Colonial cities can be found all over Mexico specifically in the center region of the country and extending all the way down to the southern coast peninsula of Yucatan. Colonial cities are full of charm, cobble stone streets, history, art and magnificent architecture. Spain's influence of European architecture, religion, culture and social customs are evident everywhere. You'll discover that every city is unique in character, history, cuisine and cultural influence. Traditional annual festivals are in abundance that have been celebrated for centuries. I'm a big fan of colonial cities and have traveled through Mexico exploring these gems. Here are my top recommended picks listed in alphabetical order.
Tip: try to stay within walking distance to the "Centro Historico" in all these cities.
Campeche is the capital city of the sate of Campeche located on the shore bay of Campeche in the Gulf of Mexico. The Baroque colonial city of Campeche is historically known for its fortress walls built by the Spaniards during the 17th century. These city walls were built to protect the city due to constant attacks for nearly 160 years from pirates, buccaneers and many other intruders. Behind these fortress walls you will find one of Mexico's most preserved coastal colonial cities littered with pastel-colored homes, narrow cobblestone streets and great dinning options with plenty of fish. Campeche is one of the few colonial cities on the beach which is why it's such a find. It's a charming relaxing colonial city close to Edzná Mayan ruins you can visit, great fishing opportunities or take the suggested walk through the city and see all the "Baluartes" (fortresses) and all the amazing historical architecture.
Must see & do: Catedral de San Francisco, Edzná Mayan Ruins, Museo de la Architecura Maya, Catedral de Nuestra Señora de la Purisma Concepcion.
Guanajuato is the capital city of the state of Guanajuato and is a magnificent old silver mining city with narrow streets and tunnels running up and down all over the hilly city. You do not need a car here you can walk everywhere if you stay in the centro historico. In every turn you will discover a square, museum, gallery, historical landmark or outdoor dinning opportunities just waiting for you. Make sure you hike up the hill to see the beautiful 30 'monument built for "Pipila". His real name was Juan Josè de los Reyes Martinez and he was a local war hero during the Mexican War of Independence in Sept. 28, 1810. In October, Guanajuato hosts the world-famous "Festival de Cervantino", it's three weeks of dedicated to the arts and filled with live music, theater, art and street performances. I highly recommend you go during the Festival de Cervantino, it's absolutely spectacular.
Must see & do: Diego Rivera Museum (formerly his home). The Alhóndiga de Granaditas ". Take a 25 minute bus to see" Las Momias "(real mummies so you better have the stomach for it). The panoramic view from here is simply breathtaking.
Mérida is the capital city of Yucatan and it's filled with Mayan culture. From Mayan ruins, traditional Mayan dishes, Indigenous fashion and Yucatecan dances. Mérida is an architectural and cultural gem filled with colonial Spanish influenced cathedrals. There are great museums, art galleries, theaters, plazas, parks and restaurants. The city hosts free cultural events on a regular basis so there's always free entertainment throughout the city. Pick up a copy of the free monthly magazine "Yucatán Today" for all the current latest information of the city's events. Available at the tourist information office on the main square.
Must see and do: Be sure to try their delicious "salbutes", they are to die for. Take day trips to see the ruins at Chichen Itza & Uxmal.
Morelia is the capital city of Michoacán. Here you will discover majestic baroque style buildings, breathtaking cathedrals filled with gilded interiors and wide main streets. There's lots of museums and art that can be easily explored by foot. They also have lots of free local cultural events throughout the year. Marvelous markets and shops offer an array of locally made products.
Must see & do: Catedral De Morelia, Santuario De Guadalupe and Acueducto de Morelia. Nearby day trips: Take a short drive (or a bus or taxi) to Patzcuaro and catch a ferry to the island of Janitzio. Filled with indigenous people selling unique food and local gift items. Day trip to "Santurario De Mariposas El Rosario" (only an hour away) to see the millions of beautify Monarch Butterflies that migrate to Mexico from the United States and Canada annually between November and March.
Oaxaca City is the capital of Oaxaca and it is a favorite colonial city of many travelers. There's the magnificent Santo Domingo Church, great art galleries and museums, a lovely large Zocalo surrounded with cafés offering delicious dinning options that will please any pallet. The Zocalo is an ideal place for people-watching. Oaxaca is also known for its indigenous culture. Chapulines are a common snack favorite here with the locals. They are crickets fried and toasted seasoned with chili and salt.
Must see & do: The ruins of Monte Albán. The annual Guelaguetza Festival in July (ceremonial music and dancers from various regions of Oaxaca state).
Puebla is the capital city of Puebla. The city of Puebla was built by the Spaniards as a secure trade route between Veracruz and Mexico City. Puebla has an active arts and literary scene. It is known for its amazing "Talavera" used in their architecture and pottery. Puebla also has over 100 churches and is also the birthplace of "mole poblano", chiles en nogada "and the" China Poblana. "The main catedral is said to be the country's tallest. on May 5th, 1862 the French troops where defeated in Puebla. "Cinco de Mayo" is a national holiday celebrating that victory.
Must see & do: The Catedral, the Zocalo, the Artist District, The Museo de Amparo.
Nearby day trip: Cholula offers more ruins, good bars, lots of churches and a magnificent view of the active volcano Popocatepetl from the top of "Nuestra Señora de los Remedios" church.
7) San Cristobal de Las Casas
San Cristobal de Las Casas is in the state of Chiapas located in a beautiful remote highland jungle setting at an altitude of 6890 ft. It's high altitude wild and rugged jungle setting is filled with indigenous life and culture making it one of the most unique and preferred colonial city destinations in Mexico. It's a very earthy place with clean air where the native locales still live their lives with their traditional customs and rituals. Thanks to its unique location in the high jungle there's lots of green valley and canyons with lushes waterfalls, wildlife and beautiful plants and flowers just waiting to be explored. It's a colonial city surrounded by nature's natural habitat. It's natural beauty and bohemian flair is appreciated by many Europeans who come to visit annually.
Must see & do: Plaza 31 de Marzo, San Cristobal's Catedral, Templo del Carmen, Instituto de Bellas Artes, Templo y Ex-Convento de Santo Domingo, Templo de San Cristobal (make sure you climb the steps to the top of the tower) . Tienda de los Artesanos de Chiapas where you can buy locally made products at bargain prices. And you absolutely must drink the local coffee; it's one of the world's best premier locally grown.
8) San Miguel de Allende
San Miguel de Allende (aka SMA) is in the state of Guanajuato. San Miguel de Allende is another historical architectural gem. It is the birthplace of Ignacio Allende who played a key role in the Mexican War of Independence which is why his surname was added to the city's name. Filled with cobblestone streets, classic 18th-century mansions, beautiful Baroque churches, highly rated Art Institutes, a huge Mercado were you bound to find just about anything you are looking for cheap, and lots of great rooftop dinning restaurants. This city is so attractive that it's actually filled with retired expats from the states and Europe so you will not have any problem finding English speaking people here. SMA is also a very popular city where people come to learn Spanish. For the latest info on the city's cultural events pick up a copy of Atención San Miguel, also available online http://www.atencionsanmiguel.org .
Must see & do: El Jardín (the main square) is the center of activity in San Miguel. Parroquia de San Miguel Arcángel, Museo Casa Ignacio Allende, Benito Juarez Park, Jardin Botanico, Instituto Allende has offers best night view of Parroquia de San Miguel Arcángel and live salsa music after dinner. Belles Artes, Templo de San Francisco, Mercado, visit one of the nearby "bañeras" (thermal pools) and relax for a day. Take a day trip to Dolores Hidalgo.
9) Santiago de Querétaro
Or simply Queretaro as it is known is the capital city of the state of Queretaro and was another mining city and also a former mission headquarters. Querétaro is where the movement for Mexican independence began and the city is filled with beautiful plazas in every corner of the city. Friendly locales, monuments, churches and hole in the wall restaurants and cheap locally made merchandise make it a popular tourist destination. No need for a car or taxi here everything in the centro historico can easily be reached by foot.
Must see & do: Plaza de la Independencia, offers live music every Sunday for everyone to dance to. El Aqueducto (locals simply refer to it at "Los Arcos"). Templo de San Francisco, Jardin Zenea, La Casa de La Marquesa, Jardin Guerrero. Take an hour drive to Peña de Bernal (3rd largest monolith in the world you can hike).
Zacatecas is the capital city of Zacatecas state located in an altitude of 8200 'making it one of the highest in Mexico. Zacatecas was once the largest silver mining producing city in the world and produced one-third of all Mexico's silver during the peak of their mining era. The funds produced from silver mining helped fund the city's architectural beauty and the city does it's best to preserve it. Zacatecas is most famously known for its historical "Cerro de La Bufa" The Catedral de Zacatecas is a magnificent Baroque style work of architecture. Take the la mina "El Eden" silver mine tour by day (via miniature train) and by night the mine becomes a bar, pretty exciting. Zacatecas is a very charming colonial city with hills, winding cobblestone streets, wide plazas, several art museums, old mines you can tour, great lounges, incredibly cheap buys and extremely friendly local people.
Must see & do: take a ride on the "Teleférico" (cable car) runs from Cerro del Grillo to Cerro de La Bufa. Cerro de La Bufa, here you find a lovely capilla, a monument of Pancho Villa and an incredible view of the city. La Mina "El Eden" Catedral de Zacatecas.