February 2022: During a three-day weekend, Paula and I flew out to Puebla on the direct flight from Tijuana on Volaris Airlines. The trip was re-scheduled from January due to all of coming down with Covid. Luckily Volaris had a great online re-scheduling process and so we were able to make-up the trip a month later. The main goal of the trip was to visit Cholula, a small town on the outskirts of Puebla that is classified as one of Mexico’s 100 magic pueblos or small towns of beauty and historical significance. As part of our goal to visit every Mexican state, we also visited the nearby State of Tlaxcala. 

Where is Puebla and Tlaxcala States?

Map Location of where we were

Trip Highlights

Town of Cholula

Cholula is a town rich in indigenous and Spanish history. Aside from Cholula being the home to the world’s largest pyramid, we really enjoyed the laid-back nature of Cholula with its many local eateries, Spanish colonial architecture and beautiful churches dating all the way back to the 1500’s. The backdrop is impressive too with towering mountains and North America’s 3rd highest peak-17,80 ” Popocatepetl Volcano-an active volcano that menacingly stands watch over Cholula and nearby Puebla. The volcano has had 15 major eruptions since the arrival of the Spanish. The city was the 2nd largest in Mexico when the Spaniards arrived and Cortez himself visited the city and declared it the most beautiful city he has observed outside of Spain.  Unlike San Migue, we spotted very few expats here and the town had much more of a Mexican feeling to it. We stayed at a small bed & breakfast at the center of Cholula with a roof top terrace vista overlooking the volcano, pyramid and church towers of the town.

View of an old churchtower and Popocatépetl Volcano Spewing Smoke from the rooftop terrace of our hotel

Cholula is a safe and easy town to explore on foot. The plaza is lively in the evenings with loud Norteno music and the hustle and bustle of the marketplace. There are many restaurants and bars to choose from with some of Mexico’s best mole and ceviche- we ate ceviche 3 times in two days, which was a little too much for me. Mescal cocktails with tamarind were a favorite drink of mine. In the marketplace we came across some indigenous people selling buckets full of Chaplines, dried and roasted grasshoppers.

Street view

Chapulines  are dried and roasted grasshoppers, a pre-Hispanic Mexican delicacy. They are flavored with lemon, garlic, and chile.

Chapulines

Cholula is home to 159 churches. They are everywhere and they are old. Many of them date back to the 1500’s and have been built on top of Aztec pyramids or temples. The San Gabriel Franciscan Convent or San Gabriel Friary is such a place. The convent was once the center of power for the Spaniards, and they controlled the region from within its walls. The buildings are large and impressive and one of its buildings was built by the Spanish in the Moorish style. 

Large wooden doors at San Gabriel Franciscan Convent or San Gabriel Friary

San Gabriel Franciscan Convent or San Gabriel Friary

Crypts at San Gabriel Franciscan Convent or San Gabriel Friary

 Tlachihualtepetl-World’s Largest Pyramid by Volume

Iglesia de Nuestra Señora de los Remedios Built on top of Tlachihualtepetl Pyramid  

The world’s largest pyramid by volume, built by the Toltecs over 2000 years ago, is actually more of a series of pyramids built on top of one another to form one large complex than it is one pyramid. The pyramid is larger than the Egyptian ones by volume but not in height. It is hard to imagine the pyramid being this big when you look at it because so much of it is covered by earth giving it more of an appearance of being a giant hill. 

What Tlachihualtepetl Pyramid Looks Like Without Ground Covering it

When the Spanish arrived, they did not even know a pyramid was located here because it had already been buried by Volcanic ash from a giant eruption of Popocatépetl Volcano that occurred around 200 A.D. Since the hill was the largest around the area, and a known ceremonial place for the Aztecs, the Spanish built a church on the top, which was a common practice during the time. The church built in the 1500’s was named Iglesia de Nuestra Señora de los Remedios.

Inside of Iglesia de Nuestra Señora de los Remedios

Iglesia de Nuestra Señora de los Remedios

Popocatépetl Volcano

Paula Looking Out at Popocatépetl Volcano

Sadly, the archaeological zone of the pyramid was off-limits due to Covid during the time of our visit, and we weren’t allowed to see the parts of the pyramid that were excavated. Archeologists from the 1940’s built a series of tunnels that extend for miles within the pyramid to assist in their excavations and certain sections of these, normally open to the public, were also closed due to Covid. Excavations of the pyramid have found burial areas with numerous skeletons of sacrificed children as well as adults.

Excavated Section of Tlachihualtepetl Pyramid

The pyramid is still considered a sacred place to many of the indigenous people of the region, and it continues to be a place of religious pilgrimage. many of Mexicans indigenous people like the Toltecs, Mayans, and Aztecs all have some kind of association with the region and the pyramid. In the morning at the base of the pyramid, we observed a procession of 10 or so indigenous people in white robes marching in a zig zag fashion around the pyramid while burning incense in vases, while chanting and blowing into seashells.

Procession of Indigenious People performing a Religious Ceremony in Front of Tlachihualtepetl Pyramid

Procession of Indigenious People performing a Religious Ceremony in Front of Tlachihualtepetl Pyramid

 Tlachihualtepetl Museum

The pyramid museum, actually open during our visit and free on Sundays, had amazing artifacts that were unearthed in the pyramid grounds. The artifacts were worth visiting the museum alone.

Catholic statue of mary standing on pagan demons

Aztec artifiact

Aztec statue

Aztec priest statue

The museum, full of amazing artifacts, is a wealth of information about the pyramid and the nearby active volcano.

Xochitecatl Pyramid Complex in Tlaxcala State

Glacier Covered Mountains in distance

On our last day, we decided on a whim to visit some Aztec pyramids in a nearby state and without much preparation we set off to the Xochitecatl Pyramid Complex in Tlaxcala State, which pre-dates the Aztecs. The drive was approximately an hour and when we arrived sadly the complex was closed due to limited covid hours. No matter how much I asked, the guard wouldn’t let us in, but he did give us instructions on where to walk to see the pyramids. So as a consolation we were able to see the pyramids from outside a barbed wire fence.

Xochitecatl  Pyramid

Xochitecatl Pyramid

Paula and I sitting in the town plaza of Natividas 

Barbed wire fences kept us from entering the pyramids but at least we had a chance to view them. We had to walk across a farmer’s field. Then for the rest of the day we relaxed in the plaza and exploring the marketplace of the small town of Natividas.

Local farmers in Tlaxcala State

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