Route 9

Route 9 A Colonial Experience

A Colonial Experience

Mexico City
Everything comes together in this huge city, the oldest in the American continent: Colonial buildings, Pre-Hispanic vestiges, and the whirl of contemporary living. The variety of cultural spaces and heritage sites has given it a cosmopolitan nature. Neighborhoods – all different – offer bohemian, sophisticated, fun, and educational experiences, and more. And exploring the Centro Historico (downtown area), where everything began, is undoubtedly something you cannot miss. In the range of possibilities in Distrito Federal, there are also rural areas: capsules of peaceful green like those offered by tours around Xochimilco canals.

Mexico City has, until today, four designations as World Heritage Sites. In the Centro Historico – exemplary core of the City of Palaces – the opulent Colonial architecture rests over vestiges of the former Mexica metropolis. In Xochimilco, the fabulous original nature is conserved between channels and trajineras (traditional boats), like an American Venice. Ciudad Universitaria and Casa Estudio de Barragan are two jewels – one huge and one miniscule – of Mexican modern architecture, and they reflect the building creativity of this fascinating city.

The wealth in this city goes beyond its condition of great metropolis. Its Anthropology Museum rescues the millenary memory of the whole country. In the National Palace, murals scrutinize the Mexican identity, and next to it, the entrails of the Templo Mayor indicate that this was, once, an imperial capital. Sumptuous places like the Auditorio Nacional or Bellas Artes present the best in scenic arts, and the constellation of museums protects the essence of Mexican plastic expression. Mexicas and Conquerors already knew it: this city is a treasure in itself.

The megapolis has not completely replaced the garden that saw its origins. In Xochimilco, the very famous channels and chinampas (small land areas in the shallow lake bed) still survive, as well as the very beautiful landscape that once dominated the marshy valley. Near Cumbres del Ajusco, trees cover the mountains that surround the city and you can be witness of the recuperation of species like the white-tailed deer and the volcano rabbit, or zacatuche. In Desierto de los Leones, hiking lovers will find a combination of old convents and lush forests. And all of this is available without leaving the city.

San Miguel de Allende
A monument to tradition and popular art, this is the old San Miguel el Grande, known today as San Miguel de Allende. It is home to many retired foreigners and a place for wonderful hotels and delicious restaurants, antique shops and a rich cultural life that this melting pot has created.

Year after year, hundreds of visitors arrive in San Miguel de Allende attracted by the national festivities, like the “Sanmiguelada”, a popular celebration inspired by the famous Spanish Pamplonada. However, in addition to bulls running free on the streets, the danger is also lurking elsewhere: the Ignacio Ramirez and handicrafts markets, where it is impossible not to walk away without a treasure made from silver, gold, brass or forged iron, products from the mine and the mastery of the best artisans.

Being as close to Dolores as it is, San Miguel de Allende could not be left on the margins of the Independence insurgency, which is why houses and cellars stored guns and ammunitions. Many of its children, like the Aldama brothers and Ignacio Allende (who now gives the city its new name), participated in the armed struggle that eventually led Mexico to its Independence. Walking these beautiful, cobbled streets, one tries to imagine the call to freedom that rang through this picturesque town so many years ago.

With architecture representative of the Viceregal period and a cathedral in the Neo-Gothic style that frames the main plaza, San Miguel de Allende preserves its true colonial feel. UNESCO declared this tangle of streets and colonial plazas a World Heritage Site, where art and culture is perceived at all times. This is a small city with a huge heritage and a cosmopolitan population.

This is the ideal city in which to get lost; among its streets which twist, cross and end in wonderful plazas full of history and restaurants, bars, coffee shops and stores. Guanajuato was one of the richest cities from its inception and this abundance is reflected in its churches, monasteries, theaters and museums. It is also another birthplace of the Independence movement, and venue of one of the most important cultural festivals on the continent.

Guanajuato was the backdrop of one of the most important victories of the Independence movement; the taking of Alhondiga de Granaditas, which was where the governor and several Spanish families were held under siege until the heroic actions of a miner known as “El Pipila” gave insurgents the triumph. A year later, the heads of our Independence leaders Hidalgo, Allende, Aldama and Jimenez  were hung from its four corners by the Spanish crown, as an example of what would happen to other would be revolters, where they remained there until 1821 when Mexico gained its full Independence.

This opulent Colonial city, located among gold and silver deposits, had its greatest peak in the 17th and 18th Centuries, but its splendor is not diminished. It is listed in UNESCO’s World Heritage Sites, together with the adjacent mines, because they still surprise visitors with important architecture rooted in national history. You must direct your steps towards the basilica of Nuestra Señora de Guanajuato, the Alhondiga de Granaditas, and the university as each one of these buildings has a story to tell.

Guanajuato still keeps its traditions alive and, step after step, you walk through the city surrounded by ghosts of its legendendary past. The colonial and mining atmosphere invites the traveler to tour it in search of mummies, churches, plazas or literary alleys. The traditional coffee houses and artisan workshops seduce visitors with their tantalizing smells and sights. The city also offers festivals throughout the year, like the Cervantino and the international film festival, which can be combined with the best in Mexican gastronomy.

To explore this city in depth, you must walk around it and get lost in the streets and pedestrian lanes. Sacred art temples, like Santa Rosa de Viterbo; buildings that are one hundred percent Baroque, such as the Santa Clara convent; or historical like the Corregidora’s (magistrate who participated in the Independence) house; these are well worth the stroll. The center of Queretaro is clean, calm and nice, as if living in a constant summer afternoon; there is also proud memory of the exultation and euphoria of the Mexican Independence and Revolution.

The most representative thing in Santiago de Queretaro is its eloquent arches, but they are only a glimpse of what the clean and ordered streets can offer. Luckily it can be visited on foot where you will find solid examples of Baroque in the characteristic quarry stone, sometimes filling museum collections and others as gold-leafed altarpieces. Other smaller works are also to be mentioned: Colonial mansions and plazas, balconies and handrails in European styles.

None other than the birthplace of the Independence, the house where the magistrate Doña Josefa Ortiz de Dominguez received Allende, Aldama and the Gonzalez brothers, to plan the liberation from the Spanish crown, is in Queretaro. After the conspiracy was discovered, this was also the house where the magistrate gave the call, by banging her foot three times, which made the priest Hidalgo give the famous shout of ¡Viva México! This is why the city is filled with monuments to the first woman insurgent, and also why you must go visit them.

The most representative example of Spanish Colonial cities is Queretaro, and that is the reason why UNESCO declared its historical center a World Heritage Site. Its compact layout presents civilian and religious buildings with characteristics typical of the 16th, 17th and 18th Centuries, and the plazas open the view to give us an idea of what life was like in those times. You must visit it on foot, with a willing imagination, and look for estates, temples, fountains and the aqueduct that made them possible.

San Juan de los Lagos
After the Vatican, the Villa (Virgin of Guadalupe Basilica) is the sanctuary most visited by faithful Catholics in the world. And in Mexico, after the Tepeyac (hill where the basilica is located), the religious place that receives most people is San Juan de los Lagos, in the Jalisco Highlands. It is clear that the interest falls in the Nuestra Señora de los Lagos cathedral and basilica (and in the six paintings that were allegedly created by Rubens), rather than on the 40 thousand inhabitants of this town founded in 1542. Thanks to the thousands of pilgrims that visit the town daily, there is quite a large variety of hotels and restaurants for you to choose from.

Ten million pilgrims reach San Juan de los Lagos every year. They come to its cathedral to visit the virgin, but it would not be strange for them to come to admire the 70 meters of pink quarry stone that make up its turrets or the six paintings that adorn the sacristy, thought to have been created by Rubens. Also known as Colegiata, this church is not the only Baroque building in the city that deserves adoration: El Parian, the Government Palace and the Correos and Diezmos buildings, among others, have their own admirers.

One of the first things you’ll hear about before exploring the city is how clean it is, or something regarding its famous soccer team: the Necaxa. However the city has much more to offer. For example, the fairs: in April, National San Marcos Fair, with its concerts, bullfights and the National Charro Championship, and in October the Calaveras fair. A visit that includes the historical Morelos Theater, the cathedral and the Government Palace; or a visit to the four traditional neighborhoods: El Encino, Guadalupe, La Estación and San Marcos will create a great experience.

Horsemen in the Mexican Bajio took the equestrian and livestock culture to extreme measures. Until today, the oldest of traditions dictates a strict protocol and rigorous attire. The art of the charro is so elaborate and colorful that northern neighbors replicated the style – in their own way, naturally – and propagated it along the Old West. But the real escaramuzas and the ten stages are best seen at the San Marcos Fair, where the most praiseworthy inheritors of charreria come together every year.

Nothing tells the story of the 400 years of Aguascalientes’ life better than its monumental architecture. The San Diego and Nuestra Señora del Rosario churches, the Government Palace with its murals, Morelos Theater and Casa Teran are just some of the constructions in the city that will grab your attention; the five original neighborhoods that make up the city’s layout – Señor de Encino, Guadalupe, Salud de San Marcos and Estacion – which were once feudal estates, can be toured today.

During the Independence (1810 -1841), the city was constant refuge for insurgents, who occasionally regained their strength among its buildings before continuing their campaigns. And during the Revolution (1910-1917), Aguascalientes served as the venue for the Convention by the same name, convened by Venustiano Carranza in October, 1914, with the goal of uniting military chiefs with armed forces at their command, and state governors. Villa and Zapata only agreed to show up to the meeting once it was moved to Aguascalientes.

If you decide to take the road northwest from the city of Aguascalientes, you will inevitably run into desert landscapes and abandoned estates. The risky Silver Route crossed through this area, part of the Camino Real (Royal Path) that connected Zacatecas to Mexico City during the New Spain period. The scenery, full of cacti, desert animals and an air of being abandoned, is ideal for filming a Western. The stop we suggest is Real de los Asientos, a mythical mining villa.

Just to begin to explain that the city of Aguascalientes is a national treasure, we would have to speak extensively of its equally vast architecture; of its legends and heroic history; of its San Marcos Fair, the largest and most colorful in Mexico; of its unblemished bullfighting tradition; of its market, El Parian, full of handicrafts waiting to be adopted; of its textile industry, the most important in the country. Aguascalientes has a lot to offer and tell.

Images of desert landscapes, silver mines (which are today night clubs), Baroque churches and natural reserves could all belong to different spots on the planet. However, all these have a land in common: Zacatecas. Thanks to the mining wealth, this central state had a very important role during the Colonial times and much later, during the Revolution. Today, there are still traces of this in buildings, monuments, and even in museums: pieces of history that have nothing boring about them.

Because of its livestock production and bravado, Zacatecas had to be charra. So if you were wondering where to go to witness the very Mexican art of charreria (mexican rodeo), this capital is always a good place to start. Neighboring municipalities and their festivities are also a good option, because in the lands of charros, rodeos, escaramuzas and bullfights are everyday activities. Zacatecas’ rodeo, Charro Monumental, for example, receives 9,600 aficionados in its stand who do not want to miss the horsing events of this national sport.

In Zacatecan cuisine, the thing to try is asado de boda (wedding barbecue), which fortunately is now consumed on other occasions. It is fried pork loin prepared with ancho chili sauce, seasoned with clove, cinnamon, bay leaves, orange rind, chocolate and sugar. Other dishes are also popular: birria, menudo, pozole and gorditas. And to accompany them, nothing better than the state’s typical drink, mezcal from Huitzila, which although sharing the name is very different than Oaxaca’s; and young wines from the region.

The mining bonanza in the region provided enough resources for Zacatecas to launch important works that still entertain followers of the building art. Among these, the cathedral, from 1729, with its three naves; the Santo Domingo church and its Neo-Classical altarpiece; the former convent of San Francisco, today the Rafael Coronel Museum; Hidalgo Market, a whim by Don Porfirio Díaz following his French inclinations. Dressed in pink quarry stone, this Colonial city has examples from virtually all the styles.

Fully adorned with pink quarry stone, Nuestra Señora de los Zacatecas received its designation as World Heritage Site since 1993; and it’s because the historical center can boast of emblematic and monumental buildings – like the Government Palace in Plaza de Armas, the Toma de Zacatecas Museum, and the traditional cathedral – which were enough for UNESCO to include it in its listing. The plazas, cable car and aqueduct; its culture, traditions and people; these complete the legacy that this city offers the world.

Many film directors have used the Zacatecan desert as a movie set. In its heart, you will find fantastic places like Sierra de Organos and Sierra de Cardos, of which lovers of rock climbing and rappelling can take the most advantage. Others, with more archaeological instincts prefer to go to La Quemada, a place with masonry platforms to which historians have given different interpretations without reaching an agreement.

Everybody knows that this city is pink, and that its buildings – civil and religious – have gained a spot on UNESCO’s World Heritage list. Its historical importance and Colonial inheritance are no secret either, nor are its important museums, bullfighting tradition, elegant charros, regional wines or colorful festivities danced to the rhythm of beating drums. In any case, it doesn’t hurt to remind those who are thinking of visiting that, without a doubt, Zacatecas is one of Mexico’s treasures.

Victoria de Durango is a city known as “the Pearl of Guadiana”, for it is located in a valley called by that name. It has existed since the 16th Century and to date it is one of the most developed cities in this part of Mexico, due to its mining tradition and timber industry. A visit to the following museums is a must: Museo Regional del Estado (regional), Museo Tematico del Cine (cinema), Museo de Arqueología (archaeology) and Museo de Arte Moderno (modern art).

Durango should celebrate a double Bicentenary. In this city – a fact that is not well-known –, the last battle over the Independence was fought on the night of August 30, 1821. Its official name comes from the first president in Mexico, Guadalupe Victoria, a native of the western part of the state. During the Revolution, the libertarian general, Arrieta, had to seize it three times, for such was its importance and the struggle as fierce. Pancho Villa was also a native of Durango.

Almost half way on the ancient Camino Real de Tierra Adentro (Inland Royal Path) – main artery of the New Spain wealth – the stony city of Durango arises proudly, the place of armed events and legendary treasures. A rigorous and Baroque capital, the outstanding buildings in the streets – Casa del Conde del Valle del Suchil, the cathedral and its diverse palaces – hardly indicate its ancient magnificence as a mining center. Far from the times of wars and haciendas, its new industrial and financial vocation keep it current as a busy and extremely beautiful oasis in the vast plains.

San Luis Potosi
A centuries-old history passes through San Luis Potosi. Long before the Spanish arrived to America, the area was populated by different indigenous groups. The city was once the country’s capital, although it was only for a few years; and this is the place where the Revolution started, when Francisco I. Madero declared the San Luis Plan. In addition to the capital, the state is famous because of two great attractions: the architectural garden designed by Sir Edward James in Xilitla, and the mystery and charm that surround Real de Catorce where many films have been made.

There are seven neighborhoods that complete the map of the “City of Gardens”, and countless architectonic pieces in each one of them. San Luis Potosi is the archetype of the Colonial city, and its plazas, museums and gardens, full of art and culture, constitute a priceless treasure. Allende met Abasolo and Aldama here during the struggle for Independence, and since then, Easter Week is celebrated with the enigmatic Silence Procession. Still today, Mexico’s history and traditions are plausible in these streets.

A stroll around the Centro Historico is enough to reveal the majesty of Morelia, founded in 1541, which was home to wealthy Spanish families during the colonization. Today it is an example of the viceregal splendor, but it is also a dynamic city, venue of one of the most important film festivals in Mexico. After sunset, the cathedral lights up, bars open, the streets fill up with stalls that offer local delicacies and, during an evening walk, it is not uncommon to run into a troubadour reciting the legends of the city.

Morelia can be  the ideal base for possible tours around the natural beauty of the state. From here you can begin the route of the lakes, heading towards Pátzcuaro and Zirahuén to finally reach the Eden called Uruapan. In the other direction, and towards México City, you will first find the Insurgente José María Morelos y Pavón National Park, with its dense forests and camping facilities. And somewhat to the north, the panoramic views of Mil Cumbres await the fortunate visitor.

In the city of Morelia, the most representative examples of handcrafts from all of the indigenous communities in Michoacán are gathered in one place. Be it at the market that is next to Palacio Clavijero or at Casa de las Artesanías – in the former convent of San Francisco – the visitor can find this exceptional show of artisan beauty. Ceramics, wood carvings and instruments, hammered copper, basketry, multicolor textiles; you must have patience and bring money, because it is all worth it.

Let us bear in mind that Jose Maria Morelos y Pavon was born in this city called Valladolid; he sacrificed his life to build a nation and this city remembers him with its name, Morelia. This should be enough, but Mexico’s original libertarian heroine, Doña Josefa Ortiz de Dominguez, was also born here; also, the polemic Independence consummator, Agustin de Iturbide, and a long etcetera. There must be something, no doubt about it, about the pink quarry stone in Morelia that drives men to become national heroes.

Michoacán’s cuisine is a universe and Morelia is its necessary center. The city faithfully reflects the incredible diversity and astounding creativity of the regional palate: uchepos, corundas, buñuelos, pork patitas, and that’s just the beginning. Carnitas shouldn’t even be mentioned – they are too obvious – as is pozole. Also add a literally Baroque passion for ates, morelianas, charamuscas, guava rolls, and other architectures of sweetness, and do worry about it, because the evident problem will be to decide where to start.

Morelia does not only belong to México, it belongs to the world. The UNESCO knew what it was doing when it declared – in 1991 – its historical center as a World Heritage Site: a practically intact plan from the beginning of the 16th Century, more than 200 buildings with architectural and cultural value, an exceptional urban consistency festooned with pink quarry stone. At night, along the old Calzada Guadalupe, the pedestrian is invited to admire the spectacle of its lit cathedral: an indelible icon of the city, four centuries salute you from its towers.

The former Valladolid gathered in Plaza Villalongín, where more than 250 arches from the massive aqueduct that quenched its thirst come to an end. The always faithful Morelia built starting in 1660, a cathedral to last centuries, sanctuaries as focal as Guadalupe’s, and exceptional convents. It built palaces that are almost literary – like Clavijero – and patios that inspire mystic contemplation; in 1990, the city was named a National Historical Monument. The name, “fountain of historical beauty”, couldn’t possibly be better.



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