Monday, December 30, 2013

San Miguel de Allende, Mexico: A City of Light and Sound

San Miguel de Allende in central Mexico is like one of those cities you see only in the movies. You know what I'm talking about, the city where the girl goes to get away from the troubles of her past where she meets the foreign guy that turns out to be the man of her dreams. Yeah, this is that city. Never mind the fact that it's home to American, Canadian and European expatriots, that everyone speaks English, that it's a designated UNESCO World Heritage Site and winner of a 2013 Readers' Choice Award for best city to visit in the world by Condé Nast Traveler. Simply put, this place is beautiful!

The best way I can describe San Miguel is that it's a city of light and sound. First, the light. At almost every hour of the day, the sunlight is bounced off of several surfaces of various color giving the effect that the city is glowing. Whether it's early in the morning, mid-day or late in the evening after the sun has already set, this place hums with spectacular light. It's as if it's a tangible thing that you could reach out and touch and feel it dance along on your skin. The Centro District (downtown and the main plaza) is arguably the most attractive (and touristy) part of the city, with old colonial-style buildings, small open-air plazas lined with trees and of course the cobblestone streets that run throughout the city. It's easy to lose yourself in the deep hues of yellows, oranges, reds and browns of the buildings lining the streets. It's almost as if you're stepping back in time, especially if you manage to find a lonely side street devoid of pedestrians and vehicles.

Now, for the sound. It may seem odd to associate a location with the auditory senses, but this is a place that assaults all the senses. Every morning as I awoke just the sound of this city set it apart from anywhere I have ever visited. It begins early in the morning, some time around 5:00 or 6:00am with the low, lonely toll of a cathedral bell off in the distance ringing in the start of a new day. The sound of the bell rolls down the street echoing off the walls of shuttered homes and work places still closed for business. A domino effect quickly ensues as the rhythmic chimes of fellow churches and bell towers join in on the morning song, like a locomotive gaining steam. At their peak, the bells are almost deafening. And, just as quickly as it started, the  melodic overture passes, fading into the distance. The only way you would know that something had happened is the buildings seemed to vibrate as the last low gong rings out.

As you walk around town there are other sounds that separate San Miguel de Allende from other places. The sound of trickling water from the rooftops after an afternoon rain shower, the thumping of a taxi's tires on the cobblestone streets, the tinkling of plates and silverware being arranged on outdoor tables in front of a cafe and the quick bursts of jovial music from the various street musicians milling about the Jardin Principal (the main garden) in the main plaza are sounds you have to pay attention to in order to get the full auditory experience.

I've traveled to Mexico several times over the years, mostly to the coast which is very beautiful in it's own right. But never did I think that the interior states of Mexico could be so gorgeous. The moment I stepped on the bus to head back to Mexico City I was already planning a return trip. This is definitely an area of Mexico I highly recommend every traveler add to their list of places to visit.


  1. Nice article, beautifully written, about the magical town I call home. However, there are two points I have to cavil with you about. First, there are no "cathedrals" in San Miguel. A cathedral is a church with a bishop. In San Miguel we have churches and Oratorios and Santuarios, but no "cathedral." The big and beautiful main church on the Jardin is "La Parroquia," merely a parish church.
    Secondly, and far more important, please, PLEASE!, do not call us ex-patriots. We are NO SUCH THING. Actually, that word does not really even exist. We are EXPATRIATES. We are people who have repatriated to another country. We have not renounced our native land. We are no less patriotic about the US or Canada or Europe than any other citizens of these places. Please spell it correctly the next time you use it, as the incorrect word you did use gives many people a very negative impression.

  2. I thought your post was lyrical in its prose. Mentioning San Miguel as a city of light had not occurred to me. I"ve been here 13 yeas and still love it daily.
    I'm so glad you enjoyed yourself and DO come back. It's a place that truly grows on you.

  3. Good post, Patrick... it's just easier to call us 'ex-pats!"