Guide to Activities and Excursions in San Miguel de Allende

You’ve wandered around the cobblestone streets of this beautifully preserved colonial town, moseyed into every shop, perused the fine art galleries at Fábrica La Aurora, lingered on a bench in the Jardin listening to mariachis play, and tasted the best dishes that San Miguel’s restaurants have to offer.  You’ve cruised the Artisan’s Market and relaxed by the pool… and now it’s time to spread your wings, add to your knowledge, or get out of town

There are a number of Mexican cooking schools in and around San Miguel de Allende, and the best one for you might simply depend on your schedule and their available classes.  Many include a trip to the market to educate you about some of the more exotic ingredients that you’ll buy to whip up into something fabulous.  

La Cocina  offers classes that teach you to make traditional Mexican favorites like chiles rellenos, mole poblano and tres leches, or you can take a more specialized class in modern Mexican fusion cuisine or traditional Mexican moles, all the while learning about Mexico’s culinary history.

Sazón is a cooking school managed by the Casa de Sierra Nevada hotel that is open to nonhotel guests, who learn to create mole, gourmet quesadillas and more from hotel chefs. The school specializes in Mexican classics and regional cuisine and you can arrange to take a private or a group class.

The personal chef at Casa Tres Cervezas, a private rental home, offers small classes for visitors where you can make your choice of Mexican dishes. But no matter how tempted you might be to learn to make chilequiles or enchiladas, select the chiles en nogada, often called Mexico’s national dish because it’s red, white and green, the colors of the Mexican flag.  After you learn to cook it you’ll sample your sensuous – and beautiful — final product in one of the Casa’s magnificent terraces or rooftop gardens.

It’s always smart to book a Taste of San Miguel Food Tour on your first day in town.  There’s no better way to learn the history of a place while sitting in a cozy café sampling sopa de tortilla or cochinita pibil.  You’ll get the lay of the land and hear about noteworthy architecture and residents and you’ll be surprised how much your memory improves when local indulgences like the dulce de leche-filled churros fuel your brain.

San Miguel has plenty of other types of Workshops and Classes to explore and sample – jewelry making, printmaking, drawing and painting, metal smithing… look around town for flyers, in art school programs or the weekly English newspaper Atención San Miguel for possibilities.

Instituto Allende’s Art Workshops offer a number of one-to-four-week classes in subjects like printmaking, traditional Mexican weaving and jewelry making, but a few, like watercolor painting take place over just four days.

La Calavera Andante Folk Art Workshop specializes in helping you create traditional Mexican folk art toys.  You can design and paint your own alebrije – a brightly colored Mexican folk art sculpture of a fantastical creature, or craft a catrina — a figure of a woman skeleton usually dressed in a fancy dress with a large plumed hat.

In addition to being actively exhibiting sculptors, the Van Doren’s in the Van Doren Metal Art Workshop specialize in two-day, tool-using, art-making extravaganzas where you’ll be shown the ropes around welders, cutters, grinders and drills to create your own metal sculpture. Only four students are allowed at a time.

When you are seized by the desire to create, Galeria San Francisco can both inspire you with their exhibitions and satisfy your artistic urges in one of their art classes (link this back to the activities chapter). Located in Fabrica Aurora, classes in acrylic painting, encaustic, cold wax, collage, mixed media, and drawing take place over one or two days.

You’ll master simple steps, fancy footwork and sexy dips and spins in one of Ritmo y Sabor’s Salsa and Tango Lessons.  Taught by the ever-patient and highly skilled Fernando, this private dance studio offers both private lessons and drop-in group classes, or you can arrange a private lesson if you are staying in a rental home. – Homobono 17A.

At Tasting Room San Miguel’s Wine, Mezcal and Tequila Tasting Classes, you’ll sit down at a long and elegant table sparkling with glassware to learn everything you need to know about tequila, mezcal, or the nuances of Mexican wines from the neighborhood and around the country. The best learning is hands-on, of course, and these classes offer plenty to taste as you study.

Every time I walk past a particularly sensational carved door surrounded by San Miguel’s characteristic high walls, I wish I could sneak a peek inside to see what treasures are revealed.  Luckily every Sunday the town’s public library, Biblioteca Publica, hosts a House and Garden Tour that will give you the chance to see behind the hidden walls into private houses and secret gardens. More than 300 homes are on the tour’s master list, and each week a few are selected for touring. Best of all, tours benefit the library’s educational programs for children.

For some fresh air and exercise in a carefully cultivated open space, grab a cab to the town’s botanical gardens, El Charco del Ingenio, up a long hill northeast of town.  Then saunter at your leisure along the walking paths of this 300-acre botanic garden and wildlife and bird sanctuary – the largest of its kind in Mexico.  It’s home to hundreds of rare and endangered plant species and has a particularly excellent cacti and succulent collection. Cultural and educational events are held here on a regular basis, including an evening ceremony every full moon.

Globo San Miguel launches hot air balloon rides just after dawn, when the world—and the winds – are particularly peaceful and calm.The romantic excursion will take you floating over the city’s historic district, mountains, lakes, the Bajío central valley, and depending on the weather, the mines of the Sierras de Guanajuato. Globo San Miguel is run by a family of flyers who have been in the business for over 50 years.

Easy or moderate guided bicycle excursions take you along quiet country roads and rail trails to see quaint villages, atmospheric ruins and endless vistas.  Bici-burro is both a bike shop and a tour company and their half-day or full-day bike or hiking tours with professional, English-speaking owner Alberto are the best in town.  Bikes are new and in top shape and helmets, gloves, water, and transportation (depending on tour) are all included.

Things to Do San Miguel Allende Mexico

Guided ATV rides are a lively and adventurous way to get out into the countryside to visit remote arroyos, mountain slopes, and surrounding villages. Bicentenario Todo Terreno is one company that offers guided trips to small hamlets like San Miguel Viejo and the Sanctuary of Atotonilco.

Just outside of town is the chance to luxuriate in the therapeutic waters of Hot Thermal Baths. You can enjoy a swim or a languorous soak depending on which one you choose. La Gruta is a grotto with three indoor and outdoor spring-fed pools of varying temperatures with beautiful gardens and a restaurant.  Just up the road from La Gruta, Escondido Place has several dome-covered warm water pools, outdoor cold water pools, a spa, hotel and restaurant. The Mayan Baths is the most romantic. It can be rented for a group or visited on Saturday evenings so you can swim through its candlelit channels to a pool in a soaring cave or stargaze from the rock-lined outdoor pool.

It may be called the Sistine Chapel of Mexico, but the 250-year-old Santuario de Atotonilco is much more over-the-top and fantastical than its Italian relative.  Nearly every square inch of the walls and ceiling of this Mexican baroque church is frescoed in extraordinary, frantic, and often bloody biblical scenes and passages. It is also a pilgrimage site for penitents, who self-flagellate to atone for their sins. You’ll often find a handful of stalls outside the church selling statues, rosaries, crowns of thorns, and yes, flagellation ropes.

The wine tasting scene just outside of town and in the surrounding areas is turning this part of Mexico into a true destination for wine lovers.  Grab a taxi or a car service and wine taste your way around the outskirts of town. Reservations are a must at most of them.

One of the closest wineries to historic San Miguel is former cattle ranch Dos Buhos, where nopales cactus surround fields of grapevines and a hacienda-style tasting room gives a sense of place to this winery.  An eclectic art collection includes the works of local popular figure Peter Leventhal, who also designed some of the wine labels for the all-organic natural yeast wines. Km. 6 Carretera San Miguel a Queretaro.

Another popular winery in the neighborhood, La Santisima Trinidad consists of vineyards, olive trees and lavender gardens, a luxury housing development, and small boutique and restaurant. They produce their own dried lavender and essential oil along with a solid selection of wines.

While Viñedo Cuna de Tierra is the biggest producer in the state, the wine tasting experience is intimate. You start out by a carriage ride through the vineyards and can opt for different tasting experiences — from a sampling four different wines to enjoying a full dinner with wine pairings.

Historian Albert Coffee offers tours of Cañada de la Virgen, a partially restored pyramid complex that’s the region’s most important pre-Hispanic site.  It’s estimated to have been built around 540 AD, and the series of four pyramids feature a burial ground for the 6th-century Mexican elite, an observatory and a celestial clock aligned to the rising and setting sun. Coffee is a Meso-American specialist who has worked throughout Central America and was involved in the uncovering and restoration of this complex; his background stories provide lively insights into the region’s history.

Laura Sutherland is a travel writer based in California who travels regularly to Mexico. You can follow her at WanderandTaste.