Mexico City continues to be a travel hot spot, but there’s a lesser-known vacation destination nearby in the state of Puebla that’s also worth a visit -- and it won't cost you a lot to visit.
How to Get There
A two-hour drive southeast of Mexico City, Puebla city is a perfect day or overnight trip from the nation’s bustling capital. Even better? The bus ride from Mexico City’s TAPO terminal is a cheap and comfortable way to get there (200 MXN or about $10 USD each way on Estrella Roja or ADO bus lines). Though it's among Mexico’s largest cities, vibrant Puebla still has a relaxed atmosphere and its own distinct colonial history, rich culture, and unforgettable cuisine.
A little history: Puebla city was founded by the Spanish in 1531, and unlike other colonial cities in Mexico, it wasn’t built over an existing indigenous settlement. On May 5, 1862, the Mexican army defeated French forces in Puebla -- an event celebrated annually as the Cinco de Mayo holiday.
What to See and Do
Surrounded by striking volcanoes and mountains, the city’s colorful and well-preserved historic center is a UNESCO World Heritage site. Here you'll find an abundance of Spanish colonial treasures, including a wealth of beautiful churches and buildings decorated with painted Talavera ceramic tiles. While some buildings were damaged during the September, 2017 earthquake, most are open to visitors and are worth exploring. Consider starting with some of the following.
History buffs and book lovers should pop into the Palafoxiana Library, a handsome building in Puebla’s Casa de la Cultura (40 MXN to enter, or about $2 USD). Founded in 1646, it’s considered to be the first public library in Mexico, and perhaps even in the Americas. One church not to miss among the many in Puebla is the stunning Rosary Chapel inside the Church of Santo Domingo. The opulent chapel, which is free to enter, is covered in gold leaf and is a breathtaking example of Mexican Baroque architecture. Also visit the enormous Puebla Cathedral in Zocalo, the city’s main square; its two dominating towers are said to be the tallest in Mexico. Afterwards, relax on a bench or in one of the cafes lining the Zocalo, taking in all the action. The cathedral is free to enter as well.
But don’t stop there. Whether it’s visiting the Amparo Museum, with its extensive collection of Mexican art (35 MXN or about $1.80 USD to enter; free on Sundays and Mondays), or the modern International Museum of the Baroque (80 MXN to enter or about $4.30 USD), shopping for handicrafts in the El Parian market or for Talavera pottery, or taking in spectacular views aboard the cable car (50 MXN/$2.70 USD), there’s more to see and do in Puebla.
What to Eat
No trip to Mexico is complete without indulging in the local cuisine, and Puebla does not disappoint. Some of the country’s classic dishes originate here, including the seasonal chiles en nogada and mole poblano, a rich, thick, chili-chocolate sauce. Most restaurants have their own version of mole poblano, so you'll have many chances to sample it. For something fancier, El Mural de los Poblanos is set in a courtyard lined with beautiful murals. Here, a dinner for two with drinks comes in at under 1,000 MXN, or a reasonable $50 USD. For a delicious breakfast you won’t soon forget (for less than 100 MXN, or around $5), eat in the café of Profetica. It’s in a colonial mansion that also houses a bookstore and library.
Some of Puebla’s most delicious (and cheapest) food options, though, are its street food. Puebla’s specialties include chalupas (small fried tortillas with salsa and other toppings), tacos arabes (grilled, spit-roasted pork tacos), and cemitas (the city’s signature sandwich). Head to Mercado Melchor Ocampo El Carmen and watch the lightning-fast assembly of cemitas as you wait in line. This sandwich will likely keep you full for the rest of the day. If you’re craving something sweet, go to Calle 6 Oriente, also known as Calle de los Dulces or Sweets Street, where numerous shops sell Puebla’s sugary treats. Top it all off at the tiny, crammed bar La Pasita and sample small glasses of liqueur for less than $2 each. Local favorites include pasita, a raisin-based liqueur, and the eggnog-like rompope.
Venture Even Further
If you have additional time, don’t miss the city of Cholula. Only a few miles away, Cholula is known for its archaeology park, which contains the pre-Hispanic Great Pyramid of Cholula, the largest in the world by volume. It’s topped by the Church of Our Lady of Remedies, a 16th-century structure built by the Spanish, where you’ll get great views of the city and the impressive Popocatépetl and Iztaccihuatl volcanoes.