A Guide to Puebla: Exploring the Historical Center

Last Updated on: 24th January 2024, 11:23 pm

Throughout the three hundred years of Spanish rule, Puebla was often regarded as Mexico’s most important city after the capital. And its beautiful baroque churches and colonial-era houses are testament to that. Today, with over 3 million residents, Puebla is Mexico’s fourth-largest city. But as we’ll cover in the Puebla guide below, the highlights are concentrated in a relatively small area and can be seen within a day or two.

Puebla’s top attractions can mostly be explored on foot, though Uber is also a convenient way to get around. As is the case with most Mexican cities, many of the attractions featured below are closed on Mondays, so plan your trip accordingly.

For more information on reaching the city and where to stay, be sure to check the end of the article.

The Teleférico

During my tour of the city center, I decided to start my day at the Teleférico, a 58 m-high ropeway. Unlike a typical cable car, which takes you to the top of a hill or mountain, the Teleférico merely takes you from one man-made tower to another.

As I wanted to see Loreto Fort, I thought the Teleférico would be a fun way to get there. But I made the mistake of not carefully checking the hours, and I hadn’t realized that things wouldn’t start running until 10:30. 

Teleferico Puebla Guide

But even after that, it still took the staff a while to get things ready. While the ride offered some great views of the city along with Popocatépetl volcano, I didn’t find the short ride to be worth the wait. 

For about 70 pesos one-way, the Teleférico borders on being a tourist trap. Nevertheless, if you have more than a day to explore the city center, the Teleférico can be an interesting way to reach the ‘Historical Zone of the Forts.’

Teleferico Puebla Guide

Loreto Fort

The ‘Historical Zone of the Forts’ is a spacious area atop a hill overlooking the city. It’s home to plenty of modern parks, monuments and museums. But if you’re interested in learning more about Puebla’s history, the main attraction here is Loreto Fort.

Originally a chapel, the Spanish decided to fortify the building in the late 18th century. At the time, they needed to protect themselves against rebels during the movement for Mexican independence, and this hilltop location was strategic.

But even after the end of Spanish rule, the fort would be put to the test plenty more times.

Loreto Fort Puebla Guide

During the US invasion of the 19th century, the US military took over the fort in 1847 during their occupation of Puebla. And in the following decade, the fort saw action during skirmishes between Mexico’s liberal and conservative factions.

Then in the 1860s, following the War of Reform, Mexico saw itself greatly indebted to nations like England, Spain and France. And Napoleon saw this as a perfect opportunity to invade. 

Loreto Fort Puebla Guide
Loreto Fort Puebla Guide

French forces eventually made their way to Puebla, which was defended by General Ignacio Zaragoza. Fighting took place in various parts of the city, including here at Fort Loreto and nearby Fort Guadalupe.

The battle, which took place on May 5, 1862, saw the Mexicans come out victorious. And the victory has been celebrated ever since on a day known as ‘Cinco de Mayo.’ Oddly, while the holiday is indeed a big deal in Puebla itself, it’s more of a thing in the United States than it is in Mexico as a whole.

Loreto Fort Puebla Guide

The fort was declared a national monument in 1933. And the museum within provides an informative bilingual overview of the fort’s history. And in a more general sense, major events that took place in Mexico throughout the 19th century.

Given its location outside the historical center, you might be tempted to save Loreto Fort for last. Note, however, that it closes as early as 16:00.

The Historic Passage of May 5

One of the most unique attractions in this Puebla guide is the ‘Historic Passage of May 5,’ or more simply known as the ‘Puebla tunnels.’

During the colonial period, the Spanish built tunnel systems in many Mexican cities to provide safe passage for the elite during times of trouble. But not all of them have been discovered.

Historic Passage of May 5

While experts believe these tunnels to have been built as far back as 1531, they were only discovered as recently as 2015, opening to the public a couple years later. And they’ve turned out to be among the longest in the country!

Notably, the tunnel system predates Fort Loreto. But at some point, it was expanded to connect the fort with the city center, and the tunnels would also play a major role in the Battle of Cinco de Mayo.

Historic Passage of May 5 Puebla Guide
Historic Passage of May 5 Puebla Guide

The tunnels are large enough for people to get through comfortably on horseback. And during excavations, archaeologists unearthed numerous weapons, proving that they did indeed come in handy for Zaragoza’s troops.

The tunnel is divided into two sections, and at one point you’ll emerge at street level only to descend another staircase nearby. A staff member waiting outside will check your ticket and show you the way.

Historic Passage of May 5 Puebla Guide

While I’d read that a visit involved touring the tunnels with a guide, visitors were directed to explore on their own at the time of my visit. 

As you walk along, you’ll find numerous informational placards with some information on the tunnel’s history. Unlike at the Fort Loreto Museum, these are only in Spanish.

Puebla Street Art

Coming out of the Puebla tunnels, you’ll find yourself surrounded by dozens of colorful murals. This area, in fact, is regarded as the best place to check out street art in Puebla.

Street Art Puebla Guide
Street Art Puebla Guide
Street Art Puebla Guide
Street Art Puebla Guide
Street Art Puebla Guide

While not on the level of Mexico City or Oaxaca, in my opinion, there are still some very high-quality pieces to check out.

When finished, continue heading southwest. From this point on in this Puebla guide, all the featured locations can be found in the Centro Historico district.

Street Art Puebla Guide

Ex-Convento de Santa Rosa

The Ex-Convento de Santa Rosa is a 17th-century building that began as a monastery for monks of the Dominican order. It was later named after the Peruvian saint Rose of Lima (1586-1617) – the first canonized saint to have been born in the Americas.

Following the Reform Laws of the 19th century, the Catholic Church lost much of its power in Mexico and the building was nationalized. It was later used as a barracks, a psych ward and a tenement house. But the current museum largely resembles its original form as a monastery.

Ex-Convento de Santa Rosa
Ex-Convento de Santa Rosa

One of the main highlights here is the kitchen. Not only is entirely decorated in beautiful tiles, but some claim it’s the birthplace of mole, the popular Mexican sauce.

The building is also host to Puebla’s primary folk art museum. But for whatever reason, while I was permitted to take some photos in the convent, photography of the folk art was strictly prohibited.

Ex-Convento de Santa Rosa
Ex-Convento de Santa Rosa

Frankly speaking, while the building is beautiful, the visiting experience leaves a lot to be desired. During my visit, a staff member followed me around to each room and just stood there watching as I looked around, making for a rather awkward experience.

At the time of writing, a visit costs $40 MXN per person.

Ex-Convento de Santa Rosa

Templo de Santo Domingo

It’s not uncommon in Mexico to encounter a church that looks stunning from the outside but rather unremarkable from within. But Puebla’s Church of Santo Domingo is exactly the opposite.

The main church was constructed between 1571-1611. Later on, the Rosary Chapel was added, with work taking place between 1650-1690 – nearly as much time as the church itself! Stepping inside, you’ll understand why.

While the main church is free to enter, the Rosary Chapel costs 20 pesos to access.

Templo de Santo Domingo
Templo de Santo Domingo

While the church’s apse and central altar are indeed impressive, you’ll forget all about them once you step into the Rosary Chapel. Just be prepared for a sensory overload.

In the chapel’s center is a tall golden altar crafted by an artist named Pedro Maldonado. At the lowest level, the altar holds an image of Our Lady of the Rosary.

Above her is Saint Dominic, after whom the Dominican Order was named. And at the very top is a statue of Archangel Gabriel (the church as a whole, however, is dedicated to the Archangel Michael).

Templo de Santo Domingo
Templo de Santo Domingo
Templo de Santo Domingo Puebla Guide

Surrounding the altar and all the way up to the ceiling are incredibly detailed carvings which still glisten with gold after all these years.

Many consider the Chapel of the Rosary to be the epitome of baroque art and architecture in Puebla. In colonial times, in fact, locals dubbed it the ‘Eighth Wonder of the World.’

The Zócalo & Puebla Cathedral

Catderal de Puebla
Catedral de Puebla Guide

As with most colonial cities in Mexico, Puebla’s historic district is centered around a central square known as the Zócalo. It’s here that you’ll find important buildings and monuments like the Municipal Palace, the Governor’s Palace and the Fountain of St. Michael.

And as is also commonly the case, Puebla’s Zócalo is situated right next to one of the city’s most important churches.

Catedral de Puebla Guide

Consecrated in 1649, Puebla Cathedral is remarkable for its massive towers that reach up to over 70 m high, making it one of the tallest churches in Mexico.

The cathedral was built in the Herrerian style of architecture that emerged in Spain in the 17th century – a much more minimalistic style than the baroque found elsewhere throughout Puebla.

Stepping inside, the spacious interior features numerous paintings and sculptures along with an impressive central altar.

Catedral de Puebla Guide
Catedral de Puebla Guide

Biblioteca Palafoxiana

Just across the street from the Puebla Cathedral, situated within the Casa de Cultura building, is yet another unique Puebla attraction.

Founded in 1646 by a Spanish politician and clergyman named Juan de Palafox y Mendoza, Biblioteca Palafoxiana is regarded as the oldest library in all of the Americas.

Biblioteca Palafoxiana Puebla Guide

Palafox started it by donating thousands of the books that were part of his personal collection, though at the time they were kept in a Catholic seminary.

Then around a century later, a bishop named Francisco Fabián y Fuero commissioned the current building. He also donated his own books, and over the years, the library’s collection grew and grew.

Biblioteca Palafoxiana Puebla Guide
Biblioteca Palafoxiana Puebla Guide

Currently, the library is home to over 45,000 books, with the oldest dating back to the 15th century. Apparently, many of them are accessible to the public for research purposes, though you won’t be able to flip through any during your visit.

Visiting the library requires a ticket which costs $70 MXN – a bit steep for just a single room. With that said, book lovers won’t want to miss it.

Museo de Alfeñique

The Museo de Alfeñique, founded in 1926, is one of central Puebla’s most overlooked attractions. First, you’ll encounter its beautiful exterior covered in Talavera tiles. And stepping inside, you’ll have three floors to explore.

Museo de Alfeñique Puebla Guide
Museo de Alfeñique Puebla Guide
Museo de Alfeñique Puebla Guide

The house itself was built in the 18th century. But rather than focus on the families that lived here, the current museum is home to numerous objects from throughout Puebla’s history.

While perhaps not the most essential attraction in this Puebla guide, for just 40 pesos it’s a great place to explore away from the crowds.

Museo Amparo

Museo Amparo Puebla Guide

Inaugurated in 1991, the Amparo Museum is one of Puebla’s top attractions, and well worth setting aside a couple hours for. But what exactly is it? The museum is difficult to categorize, as it tries to be many things at once.

In some areas, you’ll find recreations of typical rooms from the colonial era. The building itself was built during this period and maintains its original gardens and courtyards.

Other rooms, meanwhile, feature exhibits of contemporary art, including ‘works’ that are nothing more than rocks or everyday objects. How edgy.

Museo Amparo Puebla Guide
Museo Amparo Puebla Guide
Museo Amparo Puebla Guide
Museo Amparo Puebla Guide

But the real reason to visit the Amparo Museum is for its excellent archaeological collection. This isn’t quite a mini version of Mexico City’s National Museum of Anthropology, however. Rather, the pieces appear to have been chosen solely for their aesthetic value.

So while you’re not going to become an expert on pre-Hispanic civilizations from this visit, you will get to enjoy a lot of cool art from throughout the country.

Highlights include numerous high-quality Olmec pieces, a detailed stele from Toniná, and pieces from various cultures of the state of Veracruz.

You’ll also encounter some beautiful art from states that aren’t as well-known for their archaeological sites, such as Jalisco and Nayarit.

Museo Amparo Puebla Guide

More Around Puebla

A big appeal of exploring Puebla’s historical center is simply walking around and taking in the colorful architecture. And if you still have some extra time on your hands, other attractions worth checking out include the Parian Market, where numerous local artists and craftsmen sell their wares.

Museo Amparo Puebla Guide
Things to do in Puebla

In addition to the churches mentioned in the above Puebla guide, the city is home to numerous others. Of special note is the gorgeous Ex-Convento de San Francisco de Puebla, located just east of the historical center. 

Things to Do in Puebla

Additional Info

As Mexico’s fourth-largest city, Puebla is easy to reach by bus, and you’ll find direct buses from many major cities throughout Mexico. The routes often bypass Mexico City altogether, so you won’t have to transfer or sit through long stops.

But if you’re coming from Mexico City, the TAPO station is the best place to find Puebla-bound buses.

Puebla’s main bus terminal is known as CAPU, which is inconveniently located quite far from the center. Expect it to take around 20 minutes by Uber.

Many of the major bus companies operate out of CAPU. But if you’re looking for a direct route between Puebla and the northern regions, several second-class companies operate out of a separate station called CAP.

Not many tourists are aware of it, but it’s located about 10 minutes on foot from CAPU. From here you can find direct buses to places like Guadalajara, San Luis Potosí and Monterrey, as well as to Chiapas in the south.

As mentioned in the Puebla guide above, the most beautiful part of the city is undoubtedly its Centro Historico. And this is also where you’re going to find most of the city’s cultural landmarks. What’s more, is that there are plenty of hotel options to choose from here, such as the highly-rated Hotel Boutique Casareyna (high-end), Hotel Diana (midrange) and Hotel Centro Historico (budget).

But would there any reason to not stay in the center? Yes, and for two main reasons. First of all, Puebla is not just a destination in its own right, but the city is one of the best bases for day trips in all of Mexico.

Secondly, the main bus station, CAPU, is unfortunately located quite far from the center. While I originally wanted to stay in the historical district, I realized that there were at least five day trips I wanted to go on that would require a visit to CAPU – not to mention my arrival and departure days.

And so I found an Airbnb within fifteen minutes on foot from the station. In the end, I’m really glad that I did, as it saved me a lot of time and hassle.

Unfortunately, however, the whole area around the bus station is not the most charming, to say the least (though it did at least feel safe). Compared with the historical center, it felt like another world.

While I didn’t have the best experience at my Airbnb for various reasons, you may want to consider Hotel Central, located right next to the station. I would end up staying here during a later trip, and while it was very basic and a bit rundown, I found it fine overall for the price.

Puebla has no tram network, and the drive between the center and CAPU is at least 20 minutes (only if traffic is perfectly smooth). Deciding where to stay, then, all depends on how many day trips you’ll be taking and how extra early you’d be willing to depart to ensure you don’t miss your buses.

If you have limited time in Central Mexico, you could also visit Puebla as a guided tour from Mexico City.

Many of the tours include a stop at the Great Pyramid of Cholula, which is absolutely worth visiting. Popular tours can easily be booked online, such as this one and this one.

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