"Puebla: Often overlooked destination" Estado de Puebla by melosh
Estado de Puebla Travel Guide: 142 reviews and 515 photos
I first visited Puebla in 1968 and I was not impressed. Because it is often refered to as a day excursion from Mexico City, I only spent a day and a night. I did find nearby Cholula interesting especially because when I visited the archeologists were in the process of upearthing a large stone slab, but the city seemed ordinary especally compared to Oaxaca. It was not until my brother suggested that we stop there on our way to Oaxaca for our second Christmas holiday in Mexico that I discovered the charm of this city as an alternative to visits to Mexico City. An important part of this discovery was that the Mexico City bus station one uses to get there (TAPO) is only 5 minutes from the airport, and when I later learned that there were buses straight from the airport it became even more attractive as a place to take a group of friends. I have now visited 7 times.
Using Puebla as your base for seeing some of Mexico is in my opinion a good idea.
There are some fine museums, some interesting historic attractions and great places to eat in the center of town. It usually takes a few days to see them all because of opening schedules and potential sensory overload, etc. Also what you can do and experience changes with the days of the week. (Saturday and Sunday street activity can be especially good; Sunday through Thursday night life poor.) Although the City of Puebla is pretty large, it retains a much better feel (more relaxed, more normal Mexico) than that of megalopolis Mexico City, especially in the old central part of town. I think many people who just make a day or overnight trip miss experiencing this feel.
Nearby are worthwhile day excursions:
I think Cholula, the pyramid mound and the nearby churches represent a must see. Beware that the tunnels into the pyramid hill are not for the claustrophobic. You can cheaply reach Cholula on a city bus. There are also economic day tours, or you could just take a taxi.
The murals at Cacaxtla are unusual for central Mexico because of their apparent Mayan elements. They should probably be combined with a visit to Tlaxcala and a nearby town famous for its weavings (Whose name escapes me for the moment -- Santa something or other XXXtitlan.) Seeing these three places on a single day by local public transportation is possible (--I did it.--), but it would be easier and more efficient to either rent a car or hire a car and driver. Although it is outside my usual personal style of travel, I would recommend your hiring a driver and car rather than renting a car. This will require a bit of negotiating to get a fair price but it should not be much more than the cost of car rental for a day when you consider all the costs. I think it is also safer. If you do not speak much Spanish, no problem. In my experience most hotels know of someone who would be happy to take you around in their unofficial taxi. (Still, do not agree to the first price quoted.)
Further afield is the less known town of Cuetzalan with its Totonaco ruins and tradition of pole dancing, but I think that visiting Cuetzalan any time but a market day or the festival week might not be worth 8 hours of road trip. It would be better with at least an overnight stay.
4 or 5 years ago my wife, another couple and myself got caught in Cuetzalan, in the state of Puebla, Mexico during a tropical storm which caused extensive flooding with loss of life and property in central Mexico. We were visiting for 4 days of the October festival but were stuck there for an extra week. The mountain road was completely washed away in 2 places and blocked with mud in several more. The only other road depended on a large modern bridge which was also washed away. Fortunately no one in this area died.
There is alot to this story, but I just want to mention the response of the lady who owned and managed the small hotel where we stayed. Following breakfast the morning after the flood when the waiter returned with our bill, he explained that it was half off because of the flooding and any further meals or extra nights would be half as well. That afternoon after "la comida", we sent the waiter for the bill. The waiter returned and told us the owner had changed her mind. No one in the hotel would be allowed to pay for any meals or extra room nights. I later heard a Mexican businessman trying to insist that he could and wanted to pay, but she insisted that he contribute to the relief effort instead. A week later, when a way was finally opened for us to leave, I put the cash we had left into a sealed envelope and gave it to her explaining that it contained cash to spend in the US when she brought her 13 year old daughter on a dreamed about visit to Disney World. She accepted the envelope and promised she would visit with her daughter, but other life circumstances got in the way. Although we will probably never meet again, I will always remember her and her response to a natural diaster.
In many Mexican cities there is a plaza or area where the mariachi's gather to find work. Often you can enjoy free music... more travel advice
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