Colonial tourism is growing among culture-hungry Americans keen on experiencing deeper immersions in the local culture when going abroad.
In case you are not yet familiar with this subcategory, it involves visiting colonial-era settlements and cities that have retained their traditional character and architecture amid the wider development boom of the 20th century.
Once settled by the Spanish – as well as a number of other European migrants – Mexico is one of the top destinations for colonial tourism, boasting a far greater number of perfectly preserved historic cities than the United States and Canada and an ever-expanding list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites.
Luckily for those who are craving more than just lying on a beach and sipping on mojitos all day, for seven consecutive days, they can beat the Cancun crowds and fly instead to these four incredible colonial cities in Mexico this winter:
Merida is one of the major colonial cities of Mexico, located in the state of Yucatan, not too far away from the Mayan Riviera, yet it does not suffer from the same overdevelopment nor staggeringly high consumer prices.
Unlike the Caribbean resort zone, Merida’s main appeal is its colonial heritage: having been founded by the Spanish upon their ‘conquest’ of Mexican lands and even named after a city in Spain, it is the byproduct of both post-Columbian and ancient Mayan elements.
The landmark Cathedral of Merida, for instance, which dominates the city’s skyline, was built in the 1500s with rocks from much older Mayan temples that were desecrated. It is the oldest cathedral still standing in all of the mainland Americas.
Merida’s cultural wealth truly knows no bounds, as it houses the third largest ‘Old Town’, or Historic Zone, in all of the continent, packed with Spanish-inspired architecture, clearly seen on buildings such as Paseo de Montejo and the Government Palace, and ornately-decorated Christian shrines.
Other than its colonial treasures, Merida is distinguished for being one of the safest cities in Mexico, with lower-than-average crime rates, and enjoying a Level 1 status awarded by the State Department, meaning it is as safe a destination as can be.
Americans can fly to Merida nonstop from a host of Stateside departure points, including all of the following:
- Atlanta (starting March 2024)
- Dallas/Fort Worth
Located in the center of Mexico, Guanajuato has been voted time and again the prettiest city in the country, and it only takes a quick glance over its pink and green sandstone cityscape and tall church spires to see why.
It is a textbook example of Spanish colonialism that indeed wreaked havoc upon native Mexican lands, which were already inhabited beforehand, but at the same time, has left a vast collection of manmade wonders even the most staunch anti-colonial historians will have a hard time undermining.
Old Town Guanajuato is a majestic ensemble of Baroque art, from the neatly carved church facades to the pompousness of the imperial palaces and colonial mansions.
It is so precious UNESCO listed it as a World Heritage Site as early as 1988, among the first batch of colonial cities to be recognized for their inestimable value.
Other than admiring the stately civic buildings and stepping back in time as they stroll down narrow cobbled streets that look frozen in time since first being laid out in the 16th century, tourists should look forward to the yearly Cervantes festival and independence celebrations.
In case you were not aware, Guanajuato is where the first battle of the Mexican War of Independence took place, when the newly-proclaimed country sought to detach itself from the Spanish Empire, meaning it is an incredibly emotional and historically significant place for modern-day Mexicans.
The Bajio International Airport serves not only the city of Guanajuato but the wider Greater Leon Metropolitan Area, which also includes the accompanying colonial town of San Miguel de Allende.
Nonstop flights are available from these U.S. hubs:
- Dallas/Fort Worth
- San Antonio (Texas)
- Los Angeles
- San Jose (CA)
Puebla is the next historical city on the list and the fourth largest conurbation in Mexico, located a short 2-hour drive away from central Mexico City.
It’s best known as a commercial center, but a little-known fact among foreigners is that it boasts a large Historical Zone dotted with centuries-old landmarks.
Much like Merida, it was founded in an area that held huge significance to native Mexicans as a sign of Spanish power; more specifically, the Cuetlaxcoapan plains, which translate as ‘the area where serpents change their skin’, in reference to the flowers that grow in the region.
Puebla is much larger than Merida, however, and its vast Old Town district is a fascinating mix of Renaissance and Mexican Baroque, an architectural style originating in the country but one that carries strong European influences.
The Cathedral of Puebla is a great starting point for exploring the traditional district, with other major noteworthy structures being the Chapel of the Rosario, the Municipal Palace, and Fort Loreto. In 1987, the center was named a World Heritage Site by UNESCO, earlier even than Guanajuato.
When flying from the United States, Americans can board nonstop flights only at Houston-Intercontinental, where Puebla-bound flights are operated by United Express.
The only coastal city on this list, Mazatlan is an up-and-coming resort zone best known for its affordable hotel listings, unmatched food scene, and a long stretch of sandy beach hugged by the azure waters of the Pacific.
Though it is not often promoted as a cultural destination, as it is only just starting to gain traction on the hospitality front, Mazatlan is home to a picturesque, incredibly romantic Centro Historico, one that is filled with renovated French-style buildings, boutiques, and lively cafes.
It is very walkable, too, with many of the points of interest being between 15 to 30 minutes walking of each other. Some of the unmissable gems are Plaza Machado, the Basilica de la Inmaculada Concepcion, and the Angela Peralta Theater.
Puerto Vallarta may get all the credit for combining both Old World charm and a youthful, coastal atmosphere, but Mazatlan can certainly give good ‘ole Vallarta a run for its money with its bar-lined Malecon, charming historic streets, and stunning beach.
From the States, you can get to Mazatlan directly by flying from these airports:
- Los Angeles
- San Francisco (only seasonal)
- Dallas/Fort Worth
- Phoenix-Sky Harbor
- Los Angeles
Sun Country Airlines
- Minneapolis/St. Paul (only seasonal)
- Houston-Intercontinental (only seasonal)
As you might have noticed, Houston is the best-connected city when it comes to historic destinations in Mexico or Mexican destinations overall, serving as a domestic transit hub for Americans from all over the States who may not enjoy links to these inspiring cities.
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This article originally appeared on TravelOffPath.com