Yes, I'm going to Haiti San Miguel de Allende for the first time. Anyone ever go? Tips?
June 8, 2005 8:29 AM   Subscribe

My girlfriend and I have sadly cancelled our trip to Haiti and are headed for San Miguel. We're picking up information quickly, but leaving tomorrow. Any tips on cheap lodging, good eats, things to do, day trips, environmental concerns, etc. would be helpful.
posted by hellbient to Travel & Transportation around Haiti (5 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Response by poster: whoops, messed up. The title was supposed to be the question and the question was supposed to be the "more inside". Anyway, here's the Haiti thread, fyi.
posted by hellbient at 8:37 AM on June 8, 2005

Best answer: We stayed in a house there for two weeks last summer. It's a great little town.

Day trips: Guanajuato, a UNESCO world heritage town a few hours away (an hour?) that is gorgeous. Maybe stay a night there: it's much bigger, many university students, definitely see the MUMMIES! They're totally gross and still have hair, some skin, clothes, etc. Everything from dead babies to pregnant women to old people, and they're in amazing condition. If you get a driver from San Miguel, do not, I repeat do NOT, allow him to choose the restaurant where you eat. This never works out wherever you are, but there are some fantastic restaurants that you'll miss there. The kissing balcony is also worth checking out, if only for the history and the little kids who charge you a buck for a tour.

We also went to a bullfight in a little town that - I think - was called San Jose del Ray a few hours away. There are little bullfights in San Miguel sometimes, but they weren't on while we were there, and we *really* wanted to go. We were definitely the only gringos at that bullfight - we hired a driver and car, he took us and waited outside, and drove us back. I have no idea if there are buses: it's definitely a small town, with no hotels in the middle of factories and farms and cows, so I don't know how a bus would work.

There are literally dozens of other day trips: hiking, horseback riding, little towns, etc.

Inside the city: take a language course! There are dozens of them, they're all more or less the same, they're just in the morning with classes, then in the afternoon there are "cultural classes" with cooking, dancing, music, Mexican history, etc. that are not obligatory if you want to go do something else.

Go see the women washing their clothes and themselves at the open baths up the little hill. Go see the art museums and the little university. Walk all over the town - it's a great town for walking, and the tourists really stay in the center of the zocalo and don't wander much further off.

The zocalo is a great, lively one though: live music at night, people dressed in their best dancing clothes for the mariachis and bands that play in the bndstand in the center, a gorgeous church, and some pretty horrible restaurants. Have a drink in one if you want, to enjoy the atmosphere, but better: just buy some popcorn or a soda and sit in the actual square. There's a little boy with a spectacular sweets shop around the corner by the really old church.

There's a vegetarian restaurant that is called Tomato or something, and be warned: I have a stomach of iron, have been travelling to Mexico for 26 years every year, and got incredibly sick there. I even eat salads, fruit, whatever, and something there set both me and my boyfriend off. YMMV.

On one of the streets, if you're facing away from the church on the opposite side of the zocalo, is a little handicraft store with products made from local women. It's run as a non-profit and has some great little items. I bought a bunch of stuff there - higher prices, to be sure - and one of the women started crying. It's a cute little place.

The local market is fantastic for fruits: we bought anything and everything, and ate pounds of the tiny little plums, mangos, papaya, apples, oranges, whatever. We had a lady that cooked in our house (it's a long story, but involves my grandmother from Mexico City that had a knee replacement and couldn't walk, an entire family, etc. so the house was a necessity and very economical in the end) and she'd made us MUCH better food than we found in the restaurants. We didn't eat out much as a result, but go to the market! They sell these plastic market bags for your produce at the market, with little diagrams of the fruit and the name of the vendor in plastic, and very comfortable handles - these are only a few bucks, and we bought tons for people at home as grocery/beach bags. They're awesome souvenirs: useful, environmentally useful, local, unique. You see women carring lots of their daily produce home in them. You can also buy love tonics, root powders, etc.

You might just be in luck for the "dia de los locos" a massive, amazing, hysterical, crazy parade all throughout the town. Seriously, if you're there, cancel whatever day trip you have planned for that day, get a good spot, with shade, and your camera: it's absolutely fantastic. Bring water, sunscreen and shade.

Other tips: make friends with the locals, get invited back to their home for lunch and/or a swim. All the houses are behind big walls, so it's impossible to see much from the street.

There's also a store with random old rusty bits, little doornobs, etc. We bought awesome door knockers for people at home.

I have to run now, but feel free to email with specific questions or for more info, and have fun!
posted by fionab at 9:28 AM on June 8, 2005 [1 favorite]

Hey, post when you get back and let us know how it was. My fiancee and I are going to San Miguel in August!
posted by Jon-o at 10:57 AM on June 8, 2005

Response by poster: Wow fionab, you rock!
Jon-o - will do.
posted by hellbient at 11:37 AM on June 8, 2005

Best answer: This is a great website in English for all things San Miguel. We had a really fantastic meal somewhere, but I have misplaced the name of it. I'll try to find it... Tio Lucas is great, fantastic little pastries at El Petit Four, and oh, yes, the little modern place (I'm pretty sure) is called Azafrán! If the place looks modern, with white tableclothes and yellow accents, and a little store-like thing to the right of it, eat there! Holy cow, it was 'modern' Mexican food that is even hard to find in Mexico City. Seriously, we had a great (if a little expensive, for Mexico) dinner there - here's a WaPost article on San Miguel with a favourable review of Azafran. They had some dish with huitlacoche (a black fungus that grows inside corn husks) that was absolultely spectacular. The other nice restaurant is Bugambilia. The vegetarian place that made us sick was El Tomato, not El Tomate, which is a produce store that is fine.

Oh yeah, their zocalo is really called "el jardin". The school we ended up using (just email a bunch to ask about space) was "Habla Hispana" which was fine for our purposes. The public library doesn't have many books but is a beautiful place to read and meet local expats that will invite you back to their house. Take them up on it.

It looks like June 13 is the Dia de los Locos. That's the parade I mentioned in my first post that is absolutely crazy: everyone's in outlandish costumes, mocking local and national officials (and American presidents!), cross-dressing, hot plastic outfits, all on rickety trucks that periodically breakdown and have water poured on their boiling engines, with boom-boxes strapped precariously on the backs, with kids hanging off all parts of the trucks, and everyone is throwing (I don't mean lobbing - they literally pelt it at you) candy and the locals bring umbrellas to catch the raining candy. This couple is hysterical: they're from Texas, but he's a champion cowboy or something, so they live for most of the year in SMA. He had a silver flask in his hip pocket, she had a matching outfit with her dog, and they had lots of crazy stories and knew everyone there.

One of the days will also be something to do with the Catholic church in the square, which I think is Corpus Christi day. It looks like it's June 10, but maybe it's the Sunday before or after? Ask around - even if you're not Catholic, try to see it - it's a beloved festival, with large participation, and isn't put on the for the tourists. They set up around a dozen "stations" all over the town, and basically most of the local Catholics participate in the religious procession. They all come out of the church at a certain time, and they cover the route with fresh herbs - mint, basil, and something else that I can't remember. All the kids participate, there are bells ringing, incense, and they go to each of the 'stations' for prayer. This goes on and on, and you can follow them around or just see the beginning/end of the procession in the Jardin. If you're looking at the church, the first station is to the left of it, just up the small hill there. We saw the beginning and one or two stations, went out for dinner, and came back for the end. Got ice cream, sat for hours in the jardin, talking with folks and just enjoying the atmosphere.

Have fun - it's a hard little town *not* to enjoy - there really are lots of expats there (maybe as many as Oaxaca? I'm not sure) but it's worth the trip, and the very many day-trips are great if you have those two weeks to fill.
posted by fionab at 12:36 PM on June 8, 2005 [1 favorite]

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