila begins to flow, the live music kicks up a notch, and night owls enjoy cocktails beneath the stars from the many rooftop bars. Stop in for apaloma (tequila, grapefruit, and soda) and live flamenco guitar at Mama Mía's, a storied institution a few blocks west of the jardín, or grab a Victoria (the local beer of choice) and rub shoulders with locals at Manolo's, a cozy bar decorated in old school Mexican ephemera and dichos (popular sayings).
Soak up local and national history at the Museo Casa de Allende, the childhood home of town namesake Ignacio Allende, hero of Mexico's War of Independence. Built in 1760, the stately mansion is set up to show visitors a vision of upper crust life in 19th-century San Miguel, while simultaneously recapping key historical events.
People-watching at the town plaza, known locally as El Jardín, is a time-honored tradition. You'll find the wrought iron benches crowded with gossiping expats and school kids as local families promenade in their Sunday best, strolling vendors hawk balloon animals, and sunburned painters attempt to capture the glory of the famous paroquía.
A Day in the Park
With the lush beauty of a tropical forest and the serenity of a formal old-world garden, Parque Juarez, also known as the French Park, is a gem. Like El Jardín, the park is a popular spot with locals, and its meandering paths offer great people watching, as well as shady benches and stately fountains.