128km (79 miles) E of Mexico City; 285km (177 miles) W of Veracruz

Puebla and Cholula sit in a broad valley that lies between mountain ranges and snowcapped volcanoes. The valley is 2,150m (7,052 ft.) above sea level and has a mild climate and fertile soils. Puebla was founded by the Spanish in early colonial times; Cholula's origins date from the earliest civilizations of Mexico. Until the Spanish arrived, it had displayed a remarkable continuity for an ancient city in central Mexico. It seems never to have been sacked and abandoned in the manner of Teotihuacán or Tula or many other cities. And although it was a large city, it was never the capital of an empire. Rather, it seems to have been a religious center. The Spanish chroniclers noted that it had 365 temples, one for each day of the year. But none of this remains today, as the city was sacked and destroyed during the Spanish Conquest. Only the Great Pyramid still stands.

Though these two cities -- one Indian, one Spanish -- have recently grown together into one metropolitan area, they still remain worlds apart. Puebla has a large historic center with magnificent architecture, including so many convents, churches, and public palaces that it has been named a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Its architecture differs from that of the rest of Mexico in the extensive use of painted tiles, gold leaf, and molded plaster. Facades and exterior walls are commonly surfaced with clay and Talavera tiles to hide or lend color to the dark gray-black building stone. Cholula, on the other hand, has an architecture that reflects humility and simplicity and has nothing of the grandiose about it. The building materials are of the simplest sort, and the churches, houses, and plazas are unassuming in size and design, with an inherent Indian quality in their most expressive elements.

There are several reasons to visit this part of the world: to sample the food for which Puebla is famous, to take in the colonial architecture, to gaze upon the volcanoes, to explore the Great Pyramid, and to visit the Talavera workshops. Depending on how much you want to do, you could stay here anywhere from 3 days to a week.