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Why Go Now: San Miguel de Allende

Slowly and with careful consideration, the Indagare Team has been venturing back out into the world to bring first-hand reporting to our community, and to lead by example as we determine what the future of travel will look like. Exactly three weeks ago, I was able to make my own return to the road with a scouting trip to San Miguel de Allende—a colorful, colonial yet modern gem of a city that is nestled in the mountains 180 miles northwest of Mexico City. San Miguel de Allende is a feast for the senses, and it offers a robust travel experience that combines cultural highlights with deep relaxation. Winding cobblestone alleys lined with candy-coated historic homes give way to fantastic modern boutiques, rooftop bars and sophisticated restaurants and mezcalerías. The air is heavy with lavender and citrus, and flowers and succulents bloom at every turn. A photographer’s dream, San Miguel is a place of sunlight and shadow, and it often seems that with every step, you discover a view that is more beautiful than the last.

My trip to San Miguel marked my first time on a plane—and leaving the tri-state area—in nine months. Despite the fact that, prior to the pandemic, I was traveling frequently—and to unfamiliar places like Senegal, Thailand and Costa Rica—I found myself feeling incredibly nervous—inexperienced, unprepared—as I packed. But once I checked into my room at the Rosewood—the city’s top resort—my trepidations were soothed by those special comforts of an impeccable hotel: a perfect, white-linen-draped bed; an expansive private patio, where I could take my morning coffee with views over gardens of pampas grasses and jacaranda trees; and my very own Casa Dragones tequila bar, complete with a personalized margarita recipe. More importantly, I also found, with great relief, that aside from new safety protocols, far fewer crowds and the addition of PPE equipment, travel had not changed much since we last met. My old friends—beauty, discovery, exhilaration, connection—were simply waiting for me to return. 

Traveling now—safely, responsibly and to the right places—will at once wake up your senses and quell the anxieties that have been building up inside all of us. It will reunite you with parts of yourself that you didn’t even realize you had boxed away, like clothing being saved for a future season. And few places are better to begin traveling to again than San Miguel de Allende.

Getting There and Getting Around: Entry Requirements & Covid-Safety Measures

Although its land and sea borders are closed, Mexico has remained open to American travelers arriving by air. Covid-testing is not required for entry, though I did choose to take a PCR test prior to departure. Before check-in, travelers must fill out a simple health declaration form and present the completed form along with their other travel documents to clear customs; additionally, a basic health screening (consisting of a temperature check and hand-sanitizing) is required upon arrival in Mexico. For the latest updates on Covid-19 in Mexico, consult the U.S. Embassy website.

To keep myself and others safe throughout the journey, I wore a KN95 mask as well as a face shield, and I used sanitizing wipes throughout, though the planes were quite clean (Indagare Tip: everyone focuses on the armrests, but don’t forget to sanitize your seatbelt buckle!) San Miguel de Allende is serviced by three international airports: in Mexico City (a three-to-four-hour drive away), León Bajío (a 90-minute drive away) and Querétaro (a 60-minute drive away). Direct flight options from the east coast to Querétaro and León Bajío are limited at this moment, so air travel time can range between five-and-a-half hours and eight hours. From the west coast, direct flights are widely available, and air travel time can range between three and five hours. 

San Miguel de Allende has enacted a strong response to Covid-19 and, as a result, the city has one of the lowest case rates in Mexico, with only approximately 800 cases since March, across a population of nearly 80,000 people. After a full four-month lockdown that closed the city to all non-residents, San Miguel began a controlled reopening in mid-July; however, checkpoints remain in place at the city’s borders to keep non-residents from entering without proof of a hotel or restaurant reservation, or relevant business. (Thanks to the Rosewood’s seamless transfer service, I was unaware that I had even passed through the checkpoint, because my reservation QR code was automatically scanned.) In town, health-safety regulations—including a mask-wearing mandate in all public spaces—are widely followed and enforced. Covid-safety policies are not a point of political contention; locals take them seriously, but generally without drama, because they know what’s at stake: the livelihood of nearly every person who lives there, as San Miguel’s economy is entirely dependent on tourism. Sanitizing “arches” surround the most trafficked area of the city—the historic center—and all visitors must pass through a disinfecting mist to enter. All businesses, including hotels, must comply with an extensive set of health-safety protocols—including requiring temperature checks and hand- and shoe-sanitizing for entry—and they are regulated and ranked by the city through a system of health seals, which are monitored daily and revoked if the business fails to comply. Although some federally-owned buildings remain shuttered and all businesses must close at 10:00 p.m., San Miguel still feels vibrant and lively, and tourists can enjoy the vast majority of entertainments that they would here, normally, knowing that these safety measures are in place. 

Perhaps most of all, San Miguel de Allende is an ideal destination for safe travel during Covid-19 by virtue of its climate and design. The weather is simply perfect (80 degrees and sunny, with cloudless blue skies during the day, and slightly cooler, with a gentle breeze, at night), and the entire city is a labyrinth of charming gardens, courtyards and rooftops—so it is very easy to spend nearly all of your time outside, and distanced. This is especially true at a resort like the Rosewood, which sits on a beautifully landscaped five-acre property that feels like an oasis in the heart of downtown. It’s filled with verdant corners and secret patios, which are perfect for private family gatherings al fresco. Even entry-level rooms are equipped with balconies, while suites have their own terraces—and the lavish Rosewood Suite has a private two-level rooftop with prime views of San Miguel’s famous Gothic Parroquía Church. Plus, the fact that the hotel was designed to mimic a traditional colonial hacienda means that all rooms except for those on the top floor face a courtyard, and there is open airflow throughout all of the common spaces.

Related: Covid-19 Travel and Testing: Practical Tips for International Travel During Covid

Why It’s Worth It: Savoring Life’s Pleasures in San Miguel

“San Miguel is known and has received a lot of press and awards, but it is still somehow kind of a secret,” says Prashant Ashoka, one of the many resident expats who have been flocking to San Miguel since it was established as an artists’ enclave in the 1940s. Indeed, San Miguel consistently lands top-five placement on “Best Cities in the World” lists, but prior to Covid, it was often only considered by American travelers as an add-on to a Mexico City itinerary, or as a wedding destination. While San Miguel makes for a lovely long-weekend getaway, to spend any less than four days here is to miss out on truly savoring the many treasures it conceals, from the historic and the culinary to the aesthetic. In one day—rather, in one single place!—a traveler can examine original colonial architecture, unfinished Modernist murals from Diego Rivera rival David Alfaro Siqueiros and the textile and ceramic work of up-and-coming artisans (this place is the Centro Cultural Ignacio Ramírez El Nigromante and, although it is currently closed to the public because of Covid, friends of Indagare may be able to make special arrangements). The color, light and flora of San Miguel verge on overwhelming, and it is no surprise that there are workshops and markets, boutiques and ateliers on every corner. Sunshine and joy flow freely here—so much so that there is a boutique hotel named Casa de los Soles that displays a gallery of over 2,000 ceramic suns on its walls (the most in San Miguel…and perhaps the world?). In addition to painting and ceramics, top items to scout for in San Miguel include hand-blown glass, hand-hammered tin, woven textiles and wood carvings (this is a destination where you’ll want to bring along an extra bag for the return trip). If you don’t consider yourself a shopper, you can still admire the city’s design scene by finding a seat at one of its many, many rooftop bars at sunset, to observe the changing colors of downtown’s clay houses, nestled together like a Tetris grid, while you sip icy cocktails infused with turmeric, agave and cucumber and indulge in local flavors like slices of watermelon drizzled with lime juice and salt, tacos filled with the daily catch from Cabo and melted cheese with chorizo, served sizzling in a traditional molcajete bowl. 

From the intriguing emerging culinary and mixology scenes to the ever-growing number of luxury hotels, modern innovations are constantly evolving against a backdrop of history, and simplicity, in San Miguel. One such example is Prashant Ashoka’s recently unveiled Casa Etérea, or the Ethereal House, an impossibly sleek, self-sustaining guest studio in the foothills bordering the city. At once an art-installation and a writer’s retreat, the rental home—which the Singapore-raised Ashoka designed without any experience in architecture—features chic contemporary furnishings, all sourced from Asia via a local boutique, and is entirely externally mirrored to reflect the surrounding countryside: rock-scapes, cacti and the ranches of cattle farmers whose families have lived there for as long as they can remember. The juxtaposition of the trending and the ageless feels right at home in San Miguel. Centuries of indigenous tradition and colonial development under the Spanish are incredibly well-preserved (the city is a UNESCO World Heritage Site) and part of daily life, just as they are in comparable culture centers like Florence, Istanbul and Beirut

Related: Where to Eat, Shop and Explore in San Miguel de Allende

Where to Stay: The Rosewood San Miguel de Allende

After a busy day of pursuits in town—as well as adventure activities on offer in San Miguel’s outskirts, including horseback riding, ATV touring, hiking and hot air ballooning—the Rosewood provides a true haven, especially during Covid. In addition to the plethora of open-air spaces (which are kept lush by 15 full-time gardeners), property highlights include the well-equipped spa and pool facilities, the chance to join interactive art classes and workshops and the exceptional culinary program. Helmed by Executive Chef Vincent Wallez, it encompasses the 1826 Restaurant and tequila bar, the not-to-be-missed Luna Rooftop tapas bar, the artisanal Los Pirules garden restaurant and the sultry La Cava wine cellar (the perfect location for an immersive dining experience for your pod, the cellar is presided over by a portrait of ultimate hostess Frida Kahlo and features nearly 1,000 bottles of Mexican wine, in addition to the usual Old World suspects). The hotel is currently operating safely at 50 percent capacity or less, but for an even more secluded experience, there is a collection of very well-priced, spacious private residences that provide access to all of the amenities of the main hotel and range from one- to four-bedroom configurations (and, obviamente, have their own rooftops…plus hot tubs and grills). 

There’s so much to see and do, safely, in San Miguel de Allende, but at the Rosewood, it’s just as enticing to do nothing. After all, we’re exhausted. On my first night there—my first night away from home in nearly a year—I sat on my patio amid the waving pampas grasses, sated from an indulgent five-course meal presented by Chef Wallez, and simply listened to the sounds of the breeze, the fountains and the birds. I could have been in paradise—and that’s not just because it was my first trip since Covid. San Miguel wants for nothing. It is a celebration of life’s pleasures, colors and flavors—and it invites travelers to savor the details. As I began my first journey in the new era of more considered travel, I couldn’t help but feel an overwhelming sense of gratitude.

Email your Trip Designer or contact our team to start planning your next getaway to San Miguel de Allende.

Not quite ready to hit the road yet? You can still experience the Rosewood, virtually, through our private Zoom cooking class focused on Mexican cuisine with the Rosewood’s Executive Chef Vincent Wallez, on location in the beautiful Los Pirules outdoor kitchen and gardens. Book now by emailing global.classroom@indagare.com.

Indagare will continue to share honest, on-the-ground testimonials regarding travel during the Covid-19 pandemic. Should you be interested in traveling at this time, our team can match you with the destinations, accommodations and activities that are right for you and provide information on coronavirus travel safety, destinations that are open to travel, COVID-19 hotel policies, transportation options, private villas and charters and more. For further information, read our ongoing report Covid-19 Travel and Travel Trends 2021: What to Know for the Year Ahead, According to Our Experts.

– Elizabeth Harvey on December 3, 2020

Quotable

Although some federally-owned buildings remain shuttered and all businesses must close at 10:00 p.m., San Miguel still feels vibrant and lively, and tourists can enjoy the vast majority of entertainments that they would here, normally, knowing that safety measures are in place.

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