We spent 12 weeks in SMA and definitely had a full experience of this town. If you ask what the highlights of SMA are, I would say it's the constant festival activities and atmosphere, busy varied event calendars, vibrant building and decorating colours, cozy courtyards, numerous art galleries, and of course great restaurants and bars. I must say that I have never been to such a lively buzzing town, yet so compact in physical size.
We were there during one of the busiest periods of the year - Christmas & New Year. Nativities were set up in every church, fireworks went off regularly, street parades took place every few days with bands playing, people dressed up as giant puppets and on steel legs singing and dancing. At night time, Christmas lights and decorations were lit up with uniformed small bands scattering around the main square performing for different audience. The whole atmosphere was just amazing!
If SMA was a person, she would be the busiest social butterfly in the world. Every day there were art classes, theatre shows, art openings & talks, lectures, new comer meet-ups, language exchange, markets, dance lessons, yoga & meditation sessions, wine tasting - take your pick! We attended as many as we could and were particularly impressed by the monthly party at a fabric-factory-turned-art-complex called Fabrica la Aurora. Our first time there was by accident and without knowing anything, we thought some major celebrities must be there as the place was packed with people, all dressed up, bands playing, all the galleries open with wine & snacks offered. Visitors mingled with artists and each other, exchanging views and appreciation on certain artwork. San Miguel de Allende is certainly Mexico's City of Art.
When one first arrives in SMA, you are instantly attracted by its vibrant building colours, think orange, blue, yellow, green. Shops often display colourful rugs, lights, decorations. Street vendors sell colourful scarves, jewellery, toys. Restaurants and bars are decorated with colourful paintings and other accessories. Everywhere you go, it's feast for the eyes!
We loved the courtyards in SMA. They are often part of a cafe, a restaurant, a bar, a hotel or a shop. From the hustle bustle on the San Miguel de Allende streets, when you walk into one of these private and cozy courtyards with large trees and native landscaping, you'll instantly find peace and quiet. We made it a mission to discover as many courtyards as possible and had a few favourites where we enjoyed some tasty lunches and drinks.
SMA's restaurants and cafes offer many types of food other than Mexican. A local favourite Italian was around the corner from us. One of our favourite courtyard cafes offer the best vegetarian dishes. Another favourite courtyard restaurant offers great Yucatan food. Our favourite bar offers two for one tostadas every Tuesday night - best octopus tostadas ever! The other enjoyable thing to do is a drink at one of those rooftop bars during sunset, enjoying the vibe, the music and the view.
From SMA, you can do a day trip to many surrounding places either by car or by bus. We did a day trip to Guanajuato which is another UNESCO listed town 1.5 hours away by bus.
Of course SMA is not perfect. Narrow and uneven footpaths in town makes it difficult to walk around, especially when one has to dodge people coming from the opposite direction. Roof dogs can be very active at night, barking at each other as a play game. Increasing amount of dog poop can be found once a little bit out of town. Other than one park (which was under extensive renovation when we were there) in town, there was hardly any green space.
However, we still believe SMA is a compact dynamite with so much to offer. A visit to Mexico can't be complete without visiting SMA!