With exquisite colonial architecture, fine food, better tequila, bustling cities and beautiful butterflies, the colonial heartlands are well worth a visit. Locals are warm and generous, the streets are perfectly safe, the economy is strong and cultural traditions thrive, especially in the countryside.
Heading north from Mexico City is El Bajío, a region of beautiful colonial cities built on the wealth of silver mines and renowned for their baroque architecture, ornate churches and pretty cobbled streets. The smallest and prettiest is San Miguel de Allende, a good base from which to explore the university town of Guanajuato and the restored 18th century missions outside Querétaro. The town of Zacatecas is carved into the slopes of Cerro de la Bufa.
To the west of El Bajío, in the state of Michoacán, is the picturesque town of Pátzcuaro, most famous for its colourful Day of the Dead celebrations from 1 November. Morelia is another charming colonial town, close to the El Campanario ecological reserve which witnesses the spectacular annual migration of the monarch butterfly from December to March.
Our preferred accommodation
City hotel - San Miguel de AllendeThe most luxurious option in the city and owned by Belmond (formerly Orient-Express). Spread over nine colonial properties, each with individual character and all within walking distance of each other. Just two blocks from the central plaza and cathedral, it is ideal for exploring town on foot. There is an outdoor pool, library, two restaurants and a spa. Friendly yet professional with good food and an acclaimed cookery school.
Inn/Posada - San Miguel de AllendeColonial hotel with contemporary design and just 6 rooms, with another in a separate house across the road. Relaxed and very friendly. Homely kitchen, where breakfast can be prepared in front of you (room service also available), lounge with board games and outside terraces with charming courtyard for dining.
Inn/Posada - San Miguel de AllendeA charming small hotel just above the main square with spacious rooms set around a courtyard, where breakfast is served, and a roof terrace.
City hotel - GuanajuatoAn historic, originally private house, just opposite a pretty park, this hotel has been expanded to include restaurant, pool and landscaped gardens, not far from the centre of this vibrant university town.
City hotel - GuanajuatoA very smart and exclusive hotel just outside the city centre. Tiled floors, fountains and palms around the courtyards give an air of coolness and there are fine views from some rooms to the mountain.