San Miguel del Milagro, Tlax., Mexico
Compared to other ancient pyramids in Mexico, the ruins at Xochitecatl draw relatively few visitors (we counted a dozen or so during our hour there). The Pyramid of Flowers and other pre-Columbian stone structures sprawl across 30 acres atop the dome of an extinct volcano. The 360-degree panorama takes in the entire Puebla-Tlaxcala Valley, with unobstructed views of the Popocatepetl, Iztaccihuatl, and La Malinche volcanoes, as well as nearby Cacaxtla, site of famous still-colorful Mayan-style murals painted 1,300 or more years ago.
Circuito Perimetral S/N, San MIguel del Milagro, 90720 Natívitas, Tlax., Mexico
Nearly 1,000 years after the once-powerful central Mexican city of Cacaxtla was abandoned, would-be looters of the hilltop palace ruins came across fantastically well-preserved and still colorful murals painted in a somewhat puzzling Mayan style. Excavation continues today under an enormous protective shed roof. The Mural del Templo Rojo, pictured, adjoins a stairway leading to the Governor’s Room. The huge nearby Mural de la Batalla, dating from 700 CE or earlier, is a grisly blood-and-guts depiction of a fierce battle between “jaguar” and “bird” warriors. The relatively un-touristed site is a short drive from Tlaxcala, slighting longer from Puebla. You come away from a slow stroll through the labyrinthine ruins with the feeling that centuries of mysterious history have seeped into your heart and bones.
Av. 4 Pte. 911, Centro, 72000 Puebla, Pue., Mexico
Whether or not you plan to purchase some of the Mexican pottery known as Talavera, which comes only from Puebla and nearby communities, you owe yourself a visit to the venerable Uriarte building, a 20-minute walk from Puebla’s old-town zocalo. Established in 1824, Uriarte has showrooms and a garden court full of premium quality home-interior and outdoor decorative times, place settings, and tiles, all intricately painted and with the characteristic milky-white glaze. You’ll find less expensive examples in other parts of the city (although “seconds” are available here), but Uriarte will give you an appreciation of the craftsmanship that dates back to the 1500s.
2 Emilio Sánchez Piedras
For a relatively quiet town, Tlaxcala (population 73,000) boasts a booming and bustling municipal market that can occupy you for hours. Under the modern cantilevered metal roof you’ll find perhaps a dozen stalls making tortillas on the spot, and scores upon scores of vendors selling cooking utensils, dried chiles and beans, shoes and clothing, souvenirs, fresh vegetables and meats, and more. We picked up a pair of comals and a couple of wooden spatulas for the pesos equivalent of a few dollars. The market is just a short walk from the town-center zocalo, where you can take a break on a bench under huge shade trees or settle into one of the cafes that border the square.
Plaza de la Constitución, Centro, 90000 Tlaxcala de Xicohténcatl, Tlax., Mexico
An exploration of Tlaxcala can begin and end in the Plaza de la Constitución, the zocalo in the old town center. Within walking distance are the Plaza Xicohtencatl, often full of crafts and food stalls, the Ex-Convento Franciscano de la Asuncion (built in the 1530s and one of Mexico‘s earliest monasteries and cathedrals, boasting a visually spectacular interior within its stone walls), several intriguing museums, and the municipal market. Around the zocalo itself you’ll find a colonial-style arcade of restaurants, cafes, and shops, the government building with an interior courtyard painted with historic murals, the Hotel Posada San Francisco an appealingly intimate bar, and plenty of places to park yourself and kick back in the shade. Ninety-five percent of the tourists you’ll encounter will be Mexican.
Santa Maria Acuitlapilco, Tlaxcala, Mexico
After five days of cooking classes--learning from Estela Salas Silva and Jon Jarvis how to make typical Poblano dishes including sopa de tortilla, crema de chile Poblano soup, tamales, tinga, sopes, pipian verde and pipian roja, mole Poblano, chipotles en conserva, ensalada de nopalitos, and more--the payoff includes a diploma, a loose-leaf folder of recipes, and a deeper knowledge of central Mexican cuisine, culture, and history.