Tlaxcala: Mexico’s Smallest State Has a Lot to Offer Visitors

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Tlaxcala is the smallest state in Mexico, nestled in the heart of the country. But despite its size, it boasts a rich history, vibrant culture, and stunning natural beauty.

Hacienda Santa Barbara is one of the most unique hotels in all of Mexico and offers a tranquil location from which to explore the state of Tlaxcala. Photo: Carlos Rosado van der Gracht / Yucatán Magazine

During pre-Hispanic times, indigenous Tlaxcalans were a fiercely independent people who successfully resisted the Aztec Empire. 

A mural in Tlaxcala city depicts a battle between a Tlaxcaletcan and an Aztec counterpart. Photo: Wikimedia Foundation

In 1519, the Tlaxcalteca people allied with Hernán Cortés, ultimately leading to the Aztec Empire’s fall. As a result of this allegiance, to this day, there is still a sentiment in Mexico that Tlaxcala betrayed the rest of the country. 

But this light animosity mostly manifests as silly jokes, pointing at Tlaxcala’s small size and internet memes claiming that the state’s very existence is just a tongue and cheek conspiracy theory. 

Tlaxcala is nestled between Puebla, Hidalgo, and Mexico State. Map: Google Maps

Tlaxcala is home to many pre-Hispanic archaeological sites, but the most visited by far Xochitécatl-Cacaxtla, which first rose to power in the 3rd century B.C.E. 

The view atop a pyramid in Xochitécatl-Cacaxtla reveals the remains of a megalithic arch with the Popocatépetl volcano in the background. Photo: Carlos Rosado van der Gracht / Yucatán Magazine

Aside from its massive structures and breathtakingly beautiful vistas, Xochitécatl-Cacaxtla boasts a rather out-of-place feature — Maya murals.

Cacaxtla’s seeming out-of-place murals are undoubtedly the site’s main attraction in an archaeological site brimming with fascinating history. Photo: Carlos Rosado van der Gracht / Yucatán Magazine

It has been widely speculated that Xochitécatl-Cacaxtla may have been established by either Maya or Olmec peoples, displaced from their own faraway cities. This hypothesis makes a good deal of sense when analyzing the art and architecture of the city, but otherwise has no data to back it up. That said, there is good evidence for the existence of Maya settlements in Central Mexico, as is the example of Maya neighborhoods in Teotihuacán.

The most direct aspect linking Cacaxtla to the Maya is the use of the pigment known as Maya Blue. Photo: Carlos Rosado van der Gracht / Yucatán Magazine

The state capital, Tlaxcala de Xicohténcatl, has a population of just under 100,000, giving it a real small-town feel. 

Tlaxcala’s Nuestra Señora de la Asunción was built in the 16th century but has undergone several modifications and refits. Photo: Carlos Rosado van der Gracht / Yucatán Magazine

One of the highlights of the city is the Nuestra Señora de la Asunción de Tlaxcala church, which is accessible through a gorgeous adobe street and belongs to the larger former convent of San Francisco. 

The dome on Nuestra Señora de la Asunción is covered in Talavera tiles. Photo: Carlos Rosado van der Gracht / Yucatán Magazine

Tlaxcala is also a bit of an oddball in that despite its size, it is home to a wide array of ecosystems, including dense forests and a small desert, complete with dunes.

Given its convenient location near Puebla and Mexico City, the Cuapiaxtla desert has been featured in several films. Photo: Courtesy

Despite being right next to the state of Puebla, which is known for its excellent gastronomy, Tlaxcala is no slouch in that department, either. It even has a similar take on mole. 

But where the strength of Tlaxcala’s cuisine truly excels is in the freshness of its ingredients, including the wide variety of types of corn produced locally.

Some of the most renowned restaurants in Tlaxcala include Mexko and Meson de los Reyes Val´Quirico. But if you are looking for something a little more down-to-earth, there is nothing like a good traditional huitlacoche or pepita quesadilla.

Huitlacoche is a fascinating and delicious fungus that grows on ears of corn. While it may look unappealing at first glance – resembling a dark, dusty mass – it’s a highly prized ingredient in Mexican cuisine. Photo: Carlos Rosado van der Gracht / Yucatán Magazine

If you go

Independently owned hotels in the highly regarded Tesoros Experiences family include El Molino de los Reyes Boutique Hotel, Villa Toscana, and Hacienda Soltepec.

The Hacienda Soltepec in Humantla, Tlaxcala features breathtaking colonial architecture, comfortable rooms, and world-class dining. Photo: Carlos Rosado van der Gracht / Yucatán Magazine

Getting to Tlaxcala is easiest from Puebla or Mexico City, with the trip by land roughly taking an hour or two respectively, under light traffic conditions.

The Popocatépetl volcano, as seen from central Tlaxcala, straddles the states of Morelos, Puebla, and Mexico State. Photo: Carlos Rosado van der Gracht / Yucatán Magazine
Carlos Rosado van der Gracht
Carlos Rosado van der Gracht
Born in Mérida, Carlos Rosado van der Gracht is a Mexican/Canadian blogger, photographer and adventure expedition leader. He holds degrees in multimedia, philosophy, and translation from universities in Mexico, Canada and Norway.
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