Puebla is home to numerous historical and cultural riches with a nationwide significance. The nearly 500-year-old city certainly has a lot to offer to foreign and local tourists alike. Knowing your way around and not getting lost is essential when being in an unfamiliar setting. In the next couple of paragraphs, I will provide you with a rough guide on how to navigate and take advantage of the local transport. Having that in mind, it will allow you to explore the rich history of the city and the rest of Mexico.
Learning the Address System.
As mentioned, among the “must do’s” that every visitor needs to grasp is how to get around. This is especially so if it is the first time visiting a Latin country. The rules elsewhere within Mexico are similar. It took me some time to get my head around it. When it comes to addresses, I had a somewhat difficult time navigating in the beginning. Once I got it explained to me by a local friend it all suddenly made much more sense. I believe it to be a rather efficient and easy system once explained. Basically, there are two main roads that intersect at the city’s “zócalo”. Avenida Reforma runs West to East and divides the city into South and North sides. The other main road called Calle 5 de Mayo runs from North to South and denotes the border between the East and West sides of the city. These two main streets are always used as intersections and form the basis of the street numbering system, starting from the center and working out. Each road further out from the city center is allocated a higher number with even numbers on one side and uneven on the other depending on your current location. For example, if we use Avenida Reforma as a base, the streets that run perpendicular would be named Sur (South) on one side and Norte (North) on the other. The roads that run alongside would be Poniente (West) and Oriente ( East) depending on which side of the Calle 5 de Mayo you are. In a nutshell, if you are at the intersection of 10 Sur and 5 Oriente this would mean that you are in the Southeast part of the city, 5 blocks to the West and 2 blocks to the North of the city center.
Bus rides can be real fun!
Now that you know where you are, the next step is to figure out how to get around using public transport. Transport here was at the time entirely privatized and the closest to getting a route with all the stops would be on the official website of the ministry of transport in Pueblacial website of the ministry of transport in Puebla as per the publication of this article. There are literally hundreds of bus routes throughout the city, it might be quite intimidating at times. On some of the vehicles that pass through the city, the main sights they pass by on the way are listed on the front windshield and this is the most useful indication you will get. Fortunately, the locals are friendly and quite helpful, there will always be someone willing to assist you as much as they can and point you in the right direction. On a related note, make sure you have some very basic understanding of Spanish as it is not always the case that they will know English or at least a bit. The exact same can be said of bus drivers. Provide them with your address and you will be told when to get out. Despite being somewhat chaotic, this is half of the fun and is a great way to experience the city and interact with locals . Be warned, the buses do not stick to speed limits and cruise through the city, completely disregarding the speed bumps, in spite of the sometimes narrow and winding streets.If you like roller coasters, you are in for a treat. Generally, the cost per ride is $6 MXN. Be aware of your belongings when traveling as pick-pocketing is not unheard of. Always have your bag(s) in front of you and be especially cautious when the buses are packed to the brim which is more or less most of the time.
Taxis can be very convenient but know how to haggle!
Taxis are an alternative option but you should make sure that you have a general understanding of price for the distance you wish to travel and be prepared to haggle a lot. Always agree on a fee before setting off. Quite often I approached a taxi and he/she quoted me a very high price without any willingness to reduce it. Once I said no and started looking for another cab nearby, it turned out that the driver had already alerted all the nearby taxis that I was looking and not to lower the price from the estimate what he/she had given to me earlier. This, of course, resulted in me walking around for quite some time along the main boulevard until finding a cab that is not part of the “united against the tourist” committee.
Arriving in/Departing from Puebla.
Puebla has a rather centralized location within Mexico which makes it a good base for exploring the surrounding states. Mexico City is some 120 km Northwest. The states of Veracruz, Oaxaca and Guanajuato are all relatively close by. Mexico is a huge country so when you compare the distance to another state nearby though it might seem like a great distance, it pales in comparison to some other states. For example on the Yucatan peninsula.
There are two main bus terminals in the city. CAPU (Centro de Autobuses Puebla) is the main one operating routes to pretty much all major cities in the country. Estrella Roja and ADO are the main providers. 4 Poniente is the smaller terminal and located closer to the city center. I have to admit that – from my experience – the buses generally are very comfortable, with plenty of leg space, reclining seats and A/C. I would advise to take buses for short trips and fly to the farther away cities. Once I took a bus from Puebla to Tapachula, which is the closest Mexican city to the Guatemalan border in the South. It took nearly 18 hours which is way too tiring and left me feeling exhausted. Despite the coach being quite comfortable, this is not a journey I would wish to repeat. Although, technically, I did repeat it on my way back to Puebla.
Last but not least, Puebla has an airport approximately 35 km from the city center that serves both national and international destinations. I have found it to be much easier to take the bus to Mexico City and fly to whichever destination from there. The airport is enormous and the variety of airlines that operate there, including all major low-cost carriers is much more substantial. Estrella Roja has buses from Puebla directly to the airport in Mexico City and at convenient times so it is, by all means, no hassle to go and get back.
Once you get the hang of it, you can start exploring and fully immersing yourself into the Mexican culture, visit landmarks – such as the Puebla Cathedral and the historical fortress of Los Fuertes – and embrace the local way of living.