Mexico deserves recognition for its preservation and enhancement of its significant colonial past. I recently completed a trip sponsored by Gate I Travel that explored nine cities with ancient sites preserving their colonial atmosphere and history.
Our first visit was to Mexico City, a world-famous megacity with about 25 million inhabitants. It has a rich heritage and culture reflecting its Spanish and Aztec past. It is extremely crowded, and I was surprised to learn that many of its workers have to travel three hours each way to reach their jobs.
We toured the Zocalo, its central plaza, which is the second largest in the World. It is dominated by its magnificent Metropolitan Cathedral, the largest in the Americas. It is also bordered by its elegant National Palace, which unfortunately was closed because our visit was on a Sunday. Many other colonial buildings line the plaza, and there are some excavations taking place from the Aztec period.
Then we traveled to an area in the city with canals and “floating gardens” and a boating voyage with lunch to enjoy this colorful waterway and landscape. The boat trip was accompanied by a local music band. These canals have been named a UNESCO World Heritage site because they have been operated for centuries. We ended our first day touring a large blue house once owned by a famous Mexican artist named Frida Kahlo.
The next day began with the highlight of my trip, the mysterious pyramid site of Teotihuacán, also known as the “City if the Gods.“ It dates from 100 BC, and the origin of its builders is unknown, but it was later used as a city and spiritual site by the Aztecs. Its features are the huge grand Pyramids of the Moon and the Sun. Its so-called long Avenue of the Dead is flanked by elaborate palaces and temples. It has been compared to Rome and was once one of the largest cities in the World. It stretches over a huge landscape full of ancient monuments.
The charming and historic city of Queretaro was our next destination, a city famous for its Spanish colonial architecture. It has a large central plaza dominated by a huge Cathedral and winding cobblestone streets. It also contains the remains of an aqueduct built in the early 1700s with some of the highest arches in the World. The city is also a UNESCO world heritage site.
Our destination for the next two days was the enchanting and unique colonial city of San Miguel de Allende, which is comprised of multicolored pastel homes and buildings which are not allowed to change the color of their buildings. The city comprises a complicated pattern of very narrow and winding streets. It is also a popular residence of Americans, who occupy over 25% of the homes here. It is one of the best-preserved colonial towns I have ever seen.
On our way to our next destination of Morelia, we stopped at the attractive and well-preserved colonial city of Guanajuato, composed of 16th and 17th–century pastel stone buildings. It is another UNESCO city rightly described as a paradise exceptional charm. The city is traversed by numerous tunnels that add to this charm.
The next day we left Morelia to visit some very near historic and interesting places. First, we stopped at a town named Tzintzuntzan to tour the enormous former Monastery of San Francisco that was founded in 1526, then we toured an adjacent craft market with items made by local artisans. Next, we visited Pátzcuaro, a quaint city with terracotta red tile roofs and the usual narrow cobblestone streets. It has a huge Plaza Grande with many colonial buildings.
We concluded our trip in Guadalajara, Mexico’s second most populous city with about 5 million inhabitants. It is most known as the creator of Tequila and the Mariachis. It has some 16th–century architecture and a large Cathedral, but is essentially a huge commercial and industrial city. It is big and industrial, and I did not find it too impressive. Next we visited Tlaquepaque, a bustling city known for its arts and crafts.
The names of these Mexican colonial towns and cities are generally very hard to spell, and even harder to pronounce, but deserve their recognition for their achievement of historical preservation of their colonial past. I have been to nearly every country in Central and South America, and have visited many colonial cities, but none equal Mexico for its variety and number and preservation of their colonial heritage. They have earned their recognition as places worthy to explore.