Visit Puebla – Now!

Puebla – Ciudad de Progreso

Yet another one of Mexico’s hidden gems, Puebla is an absolute treat for the inquisitive tourist. Countless modern museums, perfectly maintained cathedrals, distinctively tiled houses and a nightlife powered by the city’s university population – historic Puebla is a charming place to visit.

By shifting back our Bogota-Mexico City flight, we bought ourselves three extra nights to squeeze in Puebla, just a two-hour ride bus from Mexico City. Despite spending most of its existence in the shadow of the capital, Puebla is an impressive city in its own right and has plenty to brag about – the slogan plastered everywhere denotes it ‘the city of progress’.

Puebla has been immaculately restored

Puebla’s Zocalo

Arriving in the evening, we took an Uber to our brand-new Suites 201 hotel (£20 a night for a private room with view of the cathedral) and set about planning our two full days with military precision. We took another Uber (only £1!) into the main plaza for dinner, and found a traditional restaurant courtesy of Trip Advisor: Oriental Taqueria. Falling somewhere between a Mexican taco and a doner kebab, the ‘taco Arab’ (23 pesos/£1) provided more than enough sustenance. Walking through the beautifully lit Zocalo, we spied a roof terrace above the Royal Hotel, directly overlooking the main cathedral. Thinking it would be rude not to, we toasted our arrival in Puebla with a bottle of wine and a stunning view.

Photographing the view over the Zocalo from the roof-top bar

Glitzy lighting and a relaxed vibe

The streets below

The next day, Museum Amparo was our first destination as it was only a few minutes’ walk from our hotel. A modern exhibition centre, it contains a rotating art gallery, a few permanent pieces and an enormous rooftop breakfast bar. No time for breakfast though; with too much sight-seeing to do, we took a few photos from the terrace and moved on.

No time to dine – sadly

A relaxing morning for some

Walking immaculate streets

Markets and restaurants lie beneath the zocalo colonnades 

cafe culture surrounds the zocalo with plenty of al fresco dining options

Passing through the Zocalo by daylight and noticing some of the distinctive architecture, we reached the Capilla del Rosario, a chapel inside the Church of Santa Domingo. The 17th century chapel was said to be the ‘eighth wonder of the world’ once constructed, and it is easy to see why. With traditional Catholic symbols adorning the 23-carat gold-leaf painted walls, the light from the dome makes the whole interior shine.

The Church of Santa Domingo – who knew a treasure trove could be found inside?

The incredible gold-leaf painted chapel (covert photo)

Adjacent to Church of Santa Domingo is the famous Calle de Los Dulces. A real feat of town planning, this is a street full of shops selling artisanal confectionery and is right in the centre of the city. Sweets in classic shapes of guitars, sombreros and skulls are piled high on shelves and the shops run for three-blocks long.

Calle de Los Dulces

Sweet shops that went on and on and on…

A typical sweet shop frontage

A coffee pit-stop in Calle de Los Dulces

A traditional restaurant on the same street

Carrying on down the street, we reached Plaza San Francisco, which contained yet another fantastic cathedral and a series of beautiful landscaped gardens (Jardins). There were several boutique hotels in this area and we were welcomed into each and shown around if we showed even the slightest interest by leaning in to look or take a photo.

The landscaped gardens

The boutique shops surrounding the jardins area

A small courtyard nearby

Inside a stunning hotel – if your budget will stretch

One of the modern, boutique-style hotels in Puebla

Kate beside a huge pineapple tree!

The perfectly arranged gardens

Puebla is a fantastic place to stroll around

Another of Puebla’s charms is located here, the Secret Tunnels. Believed to be merely a myth, this set of 500-year-old tunnels were recently discovered and excavated. Originally linking the city of Puebla to a nearby fort and used for underground travel, the tunnel system dates back to 1531, but was only opened to the public in 2016. Amazingly, it is free to enter, so we decided to explore and found they were colourfully lit inside.

The entrance to the tunnels feels more like entering a metro station

The secret revealed

Perhaps the highlight of Puebla (but then, it is impossible to pick just one!) was the Bibliotheca Palafoxiana – an ancient library that would not have been out of place in Hogwarts. Gifted to the city by Juan de Palafox y Mendoza, the Bishop of Puebla, some 45,000 books were donated for general reading by all citizens and not just nobility – which was unheard of at the time. Founded in 1646, the library is the oldest in South America. There are books that date back as far as the 15th century, with many of them hand-written. The place was so impressive, with the timber carvings, sliding ladders and three tiers of books stacked to the ceiling. Another Puebla bargain at 20 pesos (or around 90p each), the library is listed on UNESCO’s Memory of the World register.

The vaulted hall of the library is 43m long

Palafox y Mendoza originally donated 5,000 books to the public

Two earthquakes damaged the building and shelves in 1999, but these were restored in 2001

A meeting place for book club?

Before lunch, there was time to visit the Catedral de Puebla in the city’s Zocalo, which dominates the main plaza. Again, the interior is as imperious and impressive as the other cathedrals in Puebla. Construction began on the Roman Catholic church in 1575 and it was completed in 1690.

Catedral de Puebla in the zocalo

The huge vaulted ceilings inside

The Zocalo is a friendly, sociable place

A place to sit and watch the world go by

Hungry for some excellent Mexican cuisine, we stopped off in Casona 703, a small restaurant set within a leafy courtyard, for some traditional tacos. The more Mexican food we eat, the more we love it and the salsa verde in this place was exceptional. Our meal came to around £5 for both of us and that even included a cocktail each. Kate nabbed the recipe for the salsa verde from the chef and then took tips on the best chilies!!

Fantastic buildings surround the zocalo

One of many sight-seeing buses in the centre

We had just enough time to check out the Museum of Baroque Architecture, which is situated about 15 minutes from the centre by taxi and is near to the ultra modern university. The museum pays homage to the excellent cathedrals and buildings which make up this historic city. It is another incredibly modern museum, with our favourite exhibit the huge scale model of Puebla which you can walk around as it lights up. Another feature of the museum is the impressive whirlpool within the central courtyard. Unfortunately, whilst looking like a swimming pool, the guard informed me that no swimming is allowed and it is for viewing only.

The Museum of Baroque Architecture – ultra modern and not baroque-style at all!!

A great quote at the museum entrance – we couldn’t agree more

Some of the detailed baroque exhibits

The enticing whirlpool in the centre of the museum – no swimming!

The huge scale model – lighting up each building as information was displayed

In the evening, we decided to take the City Tour Bus after dark – giving us a chance to rest some tired legs. There are about three different companies offering this tour, at a staggeringly good value of £4 per person. We opted for the latest bus, which would take us to some of the further flung sites around Puebla that were not as easy to reach by foot. In a city with countless cathedrals, it obviously appreciates the importance of good lighting. So many of the buildings are brilliantly lit up by night. This is something that is so often overlooked back in the UK – modern street lighting and retrospectively installing lighting to improve the appearance of older, historic buildings. At one of the drop-off points, we hopped off to take photos of one of the many (maybe 5 or 6?) colourful Puebla signs that was lit above a viewpoint. This was set above a pretty lake and park-museum that we unfortunately didn’t have time to return to.

Beginning our night bus tour

Templo San Francisco was also on our hit list for a daytime visit – but no time!

Passing a night market on our bus tour

Touring the streets – so beautiful 

On the tour bus we met a lovely couple from America: Ron and Kathleen, who we got talking to about the sorry state of British and American politics. They were very anti-Trump – so much so that when the result was announced, Ron could barely talk for a week! Following the bus tour, we joined them in a local restaurant for more local Mexican food and deliberated the political issues on both sides of the pond.

Every building has such great lighting by night

Top deck, front seats – travel geeks!

Puebla by night – there is a teleferico (cable car) in this area, which we didn’t manage to ride either. So much to do!

A typical tiled building on the surrounding streets

For our second day in Puebla, we were taking a trip to Cholula, a town within Puebla which has an incredible 365 churches – one for each day of the year. Stopping first in Tonazila, we climbed the steep stepped Great Pyramid of Cholula in the baking Mexican sun to see a cathedral that rises above the whole of Puebla. Although appearing to be a natural hill, it is actually the largest archaeological site of a pyramid (temple) in the world and inside are over five miles of tunnels excavated by archeologists. In total, it is 450m wide and 66m tall. From the top, there were excellent views across the city, whilst back at the base there was a great local market which sold clothes and smaller trinkets for low prices. Kate bought a knitted jumper for about £8.

View of the Great Pyramid from the market

The steep steps leading to the top of the pyramid

Views across Puebla from the pyramid

The cathedral at the top was built in 1519 – when the pyramid was still thought to be a natural hill

Inside the cathedral

The exposed steps at the base of the pyramid

Stopping at two more baroque cathedrals, each laced with gold leaf paint, we saw some of the most extravagant displays of wealth by the conquering Spanish when they were built in 16th century. The Temple of San Francisco Acatepec has an incredibly colourful external façade and gold-laden altar inside. Whilst we are not normally too enthused with churches and cathedrals, you cannot fail to be impressed by the artistry of these. There is also another, more modern side to Cholula that we did not get to see as we were on the historical tour. The student area is said to be full of cool bars and restaurants, with a great nightlife. This sounds like a good enough reason for us to return to Cholula and Puebla one day soon…

The Temple of San Francisco Acatepec is stunning

Close-up of the intricate facade

The incredible altar inside

The Church of Santa María Tonantzintla had incredible plaster mouldings – but no photographs allowed inside

Managed one sneaky photograph… hurrah!

The traditional old town of Cholula

The modern train station that connects Cholula with the centre of Puebla – one of latin america’s rare overland train lines

The peaceful streets of Cholula

Jumping forward a few hundred years, the tour then took us to the Estrella de Puebla Ferris Wheel, which was covered in a full LED glow as we arrived in the evening. We decided against going on it, as we spotted an enormous shopping centre across the dual carriageway. Breaking from our tour group, we decided to check out the mall instead. It was so huge it shocked us. Brand new and with shops ranging from H&M to Cartier, we thought it knocked the socks off of the Westfields back in London. After wandering the shops for half an hour, it was time for the tour bus to drop us back at the Zocalo.

The big wheel as darkness fell

And beside another Puebla sign

Inside the amazing shopping centre

Kate eyeing up souvenirs – with new jumper!

Arriving back into the Zocalo – we found an orchestral band playing – this place just can’t stop giving

The locals watching the band

The zocalo full with people as the band played

Catching another £1 Uber, we headed to a smaller but equally modern shopping complex that we had spotted earlier. With a range of cool bars to choose from, we decided to have a drink in Frida’s (named after the hugely popular artist Frida Khalo) as there was live music playing. It was just the one though, as above the shops and bars was a brand-new Cineplex – at least the third modern cinema complex we had seen in Puebla. Again, we were surprised how modern the place was! For a complete bargain of £2 a ticket (we’d unfortunately missed the 2-4-1 Tuesday deal!), Kate had somehow persuaded me to see the remake of Beauty & The Beast. No, it wasn’t Bond, Bourne, a comedy or a thriller – but against my expectations it actually wasn’t too bad. So there, I said it!

Our friendly cocktail maker at Frida’s bar

With the film finishing around midnight and the rest of the cinema closed, the curtain was also coming down on our time in Puebla. We both loved Puebla, a city of progress indeed. In fact, to call it ‘progress’ felt very modest – for us it has already achieved, so what else is it aiming for? It is safe, very affordable, friendly and packed with culture and activities. Throw in the year-round great weather and the fact it has dramatically less traffic and pollution than the capital, then Puebla has ‘progress’ in abundance. Mexico really is the gift that keeps on giving.

The city of progress, or the city of achievement?

 

Yet another perfectly preserved cathedral

katiebrooks2411@gmail.comVisit Puebla – Now!