Tlaxcala is the smallest state in Mexico, just east of the Federal District and Mexico City. It's an excellent destination for foreign travelers who want to see the "real Mexico", far from the crowds on packaged tours heading for dull all-inclusive resorts. Tlaxcala offers quiet colonial towns and magnificent religious artifacts in the state capital.
- 1 Tlaxcala — its city center is compact and filled with colonial-era building painted in beautiful colors
- 2 Apizaco — a jumping-off place for climbing the volcano La Malinche
- 3 Calpulalpan — passing town to Mexico City
- 4 Chiautempan — small city close to the state capital, historic centro with many old churches
- 5 Huamantla — magic town with colorful traditions and capital of the bullfighting
- 6 Tlaxco — the second magic town of Tlaxcala, door of the forest of Puebla
- 1 Cacaxtla — large Mayan archaeological site with Mexico's best Mesoamerican murals
- 2 Xochitécatl — ruins of a fortified Pre-Colombian religious center
- 3 La Malinche National Park - La Malinche volcano is popular for mountaineering and hiking
Tlaxcala is an interior state with no coast or major rivers. It is mountainous and lies within the Trans-Mexico Volcano Belt. The state's most famous volcano is La Malinche, which lies on the border with Puebla. It is popular with mountain climbers and hikers who use it as a training mountain as they prepare for more challenging climbs (especially to Pico de Orizaba).
The state has an interesting pre-hispanic history with major archaeological sites in the southwestern part of the state. The two largest sites are both Mayan---not Aztec, Toltec, nor other Central Mexican society. Visitors find Cacaxtla particularly interesting because it is a large site and it contains brilliantly painted murals reminiscent of those discovered at Bonampak.
Travelers looking for colonial charm should visit the state capital of Tlaxcala and the smaller town of Huamantla which preserves a taste of Mexico's bull-fighting culture. Huamantla is one of Mexico's Pueblos Magicos.
From Mexico City, if you go to the Oriente Passenger Bus Terminal known as TAPO, look for the ATAH bus line (Autobuses Tlaxcala-Apizaco-Huamantla) that leave every 15 minutes. To get to the state from Puebla, go to the Central de Autobuses de Puebla (CAPU) and take the "green" bus line. The journey takes about 45 minutes.
To get to the state from Mexico City, you must take the México- Puebla highway, taking the exit towards Tlaxcala at the height of San Martín Texmelucan past a booth towards Veracruz and only about 20 minutes away you will find the deviation towards Tlaxcala. The tour takes about two hours.
Because Tlaxcala is a small state, taxis are often a practical choice for getting between cities or to outlying areas not served by bus lines.
Like all states in Central Mexico, Tlaxcala is very well connected by bus lines, especially to Mexico City, Poza Rica, and Puebla. The largest regional bus line within the state is ATAH (Autobuses Tlaxcala, Apizaco y Huamantla). They operate both first-class and second-class buses with basic service at low prices. You can buy tickets at any bus terminal served by ADO, from the ADO web site, or from ADO's toll-free number: 01 (800) 009-9090. You can also buy ATAH tickets at Oxxo stores everywhere.
Tourist attractions primarily consist of pre-Hispanic archeological sites and colonial establishments with examples of both religious and civil constructions. However, in comparison with the rest of Mexico, Tlaxcala's archeological and colonial attractions are barely known. Tlaxcala's major attractions are the archeological sites of Cacaxtla, Xochitécatl and Tizatlán, which were not fully investigated until the 20th century, like most of the rest of the sites of this state. When Hernán Cortés came, Mesoamerican civilization here was considered to be in the Post-Classic period, and the kingdom was filled with temples, palaces and grand plazas that impressed the Spaniards.
Xochitécatl was built between 300 and 400 AD and probably reached its peak between 600 and 800 AD. There is evidence that occupation of the sites extends much further back in time than the city. Its main pyramid is the fourth largest in Mexico (by base size) and the Spiral Pyramid is one of the few circular ones to be found.
Cacaxtla was built later than Xochitecatl, between 600 and 900 AD, and is the far larger of the two. It was discovered only in 1975 near the modern town of San Miguel del Milago. The main attraction here is the murals painted with pigments made from mineral sources.
Another interesting archeological site is called Tizatlán. This site does not have pyramids; instead the buildings here are made of adobe brick, a very unusual construction material for this place and time.
The state has 7 archeological sites that are open to the public. Ocotelulco, on a hill near the town of San Francisco Ocotelulco, is a collection of dwellings with raised areas for ceremonial purposes. Its altar is similar to the one found at Tezcatlipoca, decorated with colorful frescos with images of Quetzalcoatl, Xolotl and Tlahuizcalpantecuhtli. These images are in the style of the Post-classic period and have been dated to about 1450.
Tlaxcala is home to some of the earliest colonial architecture and art. The oldest church in Mexico, built in 1521, and the first monasteries were built here in 1524. Many other churches and monasteries were built in the state in the 16th and early 17th centuries. Just about every municipality has colonial-era structures such as churches, municipal palaces and plazas but the best examples are in and around the city of Tlaxcala. The Temple and Ex-monastery of San Francisco, built in the early 16th century, is about 14 km southeast of the capital city.
The State Government Palace is in the city proper and was creating by conjoining the former mayor's house, the treasury and the state warehouse, which is architecturally held together with a Plateresque facade. The city's cathedral, called Nuestra Señora de la Asunción, built in the 16th century.
A bit later, the Basilica of Octolan was built in the 17th and 18th centuries to comply with a demand of the Virgin Mary who reportedly appeared before Juan Diego Bernardino here in 1541. It is considered be the culmination of the Baroque style in Tlaxcala.
The state also has 140 haciendas, which vary in their state of conservation but some are promoted for tourism.
- Ruta de los Conventos del Popocatépetl — A challenging week long bicycle tour visiting the earliest 16th-century monasteries on the slopes of Popocatépetl. Along the way you‘ll cross two national parks, an active volcano, and more historical sites than any reasonable person would ever want to visit.
Regional festivals here are known for dances featuring men in mustached masks (imitating Spaniards), large-plumed hats and colorful garb. This is especially apparent during Carnival, when over 4,000 folk dancers from different villages come to the capital to celebrate. Many other festivals are in the state, many of which display the state's long tradition of bullfighting.
Ecotourism is relatively new here and much of it centers on La Malinche National Park, home to the La Malinche volcano, which is 4,461 m (14,636 ft) high. Here you can camp, mountain bike, horseback ride, rappel and climb the volcano.
Tlaxcala is famous for its clay and textile crafts that you can purchase at the Casa de Artesanías de Tlaxcala.
The gastronomy of the state can be divided into two main regions. The northern region stands out for the use of maguey in the preparation of barbecue that is covered with its stalks roasted over coals or poultry, rabbits, hares, lamb or pork meat and the famous pulque. The southern region stands out in the production of different moles. Before, insects were an important part of pre-Hispanic Tlaxcala food but it is no longer widely consumed today.
The traditional pre-Hispanic drink is the Cacao Drink or "Agua de Barranca".
Tlaxcala is one of the safest states in Mexico with a very low crime rate and few reported incidents of violence. Nevertheless, normal safety precautions and vigilance are wise.