Puebla Outdoors

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Puebla Outdoors
Though it's Mexico's fourth-largest city, Puebla feels—and is—incredibly accessible to the outdoors. Whether you want to hike around (or into) volcanoes or go paragliding among the mountains, Puebla offers plenty of options for active travelers.
By Julie Schwietert Collazo, AFAR Local Expert
Photo by Russ Bowling
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    Hike the Volcanoes
    From Cuexcomate, said to be the world's smallest volcano (but really a geyser), to Popocatépetl, an active volcano and Mexico's second-highest peak, Puebla and its environs are, quite literally, a hotbed. In fact, Puebla sits in a valley surrounded by the Trans-Mexican volcanic belt, which also includes the dormant Iztaccíhuatl and La Malinche volcanoes. You can hike the latter if you're in good shape and prepared; the peak tops out at nearly 15,000 feet and acclimatizing is required. Alternatively, you can take the non-strenuous staircase into Cuexcomate's core, just over 40 feet deep.
    Photo by Russ Bowling
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    Paraglide over Puebla
    Puebla's position in a valley, surrounded by mountains, makes it a perfect place to go paragliding. Carried by the wind, the intensity and speed of your parapente experience will likely depend on the time of day—it's usually calm in the early morning, speeding up as the day progresses. Several local outfitters rent gear and hook you up—literally—with an instructor-guide who will fly with you. If you're a serious enthusiast, you can register for a series of lessons that will culminate in a solo flight. Whether you're flying on your own or tandem, you'll enjoy the volcanic views as you float through the sky.
    Photo courtesy of the Tourism Board of Puebla
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    The World's Largest Pyramid
    It's not as well-known as it should be, given the list of superlatives attached to it, but arriving in Cholula, you might finally understand why: It's hard to make out the pyramid that's said to be the largest in the world. Look closer, though—it's the foundation upon which the melon-yellow church, Nuestra Señora de los Remedios, rests. Yes, that grass-covered hill is actually a pyramid, which can't be excavated since the church—built in the late 1500s—is protected. You can explore the interior of the pyramid by trekking through the claustrophobic tunnels that were dug prior to the church receiving protected status, or climb the steep hill to the church to see its neoclassical interior and 24-karat gold leaf accents.
    Photo by Russ Bowling
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    The Voladores
    Some of the outdoor adventures in Puebla can only be enjoyed as spectator sports, and that's the case for the voladores, men who dance and climb up a tall pole before "flying" down to the ground again. (One man stays at the top, playing music.) The men launching from the pole, dressed in colorful regalia, are a sight to behold, especially when you realize that they're maintaining a centuries-old tradition. In fact, UNESCO inscribed the ritual among its "intangibles" of world cultural heritage. Puebla is one of just a few places in Mexico where you can still watch the voladores, who perform regularly behind the pyramid and church in Cholula.
    Photo by Larry Lamsa
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    Sportfishing and Beyond
    It's a bit of a locals'-only secret, as the pastime isn't promoted heavily in tourism brochures, but anglers can enjoy some sweet and scenic freshwater sportfishing around Puebla. Trucha (trout) are just waiting to be hooked at Arco Iris Sport Fishing, which offers both a river and a lake. The privately run recreational park offers other outdoor opportunities for friends and family who may be tagging along but have no interest in casting a line. Horseback riding, mountain biking, and hiking all yield lovely views of the surrounding forest. Climbers, meanwhile, may want to keep their skills sharp by scaling Arco Iris's artificial wall.
    Photo by age fotostock
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    Hot-Air Ballooning
    During the summer the nearby town of Cholula sometimes hosts a hot-air balloon festival, drawing families from all over the state of Puebla. With just over a dozen hot-air balloons, this festival is perhaps more modest than similar ones held elsewhere in Mexico and abroad, but the opportunities for stunning photos and amazing views can't be beat if you do go up in the air. The festival features both fixed rides and hour-long floats, and the sights from the basket—especially as the balloon floats over the world's largest pyramid, which is topped by a beautiful, double-domed church—are unforgettable. You'll also be able to see El Popo, Puebla's active volcano. The festival is often organized at the last minute, so ask around once in-country.
    Photo by age fotostock
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    Alpinism in Izta-Popo
    Puebla's Izta-Popo National Park is one of Mexico's oldest protected areas, created in 1935 and designated a biosphere reserve by UNESCO in 2010. It's also a popular spot for alpinists. Ascents of the Popocatépetl volcano have been prohibited since 1994, leaving the summits of Iztaccíhuatl among the only places for serious alpinists to climb in Mexico. Along the route to the roughly 17,000-foot summit, you'll pass through subalpine and alpine ecosystems; keep your eyes open for the fleet-of-feet zacatuche, or volcano rabbit, an endemic species that is also endangered and is believed to be the world's second-smallest rabbit. Guides are available for hire if you're reluctant to take a solo climb.
    Photo by Carlos Adampol Galindo
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    Easier Hikes in Izta-Popo
    As well as alpinism, Izta-Popo National Park offers opportunities for hiking at lower elevations and in milder weather conditions; these excursions, too, can be guided (by previous reservation through the national park) or self-led. Park rangers have designed a variety of hikes that range in intensity, length, and ecological or environmental theme. One hike, for instance, highlights park employees' reforestation efforts, while another, El Caracol, provides opportunities to spot many of the park's bird species. Don't forget your camera: There are spectacular viewpoints from which you can spot all of the area's surrounding volcanoes, and on a clear day, the Yoloxóchitl Trail yields to views of the entire Valley of Mexico.
    Photo by Hauke Dressler/age fotostock
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    Running and Cycling
    If you're one of those travelers who can't leave home without your running shoes or your bike shorts, you're in luck: Your choices for a work-out in Puebla aren't limited to the hotel treadmill or stationary bike. Lace up and head out to Parque Lineal; at just under three miles, this urban trail is friendly to runners and cyclists alike. An elevated portion of the trail puts you at eye-level with the tree line. Extend your work-out by continuing on to Jardin del Arte, another recreational park that connects to Lineal. You could even cool down afterwards with a turn on the Estrella de Puebla, a Ferris wheel that's listed in the Guinness Book of World Records as Latin America's largest, at 262 feet.
    Photo by Yuri Islas
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    Roping and Riding in the Rodeo
    Roping and riding are serious business in Chipilo, a small town just outside of Puebla proper. Charreadas, or rodeos, have been taking place in Mexico since the 16th century, and remain popular sporting and social events, held each Sunday during rodeo season. Loyal locals attend regularly, if not weekly, but the events are always welcoming to visitors, too. In fact, sit near an aficionado, who will need little prompting to give you a full explanation of the event's rules and the cultural significance of everything—from the clothing worn to the food and drink sold during the performances.
    Photo by Lucas Vallecillos/age fotostock