We are now living in México! We are all excited to explore this new country — new for most of us, my husband lived here as a pre-teen for three years so for him it is rather like coming home. This was our first time out of the city. A perfect long weekend getaway, we loved every minute of Puebla. We had a long list of things to do and we barely scratched the surface.
Puebla is an easy two hour drive from Mexico City. It’s a great paved highway (with tolls) that takes you east out of the city past rolling countryside and snow-capped volcanoes. As we didn’t have a car yet, we hired a driver to take us and pick us up four days later. There are also many bus options as well. We were completely fine without a car for the long weekend.
Puebla in Spanish means “town”, but this is a city with a population of 1.5 million and Mexico’s fifth largest city. However once you are in the centre you do have a small-town feel with the cobblestone streets, more than a thousand colonial buildings covered in azulejos (the painted ceramic tiles it’s known for) and 70 churches in the historic centre alone. The cathedral is the tallest one in Mexico. Known for its food, artesania, and museums we were ready for a family break.
It is also where the Battle of Puebla took place on 5 May 1862, (of 5 de mayo fame — or cinco de cuatro if you like Arrested Development!) near Puebla City when the Mexican army fought successfully against the French army. Even though the Mexicans were severely outnumbered they did manage to win, however the French were hampered by the fact they had diarrhea.
For this trip we decided to splurge and stayed at the Azul Talavera Hotel. The location was on the edges of the Centro historico, which meant it was nice and quiet at night for sleeping. The menu had a good mix of Mexican and North American food, the children loved the waffles and pancakes for breakfast and the French fries by the pool. Speaking of pool, it is a gorgeous outdoor pool (it was warm) with wonderful views of the many churches. (Note; the tip is included in the food bill so if you order off the menu you don’t need to add a tip as well as my husband did for the first two days.).
The hotel is beside San Francisco church, which holds a mummified body of a Spaniard who came to Mexico in 1533 and was an urban planner, mapping out the roads for the country, before becoming a monk. Which explains why the church will bless your truck on certain days as he is the patron saint of drivers.
The first half day it was pretty quiet as it was September 16 and Mexican independence day. We went through Iglesia San Francisco and then walked to the zocalo (main plaza) to see the cathedral and the tiled outside of Casa de los Muñecos. We really wanted to try chiles en nogada (the dish you eat on independence day) and mole as Puebla is known for both of them. We wanted to try chiles en nogada at Mural de los Poblanos but it was fully booked for the weekend. So we went to Hotel Casareyna and split them between the adults. The chiles en nogada reminded me of mincemeat — meat, nuts, raisins, spices — which is stuffed in a chili, covered in creamed walnut sauce and sprinkled with pomegranate seeds and parsley. A Mexican flag coloured national dish! Mole is a spiced sauce with chocolate and hot peppers served over chicken.
The following day we went to the neighboring town of Cholula. We had to get two Ubers as there weren’t any big enough to fit the five us, but it was easy enough to get there and we were dropped off by the pyramid, Tlachihualtepetl (and yes I copied and pasted that name. I have no idea how to pronounce it.)
Cholula’s pyramid is the largest, by volume, pyramid in the New World. Construction began in the 3rd Century BC but now only a small section is uncovered, the rest is still under dirt, grass and trees. When not in covid times, there are tunnels you can explore. We did get a timed, free ticket and we walked up the pyramid (on a paved wide sidewalk, very steep!) for views over Cholula and to see the church on the top. In 1519 Cortés almost fell into an Aztec ambush in Cholula, however the neighboring Tlaxacalans had warned Cortés and the Spanish countered first and killed 6,000 Cholulans. Looting ensued and Cortés planned to build a church for every day of the year or one on top of every pagan temple (the legend varies). He didn’t make it to 365 churches, but there are 39 churches in Cholula and the one on top of the pyramid is Santurario de Nuestra Señora de los Remedios.
While we were waiting to go up the pyramid we tried grasshoppers (in season October to November or so I hear!). They were crispy and the man offering them had plain, lime or chili flavoured. We thought they were pretty tasty.
After we came back down the pyramid, we had heard there was a free train that just runs from Puebla to Cholula. The station is right beside the pyramid, so we took the mid-day train back to Puebla. (Check times before you go but we were told 12:20 and 5 p.m.) It was much slower than an uber, but kind of fun to go right through town on the train, and it was free! You end at the train museum in Puebla, (just before 1 p.m.) which could be another activity. We were hungry so we walked down through the market (about 2.5 km) towards the zocalo and had lunch at El Patio de San Luis on 10 oriente. We had to walk through a shoe store, to get the restaurant at the back. It was very reasonable and delicious. I tried a cemita poblana as I had heard it was another Pueblan speciality, it was milense sandwich with chipotle peppers.
We walked back to the hotel via sweet street! Calle 6 Oriente is a street filled with confectionary stores, cookies, local treats like camote (sweet potato) and huge lollipops. We let the kids choose what they wanted, my favorite was the the Santa Clara cookies, like a butter cookie wafer with a dulce de leche type filling on top. Maybe the original peak frean?
We then noticed a house full of bullet holes with a Mexican flag out front on Av 6 Ote 206. It is the Museo Regional de la Revolución Mexicana. The Serdán Alatriste family was living in the house in 1910 when they became involved in an anti-re election movement and it’s where the first battle of the Revolution took place. You can see how their house was at the time, where one of the sons hid under floorboards (til he sneezed and gave away his hiding place) and the upstairs room where the mirror and wall are riddled with bullet holes. We all enjoyed learning about the history and seeing the museum.
After this we split up and my husband took the younger two to the pool and my eldest and I went to the El Parián craft market on Ave 4 Oriente. There is a lot of the traditional pottery (talavera) so make sure you know what you want, it was slightly overwhelming and a riot of colour.
The next day I wasn’t feeling well (I’m sure it wasn’t the grasshoppers I ate) so my husband took the children to the zocalo and they caught a hop on hop off bus. There are many to choose from and they all depart from the main square. You can have an antique one, one about the old historic stories of Puebla, hop on hop off, an old trolley — so many! They mostly rode around and he said it was a good ride and everyone enjoyed it.
I met them at El Patio y las ranas on Av 2 Poniente 205 as we had read it was a good place to try tacos arabe. And being big shawarma fans and hearing this taco al pastor tasted similar we were keen to try it. Super cheap and probably the best food we had! We all loved it. Then we wandered around the centro, up to Uriarte Talavera, a pottery factory started in 1824. They have gorgeous pottery and tours Mon-Fri. We wandered down a street selling everything for quinceanera (sweet 15) dresses and a gorgeous (closed) candle store, but I took pictures through the grilled gate as it was so beautiful while the kids petted the guard dog. (Who was a big lovey dog!)
On Sunday before heading back to the city, we went to the antique area of town, Los Sapos. On Sunday they put out all their treasures in the main square. It was interesting to have a wander and look for something interesting. I bought an old vintage (1980s! Ahem) wooden mold for making the cone sugar which they still sell in the grocery stores.
We were there over a long weekend and Puebla was just coming out of an orange phase (for Covid) so some of what we wanted to see was closed. Other things on our list included the Biblioteca Palafoxiana library museum, Museo Amparo and especially the roof cafe, Fort Loreto y Guadalupe, the Teleferico, inside the Museo Casa del Alfeñique and, lastly, the Safari (which we thought would be better with our own car, though you can go there in an uber and go around in the safari trains). We obviously need to go back!