Living the Mexican dream Part 1: Exploring Puebla
January 1, 1970
by Manoel Krasimirov
I was privileged to live in Puebla, Mexico for 5 months as part of an exchange program in my university. It is the 4th biggest city in the country after Mexico City, Ecatepec and Guadalajara. With nearly 2.5 million people living in the greater metropolitan area, it is among the most important and culturally significant colonial cities in the country.
Puebla or Heróica Puebla de Zaragoza as it is officially called, is an extremely beautiful city that has much to offer for everybody’s taste. A historical center, stunning architecture, modern shopping malls, and mountains abound to name a few! There is something here to suit all tastes and preferences.
The city center: A World Heritage Site
As it is the case in most cities around the world, the obvious first choice that is worthy of your time is the historical city center that has been declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1987. The area which is spanning for dozens of blocks in each direction around the “zócalo”, which is regarded as the main square in the heart of the city, is dotted with beautiful and colorful, colonial-style buildings, each one contributing in it’s own way for the overall charm of the center. In addition, it boasts multiple museums for the people interested in arts and history. The Amparo museum is definitely worth the visit as it is listed among the most significant and important museums in Mexico. It houses both permanent and temporary collections of items and artifacts dating back up to two millennia BC. A highlight of your visit there should be the cafe with an open roof on the top floor. The panoramic view of the city is stunning. I would recommend going around sunset time as you will have the opportunity to marvel at the surrounding area at day time and at night time when the city turns into an eerie of colors and music from nearby restaurants and shops.
There is no denying, the centerpiece of downtown Puebla is the magnificent colonial cathedral, located right at the zócalo. It is the most spectacular building of its kind in whole Mexico especially in terms of interior. Equally majestic during the day, as it is at night you really feel tiny next to it and it’s massive 70 m high bell towers.
The foodies out there will be beyond pleasantly surprised. The center is scattered with countless options that will satisfy even the pickiest bellies. From typical Pueblan food to fast food chains and high-end restaurants, the variety to choose from is incredible to say the least. For an authentic taste of what Mexican cuisine is all about, I would recommend a delicious main dish at the “Taqueria los Angeles” followed by a plateful of heavenly sweet churros at the “Antigua Churreria de Catedral”, both conveniently located right next to the cathedral.
Do not miss on the forts of Los Fuertes!
The forts of Los Fuertes should be the next “must see” on your “to do” list. It is located Northeast of the city center and is built on top of a hill called Cerro de Guadalupe. It is the point where the battle of Puebla took place on May 5th, 1862 when the French forces attempted an attack on the city. The city was successfully defended by the army of General Ignacio Zaragoza (hence the full name of Puebla) and ever since May 5th or 5 de Mayo has been declared a holiday. Museums, a planetarium, fountains and lakes among others have been built around the whole hill. It is very well maintained and clean, as well. Its hilltop location is a perfect spot for incredible panoramic views of the entire city with the impressive Popocatépetl and Iztaccíhuatl volcanoes serving as the perfect awe-inspiring backdrop. As I consider myself a sunrise/sunset addict, I would suggest a visit around sunset, as the views can be quite dramatic. “Coffee York Los Fuertes” near the Ignacio Zaragoza Monument is a suitable place for a “tasty coffee/panoramic view” combo.
Is the Angelópolis area worth a visit?
Please do not be misled! Though historically and culturally significant, Puebla is by all means more than just historical sites. The Angelópolis area is unmistakably the most modern part of the city. The place where high-rises are disrupting the rather flat architecture of the city and modern shopping centers and big chain department stores are occupying huge lot spaces. A lot of investment is being poured into the area that is considered as one of the most important in Mexico. If you are in a mood for some shopping or cinema-going this would be the place. The “Estrella de Puebla” ferris wheel is located right next to the Angelópolis shopping mall. With it’s 80 meters it is smaller than the world famous London Eye or the Singapore flyer. Nonetheless, it is a nice activity to go for a spin and admire the whole area from higher ground.
Africam Safari: an adventure for all ages!
Around 17 km away from the city is where The Africam Safari park is located. It is among the biggest outside of the continent of Africa and is a real crowd pleaser. I am on the fence when it comes to zoos, aquariums and parks that function around the idea of building a business focused on animals in captivity. In 99% of the cases I do avoid them as I believe a life in a cage, tank or a small enclosure is not what these animals are meant for. I was a bit skeptical prior to my visit to the safari park and I can honestly say that this is how it should be done all over the world and where the climate allows. The whole park is basically huge open spaces where animals roam free including on the special driveway accustomed for the cars that venture through the park. Keep in mind that you would require a vehicle to enter the park. If you do not have any at your disposal, one can be rented at the entrance. It might happen that a rhino is casually chilling on the road or zebras are galloping across. Monkeys jump from car to car, trying to enter the vehicles while elephants are playfully spraying water on their backs to cool off. Furthermore, the park has established numerous fun activity areas such as the small but fun zipline/canopy walk, as well as an aviary where literally hundreds of birds are flying around you and a dozen can feed from your hand. The food can be bought on the spot. Basically, the whole park is one big interaction area that allows you to get closer to beautiful and gentle animals than ever before. For the visitors without a private car, there are buses that operate from the CAPU bus terminal in Puebla to the park. Entrance is $232 pesos per person.
A gastronomy heaven!
Circling back to cuisine – because let us not pretend, food is half of the enjoyment when abroad – Puebla is the state that shines! The Mole Poblano, should be on everyone’s list. The distinctive aspect of the dish is the actual Mole or the sauce. It is prepared by a mixture of different variety of chilli peppers, spices and chocolate, which creates an explosion of taste in your mouth and will leave you craving for more. The same applies for the dish called Chiles en nogada, which is a stuffed poblano peppers, covered with walnut sauce, pomegranate seeds and parsley, representing the 3 colors of the national flag. You have not experienced the Mexican and Pueblan cuisine at the fullest, if you have not tried, cemitas (a type of sandwich stuffed with avocado, Oaxacan cheese, onion, mushrooms, meat etc.), molotes (deep fried corn masa, filled with pretty much whatever you might like), memelas, tacos arabes, tacos al pastor or tamales. I will let your imagination go wild here as to what exactly and how incredibly delicious every meal is. Get excited vegetarians as almost all meals can be consumed or prepared without meat. Although, I have not tried any of them in their original form when it includes meat, the veggie versions are as tasty and rich in flavor as they get.
There is so much to write about, really! However, I am not going to spoil it all for you. Instead, I will leave you wondering what other amazing places might be hiding behind every corner and get excited about the marvelous and fascinating city that is Puebla.