If you’re planning on taking an international vacation soon, and Mexico currently ranks at the top of your list, either for the culture or the gorgeous sunny weather, you may be wondering which cities to add to the itinerary, especially if it’s your first time South of the border.
We could argue the capital should be your starting point, as it is Mexico at its most cosmopolitan and diverse, or that the tropical Cancun should not be missed, but no introductory visit to Mexico would be complete without a little stopover in this hugely underrated destination:
Puebla Is A Beautiful Colonial Gem Just Two Hours Away From The Capital
Though it is often overlooked when compared to the much larger Mexico City or Guadalajara, the city of Puebla de Zaragoza, the capital of the state of Puebla, is one of the most fascinating in the entire country.
Sitting on the main route between Mexico City, which is 62 miles away, and Veracruz, on the Gulf (140 miles), it was settled by the Spanish Viceroy in the early 16th century with the aim of facilitating the transport of goods from the capital to the Atlantic ports, yet it quickly gained a life of its own.
Like many modern-day Mexican cities, Puebla was built in a strategic position to assert Spanish control over the indigenous populace. Before, the area was known as Cuetlaxcoapan, translated from the local dialect as ‘where serpents change skin’.
This is largely attributed to the region’s reputation as a battleground between rival native peoples, well documented in modern-day Puebla’s numerous museums.
Upon the Spanish Conquest, however, Puebla became an important intellectual center in the Mexican hinterlands, with numerous architectural styles developing locally, from Renaissance-inspired interiors to beautiful Mexican Baroque facades.
Its multicultural heritage is part of the reason Puebla makes for such an exciting city break:
A Well-Preserved Old Town
As the fourth largest conurbation in Mexico, home to a large population of students hailing from all over Mexico, and one of its cultural capitals, Puebla is a youthful city with a beguiling past.
Walking the historic core, tourists will find evidence of several different periods of Mexican History, dating back as early as the 16th century, with Zócalo, the main square and oldest part of Puebla, being surrounded by some of its most important buildings.
These include the City Hall, which emulates the grandeur of European town halls; the Cathedral, with an ornate, stucco-decorated interior, housing some of the riches of the bygone Transatlantic Spanish Empire; and Casa de los Muñecos, a museum famous for its tile-exterior and quirky exhibits.
These are merely a small fraction of Puebla’s centuries-long accumulation of manmade wonders, as there are over 5,000 historical listings around town, such as churches, monasteries, and colonial mansions, commonly decorated with colorful tiles.
In case you have been wondering, Puebla is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, recognized for its inestimable cultural value, having attained the title as early as 1987, and it’s also considered within Mexico as the birthplace of Mexican Baroque art.
What Lies Beyond The Colonial Core
Puebla is not all about that Old World charm, as in recent decades, it’s become a major hub for commerce and shopping, with shopping malls and clusters of high-rise buildings popping up in more modern parts of town, in stark contrast with the traditionalist Zona Histórica.
Wandering around Angelopolis, seemingly the newest and cleanest neighborhood in Puebla, you will feel like you’re in any fast-developing American city, with wide boulevards lined with tall skyscrapers, men in suits going about their businesses and upscale, trendy cafés on every corner.
Over in Cholula, located in the metropolitan area, the big financial centers once again give way to charming, vibrant-colored colonial towns and cobbled streets, except it’s nothing but quaint in the evenings, as it has a reputation for being one of Puebla’s hottest nightlife spots.
With its own club district, referred to locally as ‘Container City’, Cholula is the best place to go for socializing in the evenings in a safer, tourist-friendly environment and experiencing Puebla’s energetic nightlife.
It is where the (in)famous Mantra Club can be found, and many others.
An Underrated Foodie Scene
Finally, there is Puebla’s unrivaled foodie scene, with its distinguished cuisine and unique combinations of both indigenous Mexican and post-colonial flavors that cannot be found anywhere else in Mexico.
When in town, you simply have to try the mole poblano, a local sauce that was reportedly concocted by nuns of the 16th century, and it’s usually poured over turkey or chicken, Chiles en nogada, Mexican chiles filled with picadillo (shredded meat and spices) and served in a creamy walnut sauce, and the meaty cemita bun.
If you’re vegetarian, vegan, or you would simply prefer avoiding meat, you have no reason to despair, as Puebla has a plethora of vegan-vegetarian-friendly restaurants to pick from, as seen on TripAdvisor, either specializing in adaptations of traditional cuisine or serving regular, international dishes.
The top-rated ones include Bistro 702, with a 4.5 rating on 227 reviews; Napoli Ristorante Pizzeria, named the ‘best Italian’ in Puebla by customers; and the rustic, cozy Casa Barroca, best known for its grill service, but where amazing vegetarian alternatives are available.
Puebla Is A Safe Destination
When it comes to safety levels, Puebla stands among the safest larger cities in Mexico, enjoying a Level 2 classification as awarded by the U.S. Department of State, the same as Cancun, Mexico City, and Los Cabos.
At Level 2, tourists are simply advised to exercise increased caution due to higher crime levels, as seen in any modern major metropolis, including North of the border in the States, and pickpocketing. In this case, general safety advice applies.
You are strongly discouraged from visiting non-touristy, suburban neighborhoods with higher rates of crime and displaying unnecessary valuable items on the streets, such as expensive jewelry and cash. In sum, Puebla is as safe as a state capital can be.
How To Get To Puebla From The U.S.
For a majority of travelers, the easiest way to travel to Puebla will be flying first into Mexico City, where the largest and busiest airport in the country is.
From the capital, the drive down to Puebla takes just under two hours to complete if you’re renting a car, or alternatively, there are several buses departing every 10 minutes from the San Martin Texmelucan de Labastida stop, with tickets costing as cheap as $2 one-way.
Puebla does, however, host nonstop flights from the United States, more specifically Houston-International, with United Express as its carrier, but as demand is lower than flights to Mexico City or Cancun, airfares may be higher.
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This article originally appeared on TravelOffPath.com