Snowcapped volcanoes soar above tiled church domes in Puebla,
one of Mexico’s loveliest states. Prehispanic pyramids, colonial
cities and church-filled villages look as though they’ve been
plopped down for landscape photographers in emerald green valleys
just 80 miles southeast of Mexico City. Puebla City, the eponymous
capital of the state, is so gorgeous its historic center is a
UNESCO World Heritage Site, with more than 2,000 protected
buildings. It’s one of the oldest cities in the country and one of
its most populous, with close to 2 million residents.
Yet Puebla isn’t on Mexico’s usual tourism radar and is mostly
seen as a pleasant diversion from Mexico City. It takes less than
two hours to drive between the two cities through forested
mountains though your clients should definitely take a bus or hire
a driver rather than attempt to conquer Mexico City’s abysmal
I’ve found I need several days just to explore downtown Puebla’s
churches, museums, plazas and art galleries, and several nights to
indulge in its outstanding cuisine. Add-on side trips to rural
markets and imposing ruins, and I can easily fill a week with time
to sip cervezas in plaza cafes and indulge in rainy afternoon
Any introduction to Puebla should begin in the Plaza de Armas,
also called the Plaza Principal or zocalo. It’s a classic main
square with elderly gentlemen getting their shoes shined beneath
shade trees and children splashing around the fountain.
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Savvy tourists return to the plaza frequently to rest on a
wrought-iron bench and delete digital photos, study maps or simply
join Poblanos (as the state’s residents are called) striding
purposefully down pathways en route to work or stopping for a bit
of gossip. Cafes under sidewalk portales (archways) across the
street serve tacos, chilled cervezas and strong coffee, and are
perfect for sightseeing breaks.
The city’s most obvious asset is its architecture: a riotous blend
of Baroque, Churrigueresque, colonial and Renaissance styles.
Convents, churches and palaces festooned with angels, arches and
domes nearly overwhelm the eyes at first glance. Most buildings
have at least a few tiled surfaces and brilliant blue and white
tiles gleam on the domes of the Cathedral.
The Spaniards, who began establishing the city in 1531, must have
been inspired by the natural beauty in their surroundings. They
built some of Mexico’s most exuberant churches and taught Poblanos
the art of Talavera, pottery hand-painted with intricate blue and
white designs. Local painters added their familiar earth tones in
swirls of yellow, red and green, creating a distinct ceramic
Few visitors can resist buying tiles, platters, even complete sets
of dishes in Puebla make sure your clients bring an extra suitcase
and bubble wrap. Serious shoppers begin their sprees at the Museo
de Arte Popular Poblano in the Convent of Santa Rosa, built in the
1740s as a Dominican nunnery.
The convent houses a collection of the state’s most gorgeous folk
art and a quintessential Puebla-style kitchen with walls covered in
vibrant yellow tiles. At the Barrio del Artista, potters and
painters demonstrate their style and sell their works; shops in the
neighborhood display less-expensive, mass-produced pottery that’s
fine for souvenirs.
But anyone determined to purchase high-quality work heads for
Uriarte Talavera, a pottery factory founded in 1824. The workshop’s
artists follow the original techniques, using only natural dyes and
hand-painting every line. The shop ships fragile purchases to the
U.S. and has even started a Web site where clients can begin to
understand why one single hand-painted tile costs $5 and tiled
murals of the Virgin of Guadalupe start at $200.
Legend has it that the nuns of Santa Rosa whipped up the first
mole poblano, the blend of bitter chocolate, chilies, and a full
shelf of spices that’s become one of Mexico’s signature dishes.
True mole sauce has a complex, pungent flavor that changes with
Have your clients begin experimenting with mole and other regional
dishes at the casual Fonda Santa Clara near the plaza, ordering
nopal (cactus) salad and mole with chicken. For more adventuresome
and refined palates steer gourmands toward Las Bodegas del Molina,
where they can sample chilies en nogada, another complex regional
dish of poblano chilies stuffed with sweetened ground meat and
covered with a white walnut sauce and red pomegranate seeds.
Everyone should also sample candies and cookies at La Calle de las
Dulces (the Street of Sweets), where shop after shop displays
It’s easy to get into a shopping and dining trance in Puebla.
There’s always one more market stall crammed with tiny clay cups
and enormous ornate planters, and one more cafe you haven’t tried
in the hip Callejon de los Sapos (Alley of Frogs) behind the
Cathedral. But time is short no matter how long visitors stay in
Puebla. They simply must check out markets in rural villages,
scramble around the Gran Piramide de Tepanapa (the largest pyramid
in Mesoamerica) and drive along country roads beneath Popo, Izta
and Orizaba, three of Mexico’s tallest volcanoes.
Clients who crave cultural immersion will be thrilled with a
weeklong Puebla itinerary that includes overnight stays in colonial
mansions and days filled with incomparable explorations.