Camino Real Oaxaca — Oaxaca City, Oaxaca
Founded in 1568 as a small cottage with four nuns living in it, the convent had grown by the early 18th century into the large compound that still exists today, one city block in size, enclosed by high stonewalls, with a large chapel, the Santa Catalina de Siena, and five arcaded courtyards and cloisters inside.
As it did with most church proprieties in 1859, the federal government expropriated the convent, turning it over to the city, which in turn used it as a jail and city hall. Unlike most expropriated church properties, though, which were eventually given back to the orders that founded them or the Catholic Church, the convent was turned over to private hands, where it was used as a movie theater and a Masonic lodge before being converted into the city’s most elegant and expensive hotel, the Camino Real. During this time, the interior of the convent was subjected to several makeovers and restorations, and even though it is still beautiful, it has, for the most part, been stripped of its original ornamentation and furnishings, save a few fragments of murals on the walls, some old oil pots, a handful of restored colonial paintings, and a smattering of furniture.
Even if a night’s stay is beyond your means, the place is still worth a visit, especially the chapel with its dark, cavernous nave, where reenactments of the Guelaguetza folk dances are held every Friday night. (The price of admission includes a buffet dinner.) But perhaps what is most captivating architecturally about the former convent is the small octagonal-shaped outbuilding the nuns used as a washhouse. Located in the northeast courtyard, the washhouse is ringed with arches and covered with a Moorish dome, at its center a fountain surrounded by a dozen washbasins, its waterworks fully functional.
- Cinco de Mayo 300, just north of Murguia; North of Independencia, Centro Histórico; 91 rooms, USD$271/271/311 (s/d/t); Most major credit cards; phone 951-516-0611, 951-501-6100; fax 951-516-0732; www.caminoreal.com/oaxaca; email@example.com; Reservations recommended.
- Restaurant El Refectorio, outdoor heated swimming pool, 24 hour room service, safe deposit box, laundry and dry cleaning, two bars: Las Novicias & Las Bugambilias, shop and news stand, taxi stand, doctor on-call.
- Room: phone, satellite TV, hair dryer, AC, internet.