Getting To San Miguel de Allende
One of the most difficult aspects of visiting San Miguel de Allende is actually getting here. Its remoteness is definitely part of the charm of the city but reaching San Miguel, and eventually escaping, can be a problem, if you do not understand your options.
When flying into Leon (BJX) or Queretero (QRO), we recommend hiring our driver to transfer you from airport to your door in San Miguel de Allende. Click to book your transportation from either airport here.
We don’t recommend it for vacationers, but if you’re an experienced driver in Mexico, you might rent a car in order to reach San Miguel. It’s less than two hours from Léon and one hour from Querétaro, and maybe a three hour drive from Mexico City.
The only difficulty will come when you actually reach San Miguel – parking spaces are an absolute premium here, so you’ll want to arrange to have a spot for your car waiting when you arrive. Additionally, these cobblestone streets were never designed for modern traffic, so driving around San Miguel can be a challenge. Most people walk or take a two dollar cab ride anywhere downtown.
If you’ve never driven much in Mexico, driving to San Miguel is not difficult. While San Miguel is on the side of a mountain ridge, most of the roads leading to it are in excellent condition and safe to drive, at least during the day. Since much of this area is “free range” land, horses and cattle may find their way on the road, especially at night.
Senior citizens and tourist touring the region may find sight-seeing more difficult because of the local’s propensity to drive fast along these two-laned highways. It’s not much fun having a car on your bumper while trying to see the beautiful countryside in this area.
Your best bet is flying into Leon or Mexico City, and taking a shuttle or bus to San Miguel. Then you do not have to worry about parking you car, which is of little use in this colonial city. When flying into Leon (BJX) or Queretero (QRO), we recommend hiring our driver to transfer you from airport to your door in San Miguel de Allende. Click to book your transportation from either airport here.
The closest airports to San Miguel are in Léon (BJX, about 70 miles away) and Querétaro (QRO, about 45 miles away). Arriving at either of these airports will make your final journey pleasant and relatively inexpensive. When flying into Leon (BJX) or Queretero (QRO), we recommend hiring our driver to transfer you from airport to your door in San Miguel de Allende. Click to book your transportation from either airport here.
A bus ride from Querétaro is even cheaper around US$10 to US$15), but the trip will take 2-2:30 hours because the bus is not direct to San Miguel and you have to take a taxi from the airport to the bus station. Colectivos from the bus station to the city center are much cheaper but will take even longer. We don’t recommend either of these – unless you truly have all the time in the world.
Your flight may be less expensive if you go through Mexico City (MEX), and connect to a flight to Leon or Querétaro. You may ride an airport bus from Mexico City to Leon and then catch a local bus to San Miguel. However, it’s a 4-5 hour trip. Another option is a bus from MEX airport to Querétaro and on to San Miguel.
When flying into Mexico City (MEX), we recommend hiring our driver to transfer you from airport to your door in San Miguel de Allende. Click to book your transportation from the MEX airport here.
American, Delta, and United airlines have direct flights to Leon from both Dallas-Ft.Worth and Houston in addition to Atlanta and Los Angeles, respectively. Volaris also has direct flights from Chicago Midway.
- By bus: From the Mexico City airport you can get a first-class bus ticket on the line called “Primera Plus” (see the section on “Buses”) for about US$25 (in 2006). Buses leave every 45 minutes to 1 hour throughout the day and will take you non-stop to Querétaro in less than 3 hours. You can take a bus from there to the San Miguel bus depot for about US$8 (about 1 hour), or a taxi to your door in San Miguel for about US$35 (about 45 minutes).
Travelers should exercise caution at the airport in Mexico City and we recommend you only leave the main terminal with people you know or have arranged through a reputable agency.
If you fly into Mexico City and need to reach San Miguel, do not try to take a taxi from the airport. The taxi drivers in Mexico City are well trained to screw you out of your money by charging you three or four times the cost of a trip to San Miguel – it’s simply not worth the hassle.
If you’re Hell-bent on flying into Mexico City and NOT taking a bus,Yes, it will be expensive because we’ll charge for both the trip there and the trip back, but it will be infinitely less expensive than if you try to pick up a taxi from the street outside the Mexico City airport.
For safety reasons, it is very important not to “pick up a taxi from the street outside the Mexico City airport.” Take one of the official airport taxis to your hotel. These “Transporte Terrestre” taxis are the only ones allowed inside the airport. You will buy a zone-priced ticket ahead of time inside the airport by walking all the way down to the right (several hundred yards) after exiting the international arrivals area.
If you fly into a regional airport like Léon (BJX) or Querétaro (QRO), we recommend hiring our driver to transfer you from airport to your door in San Miguel de Allende. Click to book your transportation from either airport here.
By far the most convenient airport to fly into is Leon (BJX). Arrange for us to pick you up before you fly in. This will almost always be more comfortable and less expensive than taking a taxi from the airport–and our drivers speak English and know San Miguel much better than a taxi driver from the airport. There is no easy way to get from the Leon airport to San Miguel by bus.
If you do want to take the bus but want to minimize the hassles associated with it, here are a few tips:
- Plan your route well ahead of time. Know not just what bus depot you plan to leave from, but what bus line you plan to take. ETN and Primera plus run several times a day to Leon.
- Have a back-up plan. At the very least, have a few extra dollars for an overnight stay in the event that your bus leaves you behind. (The bus lines will fall all over themselves to help you if the bus forgets you, but they won’t be able to help you if the ticket window is closed because it’s 2AM.)
- Try to avoid getting off the bus at stops unless EVERYONE is off the bus. Be especially wary if they also claim to need to remove your baggage from the compartment (saying the bus needs to be cleaned, for example) – they may be trying to avoid taking you all the way to your destination.
- If you’re coming from USA, when planning your route, avoid a bus that crosses the border. You’ll be required to get out at the border to get a visa, and more than one person has been left behind here while that was happening. There are several Mexico-side border towns with bus depots – you may want to take a plane or bus to the border, cross the border by foot, and take a bus from the other side.
- In particular, Nuevo Laredo (across the border from Laredo, Texas) has a major bus depot and an overnight bus leaves Nuevo Laredo every evening for San Miguel. If you drive to Laredo, you can park your vehicle overnight at La Posada hotel (covered) for about $18 per night or at Rio Grande Plaza Hotel (uncovered) for $5 per night.
- Both are within walking distance of the international bridge. After you have crossed the bridge, stop in on the Mexican side to get your visa (about $25). Take a taxi to the bus station for about $5 US. Be sure you know which bus station, as there are several.
Getting around San Miguel de Allende
Maybe 90% of San Miguel’s attractions are within walking distance. Just keep in mind that because San Miguel was built into the side of a mountain, it can turn out to be difficult to traverse, some inclines are 15 or 20 degrees. Furthermore, the streets are cobbled and narrow – some were nothing but goat tracks before they were paved – and many have fallen into disrepair. Curbs are often a high step away from the road. All in all, the town can be unforgiving to an inexperienced walker. For this reason, it is advisable to bring comfortable shoes.
The streets are cobbled, and the visitor can get a certain pleasure from the burros carrying loads of new cobbles for road repair. The steep inclines can be useful in backtracking. Rule of thumb: If your calves hurt, you have been walking uphill. If your shins hurt, you have been walking downhill. Then simply reverse course until your legs are uniformly painful. You should now be near your point of origin.
Bici-Burro is a bike shop that has operated in San Miguel since 1963. They offer bike rentals and biking or hiking tours with guides that hold an intimate knowledge of the area around San Miguel. You have the choice of seven bike tours and 2 hiking trips which take you through natural landmarks and some of the historical ruins of the area. These are of varying degrees of difficulty and range from 5 to 8 hours. The bicycle tours include a 27 speed aluminium mountain bike with helmet, gloves and transportation if needed.
Driving in San Miguel is even more nightmarish. There was a time when the city was not so wealthy and only taxis could be found on these roads. Now that the real estate market has boomed, an influx of money has made cars more affordable and now the average resident is more likely to own one – good news for the economy, but bad news for the roads.
Many two-way streets in San Miguel are too narrow to support two lanes of traffic, and it’s not uncommon for a street to become so choked with cars that drivers have to get out and negotiate which one is going to back up to a wider street to let the other pass.
Many streets are one-way so look for an arrow on the side of a building indicating which direction the traffic is going. A double arrow indicates a two-way street. Watch out for very steep streets. They can get even steeper than you realize and at least one in San Miguel is so narrow at the bottom that no more than a medium-sized car with its side mirrors pulled in can safely maneuver between the buildings. Scratches on the walls attest to drivers who have literally had to scrape between the buildings. Backing up the hill is not an option.
For this reason, and for the serious lack of parking spaces, it is strongly recommended avoiding driving a car within San Miguel. Taxis are extremely inexpensive and reliable, and they can take you anywhere in or outside San Miguel you’d want to go when you don’t feel like walking.
Additionally, San Miguel has its own pleasant and reliable bus system that serves the entire town, including out-of-the-way areas like the Botanical Gardens and the bus station. Leave your car in a parking lot in the outskirts of the City – it’s entirely unnecessary here, and its suspension will thank you.
Another warning on driving a car into San Miguel: if you manage to find a parking place on the streets rather than in one of the (pay) parking lots in town, do NOT leave it parked for more than 24 hours, or the police will come by and remove your rear license plate. You can get it back by going to the police station on the main square, but it will cost you MN$ 99 in fees. There are no signs warning about this.
By Private Driver
We love calling our private driver and having that service right here in San Miguel. English speaking, available day or night, responsible and reliable. Click to book your transportation here.
Catch a taxi within San Miguel for a flat rate of only 35 pesos within centro, more outside Centro or after dark. In-town taxis are abundant and a great option after an afternoon of shopping. If you call a taxi to pick you up in a location, there is additional cost, usually the rate is double.
Rates can also be negotiated to destinations outside of town. For the best luck with taxis, and to avoid any confusion or argument, you best bet is to ask the taxi driver what the rate will be to your destination before you get into the taxi.
For trips to Atotonilco, the hot springs, or any other location outside of town, we recommend our private driver. Click to book your ride here.
By Tourist Trolley
Two different companies provide Sightseeing rides using trolley-looking buses. You can ask for tickets in the main tourist office just in the main square. The ride lasts 1.5 hours (if traffic allows) and reaches the top of a hill for a fantastic sight of the town. There are both Spanish and English tours.