Cholula & Puebla

While both Cholula and Puebla are practically next-door neighbors, they are historically distinct from each other. To put it in perspective, one is Indian, the other Spanish. We visited these two, sitting on a broad fertile valley within the shadows of two towering volcanoes Popocatépetl and Iztaccíhuatl. Since we really didn't have much time, we took advantage of another day trip arranged by our hostel.

Tonantzintla church

From Mexico City, it takes about two hours eastward to Cholula, our first destination. We passed by the little 16th century church of Tonantzintla. From outside, it looks rather simple but not until you get to see its elaborate interior. It's literally dripping with colorful Indian art incorporating the local cult goddess Tonantzin in the theme. This approach was executed by Franciscan friars in their bid to encourage conversion of the native people at the time.

a pyramid? a hill?

The Great Pyramid of Cholula must have been stunning in pre-Columbian times. It was an important religious and ceremonial center. While it now looks more like a hill from afar, it does still retain the title of being the largest pyramid in the world, beating Egypt's Pyramid of Cheops. A section in front of the car park shows a reconstructed part of the pyramid and the rest is left to the visitor's imagination.

Cholula was a bustling city in old Mesoamérica just like Teotihuacan. Over time, the pyramid lay abandoned and vegetation took over. The Spanish conquerors came, even massacred what remained of the indigenous population. In yet another example of Spanish chest-thumping over another religious temple, a church was built atop the pyramid - the Iglesia de Nuestra Señora de los Remedios.

Devotees carry an icon into the
Iglesia de Nuestra Señora de los Remedios

A series of concrete steps from the pyramid's base lead up to the very top where the church is. We joined locals and other visitors in the climb and soon found ourselves getting a panoramic view of the villages and the entire valley. Unfortunately, our view of the Popocatépetl volcano wasn't optimal and by that I mean one where we can actually see its snow-capped splendor. A mid-day procession by locals parading religious icons was the highlight.

San Gabriel monastery
A hazy view of Popocatépetl

Puebla is just a short hop from Cholula.The city, now Mexico's fourth largest, was founded in 1531. It was here that the famous Cinco de Mayo came into being out from that proud moment when poorly equipped Mexicans beat an invading French army in the so-called Battle of Puebla. Nowadays, the battle is more about dodging drunks after a night of unabashed libation...every 5th of May.

Puebla's old buildings

The Historic Center of Puebla is the motherload of architectural gems. It's been a UNESCO World Heritage site since 1987. Every corner seem to point to another pretty building mostly done in colorful hues. The use of Talavera tiles - an earthenware that is unique to Puebla - is particularly impressive at it did lend each and every facade its eye candy appeal.


It was time for lunch and so we head  off to one of the buffet restaurants serving traditional dishes of the region. A mariachi band was playing as we sat down to eat. The food was truly delicious, not to mention it was reasonably priced at $15. Several of the meat dishes were slathered in this thick, chocolate-looking sauce called mole poblano, oftentimes referred to as Mexico's national dish!

Puebla Cathedral

After quickly visiting a Talavera workshop, we dedicated the afternoon on two churches. First was the Puebla Cathedral. Built in 1649, this church has the tallest bell towers in all of Mexico. We entered one of its massive doors towards the vestibule and wandered past the cavernous aisle with its 14 lateral chapels. A guard was constantly eyeing tourists, admonishing errant fingers with "no tocar por favor!" (please don't touch!). In medieval times, someones fingers would have been cut off! Real gold was used in this church after all.

Retablo at Iglesia de Santo Domingo
Capilla del Rosario

Another walk, this time through a busy pedestrian street, led us to Iglesia de Santo Domingo. Attached to this church on the left transept is the Capilla del Rosario which is undoubtedly a masterpiece in Mexican baroque architecture. This is the part where even my camera had trouble getting the correct light reading due to all that glittering gold leaf, plaster, cherubs and angels adorning it. At its center was a statue of the Virgin of the Rosary.

As the fading light of dusk ushered our return to Mexico City, I felt I have barely scratched what wealth there is to be found in Puebla. No, not just all that gold used in churches. There's plenty more. I guess it's always good to miss something to make us want to return. Someday.


  1. can we tag along with you when you return to puebla? ;-)

    i thought santa prisca church on your last post is stunning, and it is! but lo and behold, the churches in cholula and puebla are even more worth the visit! kahit siguro hindi lang 2 hour trip from your origin, sige na! glad you made that 2-hour trip out of mexico and generously shared these to us!

    church made of pure gold? i'm out of words.

  2. churches indeed deserves that unbelievable intricacy on its ceiling. some churches would either represent it through paintings but these are just among great works of art.

  3. We did the exact same itinerary a year ago, visiting both Cholula and Puebla in the same day. I am glad to see that things haven't changed: Cholula is still the quieter town, while Puebla is the bustling city. When we visited, there were students demonstrating against the government and we had to dodge them by going through side streets.

  4. i used to read a blog about a woman that teaches english in puebla and she has posted many photos of how lovely the place really is. one day is surely not enough to enjoy all that the city has to offer.

    i wanted to see all of these as well. mexico has so many things to offer to the traveler.

  5. doc gelo,
    yes, please travel with me next time!! I was almost skeptical but the way those things shone inside the churches, particularly at the Capilla, is more resplendent than any gold shop in the Middle East!

    dong ho,
    I say amen to that!

    The idea of encountering protests in a foreign country is really disconcerting - what if it turns out violent no? That thought came into my mind as I remember Egypt's current volatility.

    Photo Cache,
    A day in Puebla was a terrific teaser to the palate so I really really want to explore more, taste more, eat more - now I sound like Bourdain haha!

  6. Dennis,

    Actually, that was the second time I encountered a protest while traveling. First was 2007 in Quito, Ecuador. There was a large group demonstrating in front of the Presidential Palace, and there were soldiers lined up in front of it to guard it. I have a photo of it here. The one in Puebla, Mexico was the second.

    I have to admit, sitting here in front of my laptop in Buffalo, I do think that it can be dangerous, as it has the potential to turn violent, but when you're there, curiosity takes over. You stand on top of a bench, take out your camera, and shoot away. It's just the excitement of things that carries you away, which I admit might be foolish in the long run. Perhaps it's the 3 and a half years I have spent in Diliman that rendered these demonstrations as almost normal, instead of treating them as dangerous.


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