In the last 50 years, San Miguel de Allende’s growth has transformed the city from a small town to a bustling tourist destination of over 100,000 people. Within the city there are some colonias, or neighborhoods, that attract expats, including the San Antonia Colonia of San Miguel de Allende.
It has also been the case that certain neighborhoods in SMA have strongly attracted expats, while others have been almost expat free for decades. In 1994, when I first visited San Miguel, the center of the city mainly was filled with residents, government buildings, the city’s iconic cathedral – the Parroquia -, numerous artists’ studios and other artisanal work spaces. The area behind the Parroquia was nicknamed Gringo Gulch.
Today, an increasing amount of the center of the city has become commercial. The homes of friends I once visited are now food courts. Numerous private homes – including the rather grand one owned by Toni Jerez of children’s books fame – are hotels. Additional garages are now forbidden, as are changes of use for many structures, all with the idea of maintaining the “colonial feel” that brings people here.
A swanky new hotel on the edge of the center of the city promises high-end visitors and upscale conventions. Not your father’s San Miguel anymore, not even my San Miguel, but the new San Miguel: Great restaurants, better galleries and more and more things to do.
But San Miguel is still a magnet for artists and writers, people living on lower budgets and people in search of themselves, someone else or the meaning of life. These folks, often with unique needs – like studio space or room for ceramic kilns – have moved out of the center of the city and have pioneered new areas where there is affordable space, affordable goods and services and most importantly, people like themselves.
It is sometimes said in jest that expats in San Miguel are either “wanted” in the U.S. or not wanted, and for some, that is actually true! Today, this kind of expat for the most part lives in the San Antonio neighborhood, which is a bit bohemian. San Antonio is located southwest of downtown and has few very old buildings. In the early days of San Miguel, this area was primarily open fields. Today, those fields increasingly are filled with amazing artist studios, terrific bakeries, wonderful restaurants, iron works, furniture makers and upholsters, as well as the center of San Miguel’s Ayahuasca culture and a very big load of folks who appreciate the above.
In San Antonio, there are elements of colonial design and streets that look much like ordinary streets in Mexico, but they are filled with people who live permanently in the neighborhood, not those who just come for long weekends.
In many ways, San Antonio is the spiritual descendant of the original San Miguel of the 1950s and 1960s, though now with French bread and high-speed internet service.
This is the first in a series of blogs I will be writing to profile San Miguel de Allende neighborhoods that expats might be interested in. I’ll be looking at San Rafael, Independencia, Olimpo and a few other colonias in blogs to come.