For an engaging and colorful experience rich in culture and heritage, Mexico’s colonial cities offer elegant architecture, lively music, expansive plazas, endless hospitality, and Spanish colonial beauty of every sort. In a Discovery Tours small group, you will trace the Camino Real, the route once used by early Spanish traders to transport silver and other treasures between their new cities and, ultimately, to Spain. It’s a fascinating journey, with an array of remarkable destinations:
Valladolid: The Magical City
The first capital of the Yucatan, Valladolid was named in the 1500s for the then-capital of Spain. The town was originally settled on a lagoon nearer the ocean, a location which, when combined with high humidity, resulted in mosquito infestations. Seeking permanent relief from the bugs, the settlers moved the capital to today’s location, building it atop an old Mayan town.
Today, provincial Valladolid is known by many names. This “Sultaness of the East” has been voted one of Mexico’s Pueblos Mágicos, or “magical villages.” It’s a distinction bestowed on it, along with other cities, for its unique combination of great natural beauty, cultural riches and historic importance. It’s easy to understand the illustrious honor: Row upon row of sun-soaked, pastel-hued historic buildings line the streets, leading to the vast, rose-colored Templo de San Bernardino. Handicraft markets are easy to spot. And the area’s cenotes, dramatic sinkholes that have formed thanks to a lack of streams and rivers, are celebrated and even worshipped here.
Merida: Still a City of the Maya
The largest city on the peninsula and today’s capital of the Yucatan, Merida is unique for its population: More than half its population is of Mayan descent, which infuses the local culture with traditions that pre-date the Spanish conquest. The influence of the ancients is even in its buildings, as carved Mayan stones were used to build churches and public buildings.
Grand family mansions line these streets, particularly along the Paseo de Montejo. The cathedral is a stunning specimen seemingly plucked from Spain with its Romanesque and Moorish touches. The Iglesia de la Tercera Orden is a vision in white limestone. And the Palacio de Gobierno, or Governor’s Palace boasts an arcaded front and lushly painted interior murals.
Campeche: Colonial Harbor City
When you visit Campeche, you may be among the lucky few who have it to yourself. This seaside city is overlooked by most travelers, and that’s a shame; it is one of Mexico’s most authentic and inviting colonial centers. Within its compact walled Old Town, multi-colored buildings are perfectly restored and mansions of the well-to-do from centuries past perfectly preserved. Its ambiance is so far removed from the dusty and run-down expectations we have of an historic city, Campeche seems like a manufactured version of itself. But it is very real, and very welcoming.
Puebla: The City of Angels
A remarkable blend of strident colonialism and relaxed, modern-day mores, Puebla offers a new surprise at every turn. Some 70 churches line the streets and plazas of the historic center, an astonishing number. Among them, the city’s Cathedral is so impressive and revered that it appears on Mexico’s M$500 bill. Even more astonishing, more than 1,000 colonial buildings are here, each adorned with decorative ceramic tiles for which the city is known.
We invite you to explore Mexico’s colonial jewels in the best way possible—in a Discovery Tours small group! Read more about our Mexico’s Mayan & Aztec Illumination here.