Puebla was not in the original plan but am I ever glad we ended up there. We hit Puebla right after Mexico City and like Oaxaca city having its state’s name, Puebla holds the same. Called Puebla de Zaragoza fully, most just say Puebla. With a population around 2.5 million and diverse culture it’s Pueblas largest city with a mixed engineering of Mexican, French and Spanish style seen throughout but especially in the historic downtown area, which is where we stayed.
Puebla is the closest state just east of Mexico City, a two hour trip by the ADO bus give or take with a bit zig-zagged route around the active Popocatépetl volcano which is a definitely beautiful day trip as well.
With ADO bus we had the opportunity to buy tickets online but were used to buying tickets at the depot day of as some other companies don’t offer the service. We have another blog Oaxaca to Puerto Escondido touching base on using ADO but buying tickets with them online advanced at least 2 days can cut the cost in half usually. Also with French rideshare BlaBlaCar, or hitchhiking you can usually save quite a bit to a free ride as well.
Back to the travels, the bus dropped us off at the station about a 45 minute hike towards the city center and close to our Airbnb. Once again google maps, apple maps or a difference in established address to what either platform uses put us a mile from our actual destination. The address was directly linked to the site and we checked both apple and google with both locations similar yet the final result being different. A heads up when traveling. Also if a smartphone is available, it never hurts to download offline maps for your area so you can access without data or wifi and still have an on-demand guide.
After checking in we were greeted by the most lovely Carmelita, a tiny little lady with the biggest smile and a glow in her eyes. She led us through a wall climbing garden up into a two a second-level flat that wrapped around to a balcony in the back. Just out our room door was the balcony that overlooked the garden and a view of old cathedrals of the downtown in the distance.
Dinner was our first stop after organizing our stuff and wandering the 10 minutes down the cobblestone roads. As we walked dusk approached, the soft yellow glow of the street lights humming with the sky behind us like pink Kool-aid. We found what turned to be a cool yet a bit touristy Pug themed restaurant that looked over La Catedral de Puebla. The food was good but the view really came in for the win.
This cathedral was originally planned in 1575 but not in commission for almost 100 years of construction. Standing taller than all of the surrounding building and just more grand as well really commanded respect as the busy square filled nearby flooded with venders and a ton of people.
The capitol center was so clean. The streets swept and everything quite orderly, not the usual to what we’d seen. Especially for a town built of stucco and brick, and without the look of updates besides I imagine communication and waterway upgrades. There was a little of everything that followed down each corridor that encompassed the historic center by a half mile. Balloons and a guy blowing bubbles everywhere, hats, televisions, dvd’s and little food stands were on every corner. Musicians, comedy acts, and with not too much extra space we wandered all around. Finishing up we walked into the little bakery of dreams which had the absolute freshest looking selection in the window, trays and tongs to grab your favorites and so on. All for a couple USD. The downtown area was absolutely stunning and highly recommend anyone heading through here.
We did notice a large number of Volkswagens, more than the usual classic bug we’d seen throughout Mexico but I guess Puebla has a huge VW plant, and produces a ton of the cars which in turn are all over Puebla.
Our hosts son, who actually handles the airbnb account was ever so helpful. He took the extra time to show us around some other city central spots that were well manicured and left a view of the active volcano that had just erupted a few days prior. A spot he had offered for another day if we threw down on gas which we gladly obliged.
The gas was probably the easiest part as we drove through a few nearby towns before actually reaching the range around Popocatépedl. The overly occasional speed control bumps stretched every few blocks, just about before meeting the most rocky road that spanned for the next 45 minutes. It was one of those rides you hold your core tight into the bumps as we weaved airway to the base of Popocatépedl. From here as we were taking a few pictures the mountain blew up a few dark clouds of smoke before mellowing back out.
We took one of the trails on the mountain to an area with cascades or waterfalls Cascada Apatlaco. The air was quite chilly, a refreshing feeling and not nearly as cold as the country to the north was dealing with. After climbing all over around the river and falls we popped into a little restaurant that served awesome local fare before heading back down. The views were all definitely worth it.
When returning to Puebla we were greeted to a wonderful Yucitán style feast, filled with Cochinita Pibil as well as other Yucatan delicacies at Casa Montejo. A restaurant of the family of our host, they showed us what we would be eating as we traveled further along our journey in south eastern Mexico.
The next day we caught the touristic train around the historic center to Cholula, a connecting city just west of Puebla. There was a bus available as well as taxi’s and Uber with what we heard afterwards that the bus costs were about six pesos but we did pay $120 pesos each way with another $20 pesos for the plastic rechargeable card necessary for riding.
The train was comfortable but if we would have known otherwise we would have taken the bus. Twenty minutes of driving and we were in Cholula, a beautiful town about the same look as Puebla with a giant cathedral on top of a cliff, steps from the depot.
Our Lady of Remedies or Iglesia de Nuestra Señora de los Remedios is a 16th century church built in the late 1500’s on top of the largest pyramid known today, Tlachihualtepetl. After sweating a bit hiking up what seemed to be a ten minute march up quite steep giant steps we made it up to the cathedral. Photos weren’t allowed inside but the walls seemed to be plated with gold throughout. It was an over-the-top showcase, literally as it stood at the highest point in Cholula looking over the city. As the clouds subsided we made our way towards the bottom where another attraction wait, the archeological grounds from around the pyramid.
The Great Pyramid or Tlachihualtepetl is only partially seen underneath the cathedral but has been said to be the largest known pyramid built by man. Not as high as the Giza quite but many times more mass brings this site much attention. Surrounding the structure were other areas of this ancient city along with tunnels available to wander through, not all areas accessible to public. Lastly there was a smaller museum with artifacts and history on the area all for 75 pesos a person. Bia and I made way towards a touristic looking restaurant hungry and not looking to search too far, La Casa de Frida which put out a brunch buffet for about 120 pesos a person. After lunch we made way down the colorful streets into a Mercado Municipal San Pedro exploring a bit more before catching the 4pm train back to Puebla.
As our trip came to an end it was a definite unforgettable experience, Carmelita, the family and the relaxed atmosphere of the historic area. Something noticed that isn’t usual to about anywhere we’ve lived was the amount of respect between the pedestrians and drivers. Drivers slow down to a stop at a yellow light and the streets are kept clean. Puebla as well as Cholula will be remembered and until we meet again. Anyone heading up towards Mexico City, or driving through Puebla definitely make a stop in this magical city, grab some fresh pastries, mole and eggs and watch the sunset as it sits atop La Catredal de Puebla…