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San Miguel de Allende's historic city center was designated a UNESCO World Heritage site in 2008. (Photograph by Jill Schneider)

Just Back: San Miguel de Allende

Travel photographer and National Geographic Student Expeditions leader Jill Schneider (on Instagram @jillhsphotography) just got back from a trip to the charming colonial town of San Miguel de Allende, Mexico, with two of her best friends.

Here are some of the highlights from her adventure, in her own words:

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The view from the Luna Rooftop Tapas Bar (Photograph by Jill Schneider)

Biggest selling points: San Miguel de Allende, located in central Mexico’s mountainous Bajío region, has been on my travel radar for a while now. The well-preserved town, a UNESCO World Heritage site known for its art and food scene, manages to be easily accessible while staying off the popular tourist track.

> Favorite local watering hole: Do yourself a favor and spend at least one evening at the Luna Rooftop Tapas Bar at the Rosewood Hotel. For my friends and I, it was love at first sight when we saw the view. We quickly developed what was to become a daily ritual during our two-week stay: After claiming a table just before sunset, we’d sit in the open air—inventive cocktail in hand—snapping photographs.

> Authentic souvenir: If you’re in the mood to shop, San Miguel de Allende will not disappoint. For local handicrafts, visit the Mercado de Artesanias, where you’ll find three blocks’ worth of vendors selling ceramics, metalwork, jewelry, furniture, and more. I left with an intricately painted vase, a beautiful tiled mirror, and several pairs of earrings. My friend picked up one of the fabulous metal stars that are on offer all around town.

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Chilaquiles topped with a fried egg at the Posada Carmina Hotel (Photograph by Jill Schneider)

> Craveable culinary experience: For breakfast you must try the chilaquiles, a traditional dish consisting of fried corn tortilla slices slathered in salsa or mole and piled high with queso fresco, avocado, onions, beans, and sometimes chicken, steak, or egg. A good place to start: the lovely courtyard restaurant in the Posada Carmina Hotel.

> Free to see: A simple walk around San Miguel is a feast for the senses. Set yourself up outside Parroquía San Miguel Arcángel in the town’s main square, El Jardin Principal, for the ultimate people-watching session. The colorful colonial architecture and fragrant purple Jacaranda trees (peak bloom occurs in March and April) give the city an extra pop.

> Favorite local quirk: San Miguel de Allende does not have traffic lights or stop signs!

> Active adventure: Horseback riding and ATV riding are popular activities in San Miguel. Hook up with Leisurely Country Horseback Riding or Coyote Canyon Adventures for a day of fun in the great outdoors.

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Guanajuato was a wealthy silver mining hub during Spanish colonial times. (Photograph by Jill Schneider)

> Doable day trip: The historic and eminently walkable town of Guanajuato—the capital of the state of the same name—lies about 50 miles west of San Miguel. Plan to arrive on the early side to avoid crowds, then make a beeline for Guanajuato’s main plaza, Jardín de la Unión, to admire the colonial architecture, including the impressive Juárez Theater. Other recommended stops: the Diego Rivera Museum, the Callejón del Beso (Alley of the Kiss), and Hidalgo Market for locally made delicacies, art, and crafts. One of the best things about Guanajuato? There are very few cars to contend with, as most traffic is diverted underground through a network of tunnels.

> Practical tip: San Miguel de Allende sits at well over 6,000 feet above sea level. Make sure to keep hydrated with plenty of water and don’t forget the sunscreen; the sun is stronger at higher altitudes.

> Should have brought: A bigger suitcase! Shipping fees are way more expensive than the souvenirs you will undoubtedly purchase.