What’s it like living in San Miguel de Allende? (Mexico)

What’s it like living in San Miguel de Allende? (Mexico)



I love the way Randy tells it as he sees it. In this interview he covers all the reasons he and his wife left the USA for San Miguel de Allende. He talks about his love of Mexico and Mexicans, discusses safety, and gives advice to other Expats thinking of moving to SMA.

An interesting interview.


Hi Randy! Can you please tell us about yourself? How did you end up leaving the US for Mexico?

I’m 67 and originally from a small town in Nebraska. My wife Mary is from El Paso with one foot in Mexico (her mom is from Chihuahua. So she’s bilingual). We’ve spent most our working lives in San Francisco where we lived 29 years.

When I graduated from High School, I opted out of college, instead seeking adventure. When it was time to settle down and go to work, I got serious and worked my butt off for 29 years, foregoing most social life and vacations. I vowed that I would retire and move to a foreign country. Mary wasn’t nearly as keen on the idea so I delayed facing that challenge until the time approached.


In 2016 I sold my telephone company business and wound down my motorcycle race promotion business. It was time to start looking for a new life. I suggested Ecuador, Spain, Panama, and Baja California. They were all “no-go’s” with Mary. Sitting on the couch one night, a bit frustrated, I posed the question, “Well, where then do you want to live?”. Mary said she was perfectly fine in San Francisco, but if I was set on going somewhere else, how about San Miguel? She had been there when she was ten and had fond memories. I had read loads of stories about San Miguel and the Expat community there.


So, I boldly stated, “OK, let’s move there. When?”

In October 2018, we planned a six-week trip to San Miguel to house hunt. Each week we moved to a new neighborhood, and we canvassed the whole town. Just when we were ready to quit looking, we found our perfect home. It had a beautiful view of the Santa Rosa mountains, was a textbook example of outdoor living, and we had a large Mexican family across the street from us to keep it real.


In our short six-week visit, I met more potential new friends than I had in 29 years of living in San Francisco. The Expats were welcoming and helpful, nearly to a fault. And of course, the Mexican friendliness was on full display. It didn’t take long to conclude that this was where we wanted to be.


On the day we moved here in March 2019, when we finished unpacking the suitcases, I sat down at our outdoor dining room table (sala) and gazed out at the sun setting over the Sierra Madre Mountains. It hit me, and tears streamed down my cheeks. It was a one-in-a-lifetime emotion. After 29 years of working my ass off, my dream turned into reality. We were living in a special place in Mexico, my wish to live in a foreign country was achieved.


Photo Credit: Ian Gough Photography



You live in San Miguel de Allende. Why San Miguel? What do you love about it?


Our love affair with Mexico and San Miguel in particular, has many facets. Mexican history extends back to 7000 BC, with Mesoamerica being one of the original human cultures. Daily living here is still filled with traditions rooted in ancient history. Mexicans are very proud of their indigenous roots. Compare that to the shallow and tainted history of the U.S.


San Miguel has been a destination for Expats since the 1950s. They are a special breed, and the town is filled with artists, writers, poets, actors, inventors, ex-government functionaries, philosophers, some social security budgeteers, and more than a few wanna-be’s.


I have never met more friendly or kind people than Mexicans. They are not judgmental. They are giving and caring. It’s just in their DNA. What a joy it is to live surrounded by people like this. It makes you feel good about the human race. And they’ve got their priorities right. Family, then friends, and lastly, work.

Americans live in a world of scarcity where everyone is competing and trying to outdo each other. Mexicans live in a world of abundance, sharing whatever they have, no matter how poor they might be. Time together is very important here.


San Miguel is a jewel of a town, with abundant beauty. And weather that begs for outdoor living. It is a rare meal that we eat indoors. In the rainy season, we enjoy glorious thunderstorms which quickly depart, leaving fresh air and beautiful sunsets. Set at 6,300 feet; the sunshine is intense, the skies painterly blue and the evening air is brisk.


Fortunately, where our house is located, the neighbors are Mexican and the remaining surrounding area undeveloped hillside and an arroyo. Three related families, 15 people, half a dozen dogs and maybe more cats, a couple of chickens, two ducks – at least that’s the count as of today. They all joyously live in a compound that is and will always be in a perpetual state of construction. They play their music loud at random times, the kids play soccer on the street, they share an outhouse and their lives play out in front of us. They keep a close eye on our house when we are gone and alert us to anything unusual, and likewise, we take care of them. We share food (and candy for the kids), and they gladly welcome hand-me-downs and household items of any type. They are the best neighbors anybody could ask for.


Photo Credit: Ian Gough Photography



What, for you, are the Cons of living in SMA?


Any cons are actually minor irritants: due to the popularity of San Miguel, on weekends, it is a madhouse in Centro and on the main streets. It’s a tourist invasion of the highest order, especially on holidays of which there are many in Mexico. It’s our city during the week and the tourist’s place on weekends. We make it work.


We live among artists, writers, dreamers, and adventurers. However, some Expats live the country club lifestyle and cloister themselves behind gates and guards. They have little interest in living in the real Mexico but rather wish to be in artificial surroundings and a culture that is more U.S. than Mexican.  We stay very clear of them and their U.S. ways and thinking.


We have a wonderful neighborhood, being a mix of Mexicans and Expats. However, some of the Expats don’t understand that they are guests in this country, and they try to exert their American values. There is a strong sense of entitlement and that everything should bend their way.  These same people demand that the government “fix” things and when they don’t get results, they are very unkind in their judgments. Mexicans don’t trust the government, and if something needs to be done, they just do it.


The vast majority of Expats here were liberal urban professionals in the U.S.  Those who had jobs that took them around the globe are wiser to the world outside of the U.S. and know how to adapt. But those who have lived their whole lives in American cities can have a tough time recreating their world when they arrive in San Miguel. Instead of casting off their old ways and welcoming a new lifestyle, they have a tendency to turn inward and live an insular life. 



Photo Credit: Ian Gough Photography




What would you say to fellow Americans who are thinking about maybe moving to Mexico but who are undecided because of fear about security and the unknown?


The comments and concerns are endless from Americans who believe that Mexico is a dangerous and a curious land that only consists of beaches. Overall, Mexico is a safe place to live. The vast majority of violent crime exists between warring cartels. And they kill each other with U.S. guns and assault weapons. There isn’t such a thing as mass shootings here. There is crime in Mexico, but most is petty theft or domestic issues. If something isn’t firmly attached here, it disappears. As a friend explained to me, if someone gets up in the morning to go to work and their car battery is dead, they go find the nearest one around. They figure they need it worse than you do since your car is just sitting there, unused.  And if you take their battery, they just shrug their shoulders and move on with their lives. 



Photo Credit: Ian Gough Photography


You’re a busy guy: you’re partners in a restaurant, you have a moto rental business, you’re even the director of the local hiking group. Have you always been an entrepreneurial person or has San Miguel inspired you in that way?


When we were looking for a home, I wanted to take a break and explore the greater San Miguel area. Being an avid motorcyclist, I wanted to rent a bike. Surprisingly there was no moto rental agency here. This was a concern as when my fellow motorcyclist friends would come and visit – they would have no motorcycle to rent. Hmm.  I had to think fast and started a moto and scooter rental business. I have met some great people from around the world through this venture and it’s very successful in its small way.


I met a local guy here who wanted to open a new restaurant. That was his career but Covid killed it. We started talking about his dream of creating an Oaxacan Restaurant and Mezcal Tasting Room. (Note: Oaxaca is a state in Mexico known for its food and is the home of Mezcal). I was looking to move the rental business out of the house. So, we put the two together. It’s been great fun learning the restaurant business.  My wife and I manage the wine program, which is so much fun.  However, I have realized that my entrepreneurial ways must be reined in for me to maximize the enjoyment of my retirement!



Photo Credit: Ian Gough Photography


Between the hiking group and your passion for motorcycles, you seem to have a love for the nature and geography of the region. So you have favorite hike or excursions from San Miguel? What do you recommend for people coming to SMA who wants to explore something outside of town?


Mexico is a vast and varied country, with ecosystems including forests, tropical, semi-tropical, arid and mountainous. And of course, those beaches. Mexico ranks number five in the world for bio-diversity. From San Miguel one can experience all of these environments within a day’s drive or less. With such varied nature in our backyard, I have become an avid hiker and have evolved into a hike leader. Many of our local hikes include walking through some of these various ecosystems. I also take photos and post stories about our hikes with the idea of someday putting them all together and creating a book about the countryside (campo) that surrounds San Miguel. NOTE: Many of my hike photos are on our San Miguel hiking website. Unfortunately, my stories are scattered over Facebook.,



Photo Credit: Ian Gough Photography



I recently wrote a post comparing Mexico and Spain as places to retire. So I found it interesting when you mentioned that you spend part of the year in Cádiz, Spain. Why do you divide your time between Mexico and Spain?

Prior to moving to Mexico, we had purchased an apartment in Cadiz, Spain, in 2016.  It was a way to introduce my wife to foreign home ownership. And we loved Cadiz as a vacation destination. Since purchasing a home here, going between the two countries has been a study of contrasts and comparisons. Cadiz is a stunningly beautiful historic town in a beautiful part of Spain where Morocco is within sight. As nice as it is, it isn’t San Miguel. The people aren’t nearly as friendly, and we prefer the Mexican way of life. So, we are selling our place in Spain. With ownership comes the ties that bind…. Adventures are on the road, not at home. And maybe a cabin somewhere in the Mexican mountains.


Photo Credit: Ian Gough Photography



Do you have any tips or advice for anyone looking to settle in San Miguel de Allende?


For someone considering moving here, San Miguel is a bit of a Disneyland, including a Disneyesque Church. Depending upon how you plan on living your life here, it can be like living in an American colony with all of the accouterments of American living. Or you can live a very Mexican life here. Many people here mix those lifestyles together, and it works for them, melding the best of two worlds.


If you grew up in rural United States in the 50’s or 60’s, Mexico today would have a lot of similarities.  A simple life, not many rules, being independent and a strong sense of community.


There is lots of traffic and much new development that comes with being such an outstanding place. But it retains its charm. The endless parades, indigenous dancing, fiestas, and processions are a true delight. Mexicans equate noise with happiness, but in their daily lives they are quiet people. Americans are loud but hate noise. Go into a restaurant here and if it’s loud, it’s full of Americans.  So, if you are not into noise, celebrations, and fireworks, Mexico isn’t for you. 



Thank you for doing this interview Randy!


Randy is a co-owner of one of San Miguel’s best Restaurants (Venencia Restaurant), has a moto and scooter rental business (San Miguel moto), and is also a hike leader and director of the San Miguel de Allende Hiking Group


All photos above are by Ian Gough. Ian’s a professional photographer, so if you need someone to take professional photos of you during your visit to San Miguel (or wedding & special event photos) you can contact him through his website or Instagram page.

Credits to bbqboy.net