San Miguel de Allende or Ajijic? Which Is Better?
This is a frequently asked question by potential expats looking to move to Mexico. So which is better? Recently I took a one week vacation to San Miguel to find out for myself. After having lived in Ajijc for the past 8 years and having heard and read lots about San Miguel, I had already formed some opinions, but what did I find out? Did San Miguel live up to all the hipe?
My first impression was that San Miguel is big! Much bigger than Ajijic and much more spread out. It is definitely a small city verses the tiny pueblita of Ajijic. IMO this led to the feeling of having less charm than Ajijic and a much less intimate feeling. Don't get me wrong, the continuity of the the downtown core (a world UNESCO Heritage site) is incredibly beautiful but the area of San Miguel is huge by comparison to Ajijic and growing rapidly.
Lake Chapala is said to have the second best climate in the world. So how does San Miguel de Allende stack up? Lets compare the averages I found on the internet:
San Miguel Chart
(taken from Climate-Data.org)
(taken from Climate-Data.org)
As you can see, the average temperature is virtually identical. Maybe a little hotter in the summer and a little cooler in the winter.
Here is a snapshot at random of the the temps (note the 'real feel' temps) I certainly did!!
San Miguel Weather Snapshot
(taken from AccuWeather.com)
Ajijic Weather Snapshot
(taken from AccuWeather.com)
It was, in fact, colder by several degrees in SMA vs Lake Chapala during our stay (end of September/beginning of October) and this is not surprising considering it is 1200 feet higher in elevation. The other thing I found during my stay is that it was windier in SMA vs Chapala. A light breeze started every afternoon and when the when the sun went down in the evening it really seemed cool. I don't know if this is always the case but being on a high plateau, I would guess that this would probably be so. Only a few times mid afternoon did we open the patio doors to the house as it always seemed colder outside than it did inside, whereas in Ajijic I have all the windows open all the time, even through the night.
There has been lots and lots of commentary about the difficulty of walking in Ajijic due to the cobblestones and the up and down sidewalks, but don't be fooled if people tell you that San Miguel is easier. It is just as difficult and sidewalks are just as narrow as Ajijic. There are still many cobblestone streets and flagstone streets. The sidewalks are narrow, lots of broken concrete, stairs, holes, telephone poles and railings placed in your way.
The other thing I noticed was that while, in general, I would say San Miguel is kept cleaner (especially in the park and the downtown core), I did see an abundance of dog poop on the sidewalks. I admit, that I saw less stray dogs than compared to Ajijic but dog poop was abundant so I can only assume that the owners are not cleaning up after their pets.
There is definitely more areas to walk in San Miguel due to it's size and the the fact that San Miguel is so spread out without any physical constraints; whereas, Ajijic is bordered by the lake and the mountains. But due to the fact that San Miguel is located in a valley, there are LOTS of hills to climb and many are very steep.
The cost of restaurants and food was quite shocking. I had heard it was more expensive but my impression was after staying there for a week is that it costs 1 ½ times more to dine out in San Miguel vs Ajijic. The food in San Miguel was very good overall and the selection is varied and extensive but be prepared to pay more and/or receive less value for money.
City verses Village
I think this struck me the most. There was a definite 'rush hour' in the mornings and in the late afternoons and the streets and highway above the town was crammed with buses, cars and trucks. Yes, many complain about the traffic in Ajijic as well but pace and frenzy of San Miguel was noticeable verses the more laid back village life of Ajijic.
The cost of real estate is always difficult to figure without knowing the areas intimately, but by looking through the real estate listings, I would say you are looking at 1 1/2 times the amount of Ajijic. One recent blog article I read on San Miguel quoted the average 2 bed/2 bath home between $250,000-650,000 USD whereas our average price in Lake Chapala is now $262,000 USD. The other thing that struck me from the blog article was that taxes were quoted to be just under $1000 USD/year whereas in Lake Chapala you are looking at $200-300 USD/year.
It also seems that there is a lot of newer construction in San Miguel and according to a local guide I spoke to, San Miguel really took off in 2008 when it was declared a Unesco Site and much of the construction has been within the past 10 years. Indeed, as I took my morning walks around San Miguel, I found several enormous residential projects in the works.
So which is better? Ultimately the decision is up to you and I encourage you to visit both, but don't think that the grass is not always greener on the other. Add to that the fact that it is more difficult to access by airplane, and Lake Chapala, IMO, still stands out as the best place to live!! But remember, there are definitely two camps of people. There are those that love San Miguel and those that love Lake Chapala. So which are you??
If you would like more information about the differences between San Miguel and Lake Chapala, or wish to learn more about the Lake Chapala area, please contact me here or through my Facebook Page. Thanks for reading.
(Disclaimer: The views and opinions on this blog are mine and mine alone. Do your research and find the place best for you.!)