Top 6 Cities for History Buffs on a Goway Vacation: South America and the South Pacific

People & Culture

Rocks Sydney Australia and Cartagena de Indias, Colombia

In our two previous installments, in which we explored the top cities for history buffs in Asia and Europe and Africa and the Middle East, we demonstrated that history is a huge draw for tourism. As we come to our final article in our series exploring top cities for history buffs on a Goway vacation, we face a different challenge than we did before. Instead of having a surplus of cities that would make great entries on the list, we have a deficit. This is understandable, as South America and the South Pacific don’t have the historical continuity of Africa or Asia. Both regions were colonized and the cities that were present there thousands of years ago were destroyed or abandoned.

Thus, don’t expect to find thousand-year-old entries on this list like you did on the past two. That being said, South America and the South Pacific are still home to cities with rich, fascinating histories that will prove delights to any history buffs lucky enough to visit them on a Goway vacation. While they may be a bit on the newer side, they are still intriguing historical centres worth exploring. The following are the top 6 cities for history buffs in South America and the South Pacific.

Buenos Aires, Argentina

Casa Rosada Presidential Palace, Centros District, Buenos Aires, Argentina
Casa Rosada Presidential Palace

The Argentine capital, Buenos Aires, is one of the most alluring cities on the planet. It’s also seen some major historical shifts since it was founded in 1536. Plaza de Mayo is the logical starting point to explore the city’s history. Named after the Argentine Revolution of Independence, which took place in May 1810, Plaza de Mayo is where you’ll find Casa Rosada, the presidential palace where Eva Peron famously addressed the nation on October 17, 1951. You can tour the building on weekends as it houses the President’s offices during the week.

To explore Argentina a few centuries prior to Eva Peron, head across the square to Cabildo, which was the Spanish governmental headquarters when Argentina was a Spanish colony. Built during the 18th century, the building is the only original structure left on the square. Today, it houses a museum detailing the May Revolution. You can continue your trek through the nation’s history by heading to the National History Museum, which houses various significant items from the nation’s past, including its first independent Argentine flag. Also be sure to head to Plaza Dorrego, the second oldest square in the city where Argentine Independence was formally declared in 1816.

For further explorations into colonial Argentina on your Goway vacation, head to Manzana de las Luces, which has the Iglesia de San Ignacio, built in 1734, as well as many underground tunnels constructed in centuries past. The church was the Argentine centre for the Jesuits before they were expelled from the Spanish Empire in 1767. Also don’t forget to head to the Cementerio de la Recoleta, the opulent cemetery where Eva Peron is buried alongside other famous national figures like former president, Bartolome Mitre.

Recoleta Cemetery, Buenos Aires, Argentina
Recoleta Cemetery, Buenos Aires

Cartagena, Colombia

Castillo San Felipe de Barajas is a fortress in the city of Cartagena, Colombia
Castillo San Felipe de Barajas in Cartagena

Visiting Cartagena is the next best thing to travelling back in time and exploring the Spanish cities of the New World. The old walled city is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and the best-preserved Spanish colonial town on the planet. It’s full of churches, colonial mansions, charming plazas and incredible balconies. Walking through the Old Town is like visiting an outdoor museum of colonial Spain.

Aside from the streets of the old town, the massive fortress, Castillo San Felipe de Barajas, is the city’s chief attraction. As the largest and most important Spanish fortress in the New World, the castle withstood various attacks by the British. Today, you can explore the fortress on your Goway vacation by delving into its dim tunnels or walking its massive stone walls.

Another significant colonial landmark is the Convento de la Popa, an early 17th-Century convent located on the highest hill in the city. You’ll need to take a cab to reach the convent as it’s too dangerous to hike the hill, but the cost of the ride is worth it for the views. There’s no better spot to appreciate the beauty of Cartagena on a clear day. If you head back into the city from the outskirts, you’ll find many other sites dotted among the Old Town. The Jesuit church Iglesia de San Pedro Claver is the most famous Jesuit church in Colombia. It was named after the Patron Saint of Slaves, Saint Peter Claver, who dedicated his life to ministering to the slaves of the colony of New Granada.

Other notable historical sites include Las Bovedas, which are dungeons built in the 18th century that now house a variety of souvenir shops. You should also make time for Iglesia de Santo Domingo, the supposedly-oldest church in the city that was home to Dominican friars until the 19th century, and the Palace of Inquisition, a museum and former prison that details the actions of the Spanish Inquisition in the colonies.

Church of St Peter Claver, Cartagena, Colombia
Church of St Peter Claver, Cartagena

Cusco, Peru

Iglesia de la Compania de Jesus on Plaza de Armas in Cusco, Peru
Iglesia de la Compania de Jesus on Plaza de Armas in Cusco

Cusco is the oldest continuously-inhabited city on the continent. It’s also the closest major city to the Sacred Valley of the Incas, so over a million tourists

pass through its streets each year on their way to hiking Machu Picchu and the Andes Mountains. The main square, Plaza de Armas Cusco, is a great spot to start your journey through the city’s history. The square was where Spanish conqueror, Francisco Pizarro, proclaimed his conquest of the Inca Empire. As such, it is home to many colonial highlights, like Cusco Cathedral and the Iglesia de la Compania de Jesus. Head to Barrio de San Blas to see more architectural leftovers of Spanish rule and to learn about the daily life of colonists.

Before the Spaniards conquered the city, Cusco was the capital of the Inca Empire. As such, the city is home to various Inca ruins and temples, such as Qurikancha, the Sun Temple, which now houses the convent of Santo Domingo. You’ll also find remains of the Inca royal palace and the Temple of the Virgins of the Sun within the city. If you want a more in-depth look at Inca culture on your Goway vacation, head to the Inca Museum. It’s a small museum, but packed to the gills with Inca jewels, textiles, and mummies.

Qorikancha Temple (Inca Ruins), Cusco, Peru
Qorikancha Temple, Cusco

Darwin, Australia

Aerial View of Darwin, Northern Territory, Australia
Aerial view of Darwin

Darwin is the smallest city on this list by a wide margin, but it jam packs a lot of history into a relatively small space. Most of the city’s history has to do with World War II, when the Japanese attacked the city by air and burnt much of it to the ground. Two museums are central to exploring the events of February 19, 1942, when Japanese planes bombed the city in a series of air raids. The Aviation Heritage Centre is the place to see all things aircraft related. You’ll find a B-52 bomber from World War II here as well as a Japanese Zero fighter that was shot down during the air raid on Darwin. Some amateur footage of the air raid is also on display here.

The Darwin Military Museum extends the focus to the defense of Darwin during World War II and Australia’s military history in general. The interactive Defence of Darwin Experience lets you reenact the Japanese bombing of Darwin through audiovisual displays, including footage of the bombing and a series of first-hand accounts of the day.

The rest of Darwin also has important remnants from World War II. Charles Darwin National Park has ammunition bunkers left over from war while the Casuarina Coastal Reserve has leftover artillery posts. The Royal Flying Doctor Service Darwin Tourist Facility also showcases the remote doctor service that helped out farmers and other remote communities during the war years. If you want to learn about the more distant past, head to the Museum and Art Gallery of the Northern Territory to learn about the indigenous peoples who occupied the land for dozens of millennia prior to European settlement.

Casuarina Coastal Reserve near Darwin, Northern Territory, Australia
Casuarina Coastal Reserve near Darwin

Honolulu, Hawaii

Aerial view of USS Arizona and USS Missouri Memorials at Ford Island, Pearl Harbor, Honolulu, Hawaii, USA
Aerial view of USS Arizona and USS Missouri memorials at Ford Island, Pearl Harbor, Honolulu

Like Darwin, most of Honolulu’s historical significance is limited to the 20th century, but the history is so fascinating and monumental as to have changed the course of the world. Like Darwin, Honolulu was the site of a famous Japanese attack in World War II. On December 7, 1941, the Japanese destroyed a substantial portion of the American Navy during a surprise assault on Pearl Harbor – Japan and the U.S. were not even technically at war at this point. The attack led the Americans to join the war, and the rest is history.

Head to Pearl Harbor and the Arizona Memorial to learn about this fateful day and pay respects to its victims. The Arizona Memorial sits atop the sunken remains of the USS Arizona, where over a thousand U.S. soldiers died during the battle. Tour the memorial and the nearby USS Missouri, where Japan surrendered to the U.S. at the end of World War II, to delve into American war history and learn about one of the most significant battles of the 20th century. You can also visit the Pacific Aviation Museum and the USS Oklahoma Memorial if you want to continue exploring the effects of World War II on Hawaii.

Beyond the events of Pearl Harbor, Honolulu offers insight into the Polynesian history of the South Pacific and America’s colonial expansion into Pacific nations. Head to Iolani Palace is downtown Honolulu to see the only royal palace on American soil. You can continue exploring the history of Hawaii’s royal family by heading to Bishop Museum, which houses the heirlooms and artefacts of Princess Bernice Pauahi Bishop. It’s also worth visiting the Cathedral Basilica of Our Lady of Peace, which is said to be the oldest continuously used cathedral in the United States.

Iolani Palace in Honolulu, Oahu, Hawaii
Iolani Palace in Honolulu

Sydney, Australia

Hyde Park Barracks, Sydney, Australia
Hyde Park Barracks, Sydney

As the largest and oldest city in Australia, Sydney is the obvious choice to end this list. The Sydney area has been inhabited by indigenous Australians for at least 30,000 years. The modern city was born when the British Empire founded it as a penal colony in 1788. After gold was discovered in 1851, the population of the colony exploded, transforming the city into much more than a penal colony.

The remnants of this penal colony can be found across the city, primarily in the Rocks neighbourhood and the Hyde Park Barracks. The Rocks is the oldest neighbourhood in the city and is located directly below the Sydney Harbour Bridge. The Rocks Discovery Museum charts the history of the area from thousands of years ago up until the present day, and contains artefacts and artworks from the various time periods. The Susannah Place Museum is also a good spot to learn about daily life during the 19th and 20th centuries. The Hyde Park Barracks was built to house convicts but soon became a central administration building for the government bodies managing the convict population and their labour and transport.

Sydney is full of many other historical sites that should be of interest to amateur historians on a Goway vacation. The massive ANZAC Memorial sits in Hyde Park and is dedicated to all the Australian soldiers who lost their lives for their country. Head to Fort Denison to further explore Australia’s military history. The fort was built in 1855 as a defense against possible Russian incursions. The Martello tower, barracks, and gun battery all remain to this day.

For more domestic urban history, you can stroll down Macquarie Street to see where many of the finest Georgian and Victorian buildings were built, included the Sydney Hospital, Parliament House, and Royal Mint. The neoclassical Customs House, which houses the library and art exhibitions, is also a noteworthy historical building downtown. Cadman’s Cottage remains the oldest residential building in the entire country. The sandstone building used to be the home of John Cadman, a penal convict; today, it houses an information centre on local parks and wildlife.

Hyde Park with ANZAC Memorial and CBD cityline on a bright autumn day, Sydney, Australia
Hyde Park with ANZAC Memorial and CBD cityline on a bright autumn day, Sydney

You won’t find 2,000-year-old cities in South America and the South Pacific, but you will find cities with a wealth of historical, military, and political history to discover on a Goway vacation. Whether you’re exploring the Spanish colonial centres of Cartagena and Cusco or the military bombing sites of Darwin and Honolulu, you’ll find more than enough history and culture to fascinate even the most learned history buff.

Related Articles:
Top 6 Cities for History Buffs on a Goway Vacation: Asia and Europe
Top 6 Cities for History Buffs on a Goway Vacation: Africa and the Middle East