History lessons and vacation planning go along as well as cloudy days and beach blankets to some. Yet the combination sounds more appealing when the history approaches a personal level, representing the culture of you and your family, imbedding itself beyond the mind and into the heart. Nowadays, more and more Hispanics are traveling in search of this magical combination.
Hispanic culture has had an enormous impact on the United States, from the Spanish Colonial era up to the mid 20th century with the influx of immigrants from Central America, the Caribbean, and Spain. Hispanic cultural sites stretch across the entire southern half of the United States. Including them in your vacation plans can bring the past into the present, adding authenticity to your travels that will never be forgotten.
To discover your Hispanic heritage, check out these suggestions from ASTA (American Society of Travel Agents) so that your history tour also feels like a relaxing vacation.
San Antonio Missions
While most Remember the Alamo,” others forget that the famous fort originally was built as a Spanish mission known as Mission San Antonio de Valero, one of a chain of missions strung along the San Antonio River. The legendary Alamo is now a state historic site, while the others — Concepcion, San José, San Juan, and Espada — constitute San Antonio Missions National Historical Park.
The five missions survive intact, each hauntingly beautiful in their arid surroundings, and the southernmost four incorporate tracts of land along the river connected by the Mission Trail, a 12-mile route along city streets that when complete will link the Alamo in the center with Mission Espada, southernmost of the five churches. Established between 1718 and 1731, these missions are intriguing reminders of one of Spain’s most successful attempts to extend its New World dominion northward from Mexico.
The Days of de Soto
The De Soto National Memorial Park in Bradenton, Fla., will take you back to a sweltering day in May of 1539 when the famed Spanish explorer Hernando de Soto and an army of more than 600 soldiers washed ashore near modern-day Tampa Bay. With nine ships, 220 horses, a herd of pigs, a pack of war dogs, thunderous cannons, matchlock muskets, armor, tools, and rations on their side, you’d think they would have had no problem executing the order of King Charles V: sail to La Florida and conquer, populate and pacify” the land.
The mission failed, but not before de Soto’s expedition changed the face of the American Southeast forever, forcing Spain to reevaluate her role in the New World. The De Soto National Memorial is a testament to this four-year, 4000-mile odyssey, interpreting its significance in American history. Once you try on the armor and walk the paths de Soto walked, you’ll feel like a modern-day conquistador.
St. Augustine – America’s Oldest City
Settled in 1565 by Pedro Menendez de Aviles and his Spanish fleet, St. Augustine is affectionately known as the Nation’s Oldest City,” founded 42 years before the English colony at Jamestown, Va., and 55 years before the Pilgrims landed on Plymouth Rock in Massachusetts.
Vestiges of the first Spanish settlement remain today throughout St. Augustine’s town plan which was originally laid out by Gov. Gonzalo Méndez de Canzo in the late 16th century. Still rustically intact, the narrow streets and balconied houses reveal the attractive architecture that can still be seen throughout the United States.
St. Augustine’s Colonial Spanish Quarter is a living history museum. Costumed interpreters relive a time when the city was a remote outpost of the Spanish Empire, illustrating the life of Spanish soldiers and their families in 1740. Blacksmiths, carpenters, leatherworkers, candle makers, and other tradesmen go about their business, entertaining and educating all viewers.
Old San Juan: Guarding the Caribbean
The stone walls of the fort at Old San Juan, Puerto Rico, rise imposingly above the blue waters of the Atlantic Ocean, towering over the harbor entrance and casting their silhouette into the colonial city. It’s a sight that repulsed invading ships, protected the Spanish Empire’s stronghold in the Caribbean, and will make an unbelievable picture from your camera.
One of the most beautiful spots in Puerto Rico, the battlements illustrates the unparalleled craftsmanship of Spanish military engineers while evoking 400 years of history in the Americas. The San Juan National Historic Site, as it is now called, represents the past so well that the United Nations has designated it as a World Heritage Site because of its outstanding, universal” cultural value.
Getting There is Half the Fun
For the historical destinations listed above, a travel agent has historically been the best route to reach them. Not only will travel agents have many other Hispanic heritage destinations for you to try out, but they’ll also sculpt the perfect vacation for you and your family around the sights you want to visit.