Each year since the year 2000, a city in the Americas has been chosen to host the prestigious title of American Capital of Culture. Similar to the European Capital of Culture, the honour raises the city’s profile worldwide and the year is marked with special events, festivals and celebrations in true American style!
2000 – Mérida, Mexico – As largest city and the capital of the Mexican State of Yucatán, Merida offers rich colonial history, interesting museums and plenty to see and do (pictured above). Dubbed the cultural crossroads of Yucatan, don’t miss the imposing Catedral de San Ildefonso which was built in 1598, the Anthropology Museum and the city museum; Museo de la Ciudad.
2001 – Iquique, Chile – Located in northern Chile, Iquique attracts surfers and shoppers, thanks to the duty-free shopping zone. Cultural sights include the colonial Edificio de la Aduana and Naval Museum which was built in 1871, Plaza Prat which is lined with wooden buildings dating back to the 19th century and the Iquique English College which is constructed in Georgian style.
2002 – Maceió, Brazil – The coastal city of Maceio is situated in Alagoas state in eastern Brazil. This modern small city is lively, with plenty going on and features many pristine urban beaches. Relax on the Cruz das Almas, Pajuçara and Pontal da Barra beaches or try a spot of snorkelling and scuba diving. And for some culture, visit the Théo Brandão Museum, admire the Nossa Senhora do Rosario dos Pretos Church and climb up to the Maceio Lighthouse.
2003 - Panama City, Panama and Curitiba, Brazil – Both Panama City and Curitiba in southern Brazil hosted the American Capital of Culture honour in 2003.
Panama City (pictured left) is both cosmopolitan and vibrant and home to the famous landmark; the Panama Canal. Take a trip on the 50 mile canal which has operated since 1914. Cultural gems include the Bio Museum, the exquisite San Jose Church and the charming Casco Viejo, aka Old City.
Many travellers to Curitiba combine a stay in city with a trip to Iguaçu Falls from Rio and São Paulo and the large vibrant city had a lot to offer in the way of history and culture. Explore the pristine Jardim Botanico de Curitiba, take in a show at the Teatro Lala and learn a little history at the Oscar Niemeyer Museum.
2004 – Santiago, Chile – Chile’s capital city, Santiago, was an easy choice as Capital of Culture as it’s brimming with museums, theatres, local festivals and restaurants. It’s ideally located to explore the Andes, beaches and city life – all in one day! Don’t miss the newly opened Museum of Memory and Human Rights which is very moving, as it covers Pinochet’s rule. Take in a show at the Municipal Theatre, explore San Cristobal Hill and admire the Metropolitan Cathedral.
2005 - Guadalajara, Mexico – The second largest city in Mexico, Guadalajara is relaxed and packed with colonial gems. Notable attractions include the gothic and neo-classical Guadalajara Cathedral, the majestic Expiatory Church and the ancient circular stepped Guachimontones Pyramids, which are absolutely fascinating.
2006 – Córdoba, Argentina – the second largest city in Argentina, Cordoba is in the very heart of the Pampas region and surrounded by hills and valleys. The city is young and lively thanks to a large student population. Don’t miss the wealth of Jesuit churches such as the Iglesia de San Francisco and the magnificent Iglesia Catedral. There are colonial buildings in abundance such as the Cabildo with Museum, Colegio de Montserrat and Monument of San Martin. And as you’d expect there are a whole host of museums dedicated to arts, science, technology and changing exhibitions.
2007 - Cusco, Peru – Lauded as the capital of the Inca Empire in Peru, Cusco (pictured below) is the perfect example of a Capital of Culture. Cusco is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and the starting point for treks to Machu Picchu and the Sacred Valley of the Incas. There is plenty to discover in Cusco itself such as the Planetarium, 16th century Cusco Cathedral and the fascinating Choco Museum.
2008 - Brasilia, Brazil - The capital city of Brasilia is located in the Highlands and has much to offer travellers seeking modernist architecture. The city is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and the basic structure was created in just four years from 1956 to 1960. Brasilia is bursting with palaces, memorials, museums and modern landmarks. Don’t miss the beautiful church Santuario Dom Bosco, Metropolitana Cathedral and the Itamaraty Palace.
2009 – Asuncion, Paraguay – Asuncion is the capital of Paraguay and is a small city with some notable buildings and sights. The heart of the region is the imposing Government Palace and for a little piece of calm, head to the Parque Nu Guasu. The Nuestra Senora de la Asuncion Cathedral (Cathedral of the Assumption) is stunning, pictured left, and the Casa de la Independencia Museum details Paraguay’s independence from Spain in 1811.
2010 - Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic – The first Caribbean destination to host the American Capitalo of Culture was the capital city of the Dominican Republic; Santo Domingo. This is the oldest European city with the Americas and is UNESCO listed. Founded in 1496, Santo Domingo offers a wealth of heritage and history. Visit the very first cathedral in the Americas; the Primada de America. Discover the status of Columbus at the Parque Colon central square and walk the very first cobbled street in the New World on Calle de Las Damas.
2011 - Quito, Ecuador – The capital city of Ecuador, Quito was founded on the ruins of an ancient Inca city in 1534. And Quito (along with Krakow in Poland) was the very first city to be named as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1978! This high altitude city has (as you’d rightly expect) and abundance of historical of cultural offerings. Don’t miss the narrow Spanish Old Town, the imposing Quito Basilica and the Intinan Museum, with many Inca exhibits.
2012 - São Luis, Brazil – For the fourth time (so far) a Brazilian city has hosted the Capital of Culture honour. This time Sao Luis offers up French, Dutch and Portuguese heritage. Expect exquisitely tiled buildings and quaint cobbled streets in this colonial UNESCO city. Local experiences include the Se Church, Teatro Arthur Azevedo and the Palacio dos Leoes.
2013 – Barranquilla, Colombia – This year’s host of the American Capital of Culture is Barranquilla which is located on the Caribbean coast of Colombia. Declared a UNESCO site of ‘Intangible Heritage of Humanity’ 2003, Barranquilla offers a great deal to curious visitors. The port city hosts its own annual Carnival and is known for its lively nightlife, established dining scene and historical buildings. Top things to do in Barranquilla include exploring the Del Caribe Museum, people watching at the Plaza San Nicolas and visiting the Metropolitana Maria Reina Cathedral.
2014 – Colima, Mexico – The laidback city of Colima in Western Mexico wows travellers with its dedicated eco-attitude. Outdoor sports and activities are the order of the day: the enviable valley and volcano location ensures that climbing, hiking and birding are popular. The city that’s dubbed the City of Palms thanks to an abundance of coconut and banana palms, also has plenty of cultural delights to keep curious visitors busy by day. Soak up the atmosphere in the Main Plaza, Jardín Libertad, wander the historic Colima Cathedral and admire the exquisite arches of Portal Medellin. The YouTube video below captures the essence of Colima.
2015 – Mayagüez, Puerto Rico - Located on Puerto Rico’s western coast, Mayaguez is made up of lush valleys and soaring mountains. Visitors can hike the trails and spot the vibrant birdlife of the Desecheo National Wildlife Refuge. The city is home to a wealth of cultural sights, thanks to the colonial legacy; don’t miss the Plaza Colón and City Hall, Nuestra Señora de la Candelaria Cathedral and the Casa Grande Museum. And the packed annual calendar of traditional festivals will also come to the fore; get involved with the colourful Mayaguez Carnival in May, the sweet-smelling Mango Festival in August and the vast Artisan Fair, which is held each November.
Image credit; 4; Christophe Meneboeuf, 6; Mayaguez; Hiram A. Gay