Cuba, Santo Domingo, Mexico and Jamaica A journey through the colonial architecture of the Caribbean
Five destinations that will make you fall in love with colonial style
If there’s one style that dominates and wows in the Caribbean, it’s colonial. Colorful houses, baroque daydreams and references to other European styles define this aesthetically pleasing mix of influences. As you tour the city’s landmarks, you can’t miss Old Havana, one of the most charismatic neighborhoods in the world. Protected as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO, this area mixes cheerful façades with striking porticos and must-see buildings. One of these is the cathedral, notable for its size and its Tuscan influences.
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In Cuba’s capital, military architecture is just as enduring as it is beautiful. In fact, the castles and fortresses (de la Punta, del Príncipe, de la Real Fuerza and Morro) are older than many of the other buildings in the city—and prettier.
In Montego Bay, the most significant artistic influence is the architecture of the English countryside, with regal buildings constructed at a grand scale and classic, inconspicuous décor. One example is the great Rose Hall estate, which is currently being converted into a luxury hotel and golf course, while maintaining the main building as a tourist attraction.
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English influence in Jamaica remains strong even today. In fact, it’s easy to find housing units and other establishments near the beach that recall the waterfronts of cities like Portsmouth and Brighton.
Colonial City (Santo Domingo)
The Historic Center of Santo Domingo, in the Dominican Republic, was the first sustained settlement of Europeans in the New World. Today, visitors can enjoy its history while wandering among World Heritage monuments on iconic cobblestone streets. A visit to Alcázar de Colón, the oldest fortified palace in Latin America, takes you back to a time when America’s wilderness and natural resources were the source of unending amazement.
But that’s not all. Religious buildings like the Catedral Primada de América and the Santo Domingo Convent showcase the power of the human imagination. Plateresque architecture—which still shines today in Spanish cities such as Salamanca—was adapted here to the materials available, without losing any of its luster. Even buildings now in ruins, such as the Monastery of St. Francis, manage to attract visitors with their size and the delicate nature of their arches, doors and apses. In short, it’s the ideal place to enjoy both the beaches of Punta Cana or Puerto Plata and the capital itself.
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Just 50 kilometers from Cancún is one of the best-preserved towns founded by the Spanish, complete with original buildings. It’s become the perfect cultural destination for those hoping to see both the beaches of the Riviera Maya and the Mayan ruins. The city has many monuments and Spanish-style houses that have used color to adapt to the Mexican identity.
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Where warm colors give way to stone, some very interesting religious monuments are revealed. The most prominent is the San Gervasio church, a grandiose basilica with slim towers. Another highlight is San Bernardino, a sixteenth-century temple that mixes French and military styles.
Trinidad is a dream come true for fans of colonial architecture. It was the third city founded in all of Cuba and quickly became one of the most prosperous trading villages in the Antilles, due to its proximity to both the sea and mountains. But, most importantly, it’s one of the few cities in Latin America that’s a UNESCO World Heritage site in its entirety.
Iberostar Heritage Grand Trinidad is an exclusive hotel in Trinidad is actually an adults-only hotel (guests cannot be under 15 years old), one of the most impressive properties on the island, and a space where luxury, tradition, history and culture come together in perfect harmony.
There are several essential stops on any visit to the city. The first is Plaza Carillo, where the Iglesia de San Francisco de Paula, the city hall and the Iberostar Heritage Grand Trinidad dominate with their monumental presence. The second is Plaza Mayor, where you can find the Church of the Holy Trinity and the Museum of Colonial Architecture. But, above all, the best thing to do is lose yourself and leave your map behind, indulging in the frenzy of colors, doors and windows that lead to other worlds.