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Puebla
Nearly 500 years old, Puebla is a city rich with history, full of interesting and important architectural, cultural, and religious sites. The city served as the setting for the Battle of Puebla, which was fought and won by Mexican forces in 1862; the event continues to be commemorated more than 150 years later with annual Cinco de Mayo celebrations. Visitors are attracted to Puebla for its architectural sites, too, including beautiful talavera-tiled buildings and the world's largest pyramid—which is topped by a 16th-century church.
Puebla is situated in a valley ringed by volcanic mountains, some of which are dormant or inactive, and another, El Popo, which remains active. Two of the volcanoes comprise a national park (one of Mexico's oldest) and offer opportunities for hiking and even alpine climbing, one of the few places in the country where you can do so. Paragliding, fishing, and mountain biking are other outdoor activities that are easy to do in and around Puebla. For nature lovers who like their activity more easy-going, there's also walking, cycling, or jogging in an urban park, whose trail terminates near Latin America's largest Ferris wheel, Estrella de Puebla.
Puebla's contributions to Mexico's culinary canon are at least as important as its contributions to the country's political and social history. Birthplace of the famed Mole Poblano, cemitas sandwiches, and sweet-potato candies, Puebla is a delicious destination for travelers who consider food a central part of a meaningful and memorable cultural experience. The city also has unique artisanal liqueurs, such as the sweet, raisin-based drink, la pasita, and exotic delicacies that are only available seasonally, including escamoles (ant eggs) and gusanos de maguey (maguey worms).
Puebla maintains a full calendar of fiestas and festivals throughout the year, from the country's biggest and most important Cinco de Mayo celebration to the fascinating Carnival of Huejotzingo—a pre-Lenten party in which more than 12,000 locals dress up and perform reenactments of historical events in the street over the course of three days. Even if you're not visiting during one of these annual events, you'll find plenty of places to experience Poblano culture. From the city's numerous museums to cooking classes and walking tours, there are many ways to learn about Puebla's history and culture from knowledgeable and passionate locals and expats who call the city home.
If there's one iconic item to take home as a souvenir of your visit to Puebla, it's a piece of the talavera pottery for which the city has been renowned for centuries. Options exist for a range of budgets and spaces, as pieces vary in size and type from a single tile to an entire set of dishes or a showy vase worthy of a table centerpiece. Look for authorized talavera workshops, such as Uriarte, which sell pottery by certified artisans. Other favorite take-home goods include china Poblana dolls (ideal for kids) and handmade textiles, both of which can be found in Puebla's main market, El Parián. Handmade silver jewelry (some with inlaid talavera) can be found at the shop, Manos de la Tierra.
Puebla makes an excellent year-round destination, thanks to its fairly stable temperatures. In the day, expect averages ranging from 73 to 82 degrees; nights are cooler. The city is two hours southeast of Mexico City; though it has its own international airport, many visitors fly into the capital's Benito Juárez International Airport (MEX), pairing a visit to Mexico City with a few days in Puebla. Car rentals are available in the capital, though many travelers find the country's bus system to be an affordable and safe transport alternative. The currency is the Mexican peso and the language is Spanish. Mexico's voltage and electrical prong system are the same as in the United States, so no adapter is needed.
Julie Schwietert Collazo
Julie Schwietert Collazo has been a bilingual freelance writer, editor, and translator for the past 10 years and loves (almost) every minute of it, but tells people if she could have any other job, it would be a gig as a Mexico City evangelist. The Mexican capital is her former home and the first place she always wants to go when she gets on a plane. Read more at collazoprojects.com and Cuaderno Inedito.