Mexico may be best known for white sand, Caribbean beaches, Mayan pyramids, and ultra-luxurious leisure complexes, but a different kind of attraction has been rising in popularity in recent months: colonial tourist destinations. Packed with landmarks, cobblestone-laden and full of tradition, these historical settlements are seeing visitor numbers increase every day.
In fact, one of Mexico’s unsung spots, and perhaps its most charming colonial gem, has been named the world’s best small city, further proving our point: there’s still so much more Mexico to be discovered outside the Cancun-Puerto Vallarta-Los Cabos triad:
Meet The Charming San Miguel de Allende
San Miguel de Allende, one of the largest urban centers in the far eastern provinces of the Guanajuato state of Mexico, has been named the world’s ‘Best Small City’. The prestigious award, conferred by Condé Nast Traveler, the renowned travel publication, is reader-voted, and it is considered the one that best reflects the travel preferences of the general public.
Upon winning the award, San Miguel de Allende once again asserted its status as one of Mexico’s top tourist hotspots. It climbed four places from the 2021 ranking, indicating it attained significant notoriety in the meantime, despite facing some heavy competition both within Mexico and abroad. After all, there is no shortage of incredible small cities out there.
But what’s behind all the hype?
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San Miguel de Allende is a part of the Bajio region of Mexico, a culturally distinct region famous for its close associations with the Old World, in particular, Iberian Europe: if you skipped History classes at school, Mexico was at one point colonized by the Spanish, and it underwent a long period of European migration between the 16th and early 20th centuries.
The Europeans, in particular the Spanish, left their own indelible mark upon establishing themselves in the territory. They brought with them Christianity, baroque and rococo architecture, beautiful church facades and monumental cathedrals, as well as city-building techniques: at the peak of the Spanish Empire, the sole goal of Spaniards was to transform Mexico into an extension of Spain in the Americas.
Needless to say, several cities that have survived into the contemporary era have retained much of that Old World charm. San Miguel de Allende is one of them: its Centro Historico, or Old Town, is a well-preserved colonial zone filled with heritage buildings as old as the 17th and 18th centuries. Wandering the narrow streets, you will find:
- The landmark Parroquia de San Miguel Arcangel, featuring a tall pink spire
- Parque Benito Juarez, a serene, Mediterranean-inspired green oasis
- Mercado de Artesanias, a covered market where regional crafts are sold
- Iglesia de San Francisco, a majestic colonial church with an elaborate exterior
- Fabrica La Aurora, an art gallery replete with antique items
What Makes San Miguel de Allende So Intriguing?
These are only a few examples of the treasures this city hides. Its historical and architectural value is inestimable, so much so that the old section of town, where most of the buildings listed above are centered, has been inscribed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Of course, an amazing History is not the only reason why San Miguel de Allende is the world’s top small city break.
It is one of Mexico’s culinary capitals, offering guests a surprising melange of ethnic Mexican dishes as well as world cuisine. Some of our favorite restaurants include The Restaurant and La Parada, within walking distance of the central plaza. As a wellness destination, it may not be as developed as the coastal giants Cabo or Cancun, but trust us; it does not disappoint.
Other than winning the Condé Nast Best Small City in the World award five times already, it was once named the American Culture Capital by the International Bureau of Cultural Capitals, a title that’s been transferred to the promising Aguascalientes this year. Additionally, the publication has cited the city’s ‘low crime rate’ as a contributing factor to its unwavering success.
When it comes to accommodation providers, you will not find ultra-luxurious mega resorts in the UNESCO-protected city center, but there are plenty of chic, exclusive boutique hotels to choose from, and many of them used to be colonial mansions. There is also a plethora of thermal baths and spa centers around the perimeter, making San Miguel the perfect, most relaxing long-weekend retreat.
Hotel Matilda, with its distinct cubist design spa, has been included on Forbes’ list of 15 best hotels in Mexico. As you can see, there is a lot of unexplored potential here, and San Miguel de Allende could be set for a record increase in tourism now that Americans are favoring cultural immersion over do-nothing vacations on the beach.
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This article originally appeared on TravelOffPath.com