So you’re an architecture lover, but modern architecture with all those steel and glass buildings don’t appeal to you? No worries. The colonial cities of Mexico could be an excellent alternative. There are several of them throughout the country.

Or let’s simply say you love that nostalgia feeling that emanates from old places. Each house, each plaza, each building is waiting to tell its own story and you’re eager to listen.

Whatever your motive is, I highly recommend visiting these places. In this article I will talk a little about some popular destinations within this realm, in no particular order. If it sounds like something that might interest you, please keep on reading.

For Starters, What Are Colonial Cities?

A short history lesson here. Mexico was a Spanish colony for approximately 300 years. It was named the Viceroyalty of New Spain. The Spanish Crown desired to expand its territory and in order to do this, it was necessary to build whole cities in the new world. That’s why they built several buildings, churches and plazas that reflected the Spanish style of those times. Not to mention the lovely houses with balconies, flowerpots on their windows, white walls, terracotta flooring and roof tiles they were used to when living in Spain.

A typical colonial city in Mexico with white houses, red tile roofs and the church in the middle.

Colonial cities make us reminisce about those old times. Each government building, each plaza, each monument standing wherever you look is a vivid past memory. Walking down those streets reminds us of who we are and why we’re the way we are.

Simply put, colonial cities date back from Colony times. The government has tried to preserve the essence of these places and that’s why it has enacted several laws to protect them from drastic changes.

That Sounds Boring!

Not at all! Each colonial city has something unique to it. They all share some similarities, but none of them are identical. Sure, you can find old buildings, churches, plazas and old houses in all of them, but you can do lots of different things either when traveling solo or with somebody else.

If you’re into history, you will be mesmerized by all you can find. I love visiting museums and churches to learn about their history. The historic artifacts and all the art I see are beyond me. The good thing is you can find this everywhere!

But it’s not all about history and art. There are places where you can ride hot air balloons, visit a vineyard, participate in parades, take a stroll in the woods, do some bird watching, take a legend/ghost tour, ride a cable car, explore an ancient mine, go zip lining or simply ride a trolley. Oh, and need I say you will be able to capture awesome pictures anywhere you go?

Whether there are only adults in your group or there are some kids, you will always find something to do. Have I caught your attention yet?

Okay, Give Me Some Ideas

Excellent! These are some colonial cites I recommend checking out:

  • Guanajuato City
  • San Miguel de Allende
  • Zacatecas City
  • Queretaro City
  • Oaxaca City
  • Puebla City
  • Merida

The list above is in no particular order. Below I’ll briefly describe each one.

Guanajuato City

View of Guanajuato City with the yellow cathedral outstanding in the middle.

I think most Mexicans have visited this city at least once in their lives. It’s actually one of my favorite spots. One of the main characteristics of Guanajuato are its alleys. They’re everywhere! You can spend hours wandering through them, admiring the old houses all along and taking lots of cool pictures. There is also an observation deck on top of a hill where you get a superb view of the city at night.

You can’t miss out on callejoneadas! You will wander through the alleys, singing and dancing to the old Spanish style. It’s a must if you visit. I also recommend planning a visit during the Cervantino Festival in October. The city hosts this art festival each year.

San Miguel de Allende

View of San Miguel de Allende with its neo-Gothic church in the background.

The icon of this city is undoubtedly its neo-Gothic style church in the city center, very different from other churches. This city was a pueblo mágico but was later upgraded to a UNESCO World Heritage Site due to its importance in the history of Mexico.

San Miguel is such a colorful, vibrant place with lots of boutique hotels and top-notch restaurants. If you visit Guanajuato City, you should definitely try to make a stop here for a day at least. It’s a 1.5-hour drive.

Zacatecas City

Illuminated buildings in Zacatecas City.

Another one of my favorites. Many parts of the city are on hilltops. That’s why you’ll find many streets with steep inclines.

Zacatecas City possesses a peculiar architecture which gives it a “European air”. I’m not making this up. Many foreigners who visit say it resembles a typical European city.

Some important landmarks include an ancient mine and the Cerro de la Bufa. On the latter you get a magnificent view of the city.

Oh, and Zacatecas City has callejoneadas just like Guanajuato City!

Queretaro City

Close-up of the pink stone aqueduct in Queretaro City.

I would say its landmark is its pink stone aqueduct. Just like other colonial cities, Queretaro City has lots of old churches and museums you can visit. Walk down its streets, soak in the architecture or just sit down at a plaza. You can’t miss visiting the Cerro de la Campana, an important landmark in Mexico’s history. And don’t forget to get your typical Mexican candies. I recommend the pedo de monja.

There are a couple of pueblos mágicos really close to Queretaro City. If you have time, make some room in your itinerary to visit Bernal and Tequisquiapan, some of Mexico’s most visited pueblos mágicos.

Oaxaca City

Two indigenous women wearing traditional clothes and carrying two baskets outside the Oaxaca Cathedral.

Its cuisine is considered as one of the best by both Mexicans and foreigners. I think it had to do a lot with Mexican food being declared a Cultural Heritage of Humanity by UNESCO. Their tlayudas, caldo de piedra, quesadillas and mole are exquisite.

You can’t miss visiting the Church of Santo Domingo de Guzman, one of the most beautiful in all Mexico.

Visit the city markets and buy some beautiful handcrafts or enjoy the regional dishes and drinks.

One of the busiest seasons is the Guelaguetza in the second half of July each year. You can see artistic performances from all parts of Oaxaca. It’s quite a spectacle!

Puebla City

Yellow building with the words Puebla at the front.

Soak in the art and culture of this fascinating city. Enjoy some of the most delicious dishes in all Mexico. Walk along the Callejon de los Sapos or Callejon del Artista and buy some cool souvenirs. You can’t miss visiting the Biblioteca Palafoxiana, the oldest in Latin America. And don’t forget the world-class museums. Puebla City has it all!

Merida

Monument with Mayan motifs and the Mexican flag on top.

Considered as one of the safest cities in Mexico, Merida is a paradise for any traveler. Not only does it have an impressive architecture and history, but it also boasts of a delicious cuisine, beautiful handcrafts and much more!

Very close to Merida, you can swim in a cenote or visit the pyramids of Chichen Itza. Or you can go to Celestun to do some bird watching and enjoy its virgin beaches. No wonder Merida is one of the most visited destinations in Mexico.

Conclusion

Well, this is but a glimpse of what you can find during your visit. I could add several more destinations to the list, but I just wanted to give you an overview. I will be writing about each particular destination in later posts.

I hope to have shed some light on the subject. If you have never visited Mexico, what are you waiting for? If you have already visited, why not repeat or try a new destination?

As always, I’d love to read your comments below. Feel free to ask any questions you have and I will get back to you as soon as possible. And don’t forget to share with your loved ones if you found this useful. See you soon!

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26 Replies to “Colonial Cities of Mexico – Looking Back to the Past”

  1. You know me too well! I love this article, the way it give the history and provenance of these cities. I’ve never been to any of them, but I’m definitely adding them to the list! My only experience is super touristy Cancun and a day trip to Chichen Itza. I’m inspired! Thank you!

  2. Very interesting article about Mexico’s colonial cities, and their history. I have been to Mexico several times but have either been on the border, or on the east coast. I appreciate that you have listed, and described these cities, and provided pictures so that I can get a feel of the architecture and age of them. It is really a unique, and appealing idea to plan a trip to or around one or more of these cities. Thank you for sharing, Tom

    1. Hi, Tom,

      Glad to hear you’ve already visited Mexico. What parts have you visited on the east coast?

      There are many cities of this type in Mexico. There is a vast array of activities for all ages and preferences. Hope you visit someday.

      Thanks for commenting.

  3. Hi there,

    I love how succinct your post is, it’s like you give us a little snapshot into each place you recommend. Mexico isn’t somewhere I’d considered really wanting to go, but I definitely now am very curious about it. I love how colourful and diverse it seems too. Thanks for bringing this to my attention. I shall have to add it to my travel list.

    1. Hi, Natalie,

      I’m glad you found this useful and above all, that you might consider Mexico as a future destination. I sincerely hope you visit soon. You will fall in love with it. Let me know if I can be of any assistance.

      Thanks for commenting.

  4. I love antiquities and semi-ancient history! These cities look so beautiful; I’d just love to visit each of them. All the buildings and structures and old streets… Plus, you mentioned food. Anywhere that has delicious food is a choice destination! Thank you for sharing all this information!

    1. Hi, Cathy,

      Do do I! These places have something hard to describe. I hope you visit someday. You will fall in love with it. And yeah, you will be able to eat delicious food while there.

      Thanks for commenting.

  5. Every time I read one of your articles Enrique I want to go to Mexico. I was aware of Mexico’s colonial past but really glad you’ve highlighted the UNESCO Heritage sites. Oaxaca City is the new city on the list for sure, because you mentioned the cuisine. Haha. If you have any restaurants you could recommend here, that would be great!

    1. Hi, Bhavik,

      Glad to hear I’m getting closer each time to convincing you about visiting lol! We have several UNESCO Heritage sites including colonial cities and archaeological sites. Not to mention Mexican cuisine which is world famous as well.

      Oaxaca City is among my top destinations for sure. I will write about it soon. I will definitely be recommending some good places to eat. Another person recommended I do the same thing. Food is an essential part of any trip, so I will pay more attention to including it in my posts.

      Thanks for commenting!

  6. I have often thought about visiting Mexico. The colours, vibrancy and culture really appeal. Oaxaca City sounds great. Forgive my ignorance but what is a callejondeadas (did I get that right). When thinking about Mexico one thing that does come to mind though is safety. We often don’t hear positive things. Your views?

    1. HI, Martine,

      I’m glad to hear you’ve seriously considered visiting Mexico. There is indeed a vast array of culture, traditions and cuisine dating back from pre-Hispanic times.

      Oaxaca City is among my favorite spots. I will be writing about it soon.

      Answering your question, callejoneadas are tours where you walk along the many city alleys (callejones, hence the name) there are throughout the city. They tell you about history and legends of the city as well. One of the main features is the “tuna” or “estudiantina” which is a group clothed the way that prevailed in medieval Spain. They sing and dance just like they did in those times. It’s a very nice experience.

      Yeah, unfortunately foreigners are constantly inundated with sensationalist headlines and news about Mexico. I’m not going to say that nothing bad happens. There is some of that, it’s true. But human nature more often than not tends to concentrate on negative things rather than on the positive ones. The average Mexican city is no more dangerous than other world cities in my opinion. Most destinations are relatively safe for tourists. However, caution must be exercised just like you would in any other place you visit.

      I hope you visit soon and see it with your own eyes. Thanks for commenting.

  7. Great overview of Colonial Mexico. I love Mexico and have Merida and San Miguel on my list but wasn’t familiar with Zacatecas so I will need to look into that one as well.

    I have seen and enjoyed several Colonial cities in the Americas so I look forward to seeing the ones in Mexico as well. Thanks for writing this one. It gives me a great place to start.

    1. Hi, Randy,

      Glad to hear you’ve already visited a couple of them. There are so many, particularly in central/southern Mexico. Hope you visit other cities as well.

      Zacatecas City is really beautiful. You won’t be disappointed. I also recommend Guanajuato City and Oaxaca City. They’re among my favorites.

      Thanks for commenting.

  8. Thanks for that informative post. I never knew what colonial city meant until just now. One of these days I will try to get to some of the cities you mentioned in the post.

    Thanks for sharing

    1. Hi, John,

      You’re very welcome. That is precisely one of the main objectives of this website. I hope you visit someday. Let me know if I can be of any assistance.

      Thanks for commenting.

  9. Never been to Mexico but I would like to though. I have had relatives go there and they said they really loved it. I have looked at a few places in Mexico in Virtual Reality and they look really lovely. One of the churches I looked at was covered in stain glassed windows and it looked divine. How about a article on the history of Tequila. Great article. Thanks.

    1. Hi, Adrian,

      That’s so cool! What places did they visit?

      I’ve never seen anything in virtual reality, but I imagine it must look incredible.

      I will keep your recommendation in mind. It’s an excellent idea. Thanks for commenting.

  10. Hi Enrique,

    Great article! I’ve been wanting to go to Mexico for quite a few years now, and I might do so within the next two. This article gave me a new perspective on Mexico, as most of it that I have seen consisted of beautiful nature, rather than cities and buildings. I feel as though I’ve been missing out!

    Keep up the great work!

    1. Hi, Kevin,

      I’m glad to hear you’ve been seriously considering visiting. I hope you do soon. I can assure you won’t be disappointed.

      Your words mean so much to me. That is one of the main objectives of this website.

      We’ve got a little bit of everything: beautiful nature, beaches, large cities, small towns, you name it.

      Thanks for commenting!

  11. Spanish colonists definitely left a strong impact on Mexico. Although Mexico cities look like a Spanish cities, they still have a special touch and uniqueness. To me best example is Guanajuato, with the visible local culture as well as Spanich influence.

    I can’t wait to see Mexico next summer.

    1. Hi, Strahinja,

      Yes, Spanish heritage is strong in Mexico and Latin America in general. It can be seen in the culture, the cuisine, etc. However, each city has its own special touch just like you said.

      Glad to hear you’re visiting Mexico next year.

      Thanks for commenting.

  12. I love history! I really do! When I visit a city or town, museums, historical sites, and anything to do with history and culture are musts for me. I would spend hours in a museum, looking at all the artifacts, soaking in all the information, and of course taking all the photos and videos.

    Speaking of which, did you take all the photos in this article. They are fantastic! Well done!

    Will you be writing more about each city in detail? I would love to find out more. While a short snippet for each city is great, especially when we like to get a first glance of each. But now that you have whet our appetites, we want more! So, please, tell us more about each city?

    1. Hi, Timotheus,

      I’m just like you. I always plan a stop at a museum or historical site at least when I visit. Not all people like this, so it’s always good to find a balance when traveling with others.

      Answering your question, I did not take these photos for this particular post. However, I usually post my own photos when I write.

      And yes, I will be writing about each city in more detail. This was just a glimpse. I’m glad to hear I’ve drawn your interest. Stay tuned!

      Thanks for commenting.

  13. Hi, Enrique.
    I am currently living in Korea, but I will go back to Canada in a year or so. I love travelling, and Mexico has been a place I wanted to visit one day.
    Spanish heritage should be a big part of Mexican history. Learning its history through visiting the colonial cities you have introduced will be quite a fun. It will be also quite educational for my young daughter. I reviewed the colonial cities you have introduced. My favorite place is Merida because it is the safest city according to your description.
    Can I ask you something? I also want to visit and learn the heritage of the Aztec Empire one day. If you introduce the Aztec Empire in the future article, I love to read it. Thank you for your insightful article, and look forward to learning more about Mexico.

    1. Hi, Jason,

      Give me five, fellow traveler! Glad to know there are many people out there who love to travel.

      Yes, Spanish heritage in Mexico is evident in everything: the culture, the art, the cuisine. I think it’s always important to know about these things when you travel. It doesn’t have to be boring. It’s just a matter of finding a balance of activities.

      Thanks for your recommendation. I will definitely be writing about that. Both Aztecs and Mayans are an essential part of Mexican culture and history.

      Hope you visit soon. Thanks for commenting.

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