Is the hustle and bustle of Mexico City tiring you out? Relax, because Puebla is the perfect weekend escape for families with kids. Just two hours from the nation’s capital, Puebla’s rich colonial heritage and relaxed atmosphere make the city center a delight for exploring on foot. Of course, Puebla’s biggest claim to fame is its status as the site of what was arguably Mexico’s most enduring military victory. Locals are staunchly proud of the 1862 Battle of Puebla, when the Mexican army defeated French occupation forces.
Puebla's Colonial Center
The logical starting point for exploring Puebla has to be the zocalo. Located in the heart of the historic downtown, the zocalo was granted UNESCO world heritage status in 1987. It’s ringed by coffee shops, and makes for a good spot for people watching. Of course, the real gem here is the Puebla Cathedral. Taking almost a century to build, the cathedral boasts Mexico’s tallest bell towers. Climbing them offers some good views of the city, but the highlight of the cathedral is its decadent interior. The dimly-lit cathedral interior is a dense jungle of gold, Renaissance-era art and glimmering décor. Even the kids will be impressed by this sensory overload.
Once you’ve had your mind blown by the cathedral, it’s time to hunt down the colonial center’s other gems. Bear in mind that much of the colonial center can be a bit of a challenge with strollers. While the immediate streets around the zocalo are well-maintained, you’ll find the historic center is riddled with uneven paving and stretches of the dreaded stroller-killing cobblestones. Unless your're visiting Puebla with a toddler do yourself a favor, and leave the stroller to live to fight another day.
With kids in sling, your next destination should be the Palafoxian Library. Just a block from the cathedral, this historic 18th Century library has quite the collection of leather-bound books. Afterwards, keep heading south, then loop back around for Los Sapos. This art district isn’t much to look at during the week, but on Saturdays and Sundays morphs into a quirky flea market. Keep heading north, then a few blocks past the zocalo you should see the artisan market on your right.
This small market is mostly geared towards tourists, but is good for picking up a few souvenirs. There’s also another stretch of markets further north in the Barrio de Artistas. On weekends, local artists line the street with their easels. Further on, you’ll run into the Calle de los Dulces (Sweets Street). As its name would suggest, this is the spot for trying Puebla’s array of traditional sweets. Classic Poblano sweets tend to be outrageously sugary, and almost impossible to stop eating. The small, disc-shaped tortitas de Santa Clara area local favorite. This street will no doubt be the highlight of the historic center for the kids, not to mention a good place to buy souvenirs.
At the end of Calle de los Dulces, you’ll hit Puebla’s main shopping drag, 5 de Mayo. This mall-esque street is mostly packed with clothing stores, but is also home to the Ex Convento de Santa Rosa. This former convent and church is worth visiting for its ornate gold nave. Finally, hike to the far end of 5 de Mayo and cross the highway to reach the Barrio de Xanenetla, which is known for its colorful street art.
With more than 400 years of tradition Talavera potery is the most important handcraft in Puebla, and of all the shops Uriarte is the most popular. Here you can actually visit the mill and see how the full process of creating Talavera happens.
Outside the City Center
About 15 minutes by foot up the hilly road from Barrio de Xanenetla, you’ll arrive at Los Fuertes (The Forts). It’s best to hail a bus to avoid the steep climb, and there’s plenty of public transport. Once you reach the top of the hill, you’ll understand why Los Fuertes was used as a defensive position for Mexican troops bracing for the Battle of Puebla in 1862. It’s on this hill with its commanding views that the professional French army crashed against a ragtag group of poorly equipped Mexican defenders. Despite the odds, the Mexican army managed to repel the French invaders, scoring a victory that is still celebrated today.
The former battlefield around Los Fuertes is now a a maze of gardens and walking trails packed with museums, most of which offer free entry on Sundays. The Museo de la Evolución Puebla will be a hit among the kids, who will love gawking at the life-like displays of prehistoric animals, not to mention the gigantic shark at the entrance. For a bit of history, don’t miss the INAH Museo Regional de Puebla, and the smaller Museo Interactivo De La Batalla Del 5 De Mayo. The latter has a small but enthralling exhibition detailing the Battle of Puebla.
On the other side of the city center, on Calle 11, you’ll find Puebla’s Mercado de Sabores. This is a good spot to try mole, or just dig in to an ocean of chilaquiles. From here, it’s possible to catch a bus to the suburb of La Libertad. This neighborhood’s claim to fame is Cuexcomate. Dubbed the world’s smallest volcano, Cuexcomate is in fact an inactive geyser, but don’t let that disappoint you. The geyser (or volcano, if you prefer) is apparently cursed. According to local lore, Cuexcomate was used by indigenous people to dump the bodies of suicide victims. Today though, the interior of the geyser is more like a cave than a crypt. The kids in particular will enjoy this one.
Ex Fabrica La Constancia is a former fabric mill that has become a museum- four of them actually. The Paseo de los Gigantes will walk you through a maze of world famous landmarks that adults and kids will love to recognize. There's a fantastic interactive children's museum, a museum about music from Viena and a traditional mexican puppet museum (Museo del Titere)as well.
Puebla has its very own Ferris Wheel, called Estrella de Puebla, and it's a world record holder as well: it's the largest portable ferris wheel in the world. There are two kinds of seats, standard and VIP. VIP cars have glass bottoms and more comfortable seats, and you'll skip the waiting line as well. This said all cars have AC and offer great views of Puebla.
Puebla also has a cable car for those who like to views from above. It's not very long but is a good way of seeing the city from above and at a different angle than the cable car. Search for Teleferico de Puebla online and you'll get all the info you need including price, schedule and more. It is very cheap by the way (30 MXN at time of writing).
Like many cities in the world Puebla has its own hop on/ hop off bus. There are several companies, and we decided to hop on a tour called Barrios Antiguos de Puebla, translated as " Puebla's Old Neighborhoods". It lasts about two hours and is a convenient way of getting around the city as a first familiarization, or to wrap it up. The tours start and ends at the zocalo, Puebla's main square.
Lastly, art buffs won’t want to miss the Museo Internacional del Barroco. This sleek, modern museum is located in the upmarket suburb of Angelopolis, but can be reached from the center by public transport. Designed by Japanese architect Toyoo Ito, the museum was only just opened in 2016, and has some enthralling exhibitions on Baroque art.
Food in Puebla
Food was one of the attractions in Puebla I was looking forward to most before starting the trip and should also be one of yours. The city has some of the best dishes in the country, and is home to two of the most suculent in all Mexico: Chiles en Nogada and Mole Poblano. We had the chance to eat at several restaurants and while I did have my fair share of mole, I also learned that the chiles en Nogada are a seasonal dish and was completely out of it. Bummer!
La Porfiriana, right in the main square, offers traditional Puebla cuisine in an easy going, family friendly environment. One of their main dishes is Mole, of course, which I quickly tried as my first meal in Puebla.
La Casita Poblana is another great family restaurant in Puebla focused on traditional Puebla food. The venue itself is pretty large, and what makes it ideal for families visiting Puebla with kids is that they have an indoor park where children can have a blast while parents eat.
Hotel Marques de Angel in Puebla's zocalo is a new boutique hotel with a fine restaurant that has already built a respected reputation in town. The rooms are tastefully furnished with antique decor, and the food served is simply delicious.
Where to Stay in Puebla With Kids
When visiting Puebla with our toddler we stayed in two different hotels, each in a different location and with quick access to different areas of the city.
Our first couple of nights were spent at the Occidental JF Puebla. Within walking distance of many restaurants and bars should you want to venture out for some food and drinks it has clean, modern mid-size rooms with a desk, working chair, TV, and a full bathroom, though the walls are a bit on the thin side. The hotel also offers a crib if you're in Puebla with a baby, and there's a good restaurant as well as a fantastic breakfast buffet. Check current rates here and my full review here.
The last two nights were spent at the Holiday Inn Angeliopolis, in a completely different part of Puebla. The hotel has a very special view of the city and the Popocatepl, the active volcano just a thirty minute drive from it. It has modern furnishings, offers a good complimentary buffet breakfast and has a some choices for restaurants within waking distance, albeit not many. Check current rates here
Half Day Trip from Puebla: Cholula
When Mexico City’s denizens need a break from the big smoke, they go to Puebla. When Poblanos need to do the same, they go to Cholula. Once a small rural village, in recent years Cholula has been consumed by Puebla’s unrepentant urban sprawl. Today, Cholula is more of an outlying suburb of the city, but still retains its village vibe. The village has two significant religious sites, the Templo de Santa María Tonanzintla and nearby Templo de San Francisco de Acatepec.
The big draw card here is the Great Pyramid of Cholula. Despite its humble appearance as a grassy hill, this pre-colonial structure is the largest known pyramid anywhere in the world. Archaeologists estimate the total volume of the Cholula pyramid is around twice that of the Great Pyramid of Giza. Unfortunately, the Cholula pyramid was long neglected, and still remains mostly un-excavated. Visitors can, however, explore a small section of excavated tunnels that run deep inside the pyramid. You’ll feel like Indiana Jones exploring the dark recesses of the pyramid in a one-way underground tunnel. While it’ll certainly appeal to the kids, bear in mind this experience isn’t well-suited to anyone who is at all claustrophobic.
Outside the tunnel, visitors can check out excavated portions of the pyramid, and even climb to the top. To get an idea of how massive this pyramid is, there’s an entire church built on top. On weekends, the courtyard outside the church is rather lively, but even during the week you can still soak up the great views from the top. On a clear day, you can see the Popocatépetl volcano. The volcano is almost always active, and if you’re lucky you might catch a plume of steam rising from the crater. To learn more about Cholula and its surroundings, don’t miss the Museo Regional de Cholula. This newly refurnished museum can be found just to the side of the pyramid archaeological zone.
At this point, you have two options. If you’re standing outside the museum and facing away from the pyramid, you can either take a right to a strip of bars, or turn left to return to the center of town. As a student town, Cholula tends to have more lively nightlife than Puebla, and that strip of bars explodes on Friday nights. If you’re not up for binge drinking though, your best bet is to return to the zocalo, where there’s a good mix of Mexican and international restaurants.
Overall, you should be able to cover all of Cholula’s main attractions within a few hours, making it a good choice for a half day excursion from Puebla. To get to Cholula from Puebla, take one of the buses from the small bus terminal on Avenida 6 Poniente, between Calle 11 and 15 (one block north from the Mercado de Sabores).
Where to Eat in Cholula
Cholula has several restaurants where to eat great local food, and just as many if not more simple places where to eat some tacos. We had a superb lunch at Mama Elena, which specializes in traditional meals with a modern twist.
Day Trips from Puebla
While Cholula is best kept as a half day trip, Puebla does have a few other nearby towns worth a full day or overnight adventure.
Atlixco de las Flores
Less than two hours from Puebla, the unassuming town of Atlixco is known for its vibrant culture. It has a few notable sites, including its Moorish-style zocalo, and the nearby La Merced Temple has some interesting stucco facades. The lemon-yellow San Augustin Church is also worth a peek. However, the big reason to visit Atlixco is to see one of its many wonderful cultural events. In mid-March, the town’s streets are decorated with sprawling carpets of flowers for the annual Festival de la Flor (Flower Festival). This event celebrates Atlixco’s main industry, which is (you guessed it) the cultivation of flowers. Meat eaters should return in August for the Feria de la Cecina, which celebrates a kind of thinly sliced marinated pork. Another important festival takes place on January 6, when Atlixco puts on its famous Festival de la Ilusión. Local kids come together to mass launch thousands of balloons. Again, this is a must for your kids!
If you happen to arrive later in the year though, don’t despair. Over November and January, Atlixco gets lit up by the Festival de la Iluminación. This festival sees the down decked-out in colorful light displays, along with sky lanterns and carnival rides. Each year, the festival draws hundreds of thousands of visitors, and Atlixco’s small-town infrastructure buckles under the weight. During this time, expect hotels to be booked to the brim, so plan ahead accordingly.
Atlixco’s most prized festival, however, is the annual Huey Atlixcayotl. Celebrated since pre-Hispanic times in various forms, the modern version of the festival dates back to the mid 1960s. The festival starts on the last weekend of September, and gives thanks to the god Quetzalcoatl for the year’s harvest. The main event takes place a week later, when hundreds of contestants from all over Puebla state gather to ritualistically climb the Cerro de San Miguel. The event is livened up by traditional music, along with performances of voladores. The latter is a pre-Hispanic tradition where skilled participants throw themselves from a 30-meter-high pole in a sort of ritual bungee jump. They then spin in the air, playing musical instruments while wowing audiences with their areal display. If you can, this is without doubt the best time to visit Atlixco.
Outside the festival season, Atlixco is still a pleasant, almost stereotypical Mexican small town. Life here is considerably more relaxed than even Puebla, and an overnight stay can be a welcome respite. With flowers being the main draw to Atlixco, the Botanical Garden is a must. It has a sample of every kind of plant you can find in Mexico, and then more.
Food in Atlxico de las Flores
Foodies will also enjoy exciting local food specialties including cecina Atlixquense-dried, sliced pork meat, ice-cream (with unique flavors I had never seen anywhere including chipotle and beer!), Cemitas Poblanas, Enchiladas and Pambazo Atlixquense, a marinated pork meat sub.
Getting to Atlixco from Puebla
To get here, just take any of the regular buses from Puebla’s main bus terminal, CAPU. Buses run every hour or so until around 6-8pm. Confirm times at the CAPU though, as bus schedules change from time to time.
If you’re looking for an easy family outing in Puebla with kids, the Africam Safari is a must. Originally a private collection of exotic animals owned by the wealthy Camacho family, the site was converted into an open-air zoo in 1972. Since then, Africam Safari has been an icon of Puebla state. Every self-respecting Poblano has visited the zoo at least a few times, and you should, too. From Puebla, the zoo runs tours than include full transport to and from the central zocalo. To arrange a tour, just head over to the tourism secretariat’s office on the north east corner of Puebla’s zocalo. Africam has a booth inside where you can buy tickets for the park. On the day of your visit, you’ll need to wait outside the office at the designated time (usually around 10 am), where you’ll be picked up by a tour bus. You’ll know you’ve got the right bus if it’s covered in fiberglass animals. Be sure to pick a window seat, as this same bus will drive you through the zoo itself.
On arrival, you’ll find Africam is divided into various zones, each designed to mimic a specific regional environment. In a matter of hours, you’ll be taken on a “safari” across zones imitating African steppe, the Kalahari Desert, Serengeti, Indian forests and Nepalese wildlands. Each area comes with its own collection of free roaming animals, such as zebra, giraffes, rhinos, dromedaries and more. After the “safari”, visitors are given a few hours in the afternoon to stretch their legs and explore the more conventional part of the zoo, dubbed the “Adventure Zone”. This area has plenty of standard zoo animals, plus a rather convincing area imitating Amazon rainforest. They also have a butterfly enclosure, bird feeding area, Australian area with kangaroos, a botanic garden of Mexican plants and even a bat cave. However, on arrival your first priority should be getting front row seats for the daily bird show, which can be quite a thrill. Nocturnal visits are also available.
A visit to Africam will consume an entire day, including the round-trip from Puebla. Expect to leave around 10am, and return around 7pm. Like Puebla, the zoo isn’t particularly well-suited to strollers, so bring a sling for the little ones. Also, remember to stock up on snacks before leaving. While there is an on-site restaurant at the Adventure Area, there are no pit stops until lunchtime.
Getting to Puebla and Away
As one of Mexico’s early important colonial settlements, Puebla began its history as a caravan stop between Mexico City and the coast. Perhaps as a legacy of that time, Puebla remains well-connected to both the nation’s capital and other main tourist destinations. Mexico City’s southern bus terminal, TAPO has regular departures to Puebla from early morning until around 9pm. Estrella Roja and ADO have departures hourly (or more), with most arriving at Puebla’s main terminal, CAPU. From CAPU, you can either take a municipal bus to the center from just outside the terminal, or fork out for a secure taxi from inside. Either way, bear in mind that Estrella Roja’s first class buses go directly to a smaller terminal on 4 Poniente, just outside Puebla’s colonial center. From that terminal, it’s about a 15 minute walk to the zocalo.
ADO and Estrella Roja also run hourly buses between Puebla and Mexico City’s Benito Juarez International Airport. Like other first class buses, they depart from and arrive at the Estrella Roja terminal on 4 Poniente.
Finally, Puebla does have its own airport. Located about an hour outside of the city, the Hermanos Serdán International Airport has connections with Guadalajara, Monterrey, Dallas, Houston, Cancun, Tijuana and more.
Our fantastic trip to Puebla was possible thanks to the support provided by the tourism office of Puebla which you can find at www.puebla.travel . Make sure you reach out to them if you need tips on what to see and do in Puebla with kids- or without them!