When most foreigners think of Mexico, the modern coastal resorts of Cabo San Lucas, Puerto Vallarta and Cancún come instantly to mind. But for the inquisitive traveler seeking a genuinely authentic and fascinating cultural experience, nothing quite compares with the romantic colonial heartland. Located at around 6,400 feet in the country’s central highlands, Mexico’s colonial cities are strikingly well-preserved. As well as dramatic baroque architecture, they offer visitors a taste of a relaxed and sociable way of life. San Miguel de Allende is rather like a Mexican Santa Fe, with resident artists and numerous vibrant galleries. However, Guanajuato, Guadalajara, Zacatecas and Morelia are all well worth a visit.
It is possible to explore the area around Lake Pátzcuaro as a day trip from Morelia, but I highly recommend spending two or three nights at the Hacienda Ucazanaztacua, making excursions to the lake’s islands, the colonial city of Pátzcuaro, the copper center of Santa Clara del Cobre and the ancient pyramids at Tzintzuntzan and Ihuatzio.
We had a grand time simply ambling around Guanajuato and visiting museums such as the Casa Diego Rivera, the birthplace of the famous 20th-century artist; the wonderful Museo Iconográfico del Quijote, dedicated to art inspired by Cervantes’ great novel; and the macabre Museo de las Momias, the final resting place of dozens of Guanajuato citizens mummified in the warm, dry climate.
Guadalajara makes an excellent place to begin an exploration of colonial Mexico. Much of the city is modern, but the historic center has leafy plazas, intriguing museums and ornate churches. I especially liked the Museo de Arte Sacro de Guadalajara for its luminous José de Ibarra paintings and roof terrace overlooking the Plaza de Armas.
A Potential Hideaway in Puebla
Renowned for its culinary specialties, the colonial city of Puebla also has a rich architectural heritage, with azulejo-clad public buildings, fabulously ornate churches and one of the oldest libraries in the hemisphere. But it has lacked a true luxury hideaway hotel until 2017, when Rosewood opened its new 78-room property near the central square. I very much enjoyed my stay there two years later. It has recently changed management companies, however, and now calls itself the Azul Talavera Hotel. I look forward to another anonymous stay at the hotel to assess whether service standards are being maintained.