This article is from the July 1999 The Mexico File newsletter.
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Discover Puebla, One of Mexico’s Best Kept Secrets

by Soshana Cockrell

Soshana’s family is from Panama, but she was raised and educated in Puebla, Mexico. She now resides in Atlanta, Georgia, where she is co-owner of Travel with Us, Inc. Soshana founded this company in order to share her love of Colonial Mexico. She’s an avid collector of Talavera artistry and Mexican rustic furnishings. Soshana is a database developer and software trainer. She can be reached at 877-50GOMEX (toll free) or from Georgia 770-822-9596.

Puebla de Los Angeles came into existence as a result of the Spanish colonization of Mexico during the 16th century. Prior to the arrival of the Spanish, this area had been inhabited by various groups of indigenous people who left behind pyramids which are still being excavated and studied. This city is filled with legends, secrets, culture, artistry, wondrous architecture, visual arts, history and much to explore.

Puebla is a frequently-visited vacation destination for European travelers, but it is a gem hidden to most American tourists. When you consider the year-round temperate climate, the beautiful colonial architecture, the welcoming and lively local people (better known as Poblanos), the flavorful regional cuisine, the history and the feeling of having traveled back in time, you’ll realize that Puebla is a fabulous place to spend some time.

Mexico’s ambiance is felt as soon as you arrive at Mexico City’s airport – a convenient spot for allowing travelers the opportunity to jump right in, to start shopping for Mexican artistry, or maybe to share a shot of Mexico’s famous tequila with an amigo.

Getting to Puebla

From Mexico City’s airport, deluxe buses depart to Puebla on the half hour. Most business travelers prefer arriving at the Cuatro Poniente terminal for its proximity to Puebla’s downtown area, better known as the “Centro.” Reputable and affordable taxis are available.

Puebla’s Accommodations

Puebla has a variety of beautiful hotels and bed-and-breakfasts. The Meson Sacristia de la Compañia, for instance, provides individually decorated rooms which represent Mexico’s past. Travelers can experience the beauty of Mexico’s antiquities as they open their eyes each morning. The restaurant found within the Hotel Camino Real’s picturesque courtyard provides a truly authentic Mexican breakfast in a romantic, scenic and artistic setting.

El Centro (Downtown Puebla)

Within the “Centro” alone, you could spend a month exploring and discovering without hitting the same spot twice. A good place to start is on the zócalo located in the middle of the city. The zócalo is a park, about as big as a city block, surrounded by beautiful palm trees, weeping willows and the jacaranda, a tree common to Mexico which always blooms with purple flowers the week of Semana Santa (Holy Week). In the middle of the zócalo is a beautiful stone fountain where locals relax and engage in conversation. Surrounding this park are various hotels, restaurants and shops. Among these are the Office of Tourism, a local theater, La Casa de la Cultura, museums, Puebla’s cathedral, churches, chapels, former convents and much more.

Toward the end of the summer, around August, Puebla holds an international festival. This festival usually hosts native folkloric dancers from countries such as Spain, Panama, Argentina, Hawaii, Ireland, and also includes Mexico’s own various regional dances. Without notice you may be enjoying an outdoor breakfast and all of a sudden you hear the sound of a carnival of music and dancers approaching. Breakfast has now turned into a lively parade of talented dancers performing from the various visiting countries. The actual shows for this event are usually held at the theater located on the zócalo. During other times of the year check at the Casa de la Cultura for their weekly scheduled Ballet Folklorico show.

While walking down the streets of the Centro notice the various colonial buildings with their beautiful Talavera-tiled façades. Be sure to take a peek into any open zaguan (main gate or entryway of a building) to see the beautiful colonial courtyard that usually lies within. If you have a guide or a local amigo, you’ll get a true feel for the city, food, people, culture and special places you would not otherwise see if you travel to Puebla on your own. If you’re fortunate, you’ll be with someone familiar with Mexico’s legends and secrets.

While visiting Puebla get information about the current local events. You may just have the opportunity to see Mexico’s famous Ballet Folklorico or witness a bullfight.

The Callejón de los Sapos

Translated “the alley of the frogs,” the callejón de los sapos is a multi-purpose area. During the day, it’s the central place for purchasing Mexican rustic and antique furnishings. At night feel the passion of the city as you hear the music drawing you to participate in the festivities.

If you are looking for Mexican style décor for your home, the callejón de los sapos is a great place to find what you may be looking for. Mexico’s rustic style décor consists of a combination of dark wood furnishings, hand-forged wrought iron and brightly colored accents. The sapos is where the locals come to find Mexican style rustic furnishings, antique furnishings and basically everything they need to decorate their homes. Some of the shops are quite small, but take a peek inside – the little shops tend to have much to be desired inside.

For those who appreciate antiques, in los sapos there is a combination bed-and-breakfast, restaurant and antique gallery named the Meson Sacristia de la Compañia, where everything inside is for sale. If you’re staying in this B&B and you happen to love the bed you’re sleeping in, well – it’s for sale. You can buy it, they will pack it and arrange to have it shipped for you. The antique furnishings of the rooms in the Sacristia often change, a small detail that makes repeat stays at this B&B unique. Antique lovers should not miss being at the sapos square on Sunday, which is when it becomes an open-air antique market.

At night as you walk down the callejon de los sapos, you can hear live music and audiences singing along. Walk in and join the crowd. Be forewarned though – don’t think that just because you may not speak Spanish you’re not required to sing! Travelers are often asked to sing a song, even if it is in English. The belief is that everyone should participate.

Usually on Thursday through Sunday nights there are various mariachi bands hanging out at the sapos. Mariachis wait to be hired by a lovesick man who wants to serenade his woman as a grand display of his affection. In Mexico it is every girl’s dream to be serenaded –  they see it as the most romantic expression of love.

Exploring outside of the Centro

The Fuertes de Loreto is the fort where the Battle of Cinco de Mayo was fought against the military forces of France’s Napoleon III on May 5, 1862. When visiting the “Fuertes” it is important to bring a camera since photo ops are everywhere.

Cholula Puebla is the home of the University of the Americas. Within Cholula is a pyramid temple where you can walk through a tunnel and discover its history. Cholula is said to have 365 individual churches, one for each day of the year.

Meal Time, Siesta and Nightlife

In Mexico the afternoon meal is usually served between 2:00 and 4:00. It’s a good idea while traveling to take advantage of the siesta (mid-afternoon rest). Siesta to replenish energy needed to fiesta! Around 8:00 in the evening plan for cena (dessert), which may include a pastry with coffee, tea or cocktails. After cena you’ll be ready to enjoy the nightlife.

In Puebla plan there is a great deal of partying at dance clubs between Thursday and Sunday. Between Monday and Wednesday there is live music at local restaurants, bars or pubs. One of the favorites in Puebla is a place named Café Teorema. During the day it’s a bookstore and at night it becomes a café. The live music at this place is called trova, which is poetry in music. It is common to see locals joining in the romantic singing.

Are you a good match for Puebla?

Puebla is a walking city. Most places are around the corner or within walking distance, so it is advisable to wear comfortable walking shoes.

Puebla is recommended for those who seek unusual travel experiences. It is wonderful for couples who want a romantic experience. It is also ideal for those who want a new and profound cultural experience.