Is Puebla, Mexico, worth visiting? There’s no doubt that it is! This town is often overlooked because of the totemic nature of the attractions in nearby Mexico City. Don’t fall into that trap – a mere two hours’ drive to the southeast of the capital and there’s oodles more on the menu…
Most of all, Puebla is known as a culinary hub. That means it’s the place to go to sample those dark and flavorsome mole sauces, packed tacos with spicy salsa on the side, and even the height of the current Mexican haute cuisine boom.
And it doesn’t end there, just as this guide will reveal. From soaring mountains (some of the highest in the country, no less) to enthralling historical sites to some lovely colonial-era towns in the nearby vicinity, there’s oodles to fill the itinerary in oft-ignored Puebla.
Because it’s super easy to reach
One of the most tempting reasons to add Puebla to your Mexico itinerary is the simple fact that it’s kinda’ easy to reach compared to many other places in the country. You don’t need any long-haul flights or annoying connections through CDMX to get here.
Simply get off the plane in the capital and hitch a ride on one of the uber-frequent buses that make the trip. In all, it should take no more than two hours to transport you down to the culinary hub of central Mex. Simple.
And there’s more good news. The route there is a pretty one. It weaves and winds through the heart of a low mountain range in the center of the Iztaccihuatl National Park – Popocatépetl. You’ll see wild forests of tall pines rising against the side of the highway, and there are all manner of pitstops you can make to wonder at the snow-capped volcano in the heart of the reserve.
For the food
For most travelers who put Puebla high on their to-do list in Mexico, it’s the food that’s sealed the deal. Yep, this midsized city to the southeast of Mexico City is known as one of the hubs of traditional Mexican cooking, and it’s recently been on the forefront of the country’s nouveau cuisine revival to boot.
The town is packed to bursting with eateries. They run the gamut from casual street eats to sleek bistros of MICHELIN Guide fame. The latter hit a zenith with the likes of La Purificadora, the edgy kitchen of an award-winning design hotel, and Casa Barroca, a fine-dining joint that does creative takes on Mexican classics.
The dishes you simply have to try while in Puebla include:
- Mole poblano – The iconic dish of the city, mole poblano is a viscous sauce that’s made to cover quesadillas or chicken, packed with chocolate and chilli peppers.
- Pipián rojo – A red salsa sauce that’s served on the side of rice and roasted nuts.
- Tacos arabes Tacos – No trip to Mexico could be complete without a sampling of the tacos. These are the ones you get in Puebla and they are fantastic, combining the Middle Eastern flavors of shawarma with chili and pineapple.
The national parks
Aside from its reputation as a culinary capital, Puebla is also known as a gateway to some of the most incredible natural reserves in the central region of Mexico. They’re the stuff of superlatives, encompassing the mighty Pico de Orizaba – a 5,600-meter-high monster that’s also the tallest peak in the country. Plus, they offer ample opportunities for adventure seekers.
The closest national park of the lot is actually the Iztaccihuatl National Park – Popocatépetl. That’s en route from Mexico City, so you’ll probably pass through when you come to Puebla. It’s anchored on the volcano of Popocatépetl itself, an active stratovolcano that clocks up a mega 5,426 meters above sea level.
Keep going southeast and you’ll come to the National Park Pico de Orizaba. It’s around 1.75 hours’ drive onwards from Puebla city. A relatively small national park, it encircles a great mountain summit that’s capped with a rare tropical glacier. The climb to the top is challenging, but there are other walks to do in the surrounding pine forests and hills.
For the history
Puebla, unlike Mexico City just up the road, wasn’t even founded until the Europeans came to conquer the Americas. The official start date for the town is 1531, after which it rose to prominence as a major stopover on the route from the coast to the capital of New Spain, and as a center of production for textiles and crafts.
Later on, Puebla was actually taken by the USA army during the Mexican-American wars of the 1840s and became besieged. Even later again, it was a flashpoint in the Mexican Revolution, changing hands between the various forces a number of times.
Today, all that history and more is chronicled at a number of museums across town. The very best of them include the Museo Amparo, where you’ll find a rich collection of 3,500 pieces of Pre-Colombian art.
Although it might not be quite as old as other cities in Mexico, Puebla has still managed to earn itself one of those coveted UNESCO World Heritage Site tags for its rich architectural makeup. The designated heritage zone covers the whole of the historic core of the town, which is also known as the Baroque district of Puebla.
You simply HAVE to dive in there and explore. Streets spread out in all directions from the beautiful central plaza known as Zócalo. The most notable attraction that rises up overhead has to be the Puebla Cathedral, a 16th-century building that sports two grand towers that also happen to be among the tallest in the nation.
The exquisite roofs of the Capilla del Rosario Templo de Santo Domingo are also unmissable. Just look how they glow gold and orange as the light filters through the high windows. After, check out the painted facades of the Teatro Principal and the tiled exteriors of the Museo San Pedro de Arte. It’s all photo-worthy.
For the day trips you can do
We’ve already mentioned the eye-watering natural parks that await on the edges of Puebla. They offer some seriously wild and adventurous day trips for folks traveling here, including multi-day climbing expeditions to glaciers on the very roof of Mexico. But there are plenty more options open to folks who don’t take after Edmund Hilary, including:
- Cuetzalan – A stunning highland town with Baroque architecture in the sierras above Puebla. Come here on Sunday to shop through the tianguis – old-school street markets where you can purchase local wares and food.
- Atlixco – They call Atlixco the flower town because it hosts some of the most amazing urban displays of flowers in the country.It’s also home to the amazing Ex-Convento Santa Rosa, an old nunnery that’s hardly changed since the 1600s.
- Chipilo – A nearby town that’s famed for its Italian population, and the cuisine to match. Best pizza in Mexico, don’t mind if I do!
Puebla is a buzzy little place. The old town center has more bars and restaurants than you can shake a plate of mole sauce at, and backs all that up with a mix of theatre houses and music venues that offer everything from late-night jazz shows to local performance art. Put it this way – there’s plenty to do after your hit of fine-dining.
However, real party buffs should make the hop over to the out-of-town district of Cholula. That’s got arguably the wildest nightlife in the whole of Mexico (move over Cancun!). It’s all down to the fact that it’s a major student hub, which means the venues and the bars are filled to bursting most weekends (and most week nights too).
The best of the places to hit the tiles are:
- Jazzatlan club de jazz cholula – A moody jazz bar with live music most of the time.
- ZUNTRA Pop Club – A kitschy dance venue with a – you guessed it – pop music backing track.
- Cervecería Cholula – A stripped-down, hipster drinking hole with craft beers made in the region and in Puebla itself.
Is Puebla, Mexico, worth visiting? Our conclusion
Is Puebla, Mexico, worth visiting? Yes, yes, and yes again. While we can see why this town rarely makes it onto Mexican bucket lists, we also think it’s criminally overlooked all too often. There’s so many tempting facets to it. Take the UNESCO-tagged old center, which boasts arguably the most majestic Baroque building work in the country. Then there’s the food – Puebla is a real culinary mecca, home to the famous mole sauces with their chili and choco mix. Finally, the city is a gateway to the volcanoes of the central highlands, which adds hiking and climbing to the range of to-dos.