Flying High in the Colonial Town of San Miguel de Allende

Our plan has long been to explore more of Mexico, even more so since becoming residents of this colorful country. One of the places that caught our eye was a colonial mountain town, in the center of the country, called San Miguel de Allende. The town has been mentioned far and wide as a great place to visit and live. Of special interest are the climate, old town feel, and the art scene.

How We Found Out About San Miguel de Allende

We are members of a number of Facebook groups related to expats and nomad travelers. We use them to learn about tips and tricks from those pursuing the same lifestyle. They also share their favorite, under-the-radar locations to checkout.

That was how we first learned of San Miguel de Allende (SMA). Everyone raved about it and returned frequently to enjoy the culture and cool temperatures with a decidedly Mexican flair and price point. We even met a couple in Puerto Vallarta who spent their winters in PV and their summers in SMA. So, we were on the lookout for some options for staying in town.

Getting to SMA

One of the benefits of having a home base in Mexico is that it will make it easier for us to explore the region going forward. In addition, the flights are cheaper and quicker than coming from the US. Case in point, for roughly $100pp including charges for seat selection and bags, we hopped a 2.5-hour nonstop Volaris flight from Cancun to Queretaro, one of the nearby larger towns.

Another long 90 minutes or so in a pre-arranged ride for $75 got us to our hotel in Centro San Miguel de Allende, where we planned to stay for 2 weeks. Other cities we hope to visit from Cancun include Oaxaca and Puebla and also a return visit to Mexico City. Do you have other suggestions for the region?

The Hotel Deal

The opportunity to visit SMA presented itself last October. A FB friend shared that reservations had opened for the Numu Boutique Hotel, a Hyatt affiliate. Because it was under construction, the hotel had not yet been rated for a rewards category, so it was automatically assigned Category 1, the lowest-level hotel in the system.

The Numu is located across the street from a Rosewood hotel, so we knew it was a prime neighborhood. And the property pictures looked very nice. Moreover, initial bookings were being taken for around $900/nt. However, since it was only a Category 1 at that time, I was able to reserve 2 weeks for only 76k Hyatt points, usually valued at $1500, a bit more than $100/nt. Frankly, it’s hard to find anywhere I’d want to stay for that price, let alone a swanky boutique hotel. So we jumped on it.

Since opening, the Numu has received a Category 6 rating, which is roughly in line with the $400/nt pricing we were seeing by the time we arrived. Happily, the hotel honored our original booking and we were all set. Mostly.

The Numu Experience: The Good…

Numu does a pretty good job of delivering the boutique hotel experience. With only 44 rooms, it is not a large property, so its offerings are scaled back compared to a resort or the larger and more expensive Rosewood across the street. It has a cozy lobby bar and a select wine cellar (Caymus and Opus One should be able to satisfy most palettes).

The rooftop pool is elegant with phenomenal views of town and the courtyard open air café is a pleasant oasis. There is a compact workout room and a pricey spa, as expected. The hotel staff is friendly and helpful. My favorite staff member was Pancho, a gentle giant Bern dog that seemed to live in the lobby. I always enjoyed saying hi to him after a day wandering about town.

…And The Not So Good

Numu had only been open 3 months when we arrived and they were still working out some kinks. For several days there were workers sawing through the ceiling in our hall, apparently resolving some electrical or HVAC issue. The rooftop restaurant, which will have a great city sunset view, won’t open for a few more months. And the intent was to use umbrellas to provide shade for the rooftop pool loungers, but the wind, common in SMA, blows them over, so a more permanent solution is needed. Growing pains.

Given that we were coming in at such a cheap rate, I wasn’t surprised when we were given what was probably the worst room in the hotel. While nicely styled, there wasn’t enough seating to be comfortable and the window/door opened out to the street. That said, they left the traditional wooden doors and metal bars, which were absolutely charming. However, things got worse when the workers kept sawing the ceiling into the night. We complained and it stopped, only to resume a day later. The hotel wasn’t full, so we were able to leverage the noise into a much more comfortable, internal garden patio room.


San Miguel de Allende sits at the base of a small hill in a valley at an altitude of 6200ft. For those of you playing at home, that’s about one ski run above Denver. It’s not an easy place to get to. Both nearby international airports are about 90 minutes away in opposite directions and both airports have few connections to the states. Unless you are coming from within Mexico, figure on a long day of flying from north of the border. As such, it’s not really worth going there unless it is for at least a week or part of a larger trip to someplace else in Mexico. Mexico City is 5 hours by bus or a quick 45-minute hop once you get to the airport.

Aside from the natives, SMA is filled with artists, ex-pats, and nomads. Many retirees from the States and Canada live there year-round. Even though it is the same latitude as Tampa, the altitude leads to cool temperate conditions most of the time. The high season is through the winter, with a lot of snowbirds coming down. We happened to have chosen to visit during May, the hottest month of the year. Even then, temperatures ranged from the mid-80s during the day to the high-60s at night. At no point did it seem oppressively hot.

We stayed in Centro, but most of the town and people are spread far and wide over the valley and on the rolling hills nearby. One day we visited a mirador (viewpoint) high above the town, you could see the urban sprawl spreading out from the downtown area. We got a ride up to the mirador but we walked back down into town and it was quite steep.

Balloon Ride

The high mountain valley location of SMA makes it a perfect place to fly hot air balloons. Since we had never ridden in a hot air balloon and the price wasn’t too dear, we decided to go for it. Our hotel concierge made the arrangements with Globo San Miguel and our ride included a toast and a nice breakfast at a local restaurant afterward. The entire experience lasted about three hours.

Because the air conditions are important for ballooning they usually go very early in the morning and our 5 am pickup was no exception. Our private driver took us to a very rural area about 20 minutes away from town, we knew we wouldn’t be going anywhere near town and we were happy the ride wasn’t too long. After donning our heavy jackets, we stood in a field and watched a whole group of guys put together the balloon and basket and fill the balloon. The process was really interesting and about 30 minutes later we were asked to get into the basket with the pilot and four other people. At this point, the balloon was overhead and ready to lift off.

The Ride

The balloon lifted off and took us up and over pretty farmland and new housing developments. We watched the sunrise and breathed the clean cool air during our 45-minute ride. The pilot told us he had 12 years of experience and the training to fly a balloon was quite rigorous. That made us happy. Riding in a hot air balloon was definitely a unique and surprisingly loud experience. To fly properly and not go too high, the fiery air heater was turned on and off continuously, making conversation with our balloon-mates a little challenging.

The scenery was beautiful and just a little while later, in another field, the day had warmed up nicely. The big surprise was that the pilot actually landed the basket, with all of us in it, on the trailer used to transport the large basket. The trailer was hauled by the pickup truck that brought it to the take-off site. It was an amazing precision landing after which the balloon deflated and settled gently in the landing field. The crew went to work immediately securing the basket and the balloon and we were carefully off-loaded from the balloon.

After some Martinelli’s Apple Cider, from Watsonville CA (chuckle), we went with our friendly driver back to town for breakfast. They had chosen a place at the end of our street where we enjoyed coffee and breakfast then we walked back to the hotel. We were all done with our experience by about 10 am so the rest of the day was available.

Flea Markets

On the hill above the town is a large flea market, Tianguis De Los Martes. It is open on Tuesday and Sunday, although we were told a small number of vendors are open on Sunday. That said, the open-air, covered market is large, comprising about 2-3 football fields.

Like most flea markets in Mexico that I’ve been to, it’s a combination of food stalls, small hardware, clothing, electronics, tourist stuff, and fruit stands. It’s worth a visit for the food stalls and the spectacle. The goods are pretty low quality. We committed the cardinal sin of buying a small piece of electronics without ensuring it worked first. Bad tourist. Oh well.

In addition to the big flea market, there are a handful of smaller, permanent market buildings in the Centro area. We wandered through Mercado San Juan de Dios one afternoon. It had similar items to the big market outside the city, but fewer stalls and less food selection. We each grabbed a tasty torta at a local stand. Even though mine was only $5, I could only eat half and wound up taking it back to our hotel for later.

More To Come

We will have more to share about our experiences in San Miguel de Allende in our next posts. Stay Tuned…

Where have you enjoyed floating above it all?

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