Places I Remember with Lea Lane

San Miguel de Allende, Mexico: "World's Best Small City"

November 22, 2022 Tania Castillo is Tourism Director of San Miguel de Allende, Mexico, a favorite of travelers and expats. Season 1 Episode 72
Places I Remember with Lea Lane
San Miguel de Allende, Mexico: "World's Best Small City"
Show Notes Transcript Chapter Markers

San Miguel de Allende the colonial town in the highlands of central Mexico has won numerous awards. Tania Castillo, tells why it was chosen by Conde Nast travel for the sixth year as "Best World's Best Small City."

Art, good food, hot-air balloons, vineyards, hot springs, top hotels, plus day trips -- there's much to enjoy in San Miguel and the surrounding area of the state of Guanajuato.

And last, Tania shares a special personal memory of San Miguel de Allende.
Tania Castillo is Director of Tourism, for San Miguel de Allende.
Podcast host Lea Lane blogs at, has traveled to over 100 countries, written nine books, including the award-winning Places I Remember,  (a star rating from Kirkus Reviews), and has contributed to many guidebooks.

Contact Lea! 
@lealane on Twitter; PlacesIRememberLeaLane on Insta; on  Facebook, it's Places I Remember with Lea Lane. Website:

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Lea Lane  0:08  
San Miguel de Allende is a colonial town in the highlands of central Mexico about 150 miles from Mexico City. San Miguel was just named for the sixth time, the best small city in the world in Conde Nast Traveler magazine's Readers Choice Awards, and in this episode, we'll show you why. Our guest is Tania Castillo, tourism director of San Miguel de Allende. Tania, welcome to Places I Remember.

Tania Castillo  0:54  
It was an amazing Spanish!

Lea Lane  0:58  
I took some high school Spanish, so happy to use it. Anyway, what do you think are the special qualities that makes San Miguel so beloved by so many around the world?

Tania Castillo  1:10  
I'm very honored to be the Director of Tourism of this city. It's an amazing city. It's a UNESCO world heritage city. So of course, we have amazing views, amazing streets, amazing churches, amazing market. So everything, I will say everything is so special, and we have a lot of activities going on. I know so many people know San Miguel de Allende, just by the church that is on the main square, but San Miguel, again, it's more more than just that the church, it's, it's the people, it's the artisans, it's the streets, or the doors that have a special meaning whenever you have the door in front of you, and you don't know what's going on behind the door until you open it and then you find an amazing hotel or an amazing restaurant. So it's a lot of magic here in San Miguel de and then we have a lot of activities. What can I tell you? I'm in love with San Miguel de Allende, and one of the most special things, it's the people living in San Miguel de Allende.

Lea Lane  2:13  
Absolutely. Everybody seems so happy. They seem so friendly. And when you walk through the cobblestone streets up and down the hills, you just feel like you're somewhere else in time. It's a very complete city. It's so perfectly colonial and so interesting. I will say that. You want to get comfortable shoes, because there is a lot of walking  I think one thing I did that was very useful. And I got tired. I would walk down the hills. But then I finally walked. I didn't walk up the hill. I took an Uber when there was yes,

Tania Castillo  2:49  
If you are going to San Miguel no high heels. If you're walking. Yes, wear sneakers, comfortable shoes, so you can walk. 

Lea Lane  2:57  
So tell us a bit about the history.

Tania Castillo  2:59  
It all started in 1542, and in 2008, we were named World Heritage City. We have like the Sistine Chapel of Mexico. It's amazing what we have. And well, it's been growing so much since of course, 1542. There's also a lot of history about the independence of Mexico. We have Casa Allende.  And that is one of the independence of Mexico. So for us, it's all the history and all the traditions. There's so much going on. There's so much traditions, San Miguel del Allende is just a small town. I mean, it's not that small right now. We have 175,000 people. That's why we just won our best small city in the world, because actually, we will feel small. All the tourists that come to San Miguel de Allende and they can see the traditions, see the history. We have many guides, the guided tours, they give you a walking tour down here in the city. They tell you all about the history so they can actually tell you the whole story about San Miguel, walk you through all the places so you can feel it.

Lea Lane  4:19  
Well, I know there are many festivals throughout the year, but the one I heard about that I like the best is called The Parade of the Crazies Tell me about the Parade of the Crazies.

Tania Castillo  4:31  
And it's huge. And we close the main square and all the streets nearby. This year we expected 2000 people and actually they were like 5000 Join the parade. They are all dressed with locals, crazy people just the unique thing about the tradition is that it's through all the family so you can see just the baby boys in their strolls, grandpa, and they love it. 

Lea Lane  5:00  
It sounds fun and I think festivals always add something special. 

Tania Castillo  5:05  
Yes, exactly. They give candies to the people watching the parade and that's yes. 

Lea Lane  5:10  
So what's not to like okay, I love it. I want to go. Let me ask you if you just had to choose a few favorite things not to miss in the city. What would be a couple?

Tania Castillo  5:20  
Walking tour here in the main square and a wine tour.

Lea Lane  5:24  
There are four routes right? I wrote about it for for different things all charm, a overnight at some of these -- Yes. Yeah sounds like it's a new thing that they're trying to get to 

Tania Castillo  5:36  
Yes, we have all these all these vineyards approximately 11 vineyards we have in San Miguel. We are trying to push more this wine route to be known all over the world and we have all the potential to do it. So we are trying to go that way. One of the things I love is the hot air balloon like definitely, the views are spectacular. And it's something very unique. The hot air balloons. Yeah, you have three different hot springs, they are stunning. You can go all like a day pass, and they are healing and enjoy and relax. You have the best gastronomy and the best hospitality here with all these amazing hotels.

Lea Lane  6:22  
The hotels are amazing. It's true. You go from modest ones. I'm sure there are many of those to the most wonderful five-star hotels. I stayed at the hotel Matilda and I remember Yeah, of course a painting by Diego Rivera, in the lobby, of the owner. Well, she's no longer with us, but Matilda from the 1940s. It has such a history. And it was just up there like you know, and I think yeah, but it has everything is modern, but it's also great tradition.

Tania Castillo  6:52  
I know I mean, send me y'all it's right now very cosmopolitan. And actually something I just want to mention about Matilda that you said it's with this award that comes in as gables. We also have four hotels in San Miguel de Allende that won the best hotels. So Matilda is one of those hotels that won an award. It's also Rosewood it's also Sen Niall Centurio and Catherine Sierra Nevada. They're the four hotels that won out  this award as best hotels.

Lea Lane  7:23  
Well, I remember the food there was spectacular, one of the top chefs in Mexico, I know. That's another reason it's such a special place that I remember a restaurant, a few blocks from the center which had a fusion of SriLanka Swiss and Mexican -- so you can get everything there.

Tania Castillo  7:40  
Not just Mexican food Exactly. As I was telling. It's very cosmopolitan, because we have more than known 60 nationalities living in San Miguel de Allende. There are a lot of people that go to retire and when they came to San Miguel de Allende, they are like, reborn, they just have this second fresh air and they start opening restaurants or hotels or something. So in gastronomy, it's not just like Mexican gastronomy. But these retirement persons that came to San Miguel. Fusion, their culture with a Mexican so from Spain, from the Mediterranean from Japanese, Korean, so whatever you want to eat in San Miguel and therefore sure you can find it here.

Lea Lane  7:40  
and you can pair it with the wonderful new wines that are coming out so

Tania Castillo  8:28  
and the views with the rooftops I mean,

Lea Lane  8:31  
I think you like your town. I love the art. I think that there's some lovely museums and I met a man who is no longer with us. Arnado McCloughlan,  you know the art chapel of Jimmy Ray gallery. Yes, that's just outside of the town. He was so interesting, and it's like a wonderful area, you have to make a reservation there, but I highly recommend it. It's kind of like Gaudi it's like a very special art, the whole area, the House and the grounds. It's very beautiful.

Tania Castillo  9:02  
Yes, and it's something very important what you mentioned about the art. We have a lot of galleries downtown in the main square, and the and in the outside the surroundings of San Miguel again. But I want to mention one, it's where you can find the most art, You have a lot of galleries inside this space. They are looking for young talent. When you enter they have one room, especially for the new new talent. And then when you go around it, they are also a lot of tours you can do inside  because they have a lot of galleries, Many people came and they open the gallery there, and then you can go and you can see actual the painter doing all his art or the artist making his art. They are for sale, or you can book a painting activity.

Lea Lane  9:55  
Well, I don't want to leave the little town but there are a couple of day trips I took which I just think. One is to Guanajuato, we mentioned it, the capital of the state of the same name. It's in a narrow valley. The streets are very narrow and winding and sets of stairs all over the place. And the thoroughfares are partially or fully underground most of the time. And there's a very interesting Mummy Museum there, which is Yeah. How did that happen? I didn't understand quite how that happened. It was bodies that were found in the municipal cemetery and different, right? 

Tania Castillo  10:27  
It's something very different. I mean, also lovely. It's it's like an hour and a half drive from San Miguel de Allende. So of course, you can go to a day tour or day trip.. And of course, these mummies are something very unique and special for tourists because you don't see Mummies is all around the world. So it's something very,

Lea Lane  10:50  
very different. It's also very charming, but different from San Miguel. So it's a wonderful combination. It's not that far as you said, I

Tania Castillo  10:57  
like exactly, it's not that far. It's just take a car and an hour drive you are there. They are complimentary.

Lea Lane  11:05  
And if you go up on top, there's a statue when you look down and see this beautiful vision for taking photos. It's just a gorgeous, yes.

Tania Castillo  11:12  
Like a 360 view. Taking picture. Yes, I think we have very unique spots for pictures and photos. Yes, we have a lot of rooftops and sunsets with

Lea Lane  11:26  
the skyline of

Tania Castillo  11:29  
that corners of the town. Yes.

Lea Lane  11:33  
I love it too. There's another trip I took, which is a little further from San Miguel to visit the Monarch butterflies, which come there every year; they spend four or five months, they fly about 2800 miles from Canada and the US to migrate to beautiful forests. And they hang in the trees, you know are orange all over the trees. And then when it gets warmer, they come out and fly. Now I took the trip. And I guess a little warning to you. If it's a cold day, don't do it. I took the steps, it's a long walk up very high up and you have a horse part of the way if you want to get there. And then it was so cold. They just stayed in the trees, which was kind of a disappointment. So make sure it's a nice sunny day, and a warm day. And then you'll see this gorgeous gorgeous sight of the of the Monarch butterflies. Are they still coming in great numbers? 

Tania Castillo  12:24  
Yes, they're still coming.  it's in Michoacan. Actually, yes. But I mean, this can tell you the huge amount of different activities on nature Mexico has. We have a lot of states nearby that have this attraction. And what we are also trying to do with with the economy is like the economy, not just not things in San Miguel de Allende, so you can do these trips to another state and help others. So it's wonderful what Mexico has or near San Miguel de Allende. So we have different options. And we are partnering with the states also. So we can have this tourists and these activities between one another.

Lea Lane  13:08  
That's good. I would say spend at least a week if you can. Well, the name of the podcast is Places I Remember so Tania, will you share with us a special personal memory of San Miguel de Allende.

Tania Castillo  13:23  
Wow, can I tell you I love having a good dinner here in San Miguel. Yeah, and there was this amazing views in the company with with my friends. I share also a lot of weddings here and the weddings are so especially in San Miguel de Allende, so I think that the weddings and the love and the venues and all the decoration I think that's something I love about it like seeing how do you say that here we will say  puppets in the streets like walk you know the the guests from the wedding. I love just walking by the streets and then seeing the other side and amazing restaurant full of people and then many tourists from foreign countries that actually is like, wow, we are just a small town, but it's known all around the world. So just walking by and I see this street and it's different from the other street so you don't get bored here. You have a lot of activities. I just love walking, walking. 

Lea Lane  14:23  
It's my favoritething walking at night. You know, I walked it. Yeah, it's so interesting, because it feels like you're in the 16th century. It feels you can hear some music in the background perhaps, but it's quiet and your footsteps are on the cobblestones and it's dark so that you know it's safe. But it may feel like you're in another world.

Tania Castillo  14:46  
Yeah, like something very different with all the light and the movement and the people and then when you walk like 9 pm and then just see like, very few light, very few people. You always feel very safe and it's what you say it's something totally different from the light.

Lea Lane  15:05  
Yes, well, gracias for sharing about your wonderful home, San Miguel de Allende, Mexico. You've given us a good idea of why it's acclaimed as one of the most special small cities in the world. But to appreciate the magic you just have to travel there. 

Tania Castillo  15:22  
thank you so much.

Lea Lane  15:26  
My book places I remember tales truth delights from 100 countries is available in print Kindle, and I read the audio version. You can follow me on where I write five travel posts a month. Please subscribe to this podcast and consider giving us a review. And I'd love to hear from you on any of my links in the episodes show notes or on my website places I remember Lea Until next time, make some travel memories

What makes San Miguel "the world's best city"
A bit of history
A few fave things to do in SMA
Nearby vineyards
The best hotels in SMA
Food in SMA
The art
Tania's favorite memory