The 12 Oldest Cities in North America

Written by Kristen Holder
Updated: June 21, 2023
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North America is a large continent that occupies both the Western and Northern Hemispheres and it contains 23 countries. Some of the cities in those countries have roots that go back over a thousand years. What are the 12 oldest cities in North America?

Oldest Cities in North America Infographic
Tepoztlán is the oldest city in North America, which was founded around 1500 BCE.

Summary of 12 Oldest Cities in North America:

City NameLocationDate Founded
TepoztlánMorelos, Mexico1500 BCE
CholulaPuebla, Mexico500 BCE
Zuni PuebloNew Mexico, United States700 CE
Taos PuebloNew Mexico, United States1000 CE
Antiguo CuscatlánEl Salvador1054 CE
OraibiArizona, United States1100 CE
FloresGuatemala1200 CE
Mexico CityMexico1325 CE
Santo DomingoDominican Republic1496 CE
San JuanPuerto Rico, United States1508 CE
St. John’sNewfoundland, Canada1519 CE
St. AugustineFlorida, United States1565 CE

12. St. Augustine, Florida, United States: 1565 CE

St. Augustine, Florida

St. Augustine, Florida was originally founded in 1565 by the Spanish.

©iStock.com/felixmizioznikov

St. Augustine became established in 1565 and it’s the oldest continually occupied European settlement in the United States. Since its inception, someone has always lived there.

Originally, it became established by the Spanish. The city came to be in response to a French settlement in the area, which later became disbanded. The city played important roles during the American Revolution and other skirmishes before becoming a part of the United States in 1821.

11. St. John’s, Newfoundland, Canada: 1519 CE

Panorama of St. John’s at night. St. John’s, Newfoundland and Labrador, Canada.

©Henryk Sadura/Shutterstock.com

St. John’s in Canada has been a hub of civilization since before 1519 CE when it was marked on a Portuguese map for the first time. It became officially incorporated into Canada in 1888.

It probably started as an informal fishing village right after the Spanish traversed the area though some think Italians passed through first. It is likely St. John’s became established as early as 1497 if Italians were the first Europeans to the area.

St. John’s is the capital of Newfoundland and Labrador which is the Canadian province in which it resides. It is located on the island of Newfoundland instead of on the mainland of Labrador.

10. San Juan, Puerto Rico, United States: 1508 CE

San Juan, Puerto Rico Capitol Building

San Juan is the capital of Puerto Rico, a country officially owned by the United States.

©Maridav/Shutterstock.com

The capital of Puerto Rico is San Juan which was first settled in 1508 by the colonial Spanish and officially became a city in 1521. Today, Puerto Rico is an unincorporated territory owned by the United States. It is also the oldest city established by colonialists in the USA.

Historically and today, San Juan is the industrial and cultural hub of Puerto Rico. It suffers from severe traffic congestion as a result of poor city planning and urban sprawl. Big improvements are happening to public transportation and city redesign measures are active to remedy the congestion.

9. Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic: 1496 CE

Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic

The beautiful city of Santo Domingo was founded in 1496.

©iStock.com/Christopher V Photography

In 1496, the city of Santo Domingo became established after the first European contact. Santo Domingo lies in the Dominican Republic which shares an island with Haiti. The name of this island is Hispaniola.

Christopher Columbus set foot on Hispaniola for the first time in 1492. Santo Domingo became established by the Spanish though it passed hands between the Spanish and the French until the Dominican Republic declared independence in 1844. 

8. Mexico City, Mexico: 1325 CE

mexico city

Mexico City was originally named Tenochtitlan in 1325 CE before it was taken over by the Spanish in 1521.

©WitR/Shutterstock.com

Mexico City is the most populated city in North America as well as the capital of the United Mexican States. It is the largest Spanish-speaking city in the world and it is the sixth-largest metropolitan area on the planet. 

It sits at over 7,000 feet in elevation and it became established around 1325 CE by the indigenous Aztecs who named it Tenochtitlan. It was destroyed by the Spanish in 1521 who rebuilt the city in a European style.

Originally Tenochtitlan was built on an island in the middle of a lake. The Spanish drained this lake so Mexico City could expand. Today, the city is sinking a few inches per year because it sits on a soft lake bottom instead of bedrock.

7. Flores, Guatemala: 1200 CE

Flores, Guatemala

Flores island in Guatemala is a small city built in 1700 CE.

©iStock.com/Mindaugas Dulinskas

Flores is a small city in Guatemala that was built by 1700 CE on the ruins of the Itzan city named Nojpeten. Nojpeten became established sometime after 1200 CE. Flores is the second oldest continually populated city in the Americas.

The Spanish weren’t able to conquer the last of the Mayans in the region until well over a century after their other conquests. The last independent Mayans continued to live in the surrounding forests as rogues after their city fell.

6. Oraibi, Arizona, United States: 1100 CE

House in the Hopi Reservation in Arizona

Oraibi is located on the Hopi Reservation and was founded around 1100 CE.

©iStock.com/Konoplytska

Oraibi is located on the Hopi Reservation in Arizona which is located in the Southwest of the USA. Around 1100 CE, members of the Hopi consolidated into communities with the largest being Oraibi. This consolidation most likely occurred in response to a drought in the area that made other smaller population centers unviable.

In 1906, a schism occurred and only members of the community that wanted to insulate their way of life remained in the ancient Old Oraibi. Old Oraibi in Arizona accepts visitors. However, the residents are private and don’t allow photography.

5. Antiguo Cuscatlán, El Salvador: 1054 CE

El Salvador

Antiguo Cuscatlán is a small but thriving commercial center of El Salvador.

©iStock.com/Cesar Francisco Gutierrez Romero

Antiguo Cuscatlán became established in 1054 CE by Topiltzin Atzil. Originally known as Cuzcatlan, it was a Nahua city that served as their capital until the Spanish conquered the area in 1524.

Under Spanish influence, the city proved unimportant. Today, it’s a small but thriving commercial center with the highest per capita income in El Salvador.

4. Taos Pueblo, New Mexico, United States: 1000 CE

Taos Pueblo

This city has existed since 1000CE, however, the current population of Taos Pueblo, New Mexico is unknown.

©Nick Fox/Shutterstock.com

Taos Pueblo in New Mexico is a community of Puebloans that has existed since as early as 1000 CE. It is one of the oldest continually inhabited population centers in America. Exactly how many people currently live at Taos Pueblo is unknown.

The religious beliefs of the inhabitants are not understood because their traditions are closely guarded. Their language doesn’t have a written form. Therefore, most details about their culture haven’t been disseminated outside of their communities. Some of their traditions, like foot races, could be thousands of years old.

3. Zuni Pueblo, New Mexico: 700 CE

Zuni Pueblo, New Mexico

Zuni Pueblo, New Mexico is named after a Puebloe Indian tribe that has lived in the area since 700 CE.

©iStock.com/Dietmar Rauscher

There has been a Zuni presence in the area of the Zuni Pueblo since about 700 CE. The Zuni are a Pueblo Indian tribe with a distinct language and ancient origins. They established the Zuni Pueblo on top of a large mesa so that the settlement would be easier to defend from invaders.

Colonists came to the area in 1540 and found that there were turquoise and silver resources in the area. These resources are of cultural significance to the Zuni people. Today, around 6000 people live in the pueblo.

2. Cholula, Puebla, Mexico: 500 BCE

Great Pyramid of Cholula, Mexico

There are signs of habitation in Cholula dating back thousands of years.

©iStock.com/flocu

Cholula has hosted residents since around 500 BCE with signs of habitation dating back thousands of years before that. It officially became a sizeable cultural center by 700 CE. It’s one of the oldest continually inhabited cities on the planet. Additionally, Cholula is the oldest of its kind in the Americas.

The Great Pyramid with a church on top of it is the most important attraction in Cholula. It’s almost 400 feet tall and it looks like a hill because most of it remains unexcavated. It’s larger than the Great Pyramid of Giza and it had already become obsolete before the arrival of colonists in the 1500s.

1. Tepoztlán, Morelos, Mexico: 1500 BCE

Tepoztlán, Morelos, Mexico

Tepoztlán is the oldest city in North America, which was founded around 1500 BCE.

©iStock.com/AlxMendezR

Tepoztlán is an ancient city in Mexico that’s existed in some form for thousands of years. One of the most ancient influences from the area comes in the form of a god named Quetzalcoatl that later played a big role in mesoamerican spiritual life. The city became razed by Spanish colonialists in 1521. Unfortunately, its prehistory is murky.

Today, the city relies on agriculture and tourism. One of the main attractions is the Tepozteco Pyramid built to honor the Aztec god of pulque during the Postclassic Period. Pulque is an alcoholic drink made by fermenting agave.

The photo featured at the top of this post is © Jodie Tursunzade/Shutterstock.com


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About the Author

Kristen Holder is a writer at A-Z Animals primarily covering topics related to history, travel, pets, and obscure scientific issues. Kristen has been writing professionally for 3 years, and she holds a Bachelor's Degree from the University of California, Riverside, which she obtained in 2009. After living in California, Washington, and Arizona, she is now a permanent resident of Iowa. Kristen loves to dote on her 3 cats, and she spends her free time coming up with adventures that allow her to explore her new home.

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