I arrive later than I thought in San Miguel de Allende. Fortunately I already have a place to stay set up. I got in touch with Mike, an american who himself was riding around the world on a motorcycle for four years and he offered me to stay with him. He is one of many americans that now lives in San Miguel de Allende. I was already told there is many americans living there and also many tourists come to visit the town, so I was a bit reluctant to visit. But why are there so many of them just in exactly this town?
You have to go back to the 1930s and 1940s when there was a school founded by an american writer. After World War II many of the US veterans were allowed to study abroad, and the schools in San Miguel managed to attract many of them. Cultural growth was spurred and this attracted even more creatives. Also, many of the veterans would return later to retire where they once studied.
Of course this has influenced the whole life in the city. Still being a beautiful colonial town with streets made of cobblestone and impressive colonial architecture it offers some of the styles and comfort that american immigrants and also tourists seek. Certainly another reason why many foreigners choose to come to live in San Miguel. It is relatively easy to find bars and restaurants that are not typical mexican and american style food can be found all around the city center. It’s a fine mix of mexican charme and american culture. Another popular reason is being situated at 1900m above sea level and therefore a quite enjoyable climate.
The town used to be one of the “pueblo magicos” (“magic village”), a title that is given to places for having a certain and well maintained character and being considered especially worth a visit. In 2008 however, the town got “upgraded” to be a UNESCO world heritage site due to it’s baroque architecture and also for playing a role in the mexican war of independence.
Even though it is definitely worth a visit the strong tourism has its dark sides too. To me the mexicans seem a little less friendly than usual. But I feel that this always happens when tourism picks up strongly in a place. Maybe the locals just get tired of talking to foreigners and there are tourists who beahve as if they were at home and do not respect local culture and customs. Of course the interest in an “alien from another world” is different when I enter some pueblos in the mexican backcountry where hardly a tourist has ever been seen.
While usually mexicans are not at all shy having taken a picture of them, in places like these you will be asked for a donation many times when you ask for a photo. Even kids are drilled to collect money where they can. Of course it is not all of them but I certainly could feel the difference. And you will find a lot more of “street vendors” that are selling crafts to the tourists. The many foreigners living there and coming to visit also contribute to the increase of prices in general. Good for local business, bad for long term travellers.
Of course tourismn cannot be purely damned to throw dark shadows over a place. For many locals it offers opportunities they didn’t have before. It’s just that as a traveller like me, one usually just prefers less touristy places where the locals are more “genuine” and often more friendly.
Despite being a “traveller like me” I still enjoy my stay in San Miguel a lot. Roaming through the streets is very relaxing, having a talk in english is nice for a change and of course I have a really good place to stay with Mike and Alejandra. They are a really kind couple, make me feel very comfy at their home and it is very interesting to hear their stories. Even after leaving the playce they still offer their help when I shout for advice on facebook. Thanks again, hope to see you again someday!