A few of our favorite, less conventional nearby outings. One can only do so much napping, right?
Hot Springs (Balnearios) — Only 30 minutes away, a lovely way to spend a day, even in winter. Cool, warm or hot pools, gardens, picnic areas, food & drink, etc. Try Escondido Place, an idyllic setting, complete with a lake, lily pads and lotus blossoms (you can bring your own picnic). La Grutta, a more manicured, but very green compound, offers a full restaurant. (You cannot bring your own food). Both have a nifty hot-hot pool. Arrange for a taxi to take you and pick you up later, or hop a bus to Dolores Hidalgo and tell the driver where you want to get off and try to flag one down on the way back. Do yourself a yummy favor and stop at La Burger on the way…perhaps the best hamburger in Mexico. Great salad, too. (South side of the highway, about 20 mins out of San Miguel, on the way to Dolores Hidalgo)
Pozos — About a 45-minute drive from town, Pozos is really worth the trip. A surreal ex-silver mining town speckled with wonderful ruins. Lovely landscape. Watch out for gaping, unfenced, bottomless mine shafts. Be sure to get out to the Santa Brigida mine and to drive out above the town to see another, larger group of ruins from the road the owner . That way lies a more adventurous route back to San Miguel.
The Tuesday Market, or La Placita— a very Mexican adventure. a non-touristic, raucous and wonderful weekly festival. There’s produce, fresh fish, antiques, traditional medicines, bootleg CD’s, mountains of
used clothing, and even lunch for the brave. Be prepared for noise and crowds. It’s so Mexico. Take a cab, or walk up the huge hill. It’s across from the new mall, more or less. Check out our Tuesday Market photo essay.
Mexico’s second-largest tree — Thirty or so minutes away, just on the San Miguel side of the dam, through the time-warp ex-train tunnel, in the charming little community of La Huerta, this titan of a tree merits a visit, or even a picnic. The root structure, which straddles a spring, is a wonder.
The Botanical Gardens (el Jardín Botanico) a really wonderful place to walk, hike, rock climb, meditate, nap, etc. Lovingly maintained and offering tons of info on local flora. Don’t miss the conservatory—gorgeous. Parque Landeta, a wilder, greener version of the gardens is just east…that’s where the wildflowers throw their yearly party, usually in October, for my birthday.
Horseback Riding at Rancho Xotolar (shotolahr) — The people and the horses at the Rancho are very, very nice. It’s a charming working ranch in a stunning canyon setting. You can get a deal that includes lunch on the ranch, with the ranchero family. If you’re feeling adventurous, tell the cowboys you want to go down into the canyon. Wahoo! www.xotolarranch.com
Atotonilco — Around the corner from La Grutta Hot Springs, a great side trip for a hot springs run. Rustic little eons-ago village. World Heritage Site church, with cool ruins to the left. (Home to some rather hard-core believers — self-flagellation, crowns of thorns, etc.) You can buy your very own scourge or crown at their Sunday market. (I know, you’ve been looking for those everywhere. Mea culpa.) Every year during Easter Week, folks from Atotonilco make a pilgrimage to San Miguel on foot, with a huge wooden cross.
Casa de Aves — A pricey boutique hotel with a not-so-pricey outdoor restaurant overlooking, of all things, a duck pond. Lovely drive through the country, nice gardens, pretty pastoral scene. They have kayaks, a zip line (over the pond), a trampoline, and a tree house for the kids. Great for a leisurely al fresco lunch. For a peek into rustic luxury, tour the hotel.
Cañada de la Virgen — Our very own pyramid. You can see it from afar on the way to Rancho Xotolar, if you know how to look. It plays hide and seek.
DIY cool day trips — A “tour” needn’t be a herd thing (although, you can wear matching shirts if you like). Design your own itinerary. Choose the places you want to visit, hire a driver/guide, and you’re off—with people you know (and maybe even like).
Some ideas: How about the Virigin Guadalupe’s Basilica and lunch in Mexico city? Or, Guanajuato’s funicular, Mummy Museum, Diego Rivera’s house and Italian food? Or, one of our faves—shoe shopping in Leon, Mexico’s leather capital. Acres of shoes. Heaven. Or, for the true thrill-seeker, for the pioneers among us, a truly exotic outing: a day of rampant consumerism in Queretaro: Costco, McDonald’s, and Sears. (Oh, and you could check out one of their gazillion colonial churches, too, I guess.) The options are limitless.
These drivers are knowledgeable, bilingual and come highly recommended.