En español | On the terrace of a rose-colored house with a panorama of the central-Mexico city of San Miguel de Allende, I am toasting the sunset alongside five old friends and a dozen new ones.

Sundowners on rooftops are an evening tradition in this mecca for U.S. and Canadian artists, vacationers and retirees. Drawn by the culture, hospitality and safety of the small city (population approximately 175,000) about 165 miles north of Mexico's capital, many visitors wind up renting a place long-term — or even buying one of their own and settling down.

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The sunset party's hosts — Laura and John, a globe-trotting pair who can't seem to stay away from San Miguel de Allende — have lured four of us here: my pals Ronny and Jayne, plus my mate, Barry. Our own digs nearby, a villa I found on VRBO.com, boast three magnificent suites with fireplaces, as well as courtyards and patios abloom with exotic plants.

Ronny spends the first hour roaming from room to room, admiring the villa's collection of Latin art. The plumbing and hot water are balky at first, but both begin to cooperate after a quick consultation with the housekeeper, Margarita. (She works six half-days a week, including preparing breakfast — an arrangement typical of vacation rentals here.) The price tag for such luxury? Just $1,750 per week, or $437.50
per person.

Also of interest: Latin national parks

From our perch on a hilly cobblestone street, it's a 10-minute walk past multicolored houses to the city's heart, a pretty public square called El Jardín (the Garden). Stretching in front of the imposing Gothic-style La Parroquia de San Miguel Arcángel church, El Jardín is a meeting place for locals and visitors: You sip coffee on wrought-iron benches under neatly trimmed laurel trees in the morning sun, watch schoolchildren chase one another in the afternoon and listen to mariachis serenade entwined lovers in the evening. I strike up a conversation with a sweet Mexican couple; they are celebrating their 50th anniversary with a favorite song and a park-bench smooch.