On one warm and sticky morning, I left Mérida for Mexico City, where I would go on to Puebla on another solo adventure. I had been visiting Mexico for 30 years before moving here in 2021, so I had already seen much of the country. I was excited to finally see some new places, especially since I hadn’t done so since before the pandemic.
I had heard lots about the beauty of Puebla, and I was not disappointed. A picturesque city with 16th-century architecture, it reminded me of being in Europe, with copulas and church towers jutting out of the skyline from the first look I took from the third floor of my hotel.
I stayed in the Centro Histórico close to the zócalo, in a neighborhood with a local urban feel. Wandering the Old Town, I was awed by the grand old cathedral. I strolled the Barrio del Artista, where artists have small spaces to ply their trade, followed by El Parián, Puebla’s traditional handcraft market. It is one of the most-visited attractions in the city.
Several cobblestone pedestrian streets in the center of the city make it easy to stroll by the variety of shops, cafes, and restaurants. One area boasts buildings of multi-bright colors which reminded me of Buenos Aires. Puebla is the place where one of my favorite things comes from: Talavera tile and ceramics, so I purchased some mugs to add to my small collection. There is just about every kind of ceramic item on offer in various hues.
Being that Mexico was in the lead-up to its patriotic Día de la Independencia celebrations, there were green, red, and white decorations everywhere. On the main square, I heard live music, saw the raising of a large Mexican flag by the military, and encountered a VIP gathering.
It has been said that in Puebla, there is a church for every day of the year. El Templo de Santo Domingo, for example, features the incredible Capilla del Rosario glimmering with gold throughout.
A must-see is the first public library in the Americas, Biblioteca Palafoxiana, founded in 1646. There are books from the 17th and 18th centuries in a beautiful wood-filled room. It is housed in the Casa de Cultura right next to the main cathedral. Another must-see is Museo Amparo, full of pre-Hispanic artifacts. An extensive photo timeline depicts the years of famous human-made and natural sites before the Common Era.
Since it was in season, I enjoyed a vegetarian restaurant’s version of the famous Chiles en Nogada. I also tried a street vendor’s Helado en Nogada for the first time.
Tunnels under the city had been considered no more than an urban legend up until 2015 and are said to be 500 years old. Their origin and use are unclear but are believed to extend for more than 10 kilometers. Open to the public, they end at the Loreto Fort Museum, the site of the Cinco de Mayo battle. The first tunnel was about 15 minutes from my hotel. After dodging traffic on a busy road, I entered the underground world. It is free to enter and was much like a museum with some small exhibits along the well-lit way.
I exited in a local area and was instructed that the next tunnel was across the street. This second tunnel was much narrower and low-ceilinged, which made me slightly claustrophobic. It went on seemingly forever, and I was about to turn around and go the long way back when I finally saw the literal light at the end of the tunnel. I exited into a scenic park with a small lake with ducks wading on it and a nice view of the city. I could not leave, as it was fenced in, and after wandering a while, finally found one exit onto a side street where I encountered a growling street dog that I was convinced was about to attack. I realized I was walking too close to the food someone had left him on the sidewalk. I then proceeded to walk the long way back to the hotel courtesy of my phone’s GPS, and spotting the pretty cúpula that I recognized close to my hotel. In retrospect, a taxi would have been a better way to go.
I made sure not to miss a day trip to the small nearby city of Cholula, about half an hour away, complete with its wonderful view of the Popocatépetl volcano (nicknamed “El Popo”) and the yellow church on a hill which is actually Pirámide Tepanapa. The pyramid is unfortunately closed Mondays, which is when I visited.
Cholula has a large wide-open square, so people gather under the covered area next to it lined with restaurants. There are many old churches, just like in Puebla, and an old monastery with some graves.
After a week in the bustling city, I took a ride share to another new-for-me city, Cuernavaca. Much smaller and laid back, it hosts a lovely historic center that includes the incredible Museo Robert Brady, an old monastery that the American artist/designer purchased. He spent years traveling the world to fill this gorgeous home with art and artifacts.
I spent my first Día de la Independencia in Cuernavaca. I skipped the nighttime parties but could hear the music and fireworks from my room three nights in a row. On Friday, Sept. 16, I stepped out of my small hotel to witness a line of police trucks full of police officers in the bed of the truck, all down the next block and also down another street. It was otherwise still, so momentarily created some pause. When I saw another person walking nearby, I continued on my way. I got to watch all the police vehicles drive by, which started the parade. They were followed by some military vehicles, then ambulances, and finally, healthcare workers marching by.
I ran into the full parade by the time I got near the main square. It was quite a big event, with many marching groups in different colors and the prerequisite drumbeat and music.
I was so close to a city I had long wanted to see but never quite made it to. So, I took a day trip to Taxco, the famous city of silver. I approached on a winding road into the center, ending at the zócalo. Taxco’s narrow cobblestone streets, houses perched on hills, and flower-filled balconies remind me of Italy.
The city was full of handmade items besides the many shops and stalls with the famous shiny silver jewelry for sale. There were woven baskets and masks made from coconut shells among the many items for sale. I did most of my purchasing here as there was just too much to resist.
I returned from Cuernavaca to Mexico City on the day of a big earthquake on the Pacific coast, but luckily, I avoided it, ready for my next Mexico journey.