Mexico’s colonial cities come in pretty much all flavours — from the traffic-choked streets of Oaxaca to the quaint cobblestone lanes of San Cristóbal de las Casas, and who can forget the cenote-filled charm of Valladolid. These are all popular stops on the colonial town trail, but before you jump on the next bus between Mexico city and Oaxaca, think about stopping off at Puebla and Cholula — the more local (and less popular for western tourists) versions of a Mexican Colonial city.
Puebla is the bigger of the two cities (which are pretty much conjoined these days anyway) and is where we spent most of our time. Here’s what we got up to in Puebla:
Rosary Chapel (Capilla del Rosario)
We saw so many churches in Mexico but this was definitely my favourite. The gold filled interior is really impressive, and quite a surprise when entering from the humble courtyard. The intricate detail really is amazing — it definitely ranks alongside the world-famous churches we saw in Europe.
Catedral Basilica de Puebla (Puebla Cathedral) and the Zocalo
This place is huge – we struggled for at least 5 minutes trying to find a good angle for a photo — I eventually walked out of the gate and across the road and finally managed to fit it all in the frame. The Zocalo (main square) is a nice place to hang out for a while and there are some fancy looking (although probably expensive) restaurants there.
The streets of Puebla Centro were really busy. Local families were milling around in droves, shopping in the small sweets stores, eating cheap (and actually pretty tasty) hot dogs and avoiding (and occasionally engaging with) balloon salesmen with their massive stashes. The streets of Puebla are so full of life and are great places to do some people watching. Puebla is famous for its sweets and there are lots of little stops where you can taste the different varieties.
Casa de los Hermanos Serdán (Mexican Revolution Museum)
All the information was in Spanish so I wasn’t too sure what the story was with this house (casa is one of the few Spanish words I know), but there were bullet holes in a mirror and upon further research I discovered it was the home of Aquiles Serdán, a Mexican revolutionary killed in 1910. The house is apparently just as it was when he was killed there, which I guess explains the bullet holes (this could all be wrong of course, I couldn’t find much information in English!). Even if you can’t read Spanish, Casa de los Hermanos Serdán is still worth a look.
Cholula’s claim to fame is that it’s home to the world’s largest pyramid (but apparently they might now have found a bigger one in Bosnia of all places). We went to Cholula on a day trip from Puebla, which is easy because it is essentially the same city these days. Here’s what we got up to:
The Great Pyramid of Cholula
I’m sure you got pretty excited when I told you that Cholula is home to the biggest pyramid (by volume) in the world, but it really isn’t as cool as it sounds. You can barely see the structure; it’s essentially just a big hill with a church on top. You can see some evidence of a pyramid on its outskirts, but it’s impossible to see the scale of what is (or more like was) a huge pyramid. You can walk to the church on top of the hill for a view out over Cholula, and you can also walk through some of the pyramid’s passages. I wouldn’t recommend it to claustrophobics though. The pyramid in Cholula is worth checking out but don’t expect anything on par with Mexico’s more well known ancient pyramids.
San Gabriel Church/Monastery
This is one of the better looking churches (from the outside) in Mexico. The bright yellow paint job mixed with the ancient looking stone is a sight to behold – we didn’t explore the monastery though, but I’ve heard it’s an interesting place.
The Zocalo/Downtown Cholula
We got off the bus a few blocks from the Zocalo and walked the old streets of Cholula on route to the pyramid. The buildings were colourful and the masses of locals gave it a festive atmosphere. It also seems like a great place to do some shopping – there were lots of shops and street stalls selling pretty much everything. We visited Cholula on a weekend so it was pretty busy, but I’d say if you’re there during the week it’d be a slightly more laid-back alternative to staying in Puebla.
Puebla and Cholula: The details
Puebla and Cholula are only a few hours from Mexico City and are great places to stay for a few days if you’re heading south. A lot of people skip this area, but it actually turned out to be one of my favourite spots in Mexico. The colonial buildings are fun to explore and the local atmosphere offers an insight into everyday life in Mexico. You can easily hop between Puebla and Cholula and the attractions are pretty cheap (a few dollars each for the pyramid/Casa de los Hermanos Serdán). Try and add Puebla and Cholula to your Mexico itinerary!
Have you been to Puebla and Cholula? What is your favourite colonial city in Mexico? Let me know!
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