Surrounded by mountains and volcanoes, filled with Renaissance and Baroque architecture, and famous for classic Mexican cuisine, colonial Puebla in central Mexico can appeal to many interests. The lively city, home to over 1.5 million people, offers plentiful leisure and sightseeing options.
Here are five activities I recommend as a starting point for exploring the city and area, or if you stop there for only a few days.
1. Visiting the Zócalo
Like many Mexican cities, Puebla is centered around a main plaza. The European-style zócalo is lined with arcade buildings, outdoor cafes, and a large 16th century cathedral. Head to the square to soak up the city’s atmosphere, grab a drink, or relax on a bench and people-watch.
2. Walking the historic district
Puebla dates back to 1531 and was named a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1987. It has more than 2,600 monuments and well-preserved historic buildings, including many covered in elaborate tiles.
You can see the tile work on Templo de San Francisco, the oldest Catholic church in the city, and Casa de los Muñecos (“House of Dolls”), a former yarn warehouse that now serves as a restaurant and cultural institution. Paseo Bravo, a long and narrow plaza popular with lunch crowds, features a tiled church.
3. Tasting local cuisine
The city has long been recognized for its culinary traditions. Food enthusiasts may enjoy these three local inventions:
- mole poblano – a dark, thick sauce prepared from around 20 ingredients, such as chili peppers and chocolate
- cemitas – round bread-roll sandwiches with various toppings, including Mexican string cheese (quesillo)
- chiles en nogada – stuffed peppers in a walnut-based cream sauce.
4. Learning about history and crafts
Puebla was the birthplace of the Mexican Revolution and site of the Battle of Puebla on May 5, 1862 (the Mexican holiday of Cinco de Mayo – Spanish for May 5th – commemorates that day). Mexican Revolution artifacts can be found at Museo Regional de la Revolución Mexicana. For pre-Hispanic collections, visit Museo Amparo, located inside two colonial-era buildings.
The city also houses Uriarte Talavera, a painted pottery workshop and store, carrying a large catalog of handcrafted items, including tiles, dishes, and home accessories.
5. Taking a day trip
There are many historically-significant towns surrounding Puebla, many of them easily accessible by bus.
Cholula, founded between 800 and 200 B.C., is believed to be the oldest continually-inhabited city in the country. It is the site of the Great Pyramid of Cholula, one of the world’s largest at 181 feet / 55 meters tall. Cholula’s historic center features a large zócalo with restaurants inside arcade buildings, a set up similar to that in Puebla.
Another idea for exploring the area is hiking nearby archeological sites, such as the Olmec ruins in Cantona.
Getting there & Links
Puebla is located 85 miles south-east of Mexico City and accessible via bus and air:
- Estrella Roja/ADO operates comfortable first-class buses (the trip takes approximately two hours). Snacks, a beverage, and onboard Wi-Fi are provided.
- The area airport is operated by United Airlines (direct flights from the United States), Volaris, and Aeromexico.
Have you been to Puebla or other colonial cities in Mexico? If so, what was your favorite experience?