Entering the state of Guanajuato came as a quiet reprieve after 7-8 hours of driving the Mexican freeways from Manzanillo. These roads are remarkably good with four lanes most of the way but there are also a lot of improvements going on which can back up traffic and reduce speeds through construction zones. Nonetheless, the beauty of the undulating mountainous countryside still tickles my sense of awe having presumed like so many, a land of dry deserts and gulches.
Exiting the toll booth lane, we were surprised by a couple of men in what we learned was a tourist welcome service. At first we thought they wanted to sell us something but they merely confirmed our directions to San Miguel de Allende. From there we were quickly driving a two-lane highway with little traffic and spectacular views of ranches, goat herds and small towns crafting and selling wares. It was a quaint and slower relief from the hectic freeway.
One small town was filled with straw and wood reindeers large and small, lining the entire main street. I love this enterprising side of Mexico. They are keenly inventive and creative as is seen by the export of so many works by the artisans and artists. This countryside seemed so untouched and abundant with displays of cactus and indigenous shrubs and trees. No palm trees here. We were heading directly into the mountains now. We passed caballeros on horseback, boys herding goats and men riding donkeys. It was absolutely beautiful with the sun at our backs and the late afternoon sun casting shadows and lighting up the faces of the hills and mountains. It was quite a spiritual feeling for me.
As the temperatures cooled from our ascent, we reached the city of San Miguel de Allende. And when I say cool, I mean up to 20C during the day and down to a chill 6C at night. You need layers of warmer clothing or a light jacket to be comfortable in the evenings.
The city is impressively clean and antique. Once again, as noted on other journeys in Mexico, we are greeted by colorful walled streets with interesting doorways displaying large decorative doors and glimpses inside to gorgeous cavernous spaces, some with hotel lobbies and restaurants, and others with lush gardens and courtyards, quiet and cool and beckoning. Oh how I wish we lived this way in Canada and the US instead of having everything outwardly displayed. The buildings in Mexico for me seem like gift wrapped presents ready to be opened and discovered. As this city dates back to the 1500’s, cobble stones and flat rock sidewalks are the norm particularly in the tourist central district surrounding the Central Square and the two ornate cathedrals are beyond imagination.
Relying on our GPS system to find the hotel was admittedly some frustration as we seemed to go in endless circles through the small narrow streets. On the other hand we certainly had an entertaining look at so many small café door fronts, shops with beautifully decorated door trimmings and also the huge decorated tree in the square ready for the Christmas holidays. I could hardly wait to go exploring. We finally arrived at the front door of our hidden hotel Hacienda El Santuario. There was just a little sign on the wall where gated wrought-iron doors announced its presence and my interest was piqued immediately.
Thanks to seasonally discounted pre-Christmas rates, our friends and I, treated ourselves to two master suites that were quite sumptuous. Vaulted brick ceilings, outdoor terraces overlooking interior gardens and distant vistas. These rooms were filled with the local trimmings of handmade ceramic tiles, tooled tin mirrors that were works of art, chandeliers of iron and glass ornaments and great bedding. This hotel is typical of the area, behind closed walls enclosing half a square block of gardens, patios, fountains and several courtyards for relaxing or enjoying a continental breakfast with local fruits, bread and really good coffee. Another world apart and absolute heaven!
Then the walking, exploring and eating began. Temptations at every turn (or doorway) that sold leather goods, original paintings, hand-made clothing, furniture, jewelry and treats galore. The streets tended to meander with slight inclines, but the vistas before us were show stopping, particularly with the central cathedral (Parroquia de San Miguel Arcangel) in the background. (As an aside, having incorporated a Fitbit bracelet into my fitness life, I received a badge via email when we returned home to Manzanillo for having clocked 43 Km of walking that week. Considering our sitting in a vehicle time, one can imagine how much exploring we did in three full days! Wear comfortable shoes!)
On another day we hopped a tour trolley with a bilingual tour guide to explain the historical aspects of the architecture, history and ancient cultures of the city. We thoroughly enjoyed this service and our guide had the usual good humor of the Mexicans. The trolley can be found near the central square and takes about 90 minutes for the tour. Well worth the 65 pesos.
Thank goodness we did a lot of walking because we also found some delicious cafes providing for hungry palates with everything from Mexican/Spanish cuisine to French, Italian and even a restaurant of the New Orleans ilk. There is an abundance of enjoyment in San Miguel de Allende and I highly recommend a trip there.
A myriad of information can be found on the internet about San Miguel de Allende so I will not be repeating it in this story, just encouraging anyone who can to go there and absorb the wonderful history and beauty of this location. No wonder so many Canadian and American artists and artisans have made their homes there and given a considerable boost to the local economy. I’d go back in a heartbeat.
By Suzanna A. Marshall