Colonial Cities and Historic Wonders of South America: A Journey through Time

Written by: Better Ask Me



Time to read 5 min

South America is a treasure trove of colonial-era architecture and historical sites, showcasing the rich tapestry of its past. From the cobbled streets of Cartagena to the ancient ruins of Cusco, the continent offers travelers a chance to step back in time and immerse themselves in the stories and cultural heritage of these remarkable cities. In this blog, I will take you on a journey through some of South America's most captivating colonial cities and historic wonders, sharing travel tips and personal anecdotes along the way.

"Traveling through South America's colonial cities is like turning the pages of a captivating history book, where the architecture and stories of the past come alive in vibrant colors and enchanting tales." - Unknown

Cartagena, Colombia: The Enchanting Walled City

Ciudad Amurallada. The Walls of Cartagena.
Ciudad Amurallada. The Walls of Cartagena. 

Cartagena, located on Colombia's northern Caribbean coast, is a city brimming with history and charm. Its well-preserved walled city, or "Old Town," takes visitors on a captivating journey through time. The city's architecture reflects a blend of Spanish, Caribbean, and African influences, making it a vibrant and colorful destination.

The San Felipe de Barajas Castle, an imposing fortress atop a hill, offers breathtaking panoramic views of Cartagena and the sea. Exploring its labyrinthine tunnels and learning about the strategic importance of this fortress during battles is an unforgettable experience.

One of the most iconic landmarks in Cartagena is the Cathedral of Santa Catalina de Alejandría, a stunning example of colonial architecture. Stepping inside, visitors are greeted by soaring ceilings, intricate altars, and an air of tranquility.

  • Travel Tip: To fully appreciate Cartagena's historical significance, consider hiring a knowledgeable local guide who can provide insights into the city's storied past.

Personal Anecdote: While wandering through the narrow alleys of Cartagena, I stumbled upon a local artisan market and ended up buying a beautiful handwoven hammock—a perfect memento of my time in this enchanting city. The hammock now holds a special place in my home, a reminder of the warmth and hospitality of the people I encountered in Cartagena.

Cusco, Peru: Gateway to the Inca Empire


Cusco, often referred to as the "navel of the world" by the Incas, is a city with a profound historical legacy. As the former capital of the Inca Empire, Cusco's architecture reflects a harmonious blend of Incan stonework and Spanish colonial buildings.

The Qorikancha, once the most sacred temple of the Incas, is a must-visit attraction in Cusco. The Spanish later built the Santo Domingo Church on its foundations, creating a fascinating juxtaposition of Incan and colonial architecture.

While Cusco itself is a captivating city, many travelers venture from here to the awe-inspiring Machu Picchu. Taking the train or embarking on a multi-day trek like the Inca Trail, visitors can marvel at the mystical ruins of Machu Picchu—a UNESCO World Heritage Site and one of the New Seven Wonders of the World.

  • Travel Tip: Due to the high altitude, take it easy for the first couple of days to acclimatize and avoid altitude sickness. Also, book Machu Picchu tickets in advance, as daily visitor numbers are limited.

Personal Anecdote: The breathtaking sunrise at Machu Picchu was an unforgettable experience; the mist lifting over the ancient ruins made it feel like a surreal and magical moment. Watching the play of light and shadows on the terraces and stone structures left me in awe of the ancient engineering prowess of the Inca civilization.

Quito, Ecuador: City of Eternal Spring

Quito, Ecuador
Quito, Ecuador

Quito, the capital of Ecuador, boasts one of the best-preserved historic centers in South America. Its Old Town is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, filled with charming plazas, narrow streets, and beautifully restored colonial buildings.

The Basilica del Voto Nacional, a neo-Gothic masterpiece, offers visitors stunning panoramic views of the city from its towers. Climbing up its spiral staircases is an adventurous experience in itself.

Another significant landmark is the Panecillo hill, crowned by the iconic Virgen del Panecillo, a winged statue of the Virgin Mary. This towering statue is a symbol of Quito's strong religious heritage.

Quito's proximity to the equator gives visitors the unique opportunity to straddle the northern and southern hemispheres at the Mitad del Mundo, or "Middle of the World." Here, you can participate in fun experiments that demonstrate the equatorial effects.

  • Travel Tip: Take advantage of Quito's pleasant climate by exploring on foot, but be cautious of your belongings in crowded areas, as petty theft can occur.

Personal Anecdote: I was fortunate enough to witness a traditional religious procession in Quito during Holy Week. The streets were adorned with colorful carpets made from flower petals, and the atmosphere was filled with a sense of deep devotion and community spiri

Salvador, Brazil: Where History Meets Afro-Brazilian Culture

Av. Manoel Dias da Silva, 2497   Pituba, Salvador   BA, 41830 001, Brazil, Pituba
Av. Manoel Dias da Silva, 2497   Pituba, Salvador   BA, 41830 001, Brazil, Pituba

Salvador, the capital of the state of Bahia in Brazil, is a city with a multifaceted identity. It was the first capital of Brazil and holds a significant place in the country's history.

The Pelourinho neighborhood in Salvador's historic center is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and a hub of cultural and architectural significance. Its cobbled streets are lined with pastel-colored buildings, churches, and museums, offering a glimpse into Salvador's colonial past.

Salvador is also known for its strong Afro-Brazilian heritage, and the rhythms of capoeira and samba fill the streets with energy and passion. Visitors can watch capoeira performances and even participate in workshops to learn some basic moves.

Exploring the local markets, such as Mercado Modelo, offers an opportunity to discover traditional crafts and taste Bahian delicacies like acarajé and moqueca.

  • Travel Tip: Stay aware of your surroundings and avoid displaying valuable items to ensure a safe and enjoyable trip. Book guided tours or join group activities to experience the cultural richness of Salvador.

Personal Anecdote: I had the chance to partake in a capoeira workshop in Salvador, where I learned some basic moves and felt the rhythmic energy of this unique martial art form. The workshop was not only fun but also a great way to connect with the local community and understand the cultural significance of capoeira in Brazil.

Exploring South America's colonial cities and historic wonders is like stepping into a living history book. Cartagena, Cusco, Quito, and Salvador are just a few of the many gems waiting to be discovered on this diverse continent. Each city holds its unique stories and cultural significance, making the journey a truly enriching experience. Remember to embrace the local culture, try the traditional cuisine, and immerse yourself in the fascinating tales that have shaped these magnificent places. Happy travels!

Colonial Cities and Historic Wonders of South America: A Journey through Time

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