We spent a thoroughly enjoyable few days in Puebla last year. Only a couple of hours by bus from Mexico City, the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Puebla is indeed a vibrant and engaging city. Many people visit Puebla on a day trip from the capital, but it is worthy of at least a couple of days. In fact, there’s so much to keep you occupied in and around this charming city that a week, or even more, is preferable.
The historical centre brims with beautiful colonial architecture, along with markets, restaurants, antique stores and churches galore. There are, in fact, an impressive seventy-nine churches in the Centro Historico alone. The city is also known for its culinary heritage and was the birthplace of mole, a national dish of Mexico.
Here we take a look at twenty-one things you can do to get the most out of your visit to the beautiful city of Puebla:
1) Immerse yourself in Culture at Museo Ampara
Located in the heart of the historic centre, Museo Amparo combines exhibits from Mexico’s colonial past together with cutting-edge work by global artists. The museum is housed in two colonial buildings, but the interior of both have been renovated into impressive modern exhibition spaces. To make a visit even more tempting, an elegant rooftop café looks out over the domed buildings of the city’s skyline.
2) Take a Ride on the Hop On and Hop Off Bus
In the past, we have found that buses of the ‘Hop On – Hop Off’ variety can be a rip-off. Nevertheless, we were most impressed with Puebla’s version. Not only was it cheap, but it covered lots of ground. We were consequently able to see parts of the city that we would not otherwise have experienced. We initially hopped on at the zocalo, paid just a few dollars, and were treated to a lengthy and enjoyable tour of the city.
3) Have Breakfast at Casa Mimi
Casa Mimi is a delightful café located close to the zocalo, where the staff are welcoming and the food delicious. In fact, we liked it so much that we had breakfast there every morning. Our server was Kiki, who was friendly and hospitable. She even set us up with a card game while we waited for our food to arrive. The food itself was beautifully presented, as well as tasty, and there were plenty of veggie options. The décor is warm and stylish. As a matter of fact, Casa Mimi is an all-round winner.
4) Shop for Antiques
Puebla is awash with antique stores which are fascinating to peruse. We happened to be in town on a weekend and stumbled upon an excellent market in the Los Sapos area. Consequently, we spent an hour or so checking out the merchandise which was a mishmash of the old and new. We even got involved in some haggling and managed to pick up a bargain or two. The best street for antique shopping is Callejon de los Sapos. A weekend market is held at Plazuela de los Sapos.
5) Take a Trip to Cholula
We had a great day out in nearby Cholula, which is located about eight miles away from Puebla. We took a taxi there (confession – we couldn’t find the bus stop!) but returned by local bus. Cholula is, in fact, home to the largest manmade pyramid in the world. Covered in vegetation, the pre-Hispanic pyramid has tunnels running beneath it which can be visited with a guide. From the top of the hill, there are sweeping views of the mountains and also the city below. On a clear day, puffing Popocatepetl Volcano can be seen in all its glory.
6) Check Out the Street Art
Although there is a smattering of street art in the historic centre, the best area for urban art is Xanenetla. Many of the houses are entirely covered in colourful murals. Indeed, there is a surprise to be found around every corner. The best way to enjoy the art is by taking a stroll around the neighbourhood and discovering the murals yourself. Although the area was previously considered dangerous, it is now safe during daylight hours.
7) Learn about the Revolution at Museo de la Revolucion Mexicana
Riddled with bullets, this building was where the 1910 revolution kicked off. Restored after the 2017 earthquake, it was originally the home of three brothers who were involved in the initiation of the revolution. When the government chased them down, the first battle of the rebellion ensued. The museum traces the history of the revolution and also does good job in conveying what life was like back in the day. There is some signage in English.
8) Discover the Sweet Treats of Calle de los Dulces
If you have a sweet tooth, don’t miss Calle de los Dulces. Otherwise known as Candy Street, Calle de los Dulces is lined with tempting shops selling candy of all varieties. The window displays are spectacular and feature candies, cookies, nut brittle, lollipops, jellies galore together with traditional Mexican confectionary. Inside the shops, sweet treats are piled high. Calle de los Dulces can be found on Av.6 Oriente.
9) Enjoy the Lively Vibe of Calle de los Sapos
This colourful street is particularly lively at weekends. Visitors from both Mexico and beyond browse the artisan stores and market stalls. Roving vendors sell tasty snacks and there are oodles of Mexican knick-knacks, art, furniture and antiques on offer. In fact, it is an ideal place to pick up a souvenir of Puebla. Additionally, the brightly painted buildings are attractively adorned with potted flowers and decorative doorways.
10) Spend a Day in Nearby Atlixco
This official magic town is located about half an hour from downtown Puebla and is easy to reach by bus from the CAPU Bus Station. Buses, in fact, run every 15-20 minutes. Like Puebla, Atlixco brims with colourful colonial buildings. The many ornate churches, most of which are folk Baroque in style, are abundant. The town is home to a lovely zocalo – a perfect place to sit and watch the world go by. Additionally, the steep cobbled streets are picturesque and fascinating to explore. It is also worth climbing the hill of Cerro de San Miguel for sweeping views of the town from the small chapel.
11) Take a Look at the Oldest Library in the Americas
Not only was Biblioteca Palafoxiana the first library to be established in Mexico, but the first in the whole of the Americas. Dating back to 1646, over 45,000 books together with manuscripts, are housed in the Baroque bookcases of the library, which now doubles as museum. Small and well maintained, the carved woodwork is beautiful and it’s a worthwhile stop for anyone who is interested in history.
12) Check out the Architecture
Puebla was declared a World Heritage Site in 1987. Indeed, the historic centre is something of an open-air museum. As a matter of fact, one of the joys of visiting Puebla is exploring the streets and discovering its magnificent architecture which dates back to the 16th century. The colourful facades have incredible detail and the city is known for the intricate tilework which adorns many of the buildings.
13) Watch the World go by in the Zocalo
As with all Mexican towns and cities, the Zocalo (plaza) is at the heart of Puebla. It is at its most lively during the evenings and weekends. Overlooked by the imposing cathedral, the zocalo is surrounded by restaurants, bars and cafes. It’s a perfect place to take a break, sit on a bench, and people watch for a while. We were there on a Sunday afternoon when crowds gathered to watch traditional dancing.
14) Down a Shot at La Pasita
La Pasita is located on a street corner in the neighbourhood of Los Sapos in Centro Historico and is Puebla’s most iconic bar. As its name suggests, its signature tipple is pasita. Invented by the bar’s original owner, it’s a sweet liquor made from raisins, served in a tequila glass, and embellished with a cube of goat’s cheese and a raisin. In addition, many claim that Pasita has an array of health benefits. Indeed, when we were in Puebla, there was a long line of people waiting for their turn to sample Puebla’s famous alcoholic beverage.
15) Take in some Baroque Art at a Cutting Edge Museum
This contemporary and sleek museum is dedicated to 17th and 18th century Baroque. Designed by Japanese architect, Toyo Ito, and opened in 2016, it is worth a visit for the architecture alone. If you also appreciate the art of the Baroque era, you will find much to enjoy. Divided into sections focusing on sculptures, music, paintings etc, it is well presented and also has interactive exhibits which explain the about the history of Baroque.
16) Enjoy Panoramic Views on the Telferico
This cable car only costs about $3.00 and although it only takes a few minutes, it offers panoramic views of the city. The 600-metre long cable runs from the Expositor Centre to Zaragoza Road and takes around seven minutes. The four volcanoes that surround the city are also visible and sunset is an ideal time to take a ride.
17) Pick up a Bargain at Parian Market
This market is located in buzzing Centro Historico and consists of two rows of stalls facing each other. Local traders sell colourful handicrafts such as pottery, jewellery and textiles, most of which are reasonably priced. The vibe is friendly, with no pressure from the stall holders and we were therefore able to take our time and enjoy perusing the stalls. Also, look out for quirky paintings on the pedestrianised street.
18) Check out the magnificent Cathedral
This Roman Catholic cathedral, completed in 1575, is one of the largest in Mexico and took nearly a hundred years to build. Renaissance and Baroque in style, it has fourteen side chapels together with an octagonal altar made of onyx. The altar is supported by Corinthian columns and it has a dome similar to St Peters Basilica in Rome. The cathedral is located on the Zocalo.
19) Discover the Secret Tunnels of Puebla
The tunnels that exist under the city streets between the Zocalo and Xanetla were only discovered in 2016. In fact, it had previously been thought that the existence of the tunnels was a myth. The secret underground passages are believed to be around five-hundred years old. They extend for more than ten kilometres and connect a series of forts to Centro Historico.
20) Sample the Local Cuisine
Puebla is renowned for its culinary scene. It’s most famous dish is Mole Poblano, a chocolate sauce made with multiple ingredients including chilli together with numerous spices. Two of the best places to sample Mole Poblano dishes are El Mural De Los Poblanos and El Viejo Rosario. The tasty local tacos, many of which use spices and ingredients introduced by Lebanese immigrants, can be found on every street corner. Additionally, cemitas are hefty sandwiches made with Oaxacan cheese and various meat fillings along with guacamole, chilli, veggies and onions. Another favourite is Chiles en Nogada, a chilli pepper containing stewed fruits in a creamy walnut sauce. Last but not least, warm and crispy churros coated in cinnamon sugar are a delicious treat at any time of the day.
21) Stroll around the Artist’s Quarter
This pedestrianised plaza of Puebla is known as Barrio de Artista and covers a block of 6 Norte St. It’s an attractive leafy area brimming with galleries, studios and exhibition halls. Many of the artists can be seen painting in the open and it’s often possible to talk to them about their work. Indeed, it’s a great place to purchase local art. Additionally, there are an abundance of alfresco restaurants. On weekends the area buzzes with activity and the atmosphere is festive.
How to get to Puebla: If you are coming from Mexico City, you can take a bus from either TAPO Bus Station or the Airport. Buses run regularly and arrive at Puebla CAPU Bus Station. Hermanos Serdan is Puebla’s international airport.