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There was a time, a few decades ago, when any self-respecting glamorous globetrotter simply had to visit Cuernavaca.
Like Acapulco, this was where the rich and famous flocked for sumptuous hotels, attentive service and a sense of privacy. The central Mexican city may not be a destination for celebrity watching anymore, but it continues to be a charming place with loads of history, culture and great hotels. And, of course, Cuernavaca still has the pleasant year-round weather that has earned it the nickname “the city of eternal spring.”
Located less than two hours from Mexico City, Cuernavaca will be a rewarding place for a quick getaway — and a wealth of activities — during a post-pandemic adventure. (Editor’s note: Some attractions listed here may be closed or practicing limited operations due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Please reach out directly to the museums, attractions or hotels listed in this article for updated availability.)
Fascinating HistoryCuernavaca’s historic attractions tell the story of the city’s evolution. When Hernan Cortes and his cohorts invaded in the early 16th century, they built the impressive Palacio de Cortes, which today is considered the country’s oldest preserved colonial government building. The most recent earthquake caused some damage, but several exhibition galleries host rotating cultural and historical exhibits, and the structure is scheduled to fully reopen by 2022.
Also downtown is the city’s imposing, 16th-century cathedral and monastery complex, as well as Jardin Borda, an 18th-century estate that Emperor Maximilian liked so much he used it as a summer home. A few minutes outside of downtown is Teopanzolco, an archeological site with ruins that date to the period between 1300 and 1521; a strikingly modern cultural center opened in 2017 on the site.
Travelers hankering for historic and cultural experiences should also plan a day trip to Tepoztlan, a designated Pueblo Magico (magical town) that’s supposedly the birthplace of Quetzalcoatl, the legendary Aztec feathered serpent.
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Top sites here include the Ex Convento de la Natividad, a former convent built in the 16th century that now stages art and cultural exhibits, and an Aztec pyramid that sits atop a hill overlooking the town.
Spectacular ArtCuernavaca is an excellent destination for art lovers, and the array of creativity on display throughout the city is surprisingly diverse. At the Museo Morelense de Arte Popular (Morelos Folk Art Museum), for example, visitors admire regional folk art. And at the Museo Morelense de Arte Contemporaneo (Juan Soriano Contemporary Art Museum), which opened in 2018, the main draw is contemporary art housed in an equally contemporary piece of architecture.
One of the most interesting art-oriented attractions in Cuernavaca is the Museo Robert Brady (Robert Brady Museum), which is set in a 16th-century former monastery that was purchased by wealthy, U.S.-born art collector Robert Brady in 1962. Upon Brady’s death in 1986, his former home opened to the public, allowing a peek at an extensive collection of work from various continents (there’s even a Frida Kahlo original, although it was down for maintenance when I visited).
The decor of the home itself is part of the attraction, with extravagant colors and whimsical designs throughout the property. This is a place to admire art and also take a glimpse at how the upper class lived. When you walk through his home, after all, you’re following in the steps of his decidedly elite group of friends, which included art collector Peggy Guggenheim and entertainer Josephine Baker, to name a few.
Fabulous HotelsThe rich and famous frequented Cuernavaca partly because of the city’s outstanding accommodations, and down-to-earth travelers can still find some noteworthy options– many of which offer better value than similarly upscale hotels in other Mexican destinations. Among the most legendary properties here is the Camino Real Sumiya, which is set on the former estate of socialite and heiress Barbara Woolworth Hutton.
Built in 1959, the private-getaway-turned-hotel features architecture inspired by a Shogun mansion, complemented by elegant Japanese gardens and a large kabuki theater, now used for special events. Travelers looking for top-of-the-line elegance will do well at Hacienda de Cortes, a AAA Four Diamond property set on a former 16th-century sugarcane hacienda founded by Hernan Cortes, as well as at Las Mananitas Hotel Garden Restaurant & Spa, a member of Relais & Chateaux where the likes of actors Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton once checked into the tile-roofed villas.
Even today, the memories of Cuernavaca’s glorious past live on.
The DetailsTurismo Morelos www.turismomorelos.mx