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Dia de los Muertos and San Miguel de Allende: An Eclectic Mix of Beauty and Mystery

Welcome back! We are excited to share another adventure with you. As mentioned in our first blog post, Discoverlist is about sharing travel recommendations with friends. We just launched the Discoverlist app for iOS, and are very excited to see that everyone is posting recommendations and browsing through the awesome photos from other travelers. Did you download the app yet? What are you waiting for? Check it out in the App Store and let us know what you think! We would love to hear your thoughts and suggestions.

Ok .. let’s get back to this month’s adventure. With so many destinations and experiences between the co-founders, it’s always difficult choosing just one. However, this decision was somewhat easier. It’s October! Halloween is quickly approaching in the United States, and there are lots of ghouls and skulls lurking everywhere — BOO! Why not choose something with a similar theme but international. Why not look to our neighbors down south who have a holiday that highlights skeletons, but for a very different reason. What country is that? Mexico! On this adventure we head to Mexico to learn about the holiday known as Dia de los Muertos and explore one of the most gorgeous cities in Mexico, San Miguel de Allende. Travel + Leisure and Conde Nast both rate San Miguel de Allende as THE top city to visit in their respective categories. To guide us through the adventure, we have our very own co-founder, Susana.

San Miguel de Allende is hands-down an awesome city. Prior to the more recent awards in various Travel publications, it was somewhat of a hidden gem, especially for those of us who live in the US. While Susana will lead us, we asked some of our fellow Discoverlisters to chime in on their experiences too. For an extended version with more pics and tips, download the app and check out their travel profile. Now, let’s travel!

 

San Miguel de Allende

San Miguel de Allende — wow, what a beauty! I (Susana) went to San Miguel de Allende a couple of years ago to attend a friend’s wedding and to experience Dia de los Muertos in Mexico. When you first arrive, it may feel a bit small, but don’t let that fool you. I initially felt the same way but later realized that there is plenty to do. You will need more time than you think to do it all. Between the delicious food, rich culture, and colorful architecture, there is always something to do. Like most people, I rather be in the “doing” stage than “planning” stage when it comes to travel. Since I was there for a wedding, all of the wedding guests enjoyed the activities together, which the bride and groom planned. They did an amazing job, and we all had so much fun. Thanks, Monica and Bobby! While this place is great to go with friends, it’s also so enchanting and gorgeous, that it can certainly be a romantic getaway.

I’ve traveled all over the world and have seen lots of charming cities and towns, but there is something about the colorful buildings and friendly people of the countries south of the US, that make your experience so memorable. I really enjoyed walking the cobblestone streets and seeing the Spanish colonial architecture. I am Mexican-American, so it was quite easy to assimilate, but most people there are tourist-friendly and speak English, so assimilation was not needed. I walked the streets feeling like a local and at the same time was welcomed by great service everywhere. At some points, I would even say I felt like a celebrity. It seemed like other people received the same hospitality too so it wasn’t just me. As I continued to the center of the town, I ran right into it: Parroquia de San Miguel Arcangel. This church is GORGEOUS! It looks like it’s straight out of a fairytale with its design and aura. Most events and parades start here, so I found myself in the area quite often. If you get the munchies, there are tons of food carts to delight your taste buds. You can fill up pretty quickly without spending much money.

 

One thing that I found very interesting was the influx of “fancy” restaurants and rooftops. San Miguel de Allende has become such a popular tourist spot that it has increased its attention on the tourist experience. I love Starbucks, so was very happy to see that there was one in town. I’m a venti vanilla latte kind of girl, so I naturally had to make a quick stop. American tourist or not, it always hits the spot. I also noticed that stores, restaurant chains, etc. aren’t allowed to place huge signs outside on the façade and entrance area. They must comply with the city regulations. It seems as if store owners are only allowed to hang a rectangular wooden sign outside with the restaurant’s name. If this is accurate, I think it’s a great add. We need to preserve the essence of what makes great cities great. We need to keep the Spanish colonial beauty intact.

To continue your daytime fun, I highly recommend that you take a walk through Parque Benito Juarez. Enjoy the tranquility and be one with yourself (at least for a little while) before you head to the Rosewood hotel for its excellent city views. The hotel is pretty close and convenient so it’s a natural next move. Go straight to the Luna Rooftop Tapas Bar and take it all in. I would not leave San Miguel de Allende without seeing these views on this rooftop. The views are spectacular and the drinks are pretty good too!

Nightlife is typically a make or break experience for people who thrive on energy. San Miguel de Allende does not slack in this area at all. My friend coordinated a bar crawl that was so much fun. Bar crawls are great because you get to experience multiple locations pretty quickly. If you like the vibe, you stay. If not, on to the next spot. It’s not rocket science. In either situation, you increase your chances of having a memorable night. First, we danced salsa and cumbias at El Manantial restaurant and bar. A band played live music all night, which really made the night special for everyone there. No disrespect to DJs and streaming music, but it’s difficult to compete with a live band when you’re in Mexico. If we were in Europe, DJs and technology are welcomed. But, when in Mexico, give me the wood, strings, and all things live. Afterwards, we went to La Coronela Bar for stop number two. The place was full of energy, laughter, and bebidas (drinks). I give it a double thumbs up for the layout. Here you’ll find plenty of people, mostly tourists, but fun is fun. For the final stop, we ended at a restaurant called La Canica. We only had drinks, so I can’t make recommendations on food. However, I can definitely recommend the ambiance and beautiful location. The restaurant is split with a half of the restaurant covered inside, while the other half is outside, allowing you to get the best of both worlds.

So, what else should you do? I would also recommend going to the local markets where you can find delicious food made by locals and handmade artisans. I went to Mercado San Juan de Dios for some delightful food and to Mercado de Artesanias (the Artisan Market) to see and buy some hand-crafted items. This market really promotes the very talented artists, painters and craftsmen of San Miguel.

 

 

Dia de los Muertos

In the US, Halloween has traditionally focused on costumes, fright fests, and giving out candy. In Mexico, however, a somewhat related holiday called Dia de los Muertos is actually more heartwarming and less scary. The English translation to “Dia de los Muertos” is “Day of the Dead.” In Mexico, it is believed that the spirits of your loved ones who have passed away will visit during this time.

To prepare for the visit of these spirits, people decorate altars with food, candles, and flowers. The altars are usually customized to fit the needs and likes of the deceased, along with a photo. If it is for a child, you would likely see toys or other things that the child enjoyed. If it’s for an adult, it will have shots of Mezcal or Tequila for the spirit to enjoy. It is believed that the gates of heaven are open at midnight on October 31st, and the spirits of the deceased children are allowed to reunite with their families for 24 hours. Then on November 2nd, the spirits of the adults come down. On the afternoon of November 2nd, the festivities continue at the cemetery. People clean tombs, play music, play cards and talk about the memories of their deceased loved ones.

 

During this holiday, people will also paint their face in the image of a skull to represent a deceased loved one who should be celebrated. This is a Mexican national holiday but other Catholic countries such as Italy, Spain, South America and the Philippines celebrate All Souls and All Saints Day, where they have church masses and remember their loved ones. In these countries, you typically do not see the colorful parties that are celebrated in Mexico. I was in Mexico, so, I guess when in Mexico …  : -). My friends and I got our face painted by a local for about $80 USD and it was so worth it. Everyone in the city gets their face painted. It really makes you feel like you are part of the culture. After getting our faces painted, we went to a local festival where kids and adults performed with dances and songs to celebrate the holiday. The performances were great, the festivities were lots of fun, and the vibe in San Miguel de Allende was dynamic. It was truly an unforgettable experience!

 

As mentioned earlier, see below for the experiences of Discoverlisters that have also been to San Miguel de Allende during this time. Thanks for reading!

“San Miguel will whisk you away on a magical journey of times past and during Día de los Muertos, a journey of celebrating loved ones lost. The colonial city style immerses its visitors in a rich Spanish influence while the day of the dead celebration leaves its visitors with an appreciation of the fusion of indigenous Aztec rituals and Catholicism. Visiting San Miguel during Día de los Muertos is truly a magical experience! Get your face painted, dance, enjoy music, visit the museums and eat a lot of delicious food! San Miguel is a must see city and a once in a lifetime experience to celebrate life and death. You may even find yourself incorporating the celebration into your life! San Miguel and Día de los muertos are unshakeable experiences in the best way imaginable. “
– Rebecca Centeno

 

“ Morning walks on its cobbled stone streets feels like traveling through time to a different era. As I pass Bonforno I am brought back to present time by the smell of fresh bread and coffee, the best in town. On any given afternoon, I love going to Hotel El Palomar to have a glass of wine and enjoy one of the most enchanting sunset views of this colonial town. Thursday nights are a must at Mezcal-Art, the only mezcaleria in town where locals and tourists gather for mezcal tasting and their famous tlayudas (Oaxaca’s tradional dish). To rejuvenate and be in touch with nature, I go to Nirvana, my heaven on earth. The boutique hotel is hidden in the outskirts of town, tucked within nature and at the foot of the Rio Laja. The food is delicious, a swim in their hot springs is invigorating, star gazing is an amenity, falling asleep with the singing of frogs and waking up to the chirping of birds is magical! “
– Adriana Palomares (elchapulindemontealban.com)

 

“San Miguel de Allende holds a charm and authenticity unlike any other Mexican colonial town I’ve traveled to. The talented artists and musicians, the exquisite culinary offerings, hospitable people, the many cantinas, and the rich traditions of the highlands of Mexico. It reminds me so much of the Mexican rural town I grew up in. Our wedding guests are still raving about the many sights, tastes, and sounds they experienced during our 5-day affair!”
– Monica Diaz (@pozolera_ )