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A Travel Photographer’s Love Affair with San Miguel de Allende, Mexico!

Updated: Nov 21, 2022

As a travel photographer and leader of small group photo adventures around the world, I’m fascinated by why we’re drawn to explore some places and not others. Often, it’s the stories told by friends and family, and that’s the case for me with charming San Miguel de Allende, a UNESCO World Heritage City tucked high in Mexico’s central highlands.

My mother enjoyed many winters in San Miguel, where she especially relished learning from master silversmith Paco in his jewelry workshop, and my aunt returned to San Miguel each summer for painting classes. Both shared their love for the city with me through stories and gifts. I think of them when I wear the silver pin Mom made for me, or when I glance at Aunt Cynthia’s paintings on my walls, and I know they’d be thrilled that I’m leading two San Miguel Photo Adventures in early 2023 in partnership with Global Family Travels.

A Love Affair with San Miguel de Allende, Mexico

I began my own love affair with San Miguel in 2010 during a trip with a friend during Dias de los Muertos (Day of the Dead). The joyful celebrations in cemeteries were poignant, and our B&B asked us to bring photos of our own departed loved ones to share on their altar.

Since then, San Miguel has experienced a tourism boom with many new hotels, restaurants, spas and adventure tours. Travel and Leisure magazine designated it the World’s Best City in 2021 with this article about its history and enduring appeal.

Last May I returned to San Miguel with my family. While enjoying a latte in the elaborately painted courtyard of the “Instituto” where my mother and aunt attended classes, I could feel their presence. With scans of Cynthia’s paintings on my phone, I searched for their locations – it was an emotional pilgrimage in her honor.

Photo Adventures that Capture the Vibrant Culture of San Miguel

Inspired by the visual splendor, I deepened local relationships and scouted locations with the intention of designing travel-based workshops that would help photographers learn the craft.

Why San Miguel? I enjoy wandering cobblestone streets surrounded by elegant Spanish colonial homes painted in the loveliest shades of terracotta, red and gold. Arches, wrought-iron gates and window grills, and enchanting plant-filled courtyards provide abundant opportunities to create compelling images. At times the architecture itself is our subject, and at others it provides a lovely background and sense of place for layered images of bustling street life.

Vibrant culture is another key consideration when I choose where to lead photo trips, and San Miguel is delightful in that respect. In San Miguel, the trumpets of mariachi bands punctuate our days and nights, and boisterous wedding parties parade through Parque Benito Juárez, accompanied by giant “mojiganga” paper mache’ puppets, providing fun opportunities for action photography.

San Miguel’s Food and Art Scene – More Opportunities for Photography!

Food is an essential part of any culture, and San Miguel’s stellar restaurants offer delectable culinary experiences with traditional and Mexican-fusion cuisine. Many are on rooftops that have stunning sunset views of the city. Before digging into our attractive meals, my group and I often enjoyfood photography to showcase this special part of our San Miguel experience.

San Miguel became a world-renowned mecca for artists thanks to painter Sterling Dickinson, who founded Escuela Universitaria de Bellas Artes in a former convent in 1938. Returning to San Miguel after World War II, he recruited hundreds of young American veterans to study art there on the GI Bill.

Now painters working in studios and on hundreds of street murals provide continual photographic inspiration, as do printmakers, sculptors, weavers, potters, basket makers and metalsmiths in workshops throughout the city. I enjoy creating portraits of fellow artists at work and pre-arrange special access for my groups

Immersive and Transformational Travel to Deepen Connections with Host Communities and Ourselves

Any meaningful travel experience is about much more than the location and itinerary, and my participation in a 3-month course with Transformative Travel Council (TTC) greatly influenced how I design all Merrill Images trips, including the San Miguel photo adventure. Global Family Travels’ Founder, Jennifer Spatz, was in this same course a few years ago, and as TTC Allies, we share a commitment to slow immersive travel experiences which center personal growth, foster deep connections, and positively impact host communities and our planet.

I’m grateful to our local partner Rebecca Eichler of Language Adventure Pros for co-designing the photo adventure with me, and enthusiastically facilitating our experiences in San Miguel.

Social Impact Photography

Participants who want to do “photography for good” in San Miguel will have the option to join me on a storytelling project for Casita Linda or other local NGOs improving the lives of area residents

In addition to our experiences in San Miguel itself, we’ll visit an indigenous village, where we’ll hear about the history of revolution and resilience along Mexico’s Silver Route, enjoy a lunch prepared by the señoras of this small community, and learn about and have the opportunity to support their micro-enterprises of embroidery, tote bags and botanical products.

Photo Adventures with Merrill Images in San Miguel, Mexico

Our base for this rejuvenating week is the exquisite Casa de la Cuesta, a B&B in a quiet Centro neighborhood close to San Miguel’s main plaza. Each day includes group activities and unstructured solo time to explore, reflect and relax. Optional activities include cooking and art classes, spa treatments, horseback riding, yoga and other fitness, and a salsa dancing lesson.

As with all Merrill Images experiences, photo instruction is personalized and informal (with any camera, including a phone), and non-photographers are welcome. I’ll offer on-the-spot guidance and encouragement, and help participants harness the transformative power of light, compose for impact, and intentionally make, versus take, photographs. Back at our B&B, the learning continues as we review and optimize images, and combine them into compelling visual stories of our San Miguel adventure to treasure and share.

I’m excited to share my love for San Miguel de Allende with small groups of kindred spirits this winter, and grateful to Global Family Travels for our partnership.

Learn more about our two Photo Adventures in San Miguel de Allende with Merrill Images and book your spot on one of these two dates offered in early 2023: January 26-February 2 and February 4-11, 2023 (almost full!)

About Lisa Merrill, Travel Photographer, Merrill Images

Lisa is a travel and social impact photographer who creates images to evoke wonder, inspire action and strengthen communities. She and her husband John founded Merrill Images in 1996, and their work is used by travel destinations, outdoor adventure companies, and non-profits, and featured in books and magazines around the world.

The Merrills nurture photographic creativity through online coaching, Pacific Northwest photowalks, workshops and photo adventures. Click here to learn more about Lisa and Merrill Images.

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1 Comment

Thank you so much for sharing your Great post about outdoor activities. As well, we organize the Manaslu Circuit Trek, along with Nepali culture and hospitality, promises breathtaking views of Mt. Manaslu and many more snow-capped mountain peaks in the background. As you trek north towards the peaks, prepare to witness ancient cultures and the almost medieval lifestyles of the people.

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