Colonial towns in Latin America deeply identify with Spanish conquistadors who conquered the region from the late 15th to the late 17th century.
Spanish conquistadors ruled and established beautiful Spanish plazas, cathedrals, cobblestone streets, wooden balconies, and courtyard houses. There are countless colonial towns in Latin America but here are five of my favorites. Each has a blend of old and new allowing visitors to trace the history and culture of the country.
1. Quito Ecuador
Quito’s old town or el Centro Historico showcases cathedrals, monasteries, plazas, courtyard houses and cobblestone streets built during the Spanish colonization. Founded by Sebastian de Benalcazar in 1534, Quito was one of the first colonial towns in South America. It was the first city to be named a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Your tour should include these places:
- Plaza de la Independencia and Government Palace
- Plaza San Francisco
- Plaza Santo Domingo
- La Compania Church
- San Francisco Church
- La Ronda – the oldest street in Quito
When in Quito stay at the historic Casa Gangotena, located across from Plaza San Francisco or La Casona de la Ronda Heritage Boutique Hotel on Calle La Ronda. Both hotels are located in El Centro Historico.
2. Antigua Guatemala
Founded by the Spanish in 1543, Antigua Guatemala was an important political, economic, cultural and religious center for the conquistadors. The city boasts of beautiful and well-preserved cobblestone streets, colonial buildings, churches, and squares.
Make sure you visit these places:
- Parque Central – surrounded by historic buildings and churches
- The Catedral – only one-third of the building is original as an earthquake destroyed the rest of the building
- Ayuntamiento – the city’s municipal’s offices
- Palacio de los Capitales Generales
- Arco de Santa Catalina – the city’s landmark
- La Merced
- Las Capuchinas
- Iglesia de San Francisco
Stay in one of the hotels in the historic center like El Convento Boutique Hotel, across from Las Capuchinas or Hotel Palacio de Dona Leonor, a restored colonial mansion that belonged to the daughter of Spanish conquistador Don Pedro de Alvarado, built between 1541 and 1543.
3. Potosi Bolivia
Potosi is the highest city in the world at 13,343 feet above sea level. It was the wealthiest and most important silver mining center during the Spanish colonial times. Founded in 1545, this UNESCO World Heritage Site has over 2,000 colonial buildings that lined the narrow streets. Some are adorned beautifully with red-tiled roofs and decorative balconies. Rising above the old town is Cerro Rico (Rich Mountain) where silver mining started way before the Spanish conquistadors came.
Check out these places when in Potosi:
- Plaza 10 de Noviembre
- Plaza 6 de Agosto
- Iglesia y Convento de San Francisco
- Casa Real de la Moneda – the Royal Mint, Bolivia’s best museum
- Convento-Museo Santa Teresa
- Iglesia de Santo Domingo
- Arco de Cobija
- Calle Chuquisaca
Stay at Hotel Colonial, a restored colonial mansion.
4. Cartagena Colombia
Founded in 1533, Cartagena has a dazzling blend of old and new. The Old Town area is a beautifully preserved UNESCO World Heritage Site. Inside this walled old town are colorful colonial buildings with wooden balconies, plazas (squares), cobblestone streets, churches, and convents.
A few highlights of your tour in Cartagena:
- Convento de la Popa on Mount Popa
- Castillo San Felipe de Barajas
- Iglesia de San Pedro Claver
- Palace of the Inquisition
- Old Town squares and cobblestone streets
When in Cartagena stay at Movich Cartagena de Indias or Hotel Boutique Casa del Arzobispado.
5. Old San Juan Puerto Rico
Christoper Columbus arrived in Puerto Rico in 1493, and Juan Ponce de Leon followed in 1508. San Juan quickly became the military outpost for the Spanish conquistadors in 1521. Old San Juan has brightly painted colonial buildings with balconies adorned in flowers, and two Spanish built forts – Castillo San Felipe del Morro and Castillo San Cristobal.
When in Old San Juan visit the following places:
- Castillo San Felipe del Morro and Castillo San Cristobal
- La Fortaleza, the oldest governor’s mansion in the Western Hemisphere
- Catedral de San Juan Bautista
- Plaza de Armas
- Calle del Cristo
Stay at the historic Hotel El Convento, located next to Catedral de San Juan Bautista. Hotel El Convento was an old convent built in the mid-1600s and was converted into a hotel by the Woolworth family in 1959.