I’ve been living in Puebla for over a year, and yet I’ve only written ONE post about it, which means I’m long-overdue for sharing about my adopted home… especially because there’s a lot of misconceptions about this pretty city.
I hear a lot of negative opinions about Puebla (from both Mexicans and foreigners): that it’s snobby, conservative, but mostly that it’s BORING.
That couldn’t be more wrong. While Puebla doesn’t have the size or scope of nearby Mexico City, it certainly is no dud, especially in the food and history departments (Cinco de Mayo? Yeah, it all started in Puebla!).
Let’s get exploring!
*technically, Puebla and Cholula (or according to the map above: Puebla City and San Andres Cholula) are two different towns. However, most people kinda lump them together, and they are geographically very close. For the sake of simplicity, I’m going with the flow here and including things to do around the city of Puebla, including in the town of Cholula.*
Top 12 Things to Do in Puebla, Mexico
Puebla is known for its cuisine, especially mole. While you’re in town, you should definitely try to sample as much Mexican/Poblano food as possible.
Seriously, I haven’t been to a bad local restaurant here (though I’d say skip on most of the international offerings and go straight for the Mexican goodies), and the price, portion size, and quality are all incredible. Around Cholula and the historic center of Puebla, you’ve also got street food options (snacks are a great place to start if you’re street-food squeamish, like the frozen ice I’m chowing down on in the photo above).
While we’re on the topic of eating: people love to joke about “Montezuma’s revenge” and imply that Mexican eateries are unclean and will get you sick. That’s a pretty nasty cultural stereotype that we need to stop. Right here. Food poisoning happens all over the world, and even from a non-food-related perspective, you’re more likely to get sick abroad because you’re not used to/immune to that area’s particular germs/bacteria.
Some other potential tummy-trouble culprits?
SPICINESS If you’re sensitive or not used to hot peppers, this can cause gastrointestinal distress, so be sure to go for something on the mild side.
PORK Mexican eateries frequently use pork lard (“manteca de cerdo”) in beans and tortillas. If you’re a vegetarian/Muslim/Jewish and you don’t eat pig products, be sure to specify this very carefully. Accidentally eating pork can also cause “Montezuma’s revenge”-type symptoms.
FIBER If you’re not used to eating vast amounts of corn (like, tortillas) and beans, or you don’t typically get as much fiber as you should, suddenly overloading your body with fiber (or even just beans if you’re not used to them) can cause uncomfortable bloating, gas, and even nausea.
My favorite places to eat
I’m a vegetarian, and I find that Cholula has better options for me (it’s sort of hippie, hipster central over here). These are my favorite eateries (shoutout to Sam from Yo’on Ixim for introducing me to ALL of these):
This place is three stories full of Instagrammability. My favorite spot is on the third-floor terrace (not pictured), which has an awesome view of Cholula. Divara has a range of Mexican and international options (including for vegetarians and vegans), but their brunch menu is my favorite. Also great drinks!
Tertulia is super cute, with two stories (as usual, my fave is upstairs). This place is breakfast and lunch only, so be sure to plan your visit for before 2pm. They’ve got huge portions of delicious Mexican favorites, and the best vegetarian brunch options in town (lots of vegan choices too).
Recaudo is the place to go if you’re after local, seasonal food. This place is all-vegetarian and with a constantly-updated menu that changes every season. They’ve also got a little shop with teas, pomades, natural items.
Cuscuscus is gigantic, but somehow very atmospheric and cozy, with so many little nooks and crannies for having a quiet coffee or drink with a friend. The terrace on the top level has an incredible view of the church.
2. Visit churches.
Can I confess that I’m not a big church fan? I know, this is downright blasphemous for anyone calling Mexico home, but I just don’t really dig them. When I’m traveling myself (ie not bringing friends or family around), I don’t go into churches. I’ll check them out from outside, but going in just feels weird and uncomfortable (coughcough traumatic Catholic upbringing coughcough).
But in Puebla, churches are a big draw, especially these 3. I don’t know much about them (again, not big on churches), so I’m going to link to more reputable sources if you’d like to get informed:
3. Go to Africam.
I’m a bit ambivalent about zoos. Are they good? Are they bad? They provide necessary conservation and education, but at the same time, some zoos mistreat their animals, and great, ethical zoos seem pretty rare (especially in Latin America).
The solution? A free-range, safari-style zoo like Africam. I seriously don’t know how this is legal (and their liability insurance must be insane?) but almost all the animals roam free, and you’re allowed to drive slowly on a path through the exhibit. This includes through the open air exhibits of lions and tigers and bears (OH MY!).
4. See the pyramids.
Cholula is the oldest still-inhabited town in the Americas. Seriously.
If you don’t want to pay to enter the park (let’s be honest, this isn’t Machu Pichu or Chichen Itza-level), you can still get a pretty good view from outside. In my opinion, it’s worth it to go inside, to support the preservation of the archeological site, and you can climb to the top of one of the pyramids.
5. Support Yo’on Ixim.
Yo’on Ixim is a local Puebla organization that benefits the Tzotzil indigenous community. This nonprofit educates and empowers the women and children of the community, providing education (including Spanish) and life and business skills. There is also a cooperative to help the women to sell their incredible, handmade handicrafts. Contact to see if there’s an upcoming tour of the school or find out what events Yo’on Ixim is participating in this month. (tours by donation!)
If you’re planning on a longer stay in Puebla, and interested in community development, education, female empowerment, and so much more: inquire with Yo’on Ixim about volunteer opportunities!
Note: I’m shocked by the number of people who tour nonprofits and don’t provide a donation afterward. Even if you aren’t asked, offer. Someone has taken time out of his/her day (time that could have been spent working towards the mission of the organization) to show you around and share with you. The very least you can do is make a reasonable donation towards supporting the nonprofit.
The historic center of Puebla is safe, beautiful, colorful, and full of surprises.
Beyond buying stuff, simply just walking around is a real treat. The buildings and architecture of Puebla are impressive and intricate, and worthy of a slow stroll.
7. Buy handicrafts.
In the historic center of Puebla, you can find an antique and secondhand market on the weekends, but any day of the week, there are numerous shops and vendors for you to check out. Talavera pottery is especially popular.
If you happen to visit on the last weekend of the month, you’re in luck! The Sagrado Mercadito is the prime place to buy any artisan, locally-made product of your dreams directly from the creator. This pop-up market sells traditional handicrafts and modern/contemporary pieces ranging from indigenous handwoven ornaments to recycled-leather laptop bags to Lush-esque toiletries to homemade snacks and local beers.
8. Ride the Estrella de Puebla.
The “Star of Puebla” is one of the most iconic sights in the city. At night, the Star can be seen from across Puebla, all lit up. You’ll get the best view in the city for 30 pesos per person (pay 300 pesos for a whole gondola to yourself), but definitely go after dark for the coolest views.
9. See the Dance of the Fliers.
The Danza de los Voladores (Dance of the Flyers) can be seen in Cholula’s plaza, next to the pyramids.
The Dance of the Flyers is thought to have originated with the indigenous people of central Mexico (specifically the Nahua, Otomi, and Huastec), and is still performed today in certain parts of Mexico, now associated mainly with the Totonac people. During the ceremony, five participants climb a tall (30-meter) pole, from which four launch themselves off while the fifth remains on top, playing a flute and drum.
The ceremony is thought to have been originally created in ancient times to ask the gods to end a severe draught, and has been designated a UNESCO intangible cultural heritage.
There’s also a little daily market in the plaza with the fliers, next to the pyramids, that has a few rows of stalls with typical Puebla souvenirs.
10. Practice Spanish.
I think Poblanos (people from Puebla) have one of the easiest to understand accents and slowest, clearest enunciation of pretty much any Spanish-speaking area, in the world. Check out a fun guide to Puebla-specific slang here.
To top it all off, private Spanish lessons are very affordably priced, meaning you can fit some Spanish practice into your schedule. The going rate for a one-on-one, two-hour-long lesson with an experienced teacher who comes to you is 500 pesos. You can find group classes for much less.
Livit Immersion Center gets rave reviews, especially for their small class sizes, organized excursions, and optional homestays [note: I have not personally taken classes through them]. They’re really a one-stop-shop in terms of studying Spanish in Mexico. All you’ve got to do is sign up and pay, and they take care of the rest, no stress!
These are some of my favorite things to do as an expat when I’ve got some free time and I want to relax.
11. See a VIP movie.
Warning, you’ll never, ever be able to enjoy a “normal” (cough cough PEASANT) movie again.
For less than 100 pesos, you get your own, reclining LazyBoy-style seat, blankets, a mini table and lamp… and oh, yeah, a waiter that comes to you and takes your order off of a menu. You can get pizza, nachos, popcorn (yawn), and any drink (including wine, beer, cocktails) that your heart desires.
Note: Make sure the movie you’re seeing is Subtitlado, or original-language (aka English) with subtitles. [Personal opinion: Dublado (dubbed) movies aren’t fun in any language.]
12. Walk the trails of Lomas de Angelopolis
I love to walk (and I run for fitness), it’s by far my favorite form of transportation and recreation. While Puebla is a great walking city (and with several green spaces, as well), my favorite place to walk is my own neighborhood: Lomas de Angelopolis.
Lomas is an immaculately-landscaped secure community (24 hour security guards at entrances and exits, and patrolling) in between Puebla and Cholula. It has several big, beautiful parks, a commercial center (Sonata) with a theatre for VIP movies, tons of restaurants and bars, and miles and miles of sidewalks for walking or running. Very dog-friendly!
From Puebla, you can also take so many day trips. These two are my favorites!
About 2.5-3 hours away via comfortable bus or drive, Mexico City is just FULL of things to do. I’ve written extensively about it here. If you want to stay the night in Mexico City, Airbnb has the best-value accommodation, and you can choose where to stay with this guide to Mexico City’s best neighborhoods.
Atlixco is a tiny town that is maybe best known for its Christmasy atmosphere and big poinsettia sale every holiday season. Pretty much any time of year, though, it’s a great place for a wander, and to experience small-town Mexico.
Pin it for Later: Top 12 Things to Do in Puebla (And Cholula)