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San Miguel de Allende See And Do

Cañada de la Virgen
Highway to Celaya (30 km from San Miguel)
Mexico

Opened to the public in 2010 after years of excavation, this pre-Hispanic site, believed to have been constructed by the Otomí, peaked between AD 540 and 1050. Seven large structures including a ball court and pyramids have been uncovered, along with 19 burial sites with jade and shell necklaces, obsidian blades, and earthenware. You can visit the site on your own with a rental car, but it's more rewarding with a driver and guide from a local tour company, such as Colonial Mexico tours (52-415-152-5794).—Maribeth Mellin

Open Mondays through Fridays 9:30 am to dusk.

Casa de Cultura Banamex
4 Calle Canal
San Miguel de Allende
Mexico
Tel: 52 415 152 1004

The Casa del Mayorazgo, one of San Miguel's grandest colonial palaces and the former home of the wealthy la Canal family, was completely restored in the 1980s by Banamex, a major supporter of Mexican architecture. Just inside the carved wooden doors are displays of black pottery from Oaxaca, Huichol masks, Guanajuato ceramics, and other collector-quality folk art. The courtyard porticos and fine stone-and-wood carvings are gorgeous examples of colonial-era San Miguel. Photos not allowed.—Maribeth Mellin

Open Mondays through Friday 9 am to 2 pm.

Dolores Hidalgo
Dolores Hidalgo
Mexico

Just 25 miles north of San Miguel is the town of Dolores Hidalgo, where the first Mexican Revolution took place in 1810. These days, your first order of business should be to indulge in a favorite local treat—the ice cream that's sold in the quaint main square, and that comes in unusual flavors like tequila, corn, and shrimp. Then take in a dose of history at Museo Casa de Hidalgo and Museo de la Independencia before heading to one of the numerous Talavera pottery factories. On your way back to San Miguel, stop by La Gruta, a trio of natural pools heated by thermal hot springs.

El Charco de Ingenio
Calle Paloma
San Miguel de Allende
Mexico
Tel: 52 415 154 4715
www.elcharco.org.mx

Named for a brilliant-green spring-fed pool in a steep, narrow canyon, this 220-acre nature reserve on the city's outskirts contains outstanding species of indigenous succulents and cacti. Resident and migratory birds are drawn to an adjacent reservoir, and butterflies abound. Scenic miradors allow visitors to take in views, from the city to the Guanajuato Mountains. The park hosts community gatherings, concerts, and nature programs for local schools.—Maribeth Mellin

Open daily dawn to sunset.

El Santuario de Atotonilco
Highway to Dolores Hidalgo (14 km from San Miguel)
Atotonilco
Mexico

In the 18th century, Father Luis Felipe Neri de Alfaro founded this sanctuary of six adjoining chapels as a retreat site for faithful pilgrims. Although it looks rather ordinary from the outside, the interior is amazing, with every inch of the stone ceilings and walls painted in pale blue, pink, and beige frescoes depicting biblical scenes by artist Miguel Antonio Martínez de Pocasanger, who worked on the frescoes for more than 30 years under the tutelage of European artists. Sometimes called the Sistine Chapel of the Americas, the sanctuary was painstakingly restored as part of San Miguel's UNESCO World Heritage Site, designated in 2008. On the week before Semana Santa (Holy Week), the town's population grows from about 2,000 to nearly 10,000 as pilgrims arrive to take part in a procession to San Miguel's Parroquia.—Maribeth Mellin

Fall Fiestas
San Miguel de Allende
Mexico

It may seem as if every weekend welcomes another colorful fiesta in San Miguel, but it's in September that the city really goes loco. Mexico's Independence Day is heralded on the 15th and 16th of the month with parades, concerts, and firework displays; the celebration of the city's namesake Mexican revolutionary, Ignacio Allende, is celebrated on the third Saturday of September. The highlight of the latter is Pamplonada, the annual running of the bulls through Jardín Principal—a small-scale version of the spectacle in Pamplona, Spain. During the final weekend of the month is the Festival of San Miguel, held in honor of the city's patron saint. Dance troupes and bands from all over Mexico descend upon San Miguel for parades throughout the weekend. Pilgrims from parish churches around the city carry xuchiles—tall, heavy wooden crosses covered with elaborate patterns using white agave, gold marigolds, and cactus bulbs.—Maribeth Mellin

House and Garden Tour
Biblioteca Pública
San Miguel de Allende
Mexico
Tel: 52 415 152 0293
www.bibliotecasma.com

This fascinating tour starts every Sunday around noon at the Biblioteca Pública in the city center. The tour began some 50 years ago and now has more than 300 houses on the roster, including artist studios, stunning contemporary mansions, and simple adobe homes. Each week's tour itinerary is posted online and in the weekly English-language newspaper Atencíon. One recent addition is Casa de Margah, a new home with architecture reminiscent of Luís Barragan and Frank Lloyd Wright, and an impressive art collection. The two-hour jaunt, which uses public buses for transportation and requires some walking, costs 200 pesos (about $16).—Maribeth Mellin

Instituto Allende
22 Ancha de San Antonio
San Miguel de Allende
Mexico
Tel: 52 415 152 0190

Stirling Dickinson, one of the original incubators of San Miguel's art scene, helped form this art school in the 1940s in a rambling 18th-century summer home. The institute boomed in the 1960s, drawing students from throughout Mexico alongside U.S. veterans studying under the G.I. Bill. Its popularity hasn't waned since. Serious students and amateurs alike study painting, sculpting, photography, jewelry-making, weaving, and other arts in a collection of studios interspersed with landscaped gardens. Visitors can sign up for workshops and art classes—the photo sessions are especially helpful when you tour this photogenic city. The institute is also a leading Spanish-language school and offers classes lasting a week or more at all levels.—Maribeth Mellin

Natural Hot Springs in San Miguel
San Miguel de Allende
Mexico

Steam from natural hot springs rises above the countryside along the road to Dolores Hidalgo in an area dubbed Hot Springs Way (signs along the highway mark the various spots). La Gruta is one of the largest springs, with a man-made cave and waterfall, plus thermal pools, a lounging area, massage services, and a small restaurant. Locals tend to hang around for the day, especially on weekends, but visitors can do the whole circuit in an hour or two. Taboada, another spring, has a large swimming pool for kids; waterslides draw families to Xote.—Maribeth Mellin

Open daily 9 am to dusk.

Parroquia de San Miguel Arcángel
Corner of Cuna de Allende and Umaran streets
San Miguel de Allende
Mexico

The pink, Gothic-style Parroquia is to the city what Gaudí's Sagrada Família is to Barcelona—an ecclesiastic edifice doubling as its metropolitan soul. Dating to the 17th century and set on the south side of the Jardín Principal, the church clearly evokes similarities to important European Gothic counterparts, although its current incarnation dates to more recent 18th- and 19th-century facelifts. Its elaborate spires are an endearing landmark both for their beauty and their location—you can spot them from almost anywhere in the city and find your way to the center of town.—Maribeth Mellin

Sazón Cooking School
22 Correo
San Miguel de Allende
Mexico
Tel: 52 415 154 7671
www.casadesierranevada.com/web/omig/sazon.jsp

Travelers who'd like to learn Mexican culinary techniques should head for Sazón, an established cooking school affiliated with Casa de Sierra Nevada. Chef Felipe Ramírez teaches students how to make sopes, gorditas, mole, and other regional dishes. Some classes include market tours; all end with food tastings in the school's gorgeous tiled kitchen. Check out the school's schedule while shopping for locally made tableware at the in-house kitchenware boutique.—Maribeth Mellin

Spanish Classes
San Miguel de Allende
Mexico

For decades, artsy San Miguel has been a place where visitors can study the language (and culture) of Mexico while on vacation. Today, the city has certified schools for students at every level. One of the best is the Academia Hispano Americana, for students who want to speak Spanish professionally. It offers a series of ongoing four-week sessions, each providing 35 hours of classroom time per week. Private lessons are also available. Another top school is Instituto Allende, set in a historic 18th-century building. It helped establish the city as a study center back in the 1950s, and today the Institute also works to find students housing with local families. The Biblioteca Pública organizes a Conversation with Friends program, where locals and visitors can practice their English, Spanish, and French together.—Maribeth Mellin

Information may have changed since the date of publication. Please confirm details with individual establishments before planning your trip.