Top colonial cities in Central America you should visit

25 November 2019

Stately colonial cities still adorn the old road of towns that connected the royal cities of the region since the 16th century. The history surrounding these cities is an interesting tourist attraction to the European traveller, who rarely knows the beauty and culture that can be seen in these old villas. Below, we summarize some of the most important historic cities any traveller visiting Central America should visit. History, architecture and colonialism still flows through streets and buildings of the region.

Antigua, Guatemala

Santiago de los Caballeros de Guatemala, now called Antigua, was the first capital city of the General Captaincy of Guatemala in the colonial times. Cultural world heritage by UNESCO since 1979, Antigua served as the main city from 1541 an 1776,, until an earthquake destroyed most of the city and the Captaincy decided to transfer the capital city to the New City of Asunción of Guatemala, now a days known as Guatemala City.

Mountains with great coffee plantations, huge volcanoes and a vast number of churches and convents of the 18th century surround this marvellous city, considered the prettiest city of the eternal spring country.

Its cobbled streets, ruins and colour facades, make this a unique city in the word. Its main tourist attractions are the Palace of the General Captains, the Conven and Arch of Santa Catalina, the Plaza Mayor, and the old Cathedral among other attractions to visit in this colonial city.

If you want to visit an emblematic city of the colonial times in Central America, Antigua Guatemala is the right place to go.

Leon & Granada, Nicaragua

These are two different cities, but they deserve a space in this note. The streets and the architecture of Leon have given this city the recognition of being the most beautiful villa in Nicaragua. The large number of churches in the city, evoke the colonial construction and are outlined as a cultural attraction, which stands out the majestic Royal Basilica Cathedral of the Assumption of Leon, declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO. Every year, a street in the city of Leon is covered with sawdust carpets, to represent the scenes of the passage of Jesus during the Holy Week, always located in front of the cathedral.

Leon is also recognized as the college city or intellectual city of Nicaragua, they founded their first university in 1812 and has been the birthplace of renowned intellectuals of the country such as the poet Rubén Darío, whose remains are buried in the main chamber of the imposing Cathedral of Leon.

The tourist offer of Leon is wide, as it offers, in addition to its culture and architecture, the possibility of making adventure plans and rural community tourism in Las Pilas volcano, El Hoyo, or Cerro Negro, where travellers can practice sandboarding , an experience of pure adrenaline that combines feelings of freedom and euphoria.

On the other hand, Granada is the oldest city in Nicaragua and usually receives the name of The Great Sultan for its Andalusian appearance, which resembles to the Spanish Granada. In fact, in addition to being a settlement during the conquest, it was also registered in the official records of the Crown of Aragon and the Kingdom of Castile.

The colonial and neoclassical architecture of its old center, its museums, galleries, hotels, restaurants and the cosmopolitan atmosphere, have also given it the name of the Paris of Central America, thus becoming an attractive destination for the traveller. Its proximity to the Masaya volcano also makes it a mandatory stop for the volcano route. Also, it is located near the great lake of Nicaragua or Lake Cocibolca in which tourists can take a trip among the more than 300 islets that the lake has.

Among its greatest attractions is the convent of San Francisco, with its cathedral of striking yellow, red and white colours. The Colón park, the Plaza de la Independencia and Obelisco, as well as the town captaincy and the Granada dock places that any traveller can not miss in the city of Granada.

Comayagua, Honduras

The oldest city in Honduras surprises us with its colonial architecture, both religious and civil. This Honduran beauty receives more than 200 weekly travellers attracted by the country’s colonial heritage. The former capital of the Province of Honduras during the colony (1825 – 1880), houses two large museums that bring together the country’s colonial history. The Regional Museum of Comayagua and the Museum of Religious Art are two mandatory stops for the traveller visiting this wonderful city.

A curious fact about Comayagua is that the oldest clock in America is still running and is in this Honduran city. Known as the Moorish Clock was built in the year 1100 and is today a distinctive sign of the city.

Santa Ana, El Salvador

The second most important city in El Salvador, also called The Heroic City, founded in the 5th century by the Mayans. The native name by which it is known is Sihuatehuacán, which in Nahuat language means: “place of sorceresses, pythonesses or priestesses.”

This city has been able to preserve for years its Historic Center, full of Cathedrals, Theaters and Palaces, among other emblematic buildings. In this department there are three pre-Columbian sites located in Chalchuapa, declared national monuments.

From the hill of Santa Lucia, there is a partial view of the city that attracts attention for the corn and bean crops that are appreciated in the wintertime. Also, just 18 kilometers south of the city of Santa Ana, is Lake Coatepeque at the foot of the Ilamatepec volcano.

Belice, Belice

Belize City, also known as Puerto Valiz, still retains numerous narrow streets from the colonial era. As emblematic buildings of the past, The Government House, The Cathedral and the Paslow building or post offices are still present.

Apart from being a tropical paradise and the largest city in the country, Belize also houses numerous houses characterized by its wooden facades and red roofs, a distinctive symbol of the country.

The magic of the city resides in the colonial houses of the time, many of them rebuilt to turn them into restaurants, leisure areas, institutions or any other space. The contrast between colonial architecture and the architecture of the present, makes Belize City a unique place in the world.

Conjunto Monumental Histórico de Panamá Viejo

Old Panama, is the oldest European settlement on the Pacific coast of the Americas. The English pirate Henry Morgan and his fleet sacked the city in 1671 and destroyed much of the city. To avoid a new attack, three bulwarks were built: Windward, Mano de Tigre and Puerta de Tierra, raising the great wall system that currently surrounds the old town of the Panamanian capital, cultural heritage of humanity.

Its different squares, Herrera, Bolívar, Francia and Santa Ana, together with different historical buildings such as Casa Góngora and Casa Boyacá, decorate with its baroque touches what was once the headquarters of Panama. The Bolivar Palace, the National Theater and the Santa María Metropolitan Cathedral are also emerging as renowned colonial buildings that should be part of a colonial tour when visiting Panama City.

Ciudad Colonial de Santo Domingo, República Dominicana

The Colonial zone of Santo Domingo is characterized by its many streets and cobbled alleys in the Baroque style, through which you can reach places such as parks and emblematic squares or to the Ozama river. The streets that stand out for their valued heritage are Calle del Conde, de Las Damas and Las Mercedes.

Its cobbled streets are characterized by numerous shops and old colonial buildings. As a curious fact, El Conde is the only pedestrian street in all of Santo Domingo and one of the most traditional.

Costa Rica

The colonial city of Cartago is a mandatory stop in the Costa Rican country. It is a city located near the Irazu volcano in the Central Valley of Carthage partially in ruins, which assumed the role of the country’s cultural center.

It stands out for its fertile land, which produces some of the most important crops in the region, such as potatoes and onions, and which houses a flora starring orchids.

On the other hand, it is a city full of stories reflected in the ruined buildings. The Ruins of Carthage were transformed into the main attractions of the country, museums, libraries and colonial parks are the architectural tourist attractions par excellence.

As a curious fact, the most striking month to travel to this city is in the month of August, when the pilgrimage of the Basilica of Our Lady of the Angels, the main religious pilgrimage center of Costa Rica is celebrated. Thousands of faithful celebrate in honor of the patron saint of the country, a unique moment in the life of the Carthaginians.