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Colonial Cities in Mexico

10 UNESCO World Heritage Cities

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Mexico has much more to offer than just beaches. Several Mexican cities have been recognized by the UNESCO as forming part of the heritage of humanity, and are deemed to be of outstanding universal value. These cities contain gorgeous colonial architecture, bustling marketplaces and a host of cultural offerings year-round. Get to know Mexico beyond the beaches by exploring these cities.

See the full list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Mexico

Campeche

Campeche
© Suzanne Barbezat
This port city was founded in 1540, but constant attacks by pirates required a defensive wall, which was built in the 17th century. This fortified city's colonial buildings are painted shades of pastel, the walls to the city and the various gates and bastions are grey stone. Read more about Campeche, find out where to stay in Campeche, where to eat in Campeche, or explore the nearby archaeological site, Edzna.

Guanajuato

Guanajuato
© Suzanne Barbezat
A silver mining town during the colonial period, Guanajuato's winding streets, some which are underground, and its small plazas give it a more intimate feel than some of the other cities on this list. This is a student town with a vibrant culture and an important cultural festival, the Festival Cervantino is held here every October. This town was the birthplace of Mexican artist Diego Rivera, and you can visit his home, now a museum. Other sights in Guanajuato that you shouldn't miss include the Mummy Museum and the view from the monument to El Pipila (as pictured).

Mexico City

Mexico City
© Suzanne Barbezat
Mexico's capital city is one of the largest cities in the world and is one of the oldest continuously-occupied cities in the Americas. Initially founded by the Aztecs in the 1300s, when the Spaniards arrived in the 1500s, they built on the razed ruins of the Aztec capital, Tenochtitlan. Mexico City offers a huge array of options for visitors for sightseeing, shopping, accommodation and entertainment. Learn about the top Mexico City sights, take a walking tour of Mexico City, or find out what you can do for free in Mexico City.

Morelia

Morelia
© Suzanne Barbezat
Morelia is an elegant city and many of its colonial buildings are made of pink quarrystone. The capital of the state of Morelos, Morelia was originally called Valladolid, but its name was changed in honor of independence hero Jose Maria Morelos de Pavon. Many people consider Morelia the candy capital of Mexico. The Museo del Dulce (candy museum) is a stop you shouldn't miss in Morelia. Visits to nearby Patzcuaro or the monarch butterfly reserves are also recommended on a trip to Morelia.

Oaxaca

Oaxaca
© Suzanne Barbezat
Oaxaca city and the nearby archaeological site Monte Alban have both been recognized by UNESCO. Oaxaca, the capital city of the state of the same name, was founded in 1642 and offers a good example of Spanish colonial town planning. The solidity and volume of the city's buildings are an adaptation to the earthquake-prone region. Monte Alban is an ancient hilltop city that was the capital of the Zapotec people. Read more about Oaxaca and learn what foods and drinks you should try in Oaxaca.

Puebla

Puebla
© Suzanne Barbezat
Puebla is one of Mexico's larger cities, but its historical center can easily be explored on foot. It is just a couple of hours drive from Mexico City and is located on a plateau near the volcanoes Popocatépetl and Iztaccíhuatl. Puebla has preserved many of its great colonial period religious structures such as the 16th-century cathedral, and fine buildings like the old archbishop's palace, as well as many houses with walls covered in tiles (azulejos). The aesthetic concepts resulting from the fusion of European and American styles were adopted locally and are peculiar to Puebla's historical center. Read more about Puebla, or take a walking tour of Puebla.

Queretaro

Queretaro
Jeremy Woodhouse/Getty Images
Located about two hours drive north of Mexico City, Santiago de Querétaro is a colonial city with a tranquil atmosphere and prosperous economy, mostly based on manufacturing. Founded in 1531, Queretaro has lovely architecture and retains its original street patterns, including the grid street plan influenced by the Spaniards and twisting alleys which are more characteristic of the residential areas of the country's original inhabitants. Queretaro contains many notable civil and religious Baroque monuments from the 17th and 18th centuries. Near Queretaro you can visit the Magical Town of Bernal with its incredible monolith, and the nearby vineyards and antique haciendas of picturesque Tequisquiapan.

San Miguel de Allende

San Miguel de Allende
© Suzanne Barbezat
Once a mining town and important stop on the Camino Real, San Miguel de Allende is now a picturesque and artsy town which has become a magnet for ex-pats. The city's beautiful architecture attests to the cultural exchange which occurred between Spaniards, Creoles and Amerindians. Its location and function as a mining town made San Miguel de Allende an exceptional example of the interchange of human values. The Sanctuary of Jesús Nazareno de Atotonilco shows the cultural exchange between European and Latin American cultures. Read more about San Miguel de Allende, or take a walking tour of San Miguel.

Tlacotalpan

Tlacotalpan Veracruz
Creative Commons photo by Plumerio Pipichas
A port town on the edge of the Papaloapan river in the state of Veracruz, Tlacotalpan was founded in the mid-16th century. Fires were the bane of the town in the 18th century until town authorities decreed that homes should have tile roofs and large patios to separate the buildings so that fires would not spread so easily, thus giving the town its singular look. The buildings of this town follow the Caribbean tradition rather than the more common Spanish colonial style. The many trees, both in Tlacotalpan's public spaces and in its private gardens and courtyards, lend a special appeal to the townscape. Dia de la Candelaria (Candlemas) is celebrated with great fanfare in Tlacotalpan.

Zacatecas

Chris Garrett/Getty Images
Founded in 1546, following the discovery of mineral deposits, Zacatecas was one of the most important mining towns of New Spain. The historic town center is home to magnificent churches, abandoned convents and breathtaking Baroque architecture. Zacatecas' cathedral is particularly noteworthy as one of the most beautiful examples of churrigueresque architecture in Mexico.
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