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Time Traveling in Puebla
Only 60 miles from Mexico City, the dynamic capital teeming with nearly nine million residents, Puebla is worlds apart. Arriving in this city in the shadow of two volcanoes, you may even feel like you’ve gone back in time. Almost every block of the intact colonial-era street grid includes examples of masterpieces of Baroque design, including many in the over-the-top Churrigueresque style unique to Mexico. Indeed, when location scouts for the movie Frida were looking for a place to shoot the film that resembled Mexico City at the turn of the last century, they chose Puebla. 

The city is not just a feast for the eyes, however. Puebla has rich culinary traditions, including its renowned mole sauces, which incorporate dozens of herbs and spices and, famously, chocolate. It’s the original and largest producer of the grain amaranth and the birthplace of chiles en nogada—a stuffed poblano chili with a walnut sauce. 

With United Vacations’ itinerary to Puebla, you’ll have time not only to sample the local flavors of the city, but also to explore the surrounding villages, pre-Columbian sites, and natural attractions.
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    Day 1
    Arrive in Puebla
    After you land at the Puebla Airport, you’ll pick up your rental car and drive a half-hour to your preferred hotel. The 200-room InterContinental Presidente Puebla is a grand contemporary hotel with a restaurant, a lobby bar, a spa, and an outdoor pool. The recently refurbished rooms have private balconies and design elements inspired by Mexican crafts. Right next door, the Holiday Inn Express Puebla has remarkably spacious rooms, an indoor pool, and a breakfast bar included in the room rate.

    After you are settled, head about 15 minutes to the heart of Puebla to wander its historic streets. A good starting point is the cathedral, which was built over nearly a century, from 1575 to 1649, when it was consecrated. Puebla is known among Mexicans as an especially pious city, and centuries-old convents and churches can be found on every street. If you have a sweet tooth, you’ll want to wander along Avenida 6 Oriente, where a number of stores selling traditional Mexican candies. Camotes are a local favorite, made from sweet potatoes. A number of religious orders produce cookies and caramels following age-old recipes and their sweets can be purchased here as well.

    For dinner, you’ll want to try the city’s most famous dish, mole poblano. Ask any locals which restaurant serves the best version, and you may provoke a heated discussion. One contender on many short lists is the Casona de la China Poblano. The chef will invite you into the kitchen for a lesson on how moles, which incorporate dozens of herbs and spices, are created before you sit down to your meals.
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    Day 2
    Atlixco and Huaquechula
    After breakfast, drive some 35 minutes south to Atlixco. Like Puebla, the city was founded in the 16th century, though many of its most important churches date from the 18th century, and reflect the local variation on Baroque design. One notable example is the Parroquia de Santa María de la Natividad on the town’s main plaza. The Ex-Convento de Nuestra Señora del Carmen is just two minutes on foot from the town’s zócalo. Construction of this complex of buildings for an order of Carmelite nuns began in the 16th century. They’ve since been used for a number of purposes including as a school and army barracks; today they house a cultural center.

    After you’re done exploring Atlixco, take a short drive outside of town to Las Calandrias for lunch. This hacienda with landscaped grounds is a tranquil setting for a spread of local dishes. Another option on the road back to Puebla is Palmira, known equally for its excellent moles and its lush gardens.

    Once you have refueled, drive another half-hour south to the town of Huaquechula. It predates Mexico’s colonial era, with a settlement here since 1100 C.E. The city is famous for its annual Day of the Dead (November 2) celebrations and altars. But at any time of the year the Ex-Convento Franciscano is the most notable landmark. This convent was built for an order of Franciscans beginning in 1570 and stands next to the town’s zócalo.

    After your visit, return to Puebla, roughly an hour’s drive.
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    Day 3
    Tepeyahualco de Hidalgo
    You’ll head in the opposite direction to visit the village of Tepeyahualco de Hidalgo, just over an hour northeast of Puebla. Its star attraction is Cantona, the largest archaeological site in the state of Puebla. The Olmecs constructed the city during their Late Classic period (600 to 1000 C.E.) and it’s believed to have once extended over more than five square miles. Temples, palaces, and more than 24 ball courts have been identified here, in what was one of the most developed urban centers in this part of Mexico. You can learn more and glimpse artifacts at the Museo de Sitio de Cantona near the archaeological digs.

    Spend a little time in the present-day town of Tepeyahualco itself, and have a late lunch at Restaurante 52, a local favorite. Take a detour to stop at Amozoc de Mota, just north of Puebla. The Parroquía de Santa María de Asunción presides over the town square while many stores sell beautiful silverwork, a craft that dates back to the 16th century here.
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    Day 4
    Tetela de Ocampo
    A longer excursion today will take you to another town that predates the Spanish colonization of Mexico. Tetela de Ocampo was founded in the 13th century by four different Chichimeca tribes (the pre-Columbian Chichimeca people lived in central Mexico and spoke a language related to Nahuatl, the language of the Aztecs). The city is legendary among Mexicans for its role in defeating the French occupation in the 1860s, with an important battle fought here. The town has a number of stately 19th –century buildings around a zócalo in the shadow of nearby peaks.

    Outside town, the Grutas Acocomoca (roughly translated, “the grotto of the water that dreams”) were discovered in 1997 and consist of a series of underground caverns with stalactites and stalagmites and a subterranean river. Cool off after your underground hike with a dip in the nearby Aconco Waterfall, a cascade that plunges from a height of around 160 feet into a pool below.

    After you have dried off, drive back to Puebla for the evening.
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    Day 5
    Some 25 miles east of Puebla, the town of Tochimilco sits in the foothills of the volcano Popocatépetl. As its Nahuatl name reflects, there was a settlement here prior to the Spanish conquest, and its residents were defeated in a confrontation with Hernán Cortés in 1520. The Ex-Convento Franciscano de Nuestra Señora Santa María de la Asunción stands at the highest point in town and has a series of frescoes of note.

    After lunch in town, continue driving another two hours to Iztaccíhuatl-Popocatépetl National Park, where trails cross the slopes of the Iztaccíhuatl and Popocatépetl volcanoes. The second and third tallest peaks in Mexico are named after two legendary Nahua figures, the princess Iztaccíhuatl and the warrior Popocatépetl whose romance was thwarted by Iztaccíhuatl’s father. For visitors today, a hike along the volcanoes offers stunning vistas of the Valley of Mexico.

    From the park, it’s roughly a two-hour drive back to Puebla.
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    Day 6
    Zapotitlán de Méndez and Cuetzalán
    Your final day is a full one, beginning with a drive to the village of Zapotitlán de Méndez, surrounded by coffee plantations in the foothills of the Sierra Nororiente, which runs along the eastern edge of the state of Puebla. The town’s most famous attraction is Grutas Kármidas, five underground caverns with evocative names like the Hall of Diamonds and the Hall of Memories. The principal cavern is nearly 100 feet tall, while the Enchanted Lake gets its name from the fact that the reflections of stalactites make it appear like an underwater city lies beneath the surface.

    Back in town, leave time for some souvenir shopping. Zapotitlán is known for its handicrafts, especially pottery and pieces made of onyx, while you can also find local food products like coffee and the chocolate that is an essential ingredient in mole poblano, if you want to try to recreate the recipe at home.

    Continue on to the city of Cuetzalán, an hour east where local indigenous cultures thrive. Voladores, or “flyers,” who jump off of a 150-foot-tall pole with a rope tied around one ankle and then sail through the air continue a tradition of the Totonaca Indians. The city’s many markets showcase Nahua crafts, and you’ll have a chance to get to know some Nahua women over lunch at the Hotel Taselotzin, an eco-tourism project they run. On your drive back to Puebla, stop at Zacapoaxtla to take a look at its zocalo and the stately 19th-century Municipal Building, which embodies the marriage of European and indigenous cultures with its neoclassical exterior and murals celebrating the Nahua people.

    Continue on to Puebla, where you’ll arrive in time for a final dinner at La Noria, a special-occasion-type restaurant in a former hacienda on the southern edge of town. The setting is traditional, but the kitchen is known for giving contemporary twists to Puebla dishes.
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    Day 7
    Depart from Puebla
    Spend the morning on a final run for any gifts you want to take home from Puebla or visiting one more of the city’s many churches, and then check out from your hotel and return to the airport for your journey home.