Two Weeks in Mexico’s Colonial Heartland

Mexico’s colonial heartland is where Mexico was born. Wander the cobblestone streets of its charming colonial towns and cities and retrace the steps of Mexico’s founding fathers in cities like Guadalajara (the birthplace of Mariachi), Guanajuato, Dolores Hidalgo, and San Miguel de Allende. In Mexico’s colonial heartland, you can visit mountain pueblos that time forgot one day, and the next be soaking up the cosmopolitan culture of a UNESCO World Heritage city.

Coatepec de Morelos, 61531 Zitácuaro, Mich., Mexico
Walk into the past as you climb the hill of this small village to La Iglesia de San Pancho, a restored 16th century Franciscan church that appeared in the classic John Huston-Humphrey Bogart film Treasure of the Sierra Madre. Stay the night at the Rancho San Cayetano on the highway at the base of town. This village is 2 km from Zitácuaro, Michoacán. Take a taxi and tell the driver you want to go to La Iglesia de San Pancho.
Carretera a Huetamo km 3+300, San Cayetano, 61512 Zitácuaro, Mich., Mexico
Located 2 km from Zitacuaro, Michoacan, Rancho San Cayetano is an oasis of calm and an excellent base for seeing the monarch butterflies at Cerro Pelón. Lisette and Pablo Span are your kind and efficient hosts who, in butterfly season (October and November), will set you up with information and trips to see the butterflies. The place is worth a visit any time of the year, however: Lisette runs the kitchen and serves superb, multi-course dinners and heavenly breakfasts. There are comfortable ranch-style cabins, a lovely swimming pool, a patio for reading or day dreaming and all of it is surrounded by a forest of pines and fruit trees.
Calle Venustiano Carranza 16, Zona Centro, 44100 Guadalajara, Jal., Mexico
Though it was built in 1968, Hotel de Mendoza reflects its 16th-century surroundings. Nestled in the heart of Guadalajara’s centro historico, the hotel features 104 simple yet elegant rooms, with hand-carved, colonial-style furnishings (some hand-painted by Jalisco artist Alejandro Rangel Hidalgo) and views of Teatro Degollado. Original arches salvaged from nearby Templo Santa María de Gracia’s former convent create architectural contrast in the courtyard pool area, a sunny space lined with terra cotta tiles and cascading greenery. Similarly atmospheric is the on-site restaurant, La Forja, where guests enjoy global cuisine in an elegant dining room decorated with cane-backed chairs and blue-and-white talavera pottery.
Calle Cabañas 8, Las Fresas, San Juan de Dios, 44360 Guadalajara, Jal., Mexico
This 19th-century complex, originally built as a hospital for the disadvantaged, is host to an impressive display of modern art, most notably a series of frescoes by famous Mexican muralist Jose Clemente Orozco. The collection includes one of his most well-known murals, El Hombre de Fuego, which earned its building the nickname “the Sistine Chapel of the Americas.” A UNESCO World Heritage Site, Hospicio Cabañas is a perfect example of Guadalajara’s ability to embrace its history and its future, combining 1790s architecture, 1930s murals, and, finally, a space for rotating exhibitions of contemporary art.

Having functioned as an orphanage, an insane asylum, and a military barracks in the past, Hospicio Cabañas also has a spooky side. There are several ghost stories about the space, including a legend about a clock that stopped whenever a child died in the orphanage.
More from AFAR
Sign up for our newsletter
Join more than a million of the world’s best travelers. Subscribe to the Daily Wander newsletter.
AFAR Journeys
Journeys: Europe
Journeys: Europe
Journeys: Europe
Journeys: Europe
Journeys: United States
Journeys: Sports + Adventure