Conveniently located between Mexico City and Veracruz, Puebla can be reached by bus from Mexico City.
Puebla revers its history as the first city built by Spaniards Spaniards in 1531. Its fifty-block historic center has been a UNESCO World Heritage site for the past twenty-five years, a testament to the plethora of colonial buildings, many tiled, all colorful, lining the streets.
Cathedral of Puebla
Meandering through the streets of the historic center offers visitors an excellent means of seeing the city. Though it seems as if there is a colonial church on every block, you will want to visit the Cathedral of Puebla, impossible to miss with its twin towers (tallest in Mexico) and just off the town’s main square.
Begun in 1575, it was completed in 1664 and represents the pinnacle of New Spain Baroque architecture. Inside the main altar is ringed with smaller chapels, each exquisite in their own way, and many paintings original to the era. As beautiful and ornate as the cathedrals of Europe.
Chapel of the Rosary
The Chapel of the Rosary was finished in 1690 and is located inside the Church of Santo Domingo, a few blocks from the cathedral.
It simply will take your breath away when you see the gold leaf and white interior of the chapel whose ornately plaster sculpted decorations are described as Churrigueresque, a style of the Spanish Baroque. Pictures do not do the chapel justice.
The oldest library in the Americas
Puebla is home to the oldest original library in the Americas, the Palafoxian Library. Named after the bishop who donated his private library of 5,000 books to Puebla in 1646, this library of 40,000 has remained in the same location since that time.
Shelves from the 18th century have been beautifully restored as has the room, making it possible for visitors to imagine scholars of centuries past studying at the same tables. The library is on the second floor of Puebla’s Casa de la Cultura near the cathedral.
A pre-Hispanic town west of Puebla, Cholula offers many interesting sights for visitors, most especially a chance to see one of the world’s largest pyramids. Alas, from afar it looks like a big hill, having been overgrown for centuries.
Archeologists have done extensive exploration within the pyramid so that the non-claustrophobic can go inside; outside excavation has been hampered because the Spanish built a church on top of the pyramid, itself a cultural treasure worth seeing.
One reason Cholula has so many churches is that the Spanish built a church on top of any pre-Hispanic religious site. Archeologists believe that the Great Pyramid was built in four stages from the 3rd Century BCE to the 9th Century CE and was dedicated to Quetzalcoatl.
Archeological sites like Cantona
Imagine a pre-Hispanic town where 80,000 Toltec Indians lived between 600 and 1000 CE. When you stand on a hill at Cantona, an archeological site two hours north of Puebla, you will be looking at what is believed to be the largest pre-Hispanic urban center in Mesoamerica.
Following a two million dollar excavation in the mid-nineties, Cantona established itself as one of Mexico’s most important finds. The stone streets go on seemingly forever, in surprisingly good shape considering their age and the fact that builders did not use mortar.
No visit to Puebla would be complete without a stroll down Candy Alley, a two-block stretch of Avenida 6 Oriente near the Chapel of the Rosary filled with candy shops. Colorful displays of Mexican and Puebla confections fill shop windows one after another, offering the perfect opportunity to learn about another of Puebla’s culinary delights.