Photos are by the author unless otherwise noted. Click on a photo to enlarge it and read the caption.
Residents and visitors to Cuernavaca and Mexico City, often make a side trip to Puebla, the fourth largest city in Mexico and capital of the State of Puebla. One can drive there from Mexico City is less than two hours, and from Cuernavaca in two and a half hours, although the public buses take as much as an hour longer. This is not an exhaustive photo-essay on the city but a summary of a weekend trip by someone who has been there often and didn’t do all the major tourist sites.
The attraction of the city is its colonial art and architecture, winning it a UNESCO World Heritage designation. It is perhaps most famous for being the site of the defeat of the French invaders on Cinco de Mayo, 1862, celebrated in the city more than anywhere else in the Republic. It also claims fame as the origin of chiles en nogada, a stuffed Poblano chile covered with a creamy walnut sauce, the name derived from nogal, the walnut tree. The city is well-known for the production of Talavera pottery, a colonial heritage still produced in factories that have tours and sales shops.
The magnificent colonial heritage of the city is not what drives the economy however. It is one of the most industrialized and most prosperous areas of the Republic. Among numerous industries, it boasts the largest Volkswagen factory outside of Germany, a technologically advanced Audi plant, and scores of factories that supply parts for the auto industry. But tourists pay little attention to the industrial zones of the city. It is the rich colonial heritage and the typical cuisine that tourists come to marvel at.
I had been to Puebla on many previous occasions including leading a few groups there when I was a tourism entrepreneur. On this trip, I did not return to all the major tourist sites. My goal was a return trip to the wonderful Amparo Museum in the centro histórico, a visit to the new International Museum of the Baroque that friends have raved about, and shops selling onix and marble furnishings and decorative arts in a nearby town.
Arriving with a friend on a Friday afternoon, I invited him and my driver, Vicente Flores, to lunch at Fonda Santa Clara. There are multiple branches of this restaurante típica in the city, including at least two in the city center. This is an inexpensive place to try Mole Poblano or several other typical dishes of the region.
After our driver left, we walked the pedestrian street Cinco de Mayo just off the zócalo, with its numerous shops of every kind. But don’t look for restaurants here. The afternoon was dedicated to walking around the centro histórico, unpacking and getting settled in a centrally located hotel, and a nice siesta. In the evening we enjoyed a frozen mojito despite the loud music in the sky bar of a hotel I don’t recommend. There was at least a half-hour wait at the highly regarded Restaurant El Mural de los Poblanos because I didn’t make a reservation. We found a popular roof-top restaurant Atico a block from the zócalo (main square). It was very crowded but service was decent with a large variety of tapas and national and international dishes, but our meal was not memorable and a chilly breeze was discomfiting.
Given the hundreds of restaurants in Puebla serving every taste and budget, I will only provide a few restaurant names and addresses. One can scroll tripadvisor.com or google “Puebla restaurants” online, read menus and find directions from wherever you are staying. There are also two travel articles on Puebla in the New York Times travel archive.
On Saturday morning we took a taxi to the town of Tecali de Herrera that I had found in an online search for onix and marble furnishings. This would not be a prime destination for tourists but was just my caprice due to drooling over onix pieces many years ago when I was poor. Virtually the entire town is dedicated to the production of onix and marble decorative arts and furniture. One should be able to make the 25 km drive in 40 minutes but the traffic is so bad getting out of the capital that it took an hour. Luckily I had bargained with a patient taxi driver who quoted me a round trip fare with time to shop in three stores for 600 pesos. The shops had signs saying no photos perhaps because competing shops seem to have copied many of the same designs. Onix Tellez (Av. 25 de Agosto 403), one of the oldest establishments, is an enormous store with hundreds of stunning furnishings and decorations. I bought an end table there, then found two tables at half the price in another store, Fadaro (Av. Rafael Cortés 701). The furniture just barely made it into the trunk and back seat of the taxi, and the cab driver got a nice tip since I avoided freight or mail charges that would have been double the cost of the tables. And we were back in Puebla’s city center in time for a late lunch.
There was time in the afternoon to pay a return visit to the Church of Santo Domingo with its sensational Chapel of the Rosary (1650-1690) and a another stroll along some pedestrian streets for just window shopping and people-watching. It was a tiring day so we saved the museums for Sunday morning and didn’t do much more than enjoy a siesta and dinner out.
Sunday is a great day to be in Puebla. We started at the Callejón de los Sapos, a shady pedestrian street known for its colorful flea market.
Just a few blocks away is the magnificent Museo Amparo, run by a private foundation, featuring a large pre-Colombian collection as well as colonial and baroque decorative arts, and modern masterpieces. (2 Sur #708, centro. museoamparo.com. Open daily except Tuesday 10 am to 6 pm, later on Saturday, free admission on Sunday). I had been to the Amparo Museum on several previous occasions but the building underwent a transformation and updating in 2010 and I had not seen the improvements. The displays are so much better now, and there is a lovely outdoor terrace off the second floor with a cafeteria and bar.
Museo Internacional del Barroco. (http:mib.puebla.gob.mx)
From the Amparo Museum we took a taxi to he newest jewel in Puebla’s crown.This splendid new tourist venue was opened in February 2016. It was designed by Japanese architect Toyo Ito, winner of the prestigious Pritzer Prize in 2013. Its construction with government funds caused a scandal due to its steep price of about 390 million dollars, and because the construction company, Grupo Higo, was caught up in a scandal over the financing of a home built for the wife of President Enrique Peña Nieto. When I remarked on its beauty to the cab driver, he lamented the cost to tax payers, but I reminded him he just got a good cab fare from tourists coming to see it. Tourism is a great engine of the economy.
If just going for the museum, the location is close to the entrance to the city from Cuernavaca/Cuautla, but almost a half hour cab ride from the city center, the fare about 100 pesos. For the return, taxis pass in front frequently. There is a restaurant I didn’t try. Museum hours are 10 am to 7 pm Tuesday to Sunday, admission 80 pesos, 40 pesos for minors, students, elderly, and incapacitated. Free on Tuesday. The web site above has an English version; click on “idioma” at the top right. Below are photos of some of the highlights.
We enjoyed a light lunch of the local specialty, tacos Arabes, in a café on the zocalo, saving room for a later heavy supper at Restaurant Mural de los Poblanos, Calle 16 de Septiembre 506, centro It features all the typical specialties in a much finer atmosphere with appropriately higher prices. It didn’t disappoint. Most travel articles recommend the Tacos Arabes and Cemitas, a sandwich specialty. I found both very dry and would not repeat.
Edgar Flores picked us up punctually Monday morning for our return trip to Cuernavaca, surprised to find three heavy pieces of furniture to fit into the van. We were back in Cuernavaca before noon and I could run off to the gym to start working off the carb-heavy Poblano diet. The three-day weekend was just right for what I had hoped to accomplish. It would have been hard to squeeze in all the sites I had seen on previous visits.
For first-timers in the city, google “What to do in Puebla” and you will find lots of choices with photos and maps. Must-see sites are the zócalo, the Cathedral, the Church of Santo Domingo with its Chapel of the Rosary, the two museums and the Sunday flea market featured above, and the Parian artesania market. With more time you should include the great pyramid of Cholula and the church of Santa María Tonanzintla nearby. (Google details on the tourist train to Cholula). I also took groups to the Uriarte Talavera factory and its showroom full of the highest quality pieces. The Turibus that leaves from in front of the Cathedral gets mixed reviews; it’s not a hop-on/hop-off tour, but you can orient yourself the first day. I don’t recommend the Forts Loreto and Guadalupe, scene of the Cinco de Mayo battle. The Palafox library is worth a quick stop. If staying a longer time, a day trip to nearby Tlaxcala is well worth it. The city has arguably the most beautiful zócalo in the Republic. Buen Viaje!
If You Go:
Oro provides hourly bus service from Cuernavaca to Puebla from its station on Blvd. Cuauhnáhuac, km. 2.5, tel. (777) 516 3730. (Don’t confuse this with Estrella de Oro).
Driving: Take the autopista Mexico-Cuautla and follow the signs for the highway to Puebla. Given difficult parking, heavy city traffic, and hundreds of inexpensive taxis, I recommend the bus or a driver to drop you off.
Reliable drivers in Cuernavaca providing either auto or large van are Edgar and Vicente Flores, email@example.com. Tel. Edgar (289 8707 or cell, 777 182 5805) or Vicente, cell 777 522 3550.
Hotels vary widely in amenities and prices. I thought I saw a bargain at Quinta Real, a chain known for its deluxe suites, but the suite here was smaller and gloomier than many standard rooms in a three-star hotel. It has an excellent location at 7 Poniente 105, four blocks from the zócalo, and the Sunday buffet from 7 am to 2 pm is one of the best I’ve over-eaten at. I had wanted to stay in a highly recommended boutique hotel Casa Reyna, Privada 2 Oriente 1007, centro, but its eight suites were sold out long in advance. The expensive new Rosewood Puebla is probably the top of the line, and travel articles have raved about the Hotel Purificadora. I have had good luck with hotel choices on www.booking.com. Readers are welcome to make recommendations in the comments space below. Thanks for your visit to my blog.
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