Set in Central Mexico, the Colonial Highlands region has been drawing retirees and other expats for decades. One town in particular has been a favorite, San Miguel de Allende, which is about four hour’s drive northwest of Mexico City.
It’s a colonial town, with beautiful 16th century Baroque architecture in the historic centro, which is a UNESCO World Heritage site. Yet, you also have all the modern conveniences and services like high-speed internet.
This town of 70,000 (with an estimated 10% of the population being expats) has a lot going for it, plenty of benefits that make the living easy…and fun. Here are five reasons why it might be the right place for you:
1. The Climate
Most homes in San Miguel don’t have heat or air conditioning. With the temperate climate, you just don’t need it. Thanks to its 6,200-foot elevation and location in the high sierra, the temperatures stay below the mid-80s F during the day most of the year, with January seeing some cooler days and cold nights. There is also very little humidity and many sunny days throughout the year. It’s just plain comfortable, weather-wise.
2. The Arts and Culture
The first expats to move to San Miguel were veterans studying art at the Instituto Allende just after World War II. When they discovered they could use their GI Bill there, they flocked to the town. And that legacy continues to this day, with San Miguel hosting many working artists and sculptors, with studios, galleries, and workshops found throughout the town. You can take art classes in many mediums and even exhibit your work.
Art is just one aspect of this vibe. Live music, readings, lectures, foreign film festivals, and more can be found at venues around town.
You also have a rich local culture, with many fiestas and parades throughout the year. One of the main celebrations, for the town’s patron saint, St. Michael the Archangel, takes place at the end of September.
3. The Close-Knit Expat Community
When you move to San Miguel, it’s easy to make friends and there is always something going on. The majority of expats come from the U.S. and Canada. But there are foreign residents from all over the world in town.
It’s an active social life with no shortage of things to do: book clubs, English language churches, card games, get-togethers at people’s homes, charitable fundraisers, and volunteer work in the local community. Dinners out at one of the town’s many top-notch restaurants (serving just about any cuisine you can think of) are also popular for groups of friends.
The town’s expat population explodes in “high season” from January to April, when many flee winter weather up north. But you will find that you can stay busy throughout the year.
4. The Low Cost of Living
With the current exchange rate of the U.S. dollar to the Mexican peso so favorable, it’s as if all of Mexico is “for sale.” And that’s true in San Miguel as well. As far as a place to live, you will find that real estate prices to rent or buy in the heart of the colonial district will be high. But a 15-minute walk away, and you’ll pay a fraction of the price.
A typical two-bedroom apartment will run you $800 a month. For a home, you’ll pay about $1,200 per month. There are many homes in nice neighborhoods available for sale for under $150,000.
Your utility bills will be low, with your electric and water bills under $30 per month. Property taxes are a fraction of what they are in the U.S. And going to the market won’t break the bank. Some typical prices: $3 for a whole chicken, a pound of carrots for 30 cents, and $1.40 for a pound of avocados. For a nice dinner out at a gourmet restaurant, it’s hard to pay more than $50 for a couple, with wine. Local restaurants are under $2 per plate for a wholesome and filling meal.
5. The Beautiful Surroundings
The countryside around San Miguel de Allende is made up of rolling hills, rocky mountains, and vast pasture and farms. But the real showpiece is the town itself. The historic centro is made up of Spanish colonial buildings (homes, churches, civic buildings, and more) in the Baroque style, painted in shades of yellow, red, and orange.
By law, excessive signage is not allowed and the historic nature of buildings, especially the façades facing the street, cannot be altered. So it feels like you’re stepping back in history as you stroll down narrow cobblestone streets, past windows filled with geraniums, and heavy wooden doors thrown open to reveal landscaped interior courtyards with tinkling fountains. You turn a corner and you come across a quiet park in front of a grand church and soaring bell tower.
The architecture is a big perk to living in San Miguel, and has proven inspiring to many of the local artists…not to mention photographers.
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