Modern Mexico embraces its colonial legacy
Negocios brings you six cities whose beautiful colonial architecture serves as a scenic backdrop to the bustling, cosmopolitan lifestyle of modern day Mexico.
Six cities, six stories… Mérida, Morelia, San Cristóbal de las Casas, Puebla and Zacatecas were all founded and built during the colonial period. Today, these are modern cities that have embraced their bicultural legacy.
The fortified walls that once protected Mérida from pirate attacks now invite visitors to enjoy the city's fantastic night life. Meanwhile, Morelia has consolidated itself as an art and film destination and Puebla has become famous for its restaurants that break with tradition. The chilly air of San Cristóbal is quickly dissipated at any of the city's boutique hotels and the labyrinthine streets of Guanajuato host international festivals year in, year out. Finally, we come to Zacatecas, whose history can be summed up in a piece of fine silver jewelry.
an ancient city with a contemporary attitude
The city of Mérida, in the Yucatán Peninsula of Southeast Mexico, combines colonial, renaissance-style architecture with a modern lifestyle and a taste of the ancient Maya civilization.
Museums, boutiques, art galleries and restaurants are housed in stately limestone buildings, surrounded by walls that have protected the city since it was founded in 1542.
The architectural gems of the so-called "White City" include Casa de Montejo, Palacio Cantón (now home to the Regional Anthropology Museum) and the cathedral.
Every year between February and March, the streets of Mérida come to life with an eight day carnival featuring events like the Battle of the Flowers, where the merrymakers literally throw flowers at each other.
For a traditional dish, we recommend the cochinita pibil (spiced, marinated pork) at Hacienda Taya, an old 17th Century hacienda that has been converted into an exclusive hotel.
And if it's night life you're after, Cielo Lounge Bar, Amarantus and Mambo Café are some of the city's trendiest spots. Nearby are the Tzabnah Caves, where you can see amazing natural rock formations and 13 cenotes. There are also plenty of places to practice extreme sports and enjoy the enormous diversity of flora and fauna in this region of Mexico.
pink quarry stone and celluloid
Pink quarry stone buildings, cobblestone streets and architecture with an unmistakable French influence. That is Morelia, the capital of Michoacán, a state in West Mexico originally inhabited by the Purépecha.
Founded in the 15th Century, this cultural city offers visitors an enviable choice of museums, restaurants, galleries and arts and crafts stores.
Morelia's Historic Center has been declared a World Heritage Site and it's not hard to see why when you stand in the presence of breathtaking baroque buildings like the former Capuchin Convent, the Museum of Colonial Art and the Church of San Francisco.
The seventh art has found a fitting calling card in this city in the form of the Morelia International Film Festival, which has gone from strength to strength since 2003.
For a night on the town, try the Skina Bar or Zitio, where strutting your stuff on the dance floor is mandatory. Or if you're more sports inclined, Zirahuén Lake is great for mountain biking and for die-hard golfers, there's the Zacapú Country Club.
San Cristóbal de las Casas
The bracing mountain air of San Cristóbal de las Casas makes you want to explore its picturesque streets, stopping only for a piping hot cup of coffee.
One of the first cities built by the Spanish in America, the influence of indigenous groups can be discerned in its baroque architecture, which only serves to add to its aura of mysticism.
The churches of Santo Domingo, San Nicolás and El Carmen, La Merced Convent and the Amber Museum are all must-sees on any visitor's agenda. And after a long day sightseeing, we recommend you rest up at one of the city's boutique hotels, like Hotel Bo, Casa de los Arcángeles or Casa Morada.
Cold cuts, corn and cocoa based beverages and traditional candies with hot chocolate are the mainstays of the local gastronomy, complemented by a variety of Italian, French and Argentine classics to cater to the European tourists who flock to this colonial city in the highlands of Chiapas.
food for the soul
The legend goes that prior to the founding of Puebla in 1531, the Bishop of Tlaxcala, Julián Garcés, is said to have had a dream in which angels told him where to lay the first stone.
Located in Central Mexico, this city conceived by angels is famous for its cuisine, baroque architecture and handicrafts. The home of the Serdán brothers –important figures in the Mexican Revolution of 1910– and the churches of San Francisco and El Rosario are just a few of the historic buildings that line its cobblestone streets, confirming its status as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
But it's not just cultures that commune in Puebla. Past and present come together in its downtown area, where the ancient Church of San Francisco rubs shoulders with the Convention Center, whose colorful gardens set the scene for modern designer boutiques, restaurants and cafés.
Puebla prides itself on its cuisine, especially its mole, a thick sauce made with chili, chocolate and many other ingredients. The best place to sample it is at Fonda de Santa Clara, which has been serving it up for more than half a century.
Another source of pride is the city's Talavera pottery tradition. Easily identifiable by its characteristic blue and white motifs, collections of these unique pieces handcrafted exclusively in Puebla have been shown at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York and the Philadelphia Museum of Art.
a rebel to be reckoned with
Guanajuato takes its visitors by the hand and leads them through a labyrinth of tunnels, passageways and steep streets on an encounter with art, culture, architecture and history.
Mexico wouldn't be the nation it is today were it not for Guanajuato. Less than an hour away is Dolores Hidalgo, the town where a group of rebels planned an uprising that was to set the 1810 independence movement in motion. The Granary, the Juárez Theater and the University of Guanajuato were all built during the colonial era and lived their days of glory in a newly independent nation.
Famous for its International Cervantine Festival, Guanajuato also hosts baroque, jazz and blues music festivals.
After visiting the sights and museums and sampling the night life, the best way to wind down is in one of the city's small, exclusive hotels, like Hotel Boutique 1850, Edelmira, Quinta Las Acacias, Hotel Alonso 10, and Hotel México Plaza, all of which have extensive menus starring the best of regional cuisine.
a mine of history
One of the most beautiful streets in all of Mexico is Avenue Hidalgo in Zacatecas. As you make your way from Plaza de Armas, you'll pass the churches of Santo Domingo and San Agustín, the Pedro Coronel Museum and the Juárez Garden before finally arriving at the cathedral, chiseled out of pink quarry stone.
These well preserved baroque churches and buildings dating from the days of Porfirio Díaz era have earned Zacatecas UNESCO World Heritage Site status, but it's unlikely they would even exist were it not for the wealth generated by the region's mining tradition.
A popular tourist attraction, but definitely not one for the faint hearted, is El Edén, an old mine in Bufa Mountain that churned out silver for almost four centuries. A train takes you 340 meters down into the bowels of the earth, to the very core of the city's foundations. If you want a souvenir of your trip, nothing could be more representative of Zacatecas than a piece of fine silver jewelry. There are some 50 silversmith shops to choose from but we recommend Casa de las Artesanías de Zacatecas or Centro Platero de Zacatecas, where you can purchase unique signature pieces.