Mexico’s Colonial Getaways Beckon with Old World Charm
For many people, thoughts of Mexico may conjure up comforting visions of lounging on soft, sandy beaches, a tangy margarita firmly in hand. For others, visions of snuggling with their significant other in a hammock made for two, ensconced on the private verandah of a posh hotel, overlooking the sea may come to mind.
While luxe seaside accommodations are just a few of the reasons Mexico constantly makes the Top 10 list worldwide for romantic getaways, wedding venues and honeymoons destinations, or even business meetings, our neighbor South of the Border is more than just a pretty beach.
There is a gentler, soulful side to this country which deserves to be explored. Tucked into historic colonial towns peppered with Old World ambiance, one finds memorable moments in enchanting restaurants, luxurious hotels, stunning art galleries, impressive cathedrals and more, while being treated to mystical experiences sure to provide those proverbial “memories to last a lifetime.”
Call it magia mexicana or Mexican magic. It’s an experience like no other. Here are just a few towns which promise many memorable moments along the way featuring ALHI Member properties.
Nestled in a rich valley surrounded by the majestic Sierra Madre Mountains, the city of Oaxaca boasts a superb climate year-round. Once the sacred center of the Mixtec and Zapotec civilizations, this venerable city culled the best of those ancient Mexican tribal traditions before blending them with customs from the Spanish.
The ultimate product results in a rich panoply of history, a premier tourist destination and a delicate cuisine, marketed these days as “earthy aromatic,” a cornerstone of which is the highly acclaimed “mole,” a traditional sauce and marinade.
For a peek into the area’s fascinating past, the ancient archaeological sites of Monte Alban and Mitla beckon, while the city’s village streets, lined with Baroque colonial architecture, offer a different view of the past, showcasing the city’s prestigious United Nations’ World Heritage Site designation.
While Oaxaca contains plenty of ancient treasures, it combines a unique synergy, which draws visitors back time and time again.
The Historic Center, comprised of the jacaranda-tree shaded, fountain-splashed Zócalo, home of the Government Palace, the 16th century Catedral de Oaxaca (Cathedral) and the city market is a good place to start your journey into the past.
The entire valley of Oaxaca is replete with imposing churches, convents and monasteries, testament to the fervent dedication of the Spaniards to convert the population to Christianity. With some 30 churches in the city itself, there is always some sort of celebration of a saint’s feast day going on and calendas, or processions, playing a major part in the festivities.
With its large Indigenous population, Oaxaca offers rich shopping opportunities, whether one meanders through the interesting stores in town or delve deeply into the scruffy villages on the outskirts where these colorful goods are crafted.
Throughout the small downtown area, one finds appealing cafes, world-class restaurants and cozy cantinas (bars), providing a good excuse to sample the tasty local cuisine and beverages.
The elegant Grand Fiesta Americana Oaxaca with its privileged location in this central area promises the perfect romantic stay along with a comfortable steppingstone from which to explore everything this charming colonial city has to offer.
Founded in 1531 by Franciscan monks, the sprawling colonial city of Queretaro, located 136 miles north of Mexico City, echoes with the past, offering a quiet peek into some of Mexico's most beautiful cultural and historical treasures. Colonial-era homes and mansions, quaint plazas and colorful pedestrian walkways make the city a spectacular place to explore. Day trips to nearby missions, mineral spas and archaeological sites provide for endless discovery of this seemingly untouched colonial state.
Visitors will be pleasantly surprised by the vast array of activities and attractions found here. During the day, plan a stroll through the lush Jardín Zenea, the city's main plaza, stopping to visit the Church of San Francisco with its fine 17th-19th century paintings. For a romantic evening, have dinner at Josecho with its delectable international cuisine and bullring/hunting lodge ambiance, and attend a concert by the renowned state symphony orchestra at the modern Josefa Ortiz de Dominguez Auditorium.
The beautifully restored, 16th century hacienda, Fiesta Americana Hacienda Galindo Resort & Spa, is the perfect pied-à-terre from which to explore the area. According to legend, Spanish Conquistador Hernán Cortés awarded his consort/interpreter known as La Malinche this hacienda for her loyalty during his lengthy foray into Mexico.
San Miguel de Allende
This colonial gem situated about 160 miles north of Mexico City remains a relatively untouched throwback to the Old World. With the absence of traffic lights, parking meters, billboards, and neon signs, a visit here is like stepping back in time.
Seemingly free from the pressures of modern living, SMA, as it is known, has been declared a National Monument and no building is allowed if it doesn't conform to colonial style. This enchanting town with its mild weather and slow pace is sure to capture one’s heart. From the first stroll down its cobbled streets, you will discover why people from all over the world come, return, and, in many cases, decide to stay permanently.
Vineyards, haciendas, a colorful local market, colonial architecture, churches, thermal baths and archaeological sites are a big draw. Excellent golf and tennis, superb equestrian facilities, hiking and mountain biking offer additional options.
Extraordinary architecture, stunning sculptures and venerable works of art combine with award-winning architecture and Spanish Colonial décor to make Live Aqua Urban Resort San Miguel de Allende the ideal “home away from home.” Graceful arches, majestic loggias and central courtyard-view rooms lend an elegant aura throughout.
The Shrine of Atotonilco, a 20-minute drive away, houses some of the finest native frescoes in Mexico. Dolores Hidalgo, 45 minutes away, is a center for ceramic dishes and tiles, hand painted and fired into top quality items.
An hour away, the city of Guanajuato has unique underground streets, mansions of aristocrats who were the world's main silver suppliers in the 18th century, and a museum of mummies, which were mysteriously preserved by the soil and dry climate.
San Miguel also boasts a thriving cultural and entertainment scene, much of it performed in English. A city with six patron saints and dozens of churches, the town hosts a full calendar of religious festivals throughout the year. On Sept. 29, the town's biggest bash is San Miguel Arcángel, a celebration honoring the town's chief patron saint. The event includes a running of bulls through city streets, traditional dancers, and much merriment.
For shopping, the city features some of Mexico's best craft shops and fine art boutiques. The variety of merchandise is exceptional, as is the workmanship. Its dining scene is also top notch. Nouvelle Mexican cuisine, plus a diverse assortment of international dining options have given San Miguel a reputation for having the best "small town" dining in Mexico.
The cultural capital of the Yucatán Peninsula, Merida blends “something old, something new” and offers day-trip access to some of the country’s stunning Maya archaeological sites.
Known as the “White City,” because of the predominance of white limestone buildings and the tradition of early residents to dress totally in white, today it is a modern, cosmopolitan city with fascinating museums offering a view into days gone by. Art galleries, appealing boutiques, charming cafes, and elegant restaurants line its attractive streets.
Founded in 1542 by Francisco de Montejo, Merida was constructed on the site of the ancient Maya city of T’ho, meaning “City of Five Hills.” The center of Maya culture until the conquering Spaniards destroyed the city’s five main pyramids, it rose again from the rubble of destruction and to be named for a city in the conquerors’ native in Spain.
The area around the Zócalo, is where to find the impressive Cathedral, grand monuments and historic buildings lining cobblestone streets dotted with charming cafes, sophisticated eateries and delightful shops.
This majestic Fiesta Americana Mérida, strategically located at the intersection of two of the city’s main avenues, offers beautifully framed architecture evoking the past, while offering topnotch luxury throughout and modern-day creature comforts.
There’s a saying in Mexico, which definitely rings true, especially in the quaint, colonial towns:
“Como Mexico no hay dos.” There is no place like Mexico.