Friday, July 22, 2011

SAN MIGUEL DE ALLENDE--The most beautiful town in Mexico?

Lots of folks here in Mexico City take to the road on summer weekends, and one of the most popular destinations is the colonial town of San Miguel de Allende in the state of Guanajuato, about 4 hours north of the city.
I'll admit a certain bias since in I lived there for almost ten years and got to explore every nook and cranny of the place. But after travelling all over Mexico, I still think it's the most beautiful pueblo in the country. It's got one of the best preserved colonial centros, but it's not just the main plaza. Majestic 18th and 19th century architecture, cobbled streets, painted stucco walls and red-tiled roofs are found throughout the historic center, with few of the plastic, 7-11 type intrusions found in many other colonial towns. In 2008 it was named a UNESCO World Heritage Site and it attracts visitors from around the world.

Take a look at this beautiful, poetic video by Jack Alterman for an idea of how San Miguel looks. And it really does look like this (although the lack of traffic is a bit romanticized).

Once a sleepy little town that attracted artists and retirees looking for an inexpensive place to live, San Miguel has gone upscale in the last few years with lots of new, elegant restaurants, boutique hotels, and fancy stores. It's also drawing a lot more Mexican tourism these days, as any weekend visit to the Jardín, San Miguel's beautiful central plaza, will attest.

One of the great attractions of San Miguel is its rich cultural life. Religious festivals, processions and fiestas are almost a daily occurence here. I've never seen fireworks as amazing as those in San Miguel. The town is host to many world class events such as the annual Chamber Music Festival (soon--July 29 to August 14 this year), the Writers' Conference, and the Guanajuato Film Festival. (For updated listings consult This Week in San Miguel de Allende).

You'll find luxury hotels, like the swanky new Matilda or the cozy boutique Dos Casas, but also mid-range options like the folk art-filled Casa de la Cuesta. Budget travelers can head to the old stand-bys, Posada Las Monjas or the Quinta Loreto. If you're planning a longer stay there are lots of houses for rent in San Miguel (check out for listings). If the hedonistic aspects of 'downtown' San Miguel overwhelm you, check out this relaxing getaway

Dining choices range from the new 5-star Rosewood Hotel to the best 4-peso burritos you'll find anywhere in Mexico at Dos Burritos (Mesones 69A--no website!).

The increased shopping options are bringing in tourist dollars and pesos as well. The Fabrica La Aurora is a converted 19th century textile factory now filled with dozens of sleek design stores and art galleries. La Calaca and Zócalo are two shops specializing in collectible Mexican folk art. Insh'ala Imports sells unique home furnishings from all over the world, and you'll find great Mexico-inspired gift items at Abrazos design boutique. Don't miss the large and varied mercado de artesanias filled with local handicrafts (just behind the fruit and vegetable market) or the museum-like Galeria Atotonilco a few miles out of town (

Some residents complain that the 'old San Miguel' is disappearing. Starbucks and McDonald's have appeared on the scene in recent years. Change is inevitable. But there's no doubt that San Miguel still retains a level of charm and beauty found in few places.

One veteran ex-pat lamented to me, "It all started to go downhill after that Life Magazine article came out."
"When was that?" I queried.
With a roll of the eyes and a resigned shrug she replied, "1958."

Check out the timelessness of San Miguel for yourself.

Photo credit: Carol Romano

Some food tips HERE.

Disclosure: I am being compensated for my work in creating content for the Mexico Today program.
All stories, opinions, however, are completely my own.

Monday, July 18, 2011


Emiliano Salinas, son of former president Carlos Salinas de Gortari, speaks about problems facing the country and what it means to be Mexican today.

Click on the link below:

Friday, July 15, 2011


“When I tell people I live in Mexico City, the response is often bewilderment shadowed with trepidation.” I wrote these words in 2006 as the introduction to my guide book. Since then, a combination of bad news and misinformation has made those reactions even stronger for many people who’ve never visited. Through my blog and book I’ve shared the joys of living here: what to see, where to go, what to eat, etc. Now, as part of my work for Mexico Today, I’m beginning a series of profiles of people who have chosen Mexico City as their home. I hope their stories will help to clarify some of the bewilderment and to reduce the trepidation. So meet Louis and Elodie Santamaria:

After a 24-year career with the U.S. State Department, and having lived in seven different countries, Louis and Elodie Santamaria chose Mexico City when it came time to retire last year. Louis, a gregarious man , tall and lanky, was born in Mexico and raised in the U.S. “We have family and friends here, so that was big selling point,” he said. Elodie is a pretty blonde whose elegant manner, style and accent are pure French, despite her naturalization as a U.S. citizen in Texas years ago. They both confess that they might have preferred Paris, where Elodie still has family. “But for the price we paid here for a 3000-square foot house, we would only have gotten a 200-square foot studio in Paris—not to mention the incredibly high cost of living there.”

Both speak fluent Spanish and love Mexican culture, food and music. They take full advantage of the wide cultural offerings here. "It's a big reason for choosing Mexico City," claimed Elodie. They have friends from all over the world as a result of their years at the Embassy, and they love to entertain, so the large rooftop terrace of their new home was a bit selling point.

They had lived in Mexico City twice before, each time for three years, and raised two sons here. So there have been some surprises but not too many shocks. “You do need patience, but once you learn the rules—which aren’t always easy to find out—it’s a very manageable place to live,” explained Louis. “The phantoms of scary health and safety issues are way overblown. I’ve lived in a lot of cities, so I have ‘street smarts’, but I feel as safe here as I do anywhere in the world.” Elodie added, “A lot of people are concerned with medical issues. Health care is affordable here, and the quality of the doctors and hospitals is high—just as good as in Paris.”

For retirees, money is usually a question. So here’s the scoop:

The Santamaria’s 4 bedroom, 3.5 bathroom house, with living and separate dining rooms, eat-in kitchen with patio, large laundry room, garage, and rooftop terrace cost a total of US $400,000 after renovation. The property includes a shop on the ground floor that brings in a monthly rent of 7000 pesos (around US $600) which is about what it costs to maintain the house (light, gas, phone, taxes, and maid service three times a week). Their home is on a tree-lined street in the Colonia Roma neighborhood, an eclectic area that dates back to the early 20th and is in the midst of a renaissance that draws a hip, young crowd to its many cafes, restaurants, galleries and shops. "And it's near to public transportation, so we can get anywhere in town easily," said Elodie.

Mexico City is not for the faint of heart, but it’s so much more than the negative myths that surround it.” said Louis. “We’re very happy to call it home.”

For information on finding a place to live in Mexico City, check out my older blog post,

Mexico Today can be found online at or on Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn.

Saturday, July 9, 2011

LUCHA LIBRE—Wrestling with what it means

Lucha Libre masks (Photo: Jesus Chairez)

One of the great opportunities of being an expatriate is the chance to view life from distinct vantage points. A poster I saw here in Mexico City the other day got me thinking. It was an ad for “Lucha Libre--La Experiencia” which I thought had an elegant sound to it, like the title of some romantic foreign movie. But as you may know, lucha libre is that curious form of Mexican wrestling in which men –and occasionally women - dressed in flashy Las Vegas style costumes and horror movie masks stomp, throw, bend, crush, squeeze and mangle one another violently around a ring, while the crowd roars its approval.

I confess I’ve never quite understood the allure of it all. But I recognize that the sport- if that’s the right word- is extremely popular here and is definitely an international symbol of Mexican culture. (Check out Julie Carmann’s blog for a true fan’s point of view).

My strongest memory of lucha libre is of the crowd. It was very much a family event; people of all ages, even babies were there. Everyone seemed to be in motion, gesturing toward the ring, screaming at the wrestlers, hopping up and down the aisles.

The lady in front of me looked like somebody’s sweet old grandmother - the woman who sells tortillas at my local market. That is, until she stood up and started screaming at the top of her lungs “Mátalo!, mátalo!” (“Kill him, kill him”). Something about the wrestling match seemed to unleash a base animal instinct, although I never worried that it would pass beyond the verbal.

A few weeks ago, in New York City, my old home town, I was riding the subway when I witnessed an altercation between two women. It appeared that one of them bumped the other with her elbow. Anger flared, words darted. The scene reached its grand finale as one woman sneered, “You’re a worthless piece of shit!” Turning up the volume, her adversary spit out the last line: “YOU’RE a worthless piece of shit!”

No one else in the subway car seemed to notice—just another day underground. I watched in disbelief as these two people, having met only 90 seconds ago before, descended the ladder of civilized behavior to its lowest rung—in public no less!

I could not imagine such a thing happening in Mexico City. I find Mexicans to be generally polite, kind and courteous. In fact, in the 12 years I’ve lived here I can only recall two incidents in which I saw people raising their voices in anger to one another. Both cases involved damaged cars, so at least there seemed to be a good reason for it.

Perhaps this means that Mexicans are calmer by nature than New Yorkers. Or do they just save their screaming until they get home or attend a lucha libre match? Should the mayor of New York build a lucha libre arena in Central Park?

What do you think?

For more information on this upcoming event, which takes place in Mexico City on July 23 and 24, see the website:


Even if you don't read the Spanish, you'll enjoy 'reading' the pre-Nahuatl glyphs reproduced in this article in La Jornada. A team of archeologists from Mexico's INAH and Stanford University have recently made advances in deciphering these beautiful images, first found in 1993 at a site near Teotihuacán.

Thursday, July 7, 2011


If you read my recent blog about the great art exhibit at the Museo del Chopo here in Mexico City and plan to go, hold on. I went again today and the place is 'Closed for Vacation' until July 25.
First time I've ever heard of a museum that took a vacation. Ni modo.