January 15 – January 21, 2023.
While we were in Puebla we made a few excursions. Within 45 minutes to the south, north, and west we found ruins and Pueblos Magicos. So we loaded up our friends in Ballena Blanca and hit the road. Our first trip was on a Saturday so we could include Susan, the sister of one of our friends who we were visiting in Puebla. Susan was taking Spanish classes in the city and staying with a host family. We were heading to see some ruins, Zona Arqueológica de Cacaxtla in the town of San Miguel del Milagro in a brand new (to us) state, Tlaxcala.
As we were driving to pick our friends up that morning we noticed that El Popocatépetl was letting off some steam.
El Popocatépetl, informally known as El Popo (I assume because El Popocatépetl is even a mouthful for Mexicans) is an active volcano about 27 miles (as the crow flies) from Puebla. It is ringed by major population centers and cities, including Mexico City, about 45 miles away. Its last recorded eruption (according to Wikipedia) was in 2020.
Once we arrived in San Miguel del Milagro and after taking a wrong turn we found ourselves with an amazing view of the fuming mountain. So we stopped to take some pics after we turned around on our way to the ruins.
Excursion 1 – Zona Arqueológica de Cacaxtla & Xochitécatl
Once we figured out where we were going we found a big empty parking lot and parked across the street from Cacaxtla. As soon as we paid our entrance fee we were approached by a person offering tours. We decided we’d hang on to our pesos and wing it on our own. One of the odd things I’ve learned about Mexico is that it is very important to visit things in a certain order. In museums, there are usually arrows pointing the way that you need to go. Go against the arrows and you are likely to be admonished. We were instructed to visit the ruins site first and then the museum. But we didn’t listen and disobeyed the arrows placed on the ground.
We were glad we visited the museum first because it gave us a better idea about what we were going to look at – especially since we passed up the guide.
The site was founded by the Olmeca-Xicalanca people. It flourished between 650-900 AD but everyone had left by the year 1000. The main heart of the site is the Gran Basamento (“Great Plinth”), a large complex of overlapping and interconnected structures measuring 656 feet long and 82 feet high. The highlight of the Gran Basamento is the colorful murals made with red, blue, yellow, black, and white pigments from local minerals.
We’ve visited lots of ruins sites but never one with so many intact and colorful murals.
And of course, right outside of the archeological complex, we had lunch.
The next stop was three miles away, Xochitécatl, another ruins site. We didn’t realize that this site was a two-for-one combined with Cacaxtla. So it was a nice surprise when we got there that we didn’t have to pay again.
We hit the museum first on the way to the ruins site. Xochitécatl was a ceremonial center for the Olmeca-Xicalanca people. Numerous figurines found at the site depict women as pregnant, giving birth, carrying a child, or with a hole in their stomach into which a baby could be put in or taken out. We saw many intriguing examples of the latter in the museum.
Excursion 2 – The Pueblo Mágico and Ruins of Cholula
When we first got to the state of Puebla and before we camped in the city next to the police station for 8 days, we spent 6 days camping in San Andrés Cholula. We had previously visited this Pueblo Mágico 4 years ago and while we were camped there this time we spent a Sunday walking around the town. But we still wanted to introduce our friends to Cholula. We went on a Friday because Susan had already been to the town, just a little over 8 miles from El Centro Puebla.
On both days that we spent in Cholula, it seemed very quiet. When we visited four years previously there were Voladores (Native Mexicans who climb a pole, then launch themselves from the top attached to a rope that has been wrapped around the pole. They spin around the pole as the rope extends until they reach the ground. Click here for pics of when we saw Voladores at Lake Chapala). There were also Native Mexicans doing purification ceremonies and rides for kids around the plaza. None of that this time. There were still lots of places to buy souvenirs, food, and drink. And on our Sunday visit, there were lots of kite flyers in the plaza.
But the main attraction of Cholula is the ruins and the church.
This ruin consists of several superimposed pyramids, built over six centuries. The pyramid has a base that is 1,480 feet on each side and stands 177 feet high. This is twice as large as that of the Pyramid of the Sun in Teotihuacan outside of Mexico City (one of the largest pyramids in Mesoamerica) and four times bigger in volume than that of Keops in Egypt.
The pyramid was yet to be excavated when in 1574-75 a church, Iglesia de Nuestra Señora de los Remedios, was built atop it.
Besides the lack of excitement in the plaza the other disappointing thing was that you couldn’t walk through the tunnel that takes you beneath the pyramid. When we visited 4 years ago this tunnel was open. Not this time. So we walked around the ruins and then did the big hike on a paved walkway up to the church before lunch at a nice vegan/seafood restaurant not far from the zócalo.
After lunch and while we were out in the van we went to visit a few more fascinating churches in the area, Iglesia de San Francisco and Acatepec Santa Maria Tonantzintla.
Excursion 3 – The Pueblo Mágico Atlixco
On Saturday the day after we visited Cholula, we picked up our friends and Susan and drove about 45 minutes south to the Pueblo Mágico, Atlixco. Atlixco is known for its flowers. Even though the temperature was lovely, it was still winter when we visited and we didn’t see the carpets of blooms like I had seen in so many pictures. Still, there were plenty of plants (some flowery), the zócalo was lovely, ringed with ceramic tiled benches, the Palacio Municipal was full of paintings depicting life in the area, the streets were pretty, and we found lots of fun murals – many interactive. There was a giant food-court mercado which would have been fun to have lunch at but I became too overwhelmed by all the vendors and cocineros yelling to get our attention to eat at their place that we bailed. We found a nice place along the zócalo for a bite and had helados (ice cream) afterward.
*All pics are click to enlarge. Enlarge or hover over pics to see the captions. Once you have them enlarged you can view them in a slide show.