Top 10 Puebla, Mexico
Temple of San Francisco Acatepec, photo by Alison Kent
Temple of San Francisco Acatepec, photo by Alison Kent
Palafoxiana Library, photo by Alison Kent
Fonda de Sta Clara, photo by Alison Kent
Mole poblano, photo by Alison Kent
Chapulines, photo by Alison Kent
Shrimp at Intro, photo by Alison Kent
Dulces Recuerdos de Santa Clara, photo by Alison Kent
Cholula ruins with church, photo by Alison Kent
Founded by the Spanish in 1531, Puebla is the fourth largest city in Mexico, with a population just shy of 2 million. Located an hour and a half’s drive southeast from Mexico City, Puebla has an elevation of over 7,000 feet, with imposing mountains and the snow-capped peak of Popocatépetl volcano in the distance. Designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1987 for its beautifully preserved Spanish colonial era buildings, the extraordinary architecture of Puebla is perhaps surpassed only by its renowned contributions to the world of gastronomy. Here is a breakdown of some of my favourite and not-to-be-missed activities while in warm and friendly Puebla.
1. Baroque Architecture and Churches: With its full name being ‘Puebla de los Angeles’, or ‘People of the Angels’, Puebla has more than 350 churches of swe-inspiring magnificence and beauty, including Temple of San Francisco Acatepec, located 15 minutes from downtown Puebla, with its spectacular façade and ornamentation from the golden age of the Talavera and Baroque era, between 1650 and 1750.
Since its doors opened in 1690, The Chapel of the Rosary, or Capilla del Rosario, has been considered the greatest achievement in Mexican Baroque architecture, decorated and adorned with spectacular oil paintings, shining gold foil and dazzling jewels.
2. Traditional Pueblan Food: From mole poblano (intricately spiced sauce containing more than 20 ingredients, including chili, chocolate, fruits and nuts, and served with chicken or turkey), to 2013’s hottest sandwich, the cemita (with various fillings, including shredded cheese, meats and avocado, and served on a sesame seed-crusted roll), and from chalupas (toasted corn tortillas topped with shredded meat and red or green chili sauce), to chiles en nogada (poblanos stuffed with meat and topped with walnut sauce and pomegrante seeds), Puebla’s diverse culinary offerings to the world are as exquisite as they are delectable. For quick snacks on-the-go, head to the nearest street vendor and grab a stack of potato chips doused with Valentina hot sauce or some crunchy chapulines (mini grasshoppers) tossed with chili salt and lime.
3. Cholula: Located next door to Puebla, the town of Cholula lays claim to having the widest pyramid ever built, the immense Great Pyramid of Cholula, or ‘Tiachihualtepetl’, built and occupied from the 3rd century BC to 9th century AD. The pyramid has been excavated to reveal narrow tunnels you can walk through – so long as you are not prone to claustrophobia – along with altars, courts, and other buildings belonging to this huge complex. Not all excavations have nor will be taking place, as the ornate, neoclassic-styled and heritage-protected Church of Our Lady of Remedies was built right on top of the pyramid in 1575. Both the pyramid and the church make for an impressive duo of a sight. If possible, climb up to the large porch around the church to take in expansive views of the city.
4. Visit the Library: Founded in 1646 and the oldest library in Mexico, The Palafoxiana Library of Puebla (Biblioteca Palafoxiana) houses 43,000 titles, including unique and 15th century manuscripts. It’s located opposite the ‘Templo de San Francisco Puebla’ – built in 1535, and is the oldest church in the city.
5. Sweets Street: Any sweet cravings will be squelched in a heartbeat once you stroll along 6 Oriente Street, AKA: ‘Calle de los Dulces’. While you’ll find a selection of dozens of shops selling a wide variety of ‘dulces tradicionales’, head to one of two locations of ‘Dulces Recuerdos de Santa Clara’, and try their ‘Tortitas de Santa Clara’, with sweet cream on a cookie base, ‘Dulces de Camote’, made with pureed sweet potatoes, sugar and vanilla, and ‘Jamoncillo de Leche’, a type of Mexican fudge made with sweetened milk.
6. Traditional Pueblan Restaurants: Located near ‘El Zocalo de Puebla’ in the city centre, Casa de Los Munecos is a Five Star Diamond Award-winning restaurant housed in a gorgeous 18th century Baroque-styled building with courtyards and ambiance galore. The kitchen specializes in gourmet Pueblan fare and contemporary Mexican cuisine.
With dozens of food stalls and kiosks clustered together under one roof, the variety of regional food offerings at the Mercado de Sabores is impressive, to say the least. Whatever the building itself may lack in atmosphere, the vendors more than make up for with their top-notch, traditional Pueblan fare. Best bet, the quad of different moles served on fresh tortillas along with shredded chicken at Lupita Cocina Tipica Mexicana.
Operating since 1965, and with two locations in the city centre, Fonda de Santa Clara serves up three courses traditional Pueblan cuisine – usually a soup, main course, and ice cream plus sweets – in a large, convivial and boisterous space, replete with live traditional Mexican music, and with endless glasses of agua de Jamaica, or sweet hibiscus flower drink.
7. Haute Accommodations: Located in the historic centre of colonial Puebla, La Purificadora boutique hotel is right across from a picturesque sculpture garden, and also has incredible views of the city from it’s rooftop terrace (where there is also a gorgeously designed lap pool). Housed in an industrial factory built in 1884 and originally used for the purification of water and ice, La Purificadora (meaning, the ‘cleanser’ or ‘purifier’) is a breathtaking jewel of a place to call home base in the heart of the city.
8. Cinco de Mayo: Home of the famous Battle of Puebla, which is now commemorated as Cinco de Mayo – the Mexican holiday that celebrates the victory over French forces on May 5, 1862. Puebla is also the birthplace of the Mexican Revolution, which began in 1910 and quickly spread across the country.
9. Nuevo Mexican Cuisine: Chef Angel Vazquez is creating innovative and vibrant dishes at Intro Nuevo Mexican cuisine, with new spins on traditional fare, including charron-crusted shrimp with hominy relish, and a mango and chipotle ketchup, and a sublime Mexican and French fusion charred tortilla-crusted beef tongue Nicoise with jalapeno sauce.
10. Lucha Libre: Far and wide throughout the country, Mexican wrestling is a popular sport and form of entertainment for both young and old alike. In Puebla, take in the rowdy Monday night festivities at the Puebla Arena, cheer on the fan favorites, and get caught up in the whirlwind excitement. On occasion, you may find an impromptu bout taking place, as I recently and joyfully witnessed, with a full-on match held in the usually serene courtyard of the Hotel Presidente Intercontinental Puebla.
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