Last Updated on July 9, 2023
Casa Carly San Miguel de Allende is well disguised behind a gnarly tree and an impenetrable stucco wall. Once I found the gate to this lovely boutique hotel in, I rolled my suitcase into an oasis of purple bougainvillea, wispy green ferns, and orange marigolds.
Mexican papel picado banners fluttered overhead, strung between several buildings painted in bold hues – cobalt blue, lime green, and fuchsia.
In the middle, a pedestal fountain gurgled.
San Miguel Enjoys Worldwide Acclaim for Art and Architecture
Casa Carly San Miguel de Allende is every bit as charming and colorful as San Miguel. And that is saying a lot. This central Mexico city has garnered worldwide acclaim for its striking Baroque and Neoclassical architecture, eclectic art galleries, and vibrant street murals.
San Miguel is also known for its jubilant festivals, especially Dia de los Muertos, or Day of the Dead. That is what brought a girlfriend and me from Austin, TX to Casa Carly in late October 2022. Our six-day Camiba Cultural Tour was timed to coincide with the city’s annual celebration of death and life.
Staying at Casa Carly and taking the Camiba tour turned out to be a poignant and exuberant way to experience Day of the Dead festivities. We created ofrendas, or altars festooned with mementos to honor our loved ones who had passed.
We helped decorate local gravesites with cut flowers. We joined the Parade of the Dead, made up as Catrinas and Catrins, the skeletal characters who haunt the festivities.
San Miguel sits amid Mexico’s picturesque central highlands, about 165 miles northwest of Mexico City. The city that has been enticing artists, musicians, and writers since the 1940s.
Graced with hundreds of Spanish colonial buildings, the city’s entire historic center has been designated a UNESCO world heritage site.
After watching golden sunsets over the distant purple hills, I understood why so many visitors wind up staying or buying second homes here. Expats from the US and Canada make up more than 5% of the city’s 140,000 residents.
Not surprisingly, San Miguel is one of the most popular tours offered by Camiba, an Austin-based company specializing in immersive art and culture tours in North, Central, and South America. Owners Troy Campa and Rene Ibarra have been leading small group tours to the city for the Day of the Dead festivities since 2017.
“San Miguel is a magnet for visitors because of its rich art and culture,” Campa told me. “Casa Carla is authentic, intimate, and convenient to everything we see and do in the city.”
Our group of 14, plus Campa and Ibarra, filled all eight of Casa Carly’s whimsical casitas, or suites. Vibrant Mexican tiles, fabrics, and art adorn every room in the boutique hotel which was a private residence until 2003.
Though most of us started the tour as strangers, we became fast friends while devouring home-cooked breakfasts in the hotel café and sharing local wine during courtyard happy hours.
The hotel’s congenial staff, managed by the wife-and-husband team Lidya and Maurice, also became part of our impromptu family. They made sure Casa Carly San Miguel de Allende was a relaxing place to return to after scouting craft markets for silver jewelry and sipping Negronis in the cantinas.
San Miquel’s Guadalupe Neighborhood Murals
From Casa Carly’s location on the city’s northwest edge, we were able to walk to most of the city’s main attractions in 10 to 15 minutes. We spent our first morning admiring vibrant murals painted on nearly every flat surface in the Guadalupe neighborhood around the hotel. We then made our way to Fabrica la Aurora, the city’s most exclusive art enclave. Dozens of artist studios, fashionable shops, and popular eateries fill the former textile mill.
Strolling mostly downhill from the hotel to the luminous central plaza, El Jardin, we passed historic structures with brightly colored façades and doors. Garlands of marigolds and festive window ofrendas tempted us to pause at shops, bars, restaurants, and gardens along the way.
In the middle of the plaza stands the city’s star attraction, the Parroquia, an 18th century neo-Gothic church with striking pink spires. The church served as a beautiful beacon when we got lost wandering the city’s maze-like streets.
As crowds arrived for Day of the Dead festivities, Casa Carly’s lovely garden became our refuge. We created our own ofrenda. The table overflowed with pictures, candles, sugar candy skulls, favorite foods, and mementos to remind us of those we had lost. Someone even added a bottle of tequila.
San Miguel de Allende Day of the Dead
We also gathered in the courtyard to get our faces painted for the Day of the Dead parade. Participation was voluntary, but none of us could resist.
After local makeup artists transformed our faces, we alternately admired and cackled at each other while snacking on homemade pizza and Mexican beer and wine.
Then we met throngs of other revelers in fancy outfits and skeleton makeup, flooding the city’s streets. I passed a couple who resembled skeletal versions of King Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette as well as a family dressed as ancient Egyptians in black and gold costumes. Even police officers overseeing the crowds sported macabre skeleton faces.
Mariachi Bands Serenade Revelers in San Miguel Plaza
Later in El Jardin, we listened as a Mariachi band played the Mexican folk song Cielito Lindo, joining in as the crowd belted out the chorus of ‘Ay, ay, ay, ay, canta y no llore.’
It was a night to remember departed loved ones and the importance of living in the moment. My time in San Miguel brought home the power and beauty of this Aztec and Christian event that has been celebrated throughout Central America and Mexico for hundreds of years.
The festivities were the highlight of my San Miguel tour, but Campa, who trained as an architect, and Ibarra, who grew up in Mexico, curated many other enriching activities for our group. We met local artists in their studios, toured historic churches, and delivered educational supplies to Ojala Ninos, a rural learning program for disadvantaged children.
Camiba also arranged meals in some of the city’s best restaurants. My favorite included ceviche and pisco sours at La Parada, a fashionable Peruvian eatery. The spicy red and green huevos rancheros at local hangout Café Rama were excellent, too.
Is it safe to travel to San Miguel de Allende?
Walking back to Casa Carly San Miguel de Allende at night we felt safe traveling as a group along the neighborhood’s well-lit streets. Often a bottle of wine was waiting for us to share.
When it was time to retire, we followed stone pathways lit with candles to our casitas, each with individual entrances and patios or balconies.
My friend and I stayed in a ground-floor casita near the back of the complex. With bright red and white walls, our one-bedroom suite included a king bed, an extra single bed, and a small separate room with bunk beds, making the casita a good choice for families with children.
Casa Carly’s Casitas Sport Colorful Décor
A red tapestry wall hanging accented an upholstered couch strewn with embroidered pillows in our cheerful sitting room. A tiny kitchen equipped with a small refrigerator, microwave, and coffee pot allowed us to warm up leftovers and brew early-morning café con leche.
Casa Carly San Miguel de Allende mix of studios and one-bedroom suites also includes a spacious two-bedroom apartment with two bathrooms and a full kitchen. The unit’s large balcony with potted tropical plants accommodated all of us for a late-night farewell party.
Breakfast was one of my favorite aspects about my stay at Casa Carly. As part of our tour package, Lidya served strong Mexican coffee and fresh juices in an airy dining room decorated with Day of the Dead memorabilia.
Buffet options changed daily and included fresh fruit, eggs, beans, enchiladas, taquitos with chicken, and tamales with green and red sauce. And, of course, pan de muerto, or bread of the dead.
When I rolled my suitcase back out through Casa Carly’s colorful courtyard, I decided my first visit to San Miguel would not be my last.
Casa Carly San Miguel
Casa Carly is a popular location for workshops, student groups, reunions, and travel groups visiting San Miguel. The eight casitas can also be rented individually, accommodating a maximum of 27 guests.
Camiba offers tours to destinations in the Americas known for art and culture, including Oaxaca City in Mexico, Havana in Cuba, Buenos Aires in Argentina, and Santa Fe, New Mexico in the U.S.
The closest airports to San Miguel are Querétaro Intercontinental Airport and Leon International Airport, both about an hour and a half drive from San Miguel.