I recently blogged about my four-day trip to San Miguel de Allende, a small colonial city a few hours north of Mexico City. San Miguel, which for decades has attracted older Americans and Canadians – many of them retirees – instantly shot towards the top of my list of favorite places in all of Mexico.
Many foreigners own vacation homes in San Miguel, so the city is not cheap, in comparison with other highland cities and towns in Mexico. As such, many backpackers visit it as a day trip from either Querétaro or Guanajuato, larger cities that are just an hour away by bus. I recommend staying longer, not just because San Miguel casts an enchanting spell, but also because the city itself makes a great base for day trips to various points of interest.
I spent several hours day tripping from San Miguel to Dolores Hidalgo, a Pueblo Mágico (magic town) and the one-time residence of Miguel Hidalgo y Costilla, a not-so-humble priest who lived here when he kick-started the Mexican Revolution (one of several revolutions in Mexico’s turbulent history, but, alas, the ultimate one) against Spanish rule. I suspect that most visitors hit up the Museo Casa de Hidalgo, the house-turned-history museum about Hidalgo’s life and times, and then leave. But while a far cry from being the most exciting Mexican town, Dolores Hidalgo is a pleasant place and deserves a bit more exploration than just the museum.
The Dolores Hidalgo bus station, destinations of which include San Miguel, Guanajuato, and León (one hour each, second class only, departures every 30 minutes but subject to delays), is two blocks from the museum and two more from the town’s attractive main square, Plaza Principal. As with so many other towns throughout Mexico, the square is surrounded by a church, governmental buildings, and arcades that back onto shops and restaurants. A statue of Hidalgo stands in the center of the park, and a kiosk boasts some way-cool dragon light fixtures. Jacaranda trees were abloom during the time of my visit, shoeshine vendors were practicing their trade, and families were out and about.
I was hungry by the time I arrived, and my guidebook recommended Restaurante Plaza, a fixed-menu fonda on the south side of the square. Prices were higher than quoted in the book, but this may have been because of the drop in value of the Mexican peso. Still, for less than $100 MXP ($5.35 USD at press time, per xe.com) I was served pollo con mole, arroz, frijoles, and agua de melón.
The aforementioned parish church, La Parroquia de Nuestra Señora de Dolores, with its pink Churrigueresque façade, is just one of the points of interest on the north side of the Plaza Principal. I had read that Hidalgo was baptized here, so I peeked inside the Gothic interior. The impressive altar includes an idol of the Virgin of Sorrows (“Dolores” in Spanish). Twin cork boards near the main doors were adorned with prayer requests and written testimonies of supposed miracle healings.
I waited for the large courtyard in front of the church to clear out, and posed for the picture above. My attention was then drawn to a callejón (alleyway) to the left of the church. Students were sitting on benches surrounding saplings at the alley’s entrance, and an enormous mural dominated one of the walls. The mural, entitled “War of Independence” and painted by local resident José Ignacio Aguilar Rangel, features Mexico’s trifecta of independence heroes, Hidalgo, José María Morelos, and Vicente Guerrero. The mural lacks the modernism that defines works by superior artists such as Diego Rivera and David Alfaro Siqueiros, but it succeeds in conveying the patriotism of its subjects, each poised in battle or ready to declare victory.
I made a quick visit to the former city hall, now an art gallery, Presidencia Municipal, and explored some of the town’s side streets, camera ready to capture anything “interesting” (a term I use broadly, hence the quotation marks). A marching band was rehearsing, and I followed the sound to its source, a middle school. I passed a mailbox, pictured below, that seemed more at home in, say, Venice or Madrid than in this modest town of 55,000 people.
As the Hidalgo Museum (closed Mondays) was so close to the bus station, I saved that site for last. I declined the guided tour and explored the house at my leisure. The revolutionary’s desk, bed, and common area furnishings are said to be authentic, while the kitchen, recreated to suggest that its cook recently returned from market, was the most colorful room in the house. A salon of flags and memorials honoring Hidalgo and his troops occupied one whole wing of the residence, and I read the placards to learn more about the man himself.
Don Miguel Gregorio Antonio Ignacio Hidalgo-Costilla y Gallaga Mandarte Villaseñor (say that three times fast!) – Miguel Hidalgo colloquially – was born in 1753 to Spanish parents, a criollo who was often taken aback by the fact that his family had more rights and privileges than most indigenous, Indian-blooded Mexicans. Hidalgo grew up to become a man of the cloth, but neither his priesthood nor his social status as a criollo stopped him from gambling or from fathering several children to several different women.
His bedroom activities eventually attracted the wrong kind of attention, so he passed off much of his seminary work to one of his vicars, and instead focused on helping the poor and fighting injustice. Hidalgo eventually conspired in secret, with San Miguel’s Ignacio Allende and others, to lead a revolt against the Spanish crown in general and its corrupt regional leadership in particular. It was in Dolores Hidalgo, then simply called “Dolores,” that he issued his famous Grito de Dolores – Cry of Dolores – that was heard throughout Central Mexico. The Revolution, while not successful in its entirety (Hidalgo, Allende, and others were eventually captured and executed), nevertheless spelled the beginning of the end for Spanish rule over Mexico.
Post-revolution, Hidalgo’s surname was added to the town’s official registry, and Dolores became Dolores Hidalgo Cuna de la Independencia Nacional – “Dolores Hidalgo” for short. By any name, a visit here makes for a good history lesson, and surely merits a few hours of your time. In other words: the perfect day trip.