Posts Tagged ‘pueblo mágico’

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All About Puebla 2012: The Year in Review

Wednesday, December 26th, 2012

2012 was a big year for Puebla. The state commemorated the 150th anniversary of Cinco de Mayo. The city celebrated its 25th year as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. And the pair grabbed the attention of the Mexico Tourism Board, which shifted its focus slightly away from beach destinations and toward interior ones.

Before the new federal administration took office on Dec. 1, Sectur named six more towns around the state as pueblos mágicos (up from one in the history of the program) and chose the Colonial and gastronomic capital as the next site of its annual travel-industry schmoozefest, Tianguis Turístico. Puebla also received its fair share of international press coverage, with The New York Times, San Francisco Chronicle, Saveur, Forbes, PBS, Fox News, NBC, and Discovery Travel & Living highlighting some of what the city and state have to offer.*

All About Puebla’s contributors covered as much ground as we could, posting 26 new articles and frequently updating our Facebook, Twitter, Google+, and Pinterest accounts. We started offering culinary walking tours in Puebla on behalf of Eat Mexico. We also hosted five events for foreign residents and their families and added another 50 people to our “expat” mailing list. We look forward to doing even more in 2013 — please come back and read these pages often!

To recap, here are a few of our favorite posts from the past year:

—The Rosary Chapel, a shining example of Mexican Baroque architecture, was once regarded as the “8th wonder of the world.”
(Read full post.)

The dome of the Capilla del Rosario

—5 common myths and misconceptions about Puebla, debunked. (Read full post.)

—Murals revitalize Xanenetla, one of Puebla’s oldest barrios. (Read full post.)

The murals in Barrio Xanenetla depict the neighborhood’s cultural identity.

—Get to know the local lingo, or how to talk like a Poblano. (Read full post.)

—A week’s worth of good eats in Puebla, with celebrity chef encounters. (Read full post.)

Mark Bittman, Carlos Zorrilla, Patricia Quintana, Rick Bayless, Marcela Valladolid, and Eduardo Osuna onstage at the International Mole Festival

—Expats create a sense of “home” in Puebla. (Read full post.)

—Finding “Old Mexico” in Pahuatlán de Valle, one of Puebla’s new pueblos mágicos. (Read full post.)

AAP-PahuatlanDeValle

—¿No hablas español? Study Spanish in Puebla! (Read full post.)

—The “end of the world” as we knew it: Sunrise atop the Cholula pyramid on Dec. 21. (Read full post.)

Sunrise on December 21, 2012, as seen from atop the Cholula pyramid.

We hope you enjoyed our work. We’d love to know what you’d like to read more of in 2013 — feel free to leave us a note in the Reply field below. We wish you all the best in the coming year!

—Rebecca Smith Hurd

    * Full disclosure: I worked with the state’s international affairs office from November 1, 2011, to May 15, 2012, to help promote Puebla, Cinco de Mayo, and the International Mole Festival. Beyond that, I voluntarily acted, either directly (via interviews) or indirectly (via this website), as a local source of information for English-language media coverage related to Puebla in 2012.

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Finding ‘Old Mexico’ in Pahuatlán de Valle

Sunday, November 11th, 2012

Driving along the Arco Norte reminds me of California. The highway, which cuts across Tlaxcala, Estado de Mexico, and Hidalgo so that traffic headed northwest from Puebla can bypass Mexico City, could easily be mistaken for Interstate 5. Miles and miles of open road are flanked by golden fields of dry grass, perhaps wheat or hay, that stretch toward greener mountains at their distant edges. Wildflowers add splashes of color in the foreground. Soil-tilling farmers and grazing livestock occasionally add to the scenery, but they quickly disappear as we whip by at 75 mph.

If it weren’t for the abundance of prickly pear and an absence of In-N-Out Burgers, I might—just might—forget where I am for a moment. But I don’t want to. It’s absolutely gorgeous here. However, as we veer off the Arco Norte and head east, past Tulancingo, onto Route 106 in Puebla’s northern sierra, I try to stop thinking about the road, which gets quite narrow and windy. My focus shifts to our destination, Pahuatlán de Valle.

A bird's-eye view of the church steeple and town market in Pahuatlán.Pahuatlán was founded in 1532 by Augustinian monks who built a monastery on a steep mountainside near both Nahua and Otomí communities. Until earlier this year, when the Mexico Tourism Board added Pahuatlán to its “pueblo mágico” program, the only reason most outsiders visited the region was to buy artisanal paper made from amate bark. In fact, the primary purpose of our weekend trip is to take our friend Sandra, an artist who works with textiles, to buy papel amate in nearby San Pablito. The Pahuatlán area is also known for thick-skinned avocados (“place of the fruit trees” in Nahuatl), small coffee plantations, and a 100-foot-long suspension bridge, which enables foot traffic between the towns of Pahuatlán and Xolotla.

About 3 1/2 hours after leaving the state capital, we pull up in front of Hotel San Carlos, our home away from home for the next 36 hours. It’s a multilevel, Colonial-style building with a restaurant, a swimming pool, lots of stairs and a lookout tower that guests can climb to enjoy sweeping views of the surrounding area. What the hotel lacks in luxury, it makes up for in folkloric flair: Lamps, headboards, and artwork in our rooms are made of amate paper. That said, we didn’t come all this way to hole up in our hotel. We head out to find lunch and explore the town square (a couple of blocks away from the hotel).

“I feel like I’m back in 1950s Mexico,” says Sandra, an avid traveler who now lives in Puebla.

Pahuatlán greets us with the sights, sounds, and smells of a bustling small town. Vendors line the sidewalks of the main drag—a dusty cobblestone street—selling snacks and amate paper, beaded jewelry, embroidered blouses, pottery, and more. The zócalo is a hub of activity and a work in progress, we suspect thanks to new federal tourism funds. A group of young men plays basketball in the recently revitalized square’s concrete surface. A newly inaugurated gazebo is surrounded by shade trees and shrubbery that spells out “Pahuatlán: Pueblo Mágico.” A historic home’s facade is propped up by wood beams where the street is torn up for laying infrastructure. A series of Day of the Dead altars lines the front of the municipal building, where the public clock chimes to a different tune, such as “Que Chula Es Puebla,” every three hours. Many local señores carry machetes at their hips, lending an air of authenticity and scene of danger to the scene.

After fortifying ourselves with a hearty comida at Fonda Güina (Hidalgo #5), which makes lovely cecina (salt-cured beef) and itacates (corn cakes stuffed with garbanzo beans), we set about exploring the rest of the area. Here are a few highlights:

My first attempt at making papel amate (with expert tutelage) in San Pablito.The Miguel Hidalgo y Costilla suspension connects the communities of Pahuatlan and Xolotla.An assortment of freshly baked pan dulce from Panadería M&C in Pahuatlán.Atmosphere at Café Pahuatlán

Amate Paper Workshop

At the top of our must-do list was a trip to the Otomí community of San Pablito to learn about amate paper. My friends Scott and Maru, who along with my hubby completed our party of five, had arranged for a guide from the tourism office to give us a tour. Armando, a local college student, hopped into our van and led us on a 25-minute drive to a workshop run by the Santos Rojas family. Three generations of artisans explained the materials and walked us through the process—and then, to our surprise, taught us how to make our own (for 10 pesos each). We also had an opportunity to admire and purchase their beautiful wares, from bookmarks to wall hangings.

(To read more about our experience, check out this post about San Pablito.)

Nature Hike (with Coffee and Pan Dulce)

The tourism office also offers walking tours in Pahuatlán, so on Sunday morning we met Armando in the zócalo for guided visits to a local bakery, a coffee producer, and the suspension bridge. First stop: Panadería M&J (Calle Vicente Guerrero), which turns out some 1,000 pieces of sweet rolls a day. Its specialties, baked in a wood-fired brick oven, include cigar-shaped puros, cookie-ringed bisnagas, and buttery, sugar-coated buches. We purchased one of each and two conchas to pair with the coffee at Casa Hernández (Camino Barrio Unido) a short, hilly stroll away. Casa Hernández cultivates, picks, hulls, separates, sun-dries, and roasts its own beans in small batches to make two products: 100% natural and coffee with 30% sugar. Much of the work is done entirely by manual labor.

Next up: Armando takes us on adventurous hike to the Miguel Hidalgo y Costilla suspension bridge and Pahuatiltla River. We head down a steep residential road and onto a dirt trail that runs through the forest. We’re soon surrounded by trees, grass, wildflowers, butterflies. We start to understand why someone might want to carry a machete in these parts, for practical purposes. Along the way, Armando points out the hanging birds’ nests and poisonous plants, which he asks us kindly not to touch. We stop to take pictures of the suspension bridge below in the distance. The pedestrian river crossing was built in the 1950s, and it looks as if it hasn’t been repaired since: The steel cables appear a bit rusty and a half dozen wooden planks are missing, several—but not all—of which have been replaced by young tree trunks. During Easter Week, people bungee-jump off the bridge, Armando notes. It’s a 200-foot drop to the river below.

I am not afraid of heights, yet my heart is racing. I decide that if I die, at least I will plunge to my death doing something interesting. So, I grab my husband’s hand, take a deep breath, and go for it. We survive. When we get down to the river, we are surrounded by more butterflies and the sounds of rushing water. We take a break before heading back the way we came, a strenuous 45 minutes uphill. But we all make it back to town, safe and sound. We pay Armando 60 pesos each for his trouble.

Happy Hour at Café Pahuatlán

It is surprisingly difficult to find a drinking establishment open at 6:30 p.m. on a Saturday. We wander around a bit before stumbling upon Café Pahuatlán on Calle 5 de Mayo. Run by a couple from Querétaro who recently inherited the property, the bar-café occupies the partially renovated stables of an old mansion. It pairs old-world kitsch with new-world chic. We order beers and tequila shots and Scott inquires about snacks. “Te voy a traer algo que te va a encantar” (“I’ll bring you something you’ve going to love.”), the owner informs us, and a while later reappears carrying a platter of chicken tenders sautéed with chile peppers.

We order another round of drinks, and the owner returns to pitch us his special Red Bull-esque coffee drink, which involves some sort of beans with a “bellybutton.” (Thanks, but maybe not with tequila…) Next, he presents us with a strange green gourd that looks like a certain lady part, or a Klingon. He breaks another one open and offers us his Nahuatl dictionary. Turns out, this tlalayotli is a wild squash whose tiny seeds can be toasted and eaten. Interesting. But we’re hungry. It’s now 8:30 p.m., the bar is packed, and its staff a bit overwhelmed by the rush. So, we ask for the check and walk back to our hotel for quesadillas and a nightcap.

—Rebecca Smith Hurd

Pahuatlán is located about 125 miles north of the Puebla capital. It’s easiest to reach via toll road by car. If you go by bus, plan to spend the whole day traveling. Atah offers service from CAPU to Tulancingo; Estrella Blanca will take you the rest of the way. Guided tours (in Spanish) are available through the tourism office for 30 pesos per person.

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Zacatlán de las Manzanas: The ‘Symbol of Sin’ City

Sunday, January 30th, 2011

Pablo samples a Zacatlán apple, right off its tree.“Welcome to Zacatlán de la Manzanas, a paradise on earth where the ‘symbol of sin’ (the apple) makes for a pleasurable experience,” a tourism portal tells prospective visitors in Spanish. Perched high in the state’s northeastern sierra, Zacatlán—one of Mexico’s largest apple-growing regions—is well known for its sparkling cider, sodas, marmalade, and other apple products. The townsfolk celebrate the pomaceous fruit during a weeklong festival every August, but Zacatlán and the surrounding pine forest make for a lovely day trip or weekend getaway from Puebla’s capital year-round.

The name Zacatlán combines the Nahuatl words zacatl (straw or grass) and tlan (place) to mean “place where the grass is plentiful.” The area, frequently blanketed by fog and rain, is undeniably lush. One of the most breathtaking views can be had just a few blocks from the center of town, where El Mirador restaurant looks over the Barranca de los Jilgueros (Goldfinch Gorge). Visitors don’t need to dine there to enjoy the view outside, but those who do stay for a meal can enjoy both the scenery and the regional dishes. We sank our teeth into the tlacoyos rellenos de alberjón—pillows of corn dough filled with white beans and topped with tomatillo salsa, chopped onions, and cheese. The restaurant also has a small store that sells the wares of local chefs and artisans.

The Two-Faced Clock

The floral clock in downtown Zacatlán, PueblaFoodies will also want to check out the open-air market, which takes place on Saturdays near the town’s main square. We spied some amazing dried fish and purchased a bag of dried beans called vaquitas (named for their black-and-white spotted husk), which were delicious but I’ve only been able to find since used as jewelry beads. Other attractions downtown include the floral clock—believed to be the only one in the world with two faces (each 16 feet in diameter) run by one mechanism—and the recently restored parish of St. Peter and St. Paul, whose Baroque-indigenous façade and main altar feature the craftsmanship of the townspeople themselves.

Mysterious Rock Formations

A short drive away, the 1.5-square-mile valley of Piedras Encimadas (Stacked Rocks) is home to an impressive array of gigantic rock formations, some of which seem to defy gravity. Although local legends abound, mineralogical studies indicate that the stones’ phenomenon is a natural one: The formations occurred during the Tertiary period up to 65 million years ago and were shaped over time by volcanic activity and environmental conditions (rain, wind, and humidity). Visitors may tour the park on foot, bicycle or horseback. If you speak Spanish, you can hire a guide at the entrance, who will lead you around the park and explain how certain piedras look like human figures, animals, and assorted other objects. The day we visited, the fog rolled in about halfway through our tour, giving the site a beautifully ethereal atmosphere.

Zacatlán is located about 75 miles north of Puebla’s capital city. To get there by car, take federal highway 121 toward Apiazco, then 119 toward Chignahuapan and Zacatlán. It’s about a 2.5-hour drive, depending on traffic. We stayed overnight in Atexca at a wonderful family-run eco-lodge, El Refugio, which recently changed owners. For other options, click here.

A vendor sells her wares at the open-air market in Zacatlán.Tlacoyos rellenos de alberjón at El Mirador.A rock formation at Piedras Encimadas park in Puebla.

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Every Day Is Christmas in Chignahuapan

Saturday, November 6th, 2010

Blown-glass ornaments in Chignahuapan, Puebla.A 19th-century Mudejar kiosk sits at the center of an otherwise traditional town square. One Catholic church celebrates a petrified mushroom that bears a sacred image of the Crucifixion, while another is anchored by an enormous plaster virgin. And the main drag — well, it looks as if someone threw up Christmas all over it. Welcome to Chignahuapan, an enigmatic little city about a 90-minute drive from the capital in Puebla’s northern mountains.

First inhabited by Chichimecs and later the Aztecs, Chignahuapan (pronounced “chig-na-WA-pon”) officially became a municipality in 1874, when Spanish missionaries began to settle in the area and built its first church, says a local tourism and commerce website. Since then, residents have erected more places of worship and earned a reputation for making artisanal goods (red earthenware pots, bovine-wool blankets, hand-carved wood) and mutton dishes, from pit-roasted barbacoa to mixiote bundles wrapped in maguey leaves. Their talents, coupled with the proximity of Lake Almoloya and thermal baths, have turned Chignahuapan into a popular day trip or weekend escape for urban dwellers from Puebla and Mexico City.

Between August and December, visitors flock to Chignahuapan to buy locally produced blown glass. Each year, more than 200 workshops turn out some 70 million Christmas-tree ornaments in every shape, size, and color imaginable. The lion’s share of these esferas navideñas are packed, distributed, and sold throughout Mexico, but the best selection and prices can be found by visiting the stores on Romero Vargas Street (also called 2 Sur behind the municipal building), just a block from the zócalo. Need a set of spiral ornaments in rainbow hues, a decorative centerpiece for the dinner table, or a pair of dainty snowman earrings to match that holiday sweater? No problem!

La Feria del Árbol y La Esfera

For the past 16 years, Chignahuapan has celebrated its seasonal craft with an annual tree and ornament festival. The 2011 event continues this week with all sorts of events, including: a fishing tournament (Oct. 30, 7 a.m., at Lake Chignahuapan), fireworks (Oct. 30, 10 p.m., at the Explanada Municipal), mariachis (Oct. 31, 8:30 p.m., Teatro del Pueblo), and a festival of light and life for Day of the Dead (Nov. 1, 6 p.m., at the Teatro de la Laguna). For the complete program, click here and then on “Programa” and the different ornaments.

Art and Architecture, Relgious Symbols, a Waterfall, and More

A 19th-century Mudejar kiosk is the centerpiece of the town square.Shopping aside, Chignahuapan offers a few other sites well worth seeing. A short walk to the main square rewards visitors with a wonderfully diverse mix of art and architecture. to The municipal building features a beautiful (and brand-new) mural depicting the area’s heritage and history in its entryway. Next door, the Parish of St. James the Apostle boasts a gorgeous facade, which blends Baroque and indigenous styles of the late 16th century. Across the street, an open, elevated Mudejar kiosk, built in 1871 to house public performances, demands attention with a Muslim-Spanish design that’s reminiscent of old-world bull-fighting rings in Madrid and Barcelona.

El Sanctuario del Sr. Honguito is dedicated to a petrified mushroom bearing an image of Christ on the cross.Back on the main drag, the Basilica of the Immaculate Conception, a rather nondescript building on the outside, houses a towering virgin on its main altar inside. When Mass isn’t being celebrated, visitors are welcome climb a small set of stairs and lay their hands at her feet for a blessing; a small donation is requested. Just a short drive away, following the street signs toward the thermal baths, the Sanctuary of Our Lord of the Fungus pays homage to a petrified mushroom that, according to local lore, was miraculously found in 1880 and contains various images, including Christ on the cross. Señor Honguito is preserved under glass in the church’s nave for public viewing, except during Mass (Sundays at 9:30am).

Lovers of the outdoors may also want to visit the waterfall at Quetzalapan. The falls used to generate power for much of the region — in fact, according to the eco-park’s website, Chignahuapan was the first city in the area to have electricity, because people in the area built their own hydroelectric plant in 1930. It stayed in business until 1980, when it succumbed to competition. The site now operates as a recreational area, offering picnic areas with barbecue pits, secure camping facilities, and activities such as zip lines and archery.

Original post updated on Oct. 29, 2011.

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Cholula: More Than Just a Hot Sauce

Thursday, May 13th, 2010

From a distance, the Great Pyramid of Cholula looks like a grassy knoll.It’s one of the longest-inhabited sites in the Americas, home of the world’s largest pyramid, and one of Mexico’s “pueblos mágicos.” Yet more people may recognize Cholula for the popular hot sauce (made in Jalisco, not Puebla) that’s named after it than for the historically significant place it is. Even Mexicans have been known to overlook it. In a 2010 special edition about the country’s “most spectacular” archaeological zones, Dónde Ir de Viaje magazine neglected to even mention Cholula.

“Cholula is not only the oldest continuously occupied ceremonial center in the western hemisphere, but in some respects, one of the most enigmatic,” John Pohl wrote for the Foundation of Advancement of Mesoamerican Studies. “The Acropolis, even larger than Teotihuacán’s Pyramid of the Sun, is a confounding mass of Pre-Classic to Early Post- Classic brick and masonry that defies conventional excavation, while a Late Post-Classic city is buried beneath the ever expanding urban growth of the modern community.”

In fact, it’s quite possible to miss the massive Great Pyramid of Cholula even if you’re staring right at it. The structure, overgrown with natural vegetation for centuries, looks like a grassy knoll from a distance. Archaeologists can’t unearth the monument, which the Guinness Book of World Records calls the largest ever constructed, because Spanish conquerors built a church on top of it in 1594. Today, La Iglesia de Nuestra Señora de los Remedios is both a protected Colonial monument and a destination for Catholic pilgrims. To study the pyramid, whose Nahuatl name is Tlachihualtepetl or “artificial mountain,” archaeologists dug nearly 5 miles of tunnels. Visitors may pass through a portion of them, though anyone prone to claustrophobia should stick to the exterior grounds, which are partially exposed. The MX$30 entry fee also includes admission to the site’s museum, which features a scale model of the pyramid’s multistage construction, reproductions of the two large murals found deep inside the structure, and other artifacts. Most of the signs and descriptions are translated into English. Open daily from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. To get to the museum from the ticket booth, head across the street and down the stairs to the right of the public restrooms.

You can, of course, also go up to the Church of Our Lady of the Remedies, which is a steep but relatively quick climb. On a clear day, the views of the surrounding metropolis and the volcanoes in the distance are breathtaking. If Mass is not being celebrated, visitors may pass through the sanctuary, where you’ll find a collection of dolls representing virgin saints and can peer through the unusual glass-backed altar out into the nave. (Note that flash photography is strictly forbidden.) On weekends, the area behind the pyramid is a hub of activity: Street vendors often set up arts and crafts booths, and a team of voladores regularly treats onlookers to their flying ritual. If you’re in town this weekend, May 15 and 16, don’t miss the hot-air balloon fair, Festival Globo Mágico, which takes place here from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m. Admission is MX$35; balloon rides cost MX$200 (a quick lift) to MX$2,000 (hour-long tour).

The Area’s Backstory, in Brief

Experts have long disputed the timeline of Cholula’s evolution, but it’s now believed that the area has been inhabited since at least 100 A.D., possibly much earlier. Through the ages, various indigenous groups established Cholula as an important religious, economic, and political center. Between 600 and 700 A.D., the site appears to have grown from a small settlement into a regional hub. Then from 750 to 950 A.D., Cholula expanded rapidly as Olmeca-Xicalanca rulers “exploited a power vacuum created by their fallen rival, Teotihuacán,” Pohl notes. The acropolis thrived, alongside contemporary sites like El Tajín, until the Tolteca-Chichimeca peoples moved into the area and relocated the ceremonial altar around 1100 A.D. “Cholula then became, in the words of one Spanish chronicler, a New World Mecca, the largest pilgrimage center in highland Mesoamerica and the nucleus of a Nahua commercial exchange network that extended from the Basin of México to El Salvador,” Pohl explains.

Between 1150 and 1500 A.D., Cholula emerged as the region’s power center — one so important that Aztec royalty traveled there to be anointed by Cholulan priests. The area’s population had swelled to nearly 100,000, making it the second-largest city outside of the Aztec capital of Tenochtitlán, a.k.a. Mexico City. When the Spanish conquerors arrived in 1519, Hernán Cortés and his army (and its indigenous allies, including the Tlaxcaltecans) took over with a bloody massacre, burning much of the city and killing thousands of people.

These days, Cholula comprises three municipalities — San Andrés, San Pedro, and Santa Isabel — which some 200,000 people call home. Over the past decade, the once mostly rural area has developed into the major suburb of Puebla. And, thanks in large part to the 7,000 students from affluent families who attend the University of the Americas Puebla each semester, Cholula also has a vibrant nightlife. Restaurants, cantinas, and nightclubs abound along the main drag, which changes names several times (14 Oriente, 14 Poniente, Morelos) as it stretches from the Periferico highway to the heart of San Pedro Cholula.

In October 2012, Cholula (a zone around the pyramid that encompasses the archaeological site and the main squares of San Andrés and San Pedro) was named a “pueblo mágico” by the federal tourism board.

Post updated on December 23, 2012.

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