Who could ask for more? We are in Tlaxcala (Tuh-las-cah-lah), the first city Cortes came to after landing in Veracruz. The oldest churches in the New World are here. The compact zocalo is ringed with 16th century buildings decorated with frilly stucco and carved stone. The town of 73,000, tucked into a hillside, is one hour from Puebla and about three hours from Mexico City. It is elegant, prosperous and refined with excellent restaurants and pedestrian ambience.
After eating a noteworthy late breakfast/early lunch of conejo con huitlacoche (rabbit and corn fungus) and enchiladas de Tlaxcalteco con flor de calabasas (squash blossoms) at Fonda de Exconvento on Plaza Xicotencatl, we decided on the spot to visit the archeological sites of Cacaxtla (Cah-cas-tlah) and Xochitecatl (So-chee-teh-cachl). The manager at Fonda de Exconvento was extremely helpful. After I asked her what we should pay a taxi to drive us to the ruins, she made a call, got us a secure driver and negotiated a price of 350 pesos for the afternoon (four hours). We were thrilled! Muy facile. Thank you for visiting our country, she said.
Cacaxtla and sister site, Xochitecatl, were inhabited by the Olmec-Xicalancas, who wielded political and economic control over the central, southern, and western parts of the Puebla-Tlaxcala Valley. They occupied a strategic position on the trade route between the Central Highlands of Mexico and the Gulf Coast. Cacaxtla reached its zenith between 650 and 900 AD following the decline of Teotihuacan, at the same time that other cities, such as El Tajin in Veracruz and Xochicalco in Morelos, consolidated their power.
The mural paintings here are distinctive for blending Teotithuacan and Maya elements into its own unique style. The murals, many in pristine condition and painted with natural pigments, were discovered in the 1970’s. They depict a battle, a bird man, a jaguar man, and sea and land creatures. The site is less than an hour from Tlaxcala and incredible.
Templo de Venus: These figures, above, are female (left) and male (right) figures wearing skirts with the Venus symbol. The presence of Venus on the garments allude to some astronomical phenomenon or calendrical date associated with the planet, which at that time was related to warfare and sacrifice.
Xochitecatl is distinguished by four pyramids and when you reach the top of the plateau where they are located, you are treated with a panoramic, three-hundred-and-sixty-degree view of the valley. This is the lesser of the two sites in terms of archeological restoration. There are about a dozen Olmec carved figures on display in an outside garden.
Great Dining Experience: Vinos y Piedra on the Zocalo. Try the Cafecita, a filet mignon topped with a carmelized coffee sauce. This is cowboy country with large haciendas and cattle ranches. The beef here is tender and juicy!
Travel Tip: Go to the Tourism Office first to get a map. They are very helpful there and speak English. Bullfight season is November through the first weekend in March. We just missed it!
Our route to Tlaxcala: In Cuetzalan, we bought a one-way bus ticket (116 pesos each) to Huamantla on the Texcoco bus line (first class with TV and toilet). This was a 3-1/2 hour trip. In Huamantla, we walked two blocks towing our rolling luggage and backpacks to a collectivo bus stop, where, within minutes, a commuter van picked us up for the 45-minute trip to Tlaxcala (about 25 pesos each). It dropped us off at the central market, where we walked around a corner and hopped a taxi (30 pesos) to our Hotel Mision San Francisco on the zocalo.