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The Magic of San Miguel de Allende: A Cuban’s Perspective

A UNESCO World Heritage Site, San Miguel de Allende, in Guanajuato, Mexico, is a bewitching city
Parroquia San Miguel Arcángel, to some, the symbol of the city. (Photo by Reynaldo Cruz)

I arrived in San Miguel de Allende, Guanajuato, in the last days of August 2021. I got an invitation from a family that I had had as clients in Cuba. Mark Schaff, Rachelle Fernandez Schaff, Sunnie Collins and Jim Collins welcomed me into their families, their homes, and their group of friends. It was my first experience in a non-English speaking country other than Cuba.

Initially, and despite my friends’ assurance that it was very safe, I was reluctant to venture on my own in the city because of Mexico’s ill reputation in terms of violence. However, San Miguel de Allende and its narrow cobbled streets were too attractive and too welcoming not to explore. The city, a UNESCO World Heritage site, bewitches you and makes it impossible for you not to want to know more. Also, my friends were right: it is incredibly safe and people are very friendly.

The beautiful Parroquia San Miguel Arcángel, the crown jewel of eclectic architecture in the city, is perhaps the most distinguishing feature of SMA. Other churches and parishes stand beautifully, but none of them compares to the one built in 1709. Its neogothic silhouette is used all over the city, in different announcements, including the label and bottlecap of the local beer: Cerveza Allende.

Tourists normally crowd the center of the city. Despite the great American and Canadian influence in the town’s life and culture, mainly due to Stirling Dickinson’s legacy, SMA has maintained its Mexican flavor. Most of the restaurants cater to the curiosity of visitors for Mexican cuisine, and cafés and bars are all over the place (my three favorite were Mexcal Art, Café Zenteno and Café Catedral).

As every touristy place, SMA also has its share of street vendors, street performers, and beggars who always roam the streets leading to Jardín Allende.

However, it is outside of the attractive parts surrounding Jardín Allende and the Parroquia where true Mexico lies.

Places like Valle del Maíz offer a unique perspective compared to the pristine and touristy area of the centro. Narrow streets, dirt paths, small and crummy houses, and local small businesses provide an opportunity to engage in conversations with common sanmigelenses. You can find anything: small convenience stores where they sell quesadillas, an amazing fonda called El Cedro, or my favorite spot in Valle del Maíz, Pizzería Los Carrizos. These places hold a great taste of Mexican food while being way cheaper than in Centro.

Some of the best views of SMA are available in the area of Balcones. Meanwhile, a whole different universe of views appears when taking the road to Celaya: the area of Los Frailes and Pedro Páramo (where hot-air balloons wake you up in the mornings), which includes a huge community of foreign residents, the Presa Allende, and the Golf Club Malanquín.

Events happen in the city all the time, and the identity of Mexico is more than present in all of them. Colorful outfits and flowers appear in dates like Día de Los Muertos. The three colors of the flag (green, red and white) fill town whenever there is time for celebration, mainly patriotic (Independencia or Grito de Dolores).

As a baseball fan, I had the grand opportunity of witnessing an amateur game in Estadio Stirling Dickinson, a small venue that has artificial turf on the diamond. Despite being just amateur, there was a lot of hustling on the field: players were hard-nosed and got their uniforms dirty.

I will, with no doubt, return to SMA one day. There were places I never got to explore, and I certainly will love to do it. There were places I got to see that I would love to see again.


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