Due to their late discovery in 1492, The Americas were called “The New World” for centuries. However, this doesn’t mean that there weren’t any forms of organized life in this part of the world before that. In fact, there are many cities in the Americas that were founded as early as the 10th century BC. You probably heard about some of these cities and while others may come as a surprise, here are the oldest cities in America that have been continuously inhabited.
The cities mentioned on this list have been continuously inhabited without interruptions but we thought it might be interesting to open this list with a couple of honorary mentions; the two oldest archaeological sites that offer proof of organized human existence in North and South America, respectively. The oldest primitive town in North America was located in today’s Tlapacoya (Mexico) and it dates back to 7500 BC while the oldest town in South America was located in Puerto Hormiga (Colombia) and it dates back to 4000 BC.
With that being said, let’s proceed to find out which are some of the oldest cities in America.
Flores, Guatemala (since 900 BC)
Today, Flores is the capital of Guatemala’s northernmost region Peten but the city has been inhabited far before Guatemala even became a country. The first traces of human life in the area date back to the 10th century BC when Flores was known as the Maya city of Nojpetén. The city served as the capital city of the Itza Maya kingdom of Petén Itzá for years but saw its major expansion between 300 and 400 AD.
It was in this very part of the continent that the last independent Maya state held out against the Spanish conquerors who did not manage to conquer the island until 1697. The ruins of the old Mayan city served as a foundation to build the new city of Flores.
Are you looking for a great historic tour in Guatemala? Check out this 10-day Mayan explorer adventure.
Ticul, Mexico (since 800 BC)
Located roughly 100 kilometers away from the city of Merida, Ticul is one of the oldest cities in America and the longest continuously inhabited city in Mexico. The town is home to around 30,000 residents, most of which are ethnically Maya. The city was founded in the 7th century BC and was a town of the Pre-Columbian Maya civilization until it fell under Spanish rule in 1549.
Cholula, Mexico (since 200 BC)
Located in the heart of Puebla, Cholula is a city known for being home to the Great Pyramid, one of the most famous ancient sites on the North American continent. The settlement was founded between 500 and 200 BC with two individual small villages established near the two water sources in the area which allowed the residents to cultivate different agricultural crops and grow the settlement. According to estimates by the 8th century AD, the city was home to somewhere around 25,000 people and by the time it was colonized by the Spanish, Cholula was already a metropolis with 100,000 residents.
Looking for a nice tour to help you captivate the historic greatness of the city? Check out the Cholula Magical Town Tour.
Acanceh, Mexico (since 300 AD)
Located in near proximity to Ticul, Acanceh is another ancient city located in Mexico’s Yucatán State. The modern city of Acanceh has been built atop the pre-Columbian settlement of Acanceh which was founded somewhere between 300 and 500 AD. This settlement was home to around 11,000 people, stretched across 4 square kilometers, and had more than 400 buildings, one of which is a three-leveled step pyramid that has been since restored and open for visitors.
Cuenca, Ecuador (since 500 AD)
Continuing this list of the oldest cities in America, we have Cuenca, the oldest continuously inhabited city in Ecuador and South America. The city has been continuously inhabited since the 6th century AD but there are traces of human life in the area dating back to as early as 8,000 years before Christ. The stable climate, fertile soil, and abundant water allowed the residents to grow their communities throughout the years and turn the city into a regional hub in several different eras in history.
Today, Cuenca is the capital and largest city of the Azuay Province of Ecuador, and the entire city is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site because of its many historical buildings and historical importance overall.
If you’re visiting Cuenca and are interested in learning more about the city’s history check out this tour of Cuenca’s historical sites and landmarks
Izamal, Mexico (since 550 AD)
Often referred to as the Yellow Town, Izamal is another beautiful historic town in Yucatan that has been continuously inhabited throughout most of Mesoamerican chronology. Covering an area of 53 square kilometers, the homonymous archaeological site that lies within the city borders is one of the most important archaeological sites of the Pre-Columbian Maya civilization. The city was likely founded between 700 and 300 BC but was partially abandoned with the rise of Chichen Itza before being inhabited again.
Today, Izamal is a small town of 15,000 people that takes pride in its rich history, important historical buildings, and fascinating archaeological sites.
Pachuca, Mexico (since 1050 AD)
Speaking of the oldest cities in America, we just can’t forget about Pachuca, the capital and largest city of the Mexican state of Hidalgo. Some of the archaeological sites in the area have led to the discovery of pre-Hispanic obsidian tools in the area, some of which date back to 12,000 years ago. This indicates that it’s very likely that the region surrounding the city was inhabited thousands of years ago but the settlement has been abandoned a few times throughout its history. The modern city of Pachuca was founded in the 11th century and has been continuously inhabited ever since.
Cusco, Peru (since 1100 AD)
Moving back to South America, we have the oldest continuously inhabited city in Peru- Cusco. The city is the capital of the homonymous region and the seventh-most populated city in Peru. Cusco was founded by the Killke people in the 11th century and by the 13th century, the city has grown so much that it became the capital city of the Inca Empire and it served as such until it fell under Spanish rule.
Are you looking to explore more of Cusco’s historical sites? Check out this tour covering the city’s main highlights.
Oraibi, USA (since 1100 AD)
This small village in Arizona is one of only a handful of towns that have been inhabited even longer than the USA existed as a country. The village was founded around 1100 AD which makes it the longest continuously inhabited settlement in the US. Historically, the town was inhabited by Native Americans and was unknown to European explorers until about 1540. In the 19th century, the town became a part of the Hopi Reservation and today, the isolated village still exists and maintains its archaic way of life (it’s personally one of my favorite hidden gems in the US).
Acoma Pueblo, USA (since 1100 AD)
Located west of the Albuquerque metropolitan area, the settlement of Acoma Pueblo is the second-oldest continuously inhabited town in the US. The settlement consists of four communities inhabited by the Acoma Pueblo, a federally recognized tribal entity. These communities are a part of the local Acoma Indian Reservation which is a National Historic Landmark. The city has been continuously inhabited since the late 11th and early 12th centuries, it survived the European explorers, and today, it’s home to somewhere around 5,000 residents.
Xalapa, Mexico (since 1313 AD)
Continuing this list of the oldest cities in America, Xalapa is the capital of the Mexican state of Veracruz. The city was founded by the Totonacs who inhabited this area during the 14th century and merged four smaller villages into one town. Throughout the years, Xalapa was conquered by the Aztecs and the Spanish and was also an important turning point for the Mexican-American War and the French Invasions. Today, because of the strong cultural influence, Xalapa is also known as the “Athens of Veracruz”.
Mexico City, Mexico (since 1325 AD)
This list of oldest cities in America couldn’t be complete without Mexico City, the oldest capital city in the Americas and one of only two continental capitals that were founded by its indigenous people. Mexico City was originally founded near Lake Texcoco by the Mexica people (Aztecs) around 1325. Initially, it was named Tenochtitlan but was later renamed by the Spanish invaders who also sacked the city before making that change.
Today, Mexico City is a vibrant metropolis, one of the largest cities in the world, and home to countless important historic monuments.
Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic (since 1496 AD)
Founded by Christopher Columbus in December 1493, Santo Domingo is the longest-continuously inhabited Spanish city in the Americas. Santo Domingo is one of the first cities the Spanish founded after establishing their presence in La Isabela and the first official seat of the Spanish colonial rule in the new world. Today, Santo Domingo is a sprawling metropolis with countless of historic landmarks, a capital city, and home to close to 1.5 million residents.
Quito, Ecuador (since 1500 AD)
Formally known as San Francisco de Quito, Quito is the capital and largest city of Ecuador. Archaeological evidence shows that the city was inhabited as early as the 4th century but continuously, but Quito has been inhabited since the early 16th century. Today, the city is home to the largest and best-preserved historic center in the Americas and is the second-highest capital city in the world (but still not nearly as high as La Rinconada- the highest populated town in the world).
Looking to explore more of Quito’s landmarks? Check out this historic tour of Quito.
Baracoa, Cuba (since 1511 AD)
Similar to Quito, Baracoa has a complex full name- Nuestra Señora de la Asunción de Baracoa and it is a town in Cuba that was founded by the first governor of Cuba, the Spanish conquistador Diego Velázquez de Cuéllar and one of the first cities that were visited by Columbus. Baracoa served as the capital of Cuba until 1592 when the capital was moved to Havana.
Nombre de Dios, Panama (since 1515 AD)
Nombre de Dios is the oldest continuously inhabited Spanish settlement in the continental Americas (San Juan and Baracoa are located on islands). The city was founded in the 1520s and was a major port of call for the Spanish treasure fleet accounting for most of the shipping in the Americas between 1540 and 1580. However, the fact that the city was notoriously hard to fortify and the rise of other port cities, the town’s significance declined throughout the years.
Today, Nombre de Dios is a small town that’s home to only 1,300 people.
Cumana, Venezuela (since 1515 AD)
Founded in 1515, Cumana was the first Spanish settlement in Venezuela and one of the oldest cities in America. The city was built by Franciscan friars but had to be rebuilt several times because of the frequent attacks by the indigenous people. The city was also visited by Pope Saint John Paul II who recognized Cumana as the starting point for the evangelization of the mainland of the American continent. Today, Cumana is a fairly large city with rich history and a beautiful historic center that’s home to close to 400,000 residents.
Havana, Cuba (since 1515 AD)
Similar to Baracoa, Havana was another city founded by Spanish colonizers and in its early years, the settlement served as a springboard for the Spanish conquest of the Americas. Havana began as a small trading port but throughout the years, the city grew and became even larger and more significant than Baracoa which resulted in King Philip II of Spain making Havana the capital city. From there, the city kept growing in the next few centuries and turned into the metropolis that it is today (it’s home to more than 2 million people).
Veracruz, Mexico (since 1519 AD)
This list of the oldest cities in America can’t be complete without Veracruz, one of the largest port cities in the Gulf of Mexico. Veracruz was founded in 1519 by Spanish explorer Hernán Cortés and was the first Spanish settlement on the mainland of the Americas to have its own coat-of-arms. The city prospered after the colonization but the 19th and 20th centuries brought some rough times as the city was invaded several times by the French and the USA respectively. However, the city was never abandoned, mostly because of its ideal location and large port which became the principal port for most of Mexico’s imports and exports.
Panama City, Panama (since 1519 AD)
The capital of Panama was founded in 1519, by Spanish conquistador Pedro Arias Dávila and served as a starting point for Spanish expeditions that conquered the Inca Empire in today’s Peru. Throughout the years, the city became one of the most important trade routes on the American continent. Technically, the city was burned to the ground by privateer Henry Morgan in 1671 but was quickly re-established shortly afterward and kept growing at a steady pace.
You might be interested in: Panama City- Legends of Casco Viejo Sightseeing Tour
San Juan, Puerto Rico (since 1521 AD)
San Juan was founded by the Spanish colonists in 1521 and was initially named Ciudad de Puerto Rico. Throughout the years, the name Puerto Rico became synonymous with the entire island while the city was named after St. John (San Juan). Today, San Juan is the most important seaport in Puerto Rico, as well as a financial, cultural, historical, and tourism hub, and is also officially the oldest European-established city under United States sovereignty.
You might be interested in: San Juan Old Town Sunset Tour.
Santa Marta, Colombia (since 1525 AD)
Santa Marta is the oldest continuously inhabited city in Colombia and the first Spanish settlement in the country. The city was founded in 1525 by Spanish conqueror Rodrigo de Bastidas even though there is archaeological evidence that shows traces of indigenous life before that. Due to its ideal location on the coast of the Caribbean Sea, the town and its ports were always strategically important and even today, Santa Marta is one of the most popular tourist destinations in Colombia because of it.
You might be interested in: Santa Marta- Old Town + City Highlights Tour
Sao Paolo, Brazil (since 1532 AD)
Today, Sao Paolo is the most populated city in Brazil, the capital of the homonymous state, and an alpha global city according to the GaWC. It’s the largest city proper in the Americas and the 4th largest city proper in the world. The region surrounding the city was likely inhabited even before the arrival of the colonizers but the beginnings of the city of Sao Paolo are tied to the founding of the Colégio de São Paulo de Piratininga in 1554 by a group of Jesuit priests on a mission to evangelize the indigenous people who lived in the Plateau region of Piratininga.
As their mission expanded, a small village developed around the church, and for the next two centuries, Sao Paolo was a small, poor village surviving mainly through the cultivation of subsistence crops by the labor of natives. The village kept growing at a steady pace during the 17th century and in 1711 it even got the status of a city. After Brazil became independent from Portugal, Emperor Pedro I named Sao Paulo an Imperial City, and the rest is history…
Are you looking for a great tour to explore Sao Paulo? I warmly recommend this private tour of the city.
Piura, Peru (since 1532 AD)
Located in the Sechura Desert on the Piura River, Piura is the capital of the homonymous region and province in northwestern Peru. It was one of the first cities founded by Francisco Pizarro in 1532 and also one of the first cities to gain its independence from Spain in 1821. Today, Piura is one of the most beautiful coastal cities in Peru, one of the most visited cities in the country, and home to nearly 500,000 residents.
Lima, Peru (since 1535 AD)
Even though Lima is a lot more famous and historically more significant, it was actually founded a few years later than Piura. However, there is archaeological evidence that the territory surrounding the city was inhabited by pre-Inca settlers who were grouped under the Lordship of Ichma. These settlements were wiped out in the 15th century by the Wari Empire but the arrival of the Spanish colonizers paved the path for the creation of a new modern city in the area.
During Spanish rule, Lima quickly became one of the most important trading hubs in the Viceroyalty and a capital city. Throughout the years, the city never stopped growing and today, with close to 10 million residents, it’s one of the largest cities in the world.
You might be interested in: Lima- historical, colonial, and modern city tour.
Cali, Colombia (since 1536 AD)
Santiago de Cali or more commonly referred to as just Cali is the third largest city in Colombia. The city was founded in 1536 by Spanish explorer Sebastian Belalcazar even though the area surrounding today’s Cali was frequently inhabited by different Caribean indigenous tribes throughout the years. During the early colonial years, the city was a part of Quito’s Audiencia and until the 18th century, most of the city’s territory was covered by haciendas. However, after Colombia gained its independence from Spain, Cali turned into a regional hub and today, it’s the largest and most developed city in the southern part of the country.
Asuncion, Paraguay (since 1537 AD)
Situated on the eastern bank of the Paraguay River, Asuncion is the largest and capital city of Paraguay. It’s one of the oldest cities in America which is why locals often refer to it as “the Mother of Cities”. Asuncion was founded in 1537 and was the starting point for many expeditions to come that gave birth to new cities in the following years. Some of the cities that were created after those expeditions include Buenos Aires, Corrientes, Santa Fe, and many others.
Santiago, Chile (1541 AD)
Last but not least, we round up this list of the oldest cities in America with the capital of Chile- Santiago. According to a handful of archaeological findings, it’s been confirmed that the first primitive forms of human settlements in the area surrounding today’s Santiago date back to the 10th century BC, and there are also theories that the area was home to a handful of agricultural communities along the Mapocho River between the 8th and 9th centuries AD.
However, the city was officially founded by conquistador Pedro de Valdivia in 1541. In its early years, the city was under constant threat of Indigenous attacks, earthquakes, and a series of floods but it survived and became the capital of the new Chilean republic that got its independence from Spain in 1810.
Are you visiting Santiago? Then you ought to consider this incredible private tour covering most of the city’s historic highglights.
Did you like this list of the oldest cities in America? Did you ever get the chance to visit any of them? Do you think we forgot to mention some other old cities on this list? Feel free to share your thoughts in the comments below.
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