Like Cuernavaca, “the City of Eternal Spring,” Atlixco is a short distance but several hundred meters lower in elevation than the nearest metropolis. Also like Cuernavaca, it is known for its mild climate and the wealth of plants grown there year round. With close to 100,000 inhabitants, Atlixco has the state’s third-largest population, after Puebla and Tehuacán. It was first settled in the 11th century, and by the time of the Spanish conquest its mild climate and location along trade routes had made it an important commercial and agricultural town. Its name in Nahuatl means “water in the valley.”
I was recently in the city of Puebla to attend Tianguis Turístico: Mexico’s international tourism convention. By the last day of the event, I had visited every booth on the convention floor, attended a dozen press conferences, and eaten as much mole poblano as I could hold. I love Puebla but I was itching to get out of town. Having been stood up by two new pals from Hong Kong, I decide to visit Atlixco mostly because it was a single bus ride and not many kilometers away. Somehow the African Safari, my other possibility, didn’t seem like a fun place to go alone.
I grabbed a taxi from my hotel and was soon heading south from Puebla’s Estación del Oro bus station. Ignoring the Spanish-language version of Cars on the bus’s tiny television, I looked out at the landscape, where desperate-looking guaje trees with small, shriveled pods made silhouettes against the dusty mountains. At the apex of the dry season, the terrain was sand-colored scrub and leathery grass under an uncharacteristically white-gray sky.
As I got closer to my destination, the landscape greened up a bit. Jacaranda trees shaded colorful small houses; bright bougainvillea spilled over cement block walls. An avocado orchard appeared, and soon afterwards palm nurseries, greenhouses, and orderly fields of table crops.
Twenty minutes later I arrived in Atlixco, a bit rough around the edges after 1,000 years of wear and tear. Passing for the moment the busy indoor market, the first thing I saw was the temple of Saint Augustine. Although missing some paint on the exterior, the single-nave church is quite pretty, with crystal chandeliers, stone floors, a wooden pulpit with carved saints, and plenty of polished gold leaf.
I decided against visiting the greenhouses that are Atlixco’s main draw for visitors, since I was traveling by bus and really had no need to purchase plants. Instead, I must have visited a half dozen churches in various states of repair. Most were open even if there was no caretaker in sight. Atlixco must not have a vandalism problem. Within the modernized, function-over-form Ex-Convento del Carmen (Former Carmelite Convent) I browsed through the free Atlixco Valley Cultural Museum, which displayed small clay figures (pre- and post-Christian eras), carved stone hoops used in the pre-Hispanic ball game, and black and red clay pottery. Within the City Hall is a wonderful series of murals showing the illustrious personalities of Mexico and Puebla State.
Mostly I just walked around town with no real agenda. On Avenida Hidalgo above Calle 7 Sur were some of the nicer-looking houses, including some boxy affairs of 60s or 70s vintage. At the base of San Miguel Hill, the church and former monastery dedicated to St. Francis is open to the public, although the temple at the top, St. Michael’s, is open only his feast day, September 29. Looking toward the west, the active volcano Popocatepetl can be seen smoking in the middle distance, like a truant adolescent in the school parking lot.
I was planning to eat “comida” (late lunch) back in Puebla, but all of a sudden my legs felt like spaghetti and I decided to have some. I went into a diner and had a so-so lunch special. The best part of lunch was dessert: the bag of chocolate-covered raisins I got afterwards at the town market. Before returning the bus station and Puebla, I stopped in to check out the embroidered muslin blouses, naked chickens with their heads hanging down, baskets, and the town’s trademark plants and flowers.
A trip to Atlixco is not for everyone. On the positive side, traffic is practically non-existent, there are dozens of old churches to explore, several museums, and frequent buses to and from nearby Puebla. This is a great place for low-impact aerobics (i.e., walking). If you come on Sunday, there’s a plant and flower sale in the main plaza. On the down side, this somewhat grubby “everyday town” is not a Hollywood version of an old Mexican town. It’s the Real McCoy, with all the imperfections of a B movie.
Although on my spur-of-the-moment visit I didn’t see much, there are possibilities for minor adventures. The tourism office, open seven days a week, gave me a comprehensive, bilingual map-brochure listing not only the sights in town but also nearby water parks, festival and religious feast days, and if you’re so inclined … restaurants in town.
I personally recommend the chocolate covered raisins. Best I’ve had.
If You Go
Get a bus from Puebla’s Estación del Oro Station. Cost was less than 40 pesos, and the trip took 20 minutes. Buses leave approximately every 15 minutes. Atlixco is about 24 km south of Puebla.
Facing the main plaza, the tourism office (Plaza de Armas #1, in the town hall, tel. 244/445-1966, www.atlixco.gob.mx) is open daily during business hours. The tourism office can direct you to one of more than a half dozen water parks in the area.
For information about festivals in Atlixco, see the Atlixo events page.