Bajio Road Trip Guide: Queretaro, San Miguel de Allende, Dolores Hidalgo and Guanajuato
The Bajio region of Mexico, known as Mexico’s breadbasket, is a cross-section of central Mexico made up of sections of Aguascalientes, Jalisco, Guanajuato and the Querétaro states. The region’s most famous tourist destination is San Miguel de Allende, but the nearby towns of Queretaro, Dolores Hidalgo and Guanajuato, each have lots to offer as well. There is no better way to see them than on a Bajio road trip through the region.
Hitting the Road…
Driving in Mexico can mean a lot of gray, lifeless highways, but this route will take you off the main roads for lots of photo-worthy scenery. This Bajio road trip starts off in Queretaro, then to San Miguel, Dolores Hidalgo and Guanajuato, with a few stops in between.
Several major airlines now fly direct into Queretaro, such as American Airlines, United, Aeromexico and Volaris. With the city’s growing importance as a business and cultural hub, that list is sure to grow. Unless you are already in the country, this is the closest hub to all of the places for this road trip.
Renting a car at the Queretaro airport is as easy as anywhere in the world, and reservations can be made in advance via the web (Enterprise and Avis both have locations there). Don’t skimp on your insurance at the rental desk. Car insurance in Mexico is a must as there is a range of ideas on what is considered “safe” driving.
For driving in Mexico, most U.S. and Canadian insurance policies are invalid, so if you are coming down from the border in your own vehicle, make sure you get specific car insurance in Mexico to cover you for the time you are there.
Our suggestion is to head straight from the airport to San Miguel de Allende, it will take about an hour and 20 minutes. If you need or want to stay overnight, there are many hotels chains, such Mission San Gil or the Fiesta Americana. However, to get a better sense of the city’s history, and for a cozier stay, we suggest somewhere like La Casa del Atrio or the La Casa del Naranjo in the heart of old town.
Bajio Road Trip to San Miguel de Allende
San Miguel has become one of the most popular destinations in all of Mexico, and for good reason, the restaurants are fantastic, they have high-end lodging, a beautiful cityscape, and a stunning landscape just beyond. If you don’t like big crowds, avoid weekends and holidays as the city is packed with visitors.
Lodging for San Miguel de Allende
- Dos Casas for intimate services, refined rooms and their individual soaking pools on each suite’s balcony.
- Casablanca is a good choice for anyone with no qualms about price—the rooms are spacious and thoughtfully outfitted and the rooftop restaurant, Fatima, is one of San Miguel’s newest food hits.
- For traditionalists, the luxury Rosewood is full service with a sumptuous swimming pool and rooftop terrace with some of the city’s best views.
- Hotel Posada de la Aldea has a hacienda vibe and a swimming pool that is popular with both guests and locals looking to cool off for an afternoon. Posada de las Monjas is even closer to the center of town on sloping Canal Street and has nice, basic rooms in a colonial style.
On the Cheap
- San Miguel has a handful of local hostels where a bunk or private room will run you under $30usd a night.
Things to do in San Miguel
- Festivals and Events: The international community that lives in San Miguel is extremely active meaning you can find lots of events and festivals either 100% English-language or at least bilingual. Information on the GIFF, Ted talks, The Calaca Festival, The Writer’s Conference, opera performances, theater, and art exhibits can all be found in the English-language newspaper Atencion.
- El Charco del Ingenio: One of the city’s most beautiful attractions, this 172-acre botanical garden is home to thousands of endemic species of local flora, along with having breathtaking views of the canyon where it sits and the surrounding countryside.
- Balloon Rides: While on the pricier side, you’ll find the dollars’ worth the experience of setting sail over the early morning desert of San Miguel and getting a birds-eye view of this colonial gem. Go with Globo San Miguel and be sure to include breakfast at the Rosewood hotel afterwards.
- Shopping: Because of San Miguel’s draw for tourists from across the globe there are regional crafts from all over Mexico, high-end Mexican-designed jewelry, local artists (whose talent varies widely) selling their canvases, plus international clothing brands and Mexico City interior design studio galleries. Something for everyone
Places to eat in San Miguel de Allende
- High-end: There are dozens of good places to eat in San Miguel, most of them upscale. The Restaurant was the first gourmet restaurant to open in San Miguel and Chef-owner Donnie Masterson has now expanded his brand to include Birdie’s burgers, TacoLab (high-end tacos), and Fatima (Mediterranean). Also good is the new(ish) Bovine restaurant, Jacinto 1810, and Aperi. There is a great local blog that reviews new restaurants and bars and is a good source of info for foodies.
- Mid-range: With great soups, sandwiches and desserts, the Cumpanio bakery is a local favorite. Luna de Queso not only sells delicious salads and sandwiches to go but has a mouth-watering selection of local cheeses, cold meats, and imported products you can’t find anywhere else in town. Café de la Parroquia is great for traditional Mexican breakfast and La Mesa Grande is a popular local hangout with coffee, pizzas, and craft beer.
- On the Cheap: While street food is always a good go-to cheap option in Mexico, the street food choices in San Miguel are limited, try some of the small food stands in the Ignacio Rameríz market or the tacos al pastor stand that sets up outside of the Biblioteca Publica in the evenings or the carnitas on the Salida de Queretaro across from the gas station.
Side trip (on the road from Dolores Hidalgo to San Miguel)
- Atotonilco: While driving in Mexico you will notice small blue signs on the side of the road that advertise local activities like wineries or historical sites. Keep an eye out for the Atotonilco Sanctuary, about 11 miles outside of San Miguel on the way to Dolores. This quaint World Heritage site has Baroque murals to see and the beautiful little chapel where Ignacio Allende was wed and later became a part of Mexico’s independence movement. The restaurant attached to the church serves homestyle Mexican dishes.
Bajio Road Trip to Dolores Hidalgo
For travelers looking for small town charm and a lazy afternoon in the park, Dolores Hidalgo is a great respite. The main plaza is a popular place to get one of their infamous local ice creams and watch street performers while you gaze at the steps of the church where Mexico’s Independence war was officially incited by Father Miguel Hidalgo in 1810. Dolores is also known for its decorative pottery and certain streets are lined with shops that make it easy to walk and browse.
Lodging in Dolores Hidalgo
- Mid-range: There are lots of average hotels in Dolores Hidalgo if you are enchanted enough to stay the night. Since most are similar in style (historic) and amenities (basic) location is everything. Try Hotel El Refugio, Hotel Anbar or the slightly more upscale Casa Pozo del Rayo, all right in the heart of the city and walking distance to most attractions.
- Tres Raices: If staying in town doesn’t appeal you, mid-way between San Miguel and Dolores is the newly built Tres Raices winery. They have a small handful of high-end suites set in the middle of the vineyard with gorgeous morning views and wine-based spa treatments.
Things to do in Dolores Hidalgo
- Shop for pottery: Known for their lovely (and cheap) painted pottery, Dolores Hidalgo has become a magnetic for anyone redoing their house in a rustic Mexican style. Even if you aren’t looking for a complete makeover, a set of dishes is always a nice (heavy) keepsake for taking home.
- Museum Hopping: A couple of small museums all sit a few blocks from one another — the Bicentennial Museum, the Independence Museum and the Jose Alfredo Jimenez Museum – for a look at the local history.
- Outside of town: Visit the award-winning Cuna de Tierra winery (20 minutes to the west of Dolores), or the Tres Raices winery or hot springs just outside of San Miguel de Allende, on the road between the two places.
Bajio Road Trip to Guanajuato
Underappreciated by international tourists, Guanajuato is very popular with locals on holiday. With that in mind, it’s good to avoid summer holidays or Semana Santa. Each year the city also fills to overflowing with all the attendees of the Cervantes Music Festival, which offers world-class shows and entertainment but can make visiting during that time hectic for non-concert goers.
Guanajuato is a former silver mining town whose houses climb up the sides of mountains and whose narrow streets give it a European ambiance. The local university brings a lot of young people to the city and it buzzes with energy. Art, music and dance seem to be everywhere, from museums to street performers.
Lodging in Guanajuato
- High-end: With one of the best locations in the city, the hip, high-end 1850 Boutique Hotel is modern, artsy, and eclectic, despite its historic location and ancient bones. The rooftop bar and its accompanying views are stellar and each room is its own mini gallery with art pieces and décor that run the gamut. Rooms start around $175USD
- Mid-Range: For a cheaper option try the Hotel San Diego, also right in the heart of the city next to the Teatro Juarez. They have nice, clean rooms with touch of history and charm, a restaurant and rooftop terrace for views of the city. Rooms start at $75USD. For something a little cozier, the Alma del Sol B&B has homey touches and a communal dining room dressed up in Mexican colors and patterns. They sit above the main hustle and bustle of the center, but are still within walking distance to everything. Rooms start at $91USD.
What to do in Guanajuato
- Plaza Union: Not only is this the heart of the city, but it’s also a bustling center of activity, where you can stop for an ice-cold margarita, watch local seniors sway to danzón around the bandstand, grab an local nieve (ice cream) or get some tourist information from the stand there.
- Guanajuato Funicular: The sky tram station is right behind the Teatro Juarez and for $1.50USD will rid you of the tough climb up to the El Pipila monument and overlook. The ride up and final destination provide incredible views of the city
- Miguel Hidalgo Market: A lovely afternoon exploring the Miguel Hidalgo market will introduce you to local cuisine and offer you a bevy of souvenirs. The market, originally built to be a train station, is yet another of Guanajuato’s gorgeous pieces of architecture this time with a little international flair – the iron lattice structure that houses its clock tower was designed by Alexandre Gustave Eiffel.
Where to Eat in Guanajuato
- High-end: Try Los Campos for Mexican dishes with international appeal brought to you by the bi-national couple that runs it. Also Mestizo for both a physically and visually delicious experience, and the new Amatxi for fancy cocktails and great meat and seafood dishes.
- Mid-range: There are lots of ho-hum places to grab a bite but a few mid-range stand-outs are Casa Valadez for international cuisine, La Trattoria (the Italian restaurant at Hotel San Diego) and a personal favorite, El Gallo Pitagorico – a small hike up the hill from the town’s main square, with traditional Italian and an incredible view for a glass of wine at sunset.
- On the Cheap: A great way to get to know the local street food scene is to take a tour with guides (fully bilingual) that can give you all the advice you need for ordering and eating on your own.
If you have any questions about doing a Bajio road trip in this part of Mexico, leave a comment below and we’ll try and answer.