Battled over by the British, Spanish, Portuguese, Dutch and French, South and Central America and the islands of the Caribbean are dotted with remnants of the colonial era and the struggle to control the New World. The colonizers left their mark through splendid Baroque churches, sturdy fortresses and charming European-inspired plazas. Travel back in time to the era of golden conquest by visiting these enchanting towns descending from Mexico to Uruguay.
Paraty – Brazil
Paraty is a beautiful colonial town between Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo, only a few hours drive from both cities. It’s a favorite of our local Brazil expert Martin Frankenberg of Matueté Villas, who tells us a little more about this lovely destination.
“Settled in the mid-17th century, when gold was discovered in this region, Paraty became the most important port to transport it over to Portugal,” explains Martin. “Set in one of the most stunning stretches of the Brazilian coastline, it unites great private villas, good hotels and restaurants, vibrant culture and nightlife, great local shopping, tropical rainforest treks, waterfalls, and a bay filled with islands and virgin beaches, which are best explored by private boat.”
Matueté has a range of villas in the town center and also on an island only 10 minutes away by boat from town. Discover their luxury accommodation options in Paraty here.
Colonia del Sacramento – Uruguay
The small, understated country of Uruguay has one of South America’s prettiest colonial towns: Colonia del Sacramento. It was founded in 1680 by Manuel Lobo, the Portuguese governor of Rio de Janeiro, choosing the location for its strategic position across the Rio de la Plata from Buenos Aires, then controlled by the Spanish.
A UNESCO World Heritage Site, the charming historic center is crisscrossed by cobbled streets lined with charming cafés, boutiques, historic homes and an array of colonial buildings. You can easily trace the ramparts around the city, punctuated by the town gate. The brave who climb the stairs to the top of the El Faro 19th-century lighthouse are rewarded by an impressive view of the Barrio Historico and shimmering waters of the Rio de la Plata. Since the town is set on the north side of the vast river, it’s the perfect vantage point to savor spectacular sunsets.
Colonia is a great day-trip from Buenos Aires or make Uruguay your holiday destination by staying at the beautiful Villa Neptuno, available through Marina Gratsos of Carpe Diem Luxury Travel and situated further up the coast near the lovely seaside resort of Punta del Este.
San Miguel de Allende – Mexico
Considered one of the most beautiful towns in Mexico, the picturesque colonial city of San Miguel de Allende marvels visitors. Nestled in the Bajio mountains in the center of the country, the colonial city was founded by the Spanish in 1542 and classified as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2008.
“It became an important stop on the silver route between Zacatecas and Mexico City,” explains our local expert Pamela H. Murdock. “This rise in prominence is evident in the splendor of the city’s architecture. One of the reason’s the city remains so special is that it was declared a national monument in 1926 and therefore all new construction must conform to the colonial architecture.”
The old town, with its cobblestone streets and lovely historic buildings, has a magical ambiance. Many visitors start their explorations in El Jardín, the lively main plaza animated by artists, musicians and street vendors. Here you can find La Parroquia, neo-gothic and baroque cathedral with a Moorish bell tower. There’s also a fabulous artisanal market where authentic local handicrafts can be purchased.
The city is also known for its impressive historic homes, like the magical Quinta Quebrada, represented by Pamela. Hidden by tall walls, the 16th-century house is set on almost one acre of graceful grounds encompassing courtyards, terraces, follies, gardens of climbing roses and cascading bougainvillea, loggias, a pool and a hot tub.
Complete your marvelous trip to San Miguel by staying at Quinta Quebrada. Find out more about this one-of-a-kind house here.
Bridgetown – Barbados
One of the best preserved British colonial cities of the Caribbean is beautiful Bridgetown, Barbados – so much so, its Garrison and historic core have been added to the UNESCO World Heritage list. The charming old town has buildings dating from the 17th to 19th centuries, architectural representations of the power of Great Britain’s colonial empire. It was one of the first fortified ports of the Caribbean, which led it to become one of the most important British trading ports in the region.
A visit to Bridgetown wouldn’t be complete without admiring the famous Garrison. Established in 1780, it’s the largest 18th to 19th centuries garrison of the British Colonies. A walk through the old town will also take you past several other historic buildings like the Parliament buildings, St Michael’s Cathedral and the Georgian era George Washington House. History buffs will enjoy learning more about the early days of the island at the Barbados Museum and Historical Society, located in the former Military Prison.
Soak up the colonial spirit and relaxed Caribbean vibe by staying at one of Altman Villa Rentals‘ exquisite collection of properties on the island. Learn more about their opulent holiday rentals at this link.
Cockburn Town – Grand Turk, Turks & Caicos
The capital of the Caribbean archipelago of the Turks & Caicos, Cockburn Town is said to be where Christopher Columbus first set foot on the “New World” in 1492. Visitors to the small city of 5,500 inhabitants will travel back in time as they stroll past the rows of colorful colonial buildings along narrow streets like Duke and Font Streets.
In your wanderings, seek out the Lighthouse, Fire Hill and the Hawks Nest Anchorage. Along your way, you’re likely to spot some donkey carts, still in use on the island. Stop in at the National Museum to delve further into the country’s history, a focal point of the exhibit is on the Molasses Reef Wreck, the oldest European shipwreck discovered in the Western Hemisphere (from around 1505).
Dunmore Town – Harbour Island, The Bahamas
The Bahamas is also rich in Caribbean colonial history. A lesser known pearl is the charming town of Dunmore on Harbour Island, crowned by Travel + Leisure as the “Best Island” in 2015. It was founded in the late eighteenth century and named after the governor of the Bahamas from 1786 to 1798, John Murray, 4th Earl of Dunmore, who had a home on the island.
“The pretty town is lined with pastel colored clapboard cottages with picket fences and gardens full of colorful bougainvillea, oleander, hibiscus and other flowers,” describes Pamela H. Murdock, our local expert for the Bahamas. “Life on the island is laidback and peaceful, helped by the fact that there are no cars—only golf carts.”
For a small town of less than 1,800 inhabitants, Dunmore has a fabulous variety of authentic and delicious dining options from fancy bistros to tasty food shacks. Pamela shares her favorites in this article.
Enjoy planning a wonderful trip to Harbour Island with the help of Pamela and her immense knowledge of the destination. You can contact her at this link.