There are only a handful of cities Michael and I have returned to in our five years of Senior Nomad travels. Those include Florence, Split, Amsterdam, Barcelona, Paris and the place we’ve called home these past three weeks, San Miguel de Allende, Mexico. Each city pulls us back for different reasons (grandchildren near Paris for one) but San Miguel in particular has an allure that is irresistible.
It could be the curious way the sunlight saturates the landscape or the eternal Spring-like weather. Or it might be the stunning colonial architecture and lush garden spaces in the center of town. It might be the spontaneous parades and celebrations, the multiple mariachi bands strolling the plazas or maybe its the food. But most likely, it is the positive energy that radiates from this place. That could be attributed to the legend that San Miguel sits on a vast bed of quartz crystals, but more likely its because it’s delightful (and affordable) to live here. Everyone seems to be in a good mood and there is an ease to making friends here unlike any place we’ve ever visited.
We visited San Miguel for the first time three years ago on a recommendation from our nephew David. He wasn’t the only one who said it was a “must-visit city”, so we put it on the list along with Mexico City as we prepped for a few weeks in Cuba. We were here for just ten days and knew for certain we would return someday.
On that visit we stayed in the “Centro” or center of town. Our very nice Airbnb was a traditionally narrow, multi-story home with a roof-deck (almost mandatory in SMA) that opened onto a busy street. We got more than our money’s worth of activity right outside our front door - including a parade that filled the width of the street to where you could reach out and touch the horses. Food stands popped up on the corner each night, and random mortar blasts went off any time of day marking special occasions…like it’s Friday! And you could not escape the baritone ringing of multiple church bells on the hour. And the half hour. And sometimes, for what seemed no reason at all.
This time we would spend three weeks and decided to find an Airbnb a little further from the fray. Our latest Airbnb home was a modern townhouse in a cozy complex set 2 miles uphill from the center. It was close to a supermarket, a handful of restaurants and a five minute walk from the sprawling Tuesday Market where anything and everything can be found. And it was quiet. There were bubbling fountains in the courtyard that attracted trilling magpies and chatty parrots and curious hummingbirds hovered near us when we lounged on our private sundeck in the shade of the honeysuckle. It was the perfect place to learn all about the snow storms paralyzing Seattle.
We walked down the steep, cobblestone road to town almost everyday (stopping to take in the view at the Mirador Lookout and returned by bus for a fare of 35 cents each. We averaged 8,000 steps a day (4 miles) and we took every one of those steps carefully, because it would be easy to join the ranks of “The Fallen Women” of San Miguel. Speaking of walking, the Historic Walking Tour was worth taking along with the winding Street Art Walk.
I mentioned earlier how easy it is to make friends here. That is especially true if you happen to be American or Canadian with hair color that matches the silver this Colonial mining town was founded for. Everywhere we went in SMA we were surrounded by “our people” - creative, happily retired folk that either live here full-time or visit every winter. It has been that way since the 1930’s when a fellow named Stirling Dickinson created a haven for artists here. The current population in Centro is about 60,000 and I was told expats make-up about 12,000 of that total. We found on both visits that a discussion about the weather at the grocery store could quickly turn into a dinner invitation.
Our first new friend on this visit was a journalist spending three months here. We met her on a street corner while taking a breather and we quickly found common interests. We met for dinner a few nights later to continue the conversation. At the restaurant we ran into two new gentlemen friends of hers who have lived here for twenty plus years. They were beyond colorful characters and invited us to there amazing mansion-cum-art-gallery for drinks where we met yet more locals. And on and on it went.
We also make acquaintances through this blog. Readers often reach out when they read we are coming to their city, and that happened in spades here! Literally, as Michael was invited to play Duplicate Bridge through new friends. We also met several people from Vancouver, Seattle’s Canadian neighbor through a Facebook contact who invited us to their beautiful home to watch the sunset over the city. And I met a woman who has followed us from the beginning and became an intrepid traveler on her own. She is about to head out again to explore Eastern Europe and if you are a woman considering solo travel her blog is worth following.
We connected with Lydia Jane (and her little dog Boo), a woman who took us out for an afternoon on our last visit. She offered to do the same this trip. We really got to see the quirky side of SMA with a visit to a private collection of folk art at Rancho Jaguar Atotonilco about a half an hour drive outside of the city. There were more than a hundred pieces of indigenous art collected and curated by Jennifer Hass, wife of the late Bob Hass, both of whom contributed to many local San Miguel causes.
After touring the museum and the extensive grounds we slipped through a back gate into the fantastical homesite next door called Ranchito Cascabeles or simply “Timmy Land”. Tim Sullivan, a concrete baron, decided to add a few Antoni Gaudi meets Salvador Dali inspired buildings to his property - but once he got started, apparently he couldn’t stop! There are living spaces in all the different structures including a twisted stand- alone kitchen.
Meanwhile we became regulars at the Thursday afternoon Scrabble Club where we met some lovely ladies who taught us new strategies and were gracious when they won. Which was often. Last but not least, we met a couple on a walking tour that recognized us and had read our book. They gave us full credit for setting them off on their own nomadic adventure beginning with this visit to San Miguel. We met up with them to watch the Super Bowl (or Snore Bowl) together. So thank you Cathy, Howard, Bill, two Susans, Rene, ReAnn, Muriel, Mona, Donna, Kitty, Diana, Steve, Colleen, Bob, Peggy, Dan and Lydia Jane for making our stay in San Miguel so memorable.
When we were here in 2016, Michael, our Publicity Agent when he is not acting as Chief Travel Planner, contacted Atencion, the local bi-lingual newspaper to tell them our story. It resulted in a nice piece about our lifestyle that you can see on our Media page. We stopped by again this time and a lovely young woman named Karla asked if she could interview us about what we would consider A Perfect Day in San Miguel.
By the time we had the interview, we had booked a meeting room in La Biblioteca, the local library that also serves as a social hub for the community, to give a talk about our Senior Nomad travels. It was listed in the paper along with the article. The reason we decided to share our story was to encourage others to perhaps travel more often or find their “next adventure.”
Our talk was well received. In fact we gave it twice because we couldn’t fit everyone in the room for the first session! It was especially gratifying to see almost every one of our new friends in the audience. We had some good laughs and hopefully inspired a few more fledgling nomads.
Beyond talks like ours, there are dozens of things to do here every single day. You can volunteer, learn Spanish, teach English, attend lectures, workshops, and classes, find opportunities to play bridge, canasta, Mahjong, and Bingo, of course, and finally perfect your yoga poses or learn Tai Chi. We attended an entertaining evening of 10 Minute Plays written by local playwrights and performed by local actors, and we caught Green Book at the tiny Pocket Theatre (5 bucks gets you a ticket, a drink and fresh popcorn)! Whew. Here’s a link to an events page that will prove my point!
Along with all the other activities we managed in our three weeks, time was spent on a few personal maintenance needs. Michael got an impeccable haircut for $9 including tip, we had pampering pedicures for $20 each, and we got a very thorough teeth cleaning by the dentist, for just $30. each. Did I mention is was 70 degrees and sunny everyday? Are you starting to see how a person could live here?
A good friend from Seattle sent us a link to an article from The Seattle Times written ten years ago about the lure of San Miguel de Allende and the growing number of Seattleites who decided to make this magical city their retirement home. Much of what is covered still holds true today - although the traffic and the development have increased considerably.
It will take more than that to take the bloom off our desert rose. I am sure we will keep coming back to this magical place where the sun shines and friendships blossom for many years to come.
Thanks for following along,
Debbie and Michael Campbell