Sunday, March 22, 2009

Let's go to San Miguel de Allende for the weekend

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Cindi Bower

A couple of weeks ago, my husband said out of the blue, "Let's go to San Miguel de Allende for the weekend." Since we had not been out of town for several months, I readily agreed.

We make day trips to San Miguel de Allende a couple of times a year just to hang out and try new restaurants, but we don't often stay overnight. We live in Guanajuato, only about 90 minutes from San Miguel by bus, so we can leave home early in the morning, run around San Miguel until we drop, then take the late bus home and sleep in our own bed.

However, it is fun once in a while to stay for a night or two and have a more leisurely time seeing some of the things San Miguel has to offer.

The last time we stayed overnight in San Miguel, we stayed in a hotel suggested to us by a friend. There is a great view from the hotel, but not much else to recommend it, at least to us. Though this hotel is not too expensive ($600 pesos for a room with two double beds, but no phone or television…about $40 USD), I wanted to see if I could find something a little cheaper.

I wasn't overly optimistic because San Miguel de Allende is known for its boutique hotels and luxury bed and breakfast establishments. It's not unusual to pay $100 to $200 USD or more a night at some of these places (and some have a two-night or more minimum stay).

One web site that I've used numerous times in our travels around central and northern Mexico is It allows you to compare prices at a number of different hotels in each city. Some hotels have a link to their web sites, so it is easy to see the amenities each offers.

I went to this web site and clicked on "San Miguel de Allende" to see what I could find that was located within a short walk of the main plaza yet would not break our budget.

After swooning over the listings for the high-priced hotels, I saw an entry for Parador San Sebastian. It is listed as a one-star hotel with rates starting at $24 USD. I was skeptical, but decided to check it out anyway.

I found several favorable reviews on a couple of travel web sites. Those reviews can be helpful, but are not always totally accurate. I recognized one reviewer as a frequent poster on a travel forum to which I contribute as well. From his/her comments on the forums, it seems he/she has few positive things to say about anything. He/She gave this hotel a glowing review. If he/she liked it, it had to be okay.

Parador San Sebastian does not take reservations, so I chose a couple of other places as back-ups in case there were no vacancies. Fortunately, we arrived early in the day, so were able to get the last double room. We were unaware that it was a holiday weekend until we arrived, so we were happy to get a room, especially as there were no more vacancies by early afternoon.

When the cab driver let us off at the hotel's door, we saw an open-air interior patio with several wrought iron umbrella tables and chairs and lots of plants. It proved to be a very pleasant place to sit and relax.

The friendly receptionist showed us the one double room available and warned us the rooms had neither telephone nor television. While having a television is nice, for us it is not a necessity as we always bring reading material and writing supplies.

The room was right off the patio. We were a bit concerned that it would be noisy since most of the other hotel guests would have to pass the room to get to their rooms. Fortunately, there was very little noise from 10 p.m. until morning even though the hotel was full.

We decided to take the room since we didn't feel like schlepping our luggage around town trying to find another hotel. The rate for a room for one or two people with one double bed or two single beds is $350 pesos a night (about $25 USD at the current exchange rate). A significant savings over the three-star hotel where we had stayed on our previous trip. For larger groups, there are rooms that accommodate up to six people (three double beds for $720 pesos) and four apartments with kitchenettes.

The room wasn't huge, but large enough for our needs. There were two single beds, each with a nightstand and a reading lamp. There were two closets with shelves, though only one clothes hanger between the two. I don't know what it is about budget hotels in Mexico, but few provide hangers. I guess they expect travelers to bring their own.

There was a fireplace in the corner of the room, though the March weather was far too warm to need that amenity. To our delight, there was a good-quality ceiling fan hanging from the 15-foot ceiling. With the window closed, the room would have been very stuffy without the fan.

The room's one window soared up to the ceiling and had double wooden shutters. One set had little windows that could be left closed for light or opened to let air in through the screens. The other set of shutters were solid and shut out every bit of light. Over the window were blue, coarsely woven drapes. With everything closed, the room was nice and dark.

The bathroom was medium-sized and had a large shower. Unfortunately, the shower floor was the same level as the bathroom floor and there was barely a lip between the bathroom and the room. The water pressure was too much for the drain to handle, so the bathroom flooded. My husband had to keep an eye on the flood level while I showered so he could warn me when the water was approaching the room. I did likewise. It was a little nerve-racking.

Everything was spotlessly clean. The sheets were so smooth that I am sure they were ironed after they were washed. The bed had a wool blanket and an attractive woven bedspread in a brownish-orange with wide reddish-orange and purple stripes. There were extra wool blankets in the closet, which we needed as the ceiling fan's lowest setting made the room a bit chilly. Good for sleeping, though.

We enjoyed waking up to the chattering of both the wild birds that perched on the patio's plants as well as two cages of parakeets (both with babies still in the nest).

Behind the patio, we discovered a TV/reading room with several comfortable chairs and a sofa where people congregated in the evening. There were a couple of shelves of books (mainly in English) that had been left behind by other travelers as well as some newspapers and magazines in Spanish.

The hotel is located less than a block from a park (Plaza Civica), about a block or so from the food/artesian market, and about three blocks from the main plaza (Plaza Principal or the Jardin). The hotel does not have a restaurant, but we found a bakery a few doors from the hotel and a couple of small restaurants around the corner.

It was a very pleasant experience. We will definitely stay in this hotel the next time we go to San Miguel de Allende for an overnight trip.


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