Back in Coatepec some people we met mentioned that we must go to Cholula, a city west of Puebla. Cholula became an important religious center between 1 and 600 AD, making it one of the longest inhabited cities in the Americas.
From Puebla, we found the bus station and boarded the next bus leaving for Cholula. It was a short ride, only 20 minutes or so, before we arrived near the city center. A government designated “pueblo mágico” much of the zócalo was under construction, trees dug up, bricks being laid and backhoes moving soil. We found an intact grassy spot (one of the only places in Mexico where you could actually sit and walk on the grass) and sat in the shade enjoying some amazing vegan cookies that we picked up from el Zanahoria (a vegetarian restaurant in Puebla) earlier that day.
Yummy vegan cookies from La Zanahoria.
After orienting ourselves we decided to make our way to the archeological zone while stopping to check out some churches along the way. It is often said that there are 365 churches in the city of Cholula, legend has it Cortes ordered one church for each day of the year to match the number of Aztec temples that the spaniards destroyed. There are in fact only 37 churches, along with 122 small chapels, with varying architectural styles.
The church of San Gabriel was built in 1549, and sits across from the zócalo behind a large yellow stone wall. We were completely captivated by the decorative banners strung from the church steeple down to the wall of the complex. Fluttering in the wind the pink and white flags cast shadows on the ground and I’m not quite sure what it was about them that captured our gaze, but we couldn’t take our eyes off them. Beside the church is the Capilla Real (royal chapel), constructed in Arabic style which 49 domes, dating back to 1540.
The long strings of flags fluttering above.
Adrian standing in front of the church of San Gabriel.
Capilla Real, royal chapel, with its 49 domes it was a stunning piece of architecture.
We continued on to the archeological zone where the Great Pyramid of Cholula, Pirámide Tepanapa, is located. Now covered with grasses, trees and shrubs the pyramid can easily be mistaken for a large hill, but underneath the overgrown vegetation sits the largest pyramid by volume and the largest monument in the world. Around the pyramid is a massive complex made up of stairways, platforms and altars. The Iglesia de Nuestra Señora de los Remedios (Church of Our Lady of Remedies) was built atop the pyramid by the spanish in 1574 and is now a major catholic pilgrimage destination. Between the 1930s-50s and the late 1960s-70s the pyramid was excavated by architects and archeologists from around the world. Today there are over 8km of tunnels dug within the pyramid, with 800 meters of tunnels open to the public.
The Great Pyramid of Cholula, easily overlooked as simply a large hill, with a church sitting atop.
The staircase leading to the front of the brightly painted Santuario de Nuestra Señora de los Remedios.
We started off in the museum across the street from the pyramid to gain some knowledge of the history and significance of both the city of Cholula and the pyramid itself. We then continued to the tunnels within the pyramid. With our first step inside the tunnels we instantly felt relief from the hot sun and embraced the silence that surrounded us. The air was cool with only dim lights showing us the way. There was an eerie feel being inside the largest monument in the world, I suppose it’s a good thing neither of us are claustrophobic.
Many tunnels branched off from the main tunnel, but they were all blocked off. We would stop and stare into the darkness wishing we could go further in, but then again it would be rather frightening to find oneself lost within 8 km of tunnels. Nearing the exit we could feel the hot air surround us like a warm blanket and the bright sunlight greeted us as we emerged from the tunnel. We followed a path and climbed the steep staircase to the top of the pyramid to check out the view and see the church.
Wishing we could explore more of the tunnels, with only 800 meters of 8 km of tunnels accessible to the public.
After spending some time around the archeological zone we made our way to Cholula’s hipster hangout, Container City. Catering to the many students from the nearby university, this complex with its laid back atmosphere is made up of 50 brightly painted shipping containers stacked on top of one another, and houses trendy boutiques, restaurants, bars and cafes. We came across a restaurant called Mongo’s and were excited about the asian inspired menu (a cuisine that we were definitely missing.) With the great pyramid in the background we enjoyed a late afternoon meal. An asian soup with a spicy broth filled with vegetables, delicious shrimp dumplings and a large noodle stir fry, left us feeling satisfied. We wandered around the complex a bit more, but got the feeling that it was more of an evening hang out as there were not many people around and many of the business (likely bars) were closed.
Container City, the hipster hangout in Cholula (12 Oriente and 2 Norte in San Andrés Cholula)
Spicy asian soup with mushrooms and zucchini.
Shrimp dumplings served in true asian style.
Super yummy noodle stir fry with lots of vegetables dressed with soy sauce and lime.
The brightly painted shipping containers that make up Container City.
Whimsical and youthful this place was fun to walk around.
A Super Mario Brothers inspired garbage can in Container City.
We made our way back to the main road and hopped on a bus that said Puebla. We were not really sure where exactly this bus was heading as we realized it was taking a different route than the one that had led us to Cholula. We nervously stayed in our seats and with every turn of the bus looked for signs saying “centro histórico” or any landmarks we recognized. Eventually we were able to figure out where we were, we rung the bell, hopped off the bus and made our way back to the hotel. We were thrilled that we had the opportunity to visit Cholula as it was definitely a highlight of our time in Puebla.