Brookings Record | Columnist Carrie Clason: A vacation in a touristy city isn’t all bad


My husband, Peter, and I live in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico, which, according to a lot of people, is a tourist town. Sometimes, the person saying this means it’s not a place they want to spend time. This baffles me. I’m not sure why a town known for meatpacking or manufacturing would be a better place to spend some time than a town known for tourism. But I respect a person’s right to spend time wherever they want, and Peter and I are happy in San Miguel, in large part because it’s a tourist town.

Many of the tourists are from the United States. A surprising number from Canada.

“Does anyone stay there in the winter?” I asked a Canadian visitor I met at a writers’ conference last week. More Canadians were in attendance than people from the United States and Mexico combined. I found this amazing, considering Canada has a similar number of people as Mexico City.

“Did you leave someone there to turn off the lights?” I asked.

But more common than Canadian or American are of course the Mexican tourists who come to town to enjoy the year-round festivities in San Miguel. There is always a party of some sort going on. There’s street music, religious ceremonies, zombie parades, local costumed dancers, fireworks, giant puppets – amazing surprises that appear every day, and surprises that seem magical.

There is no mistaking Mexican tourists for their northern counterparts.

American tourists tend to appear as though they are prepared for disaster. They constantly point to their maps. They wear sunscreen under their oversized hats, have quilted pants with zip pockets, secret money belts and hiding places for their passports. They wear hiking boots and carry water in case they have to take a wrong turn at the ice cream shop and inadvertently end up in the desert.

Mexican tourists are always better dressed, often in high heels, and never too loose.

They wear sequins and carry puppies, and even when I don’t know what they’re saying, I can hear them use a lot of exclamation points to say it. Mexicans don’t take pictures of the sights, they take pictures of each other, smile broadly, and usually hold their little dogs. They roll out on Friday nights and start partying right away, hiring mariachi bands to play the songs they love and lining up at restaurants for their favorite meals.

American tourists, in general, seem less cheerful. They are also older. I noticed, on a rare occasion, a store advertisement in English, on the sign which read “Spare parts for crutches, wheelchairs and walking sticks”. They clearly know their market.

Mexican tourists are unlikely to need any of the above, high heels notwithstanding, and will be more inclined to purchase festive costumes for their little dogs.

By Monday morning, most of the Mexican tourists are gone, leaving only traces of scraps on the cobblestones, which the street cleaners work hard to remove until they are, once again, pristine and ready for the next party.

I’m trying to learn from Mexican tourists. I try to remember to smile at strangers and worry less about falling on the cobblestones (even if I keep wearing practical shoes). I’m trying to put a little more sparkle into my life and some sequins.

Being prepared for emergencies is, of course, a good thing. But getting ready for the party is just as important.

until next time,