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It was an unlikely victory when the Mexicans defeated the French army in 1862. The event is celebrated on 5 May each year in Puebla, a lovely colonial city in the shadow of the Popocatépetl volcano, a 2-hour drive from Mexico City. Tens of thousands of residents participate in the spectacular parade; Mariachi bands play in the streets and there is dancing and fireworks. The festival draws over a million visitors every year.
On 5 May 1862, a military miracle happened in the mountains near Puebla: a small, untrained Mexican brigade led by General Ignacio Zaragoza defeated the powerful French army of Emperor Napoleon III. A wave of pride washed over Mexico and President Benito Juarez, who declared 5 May (Cinco de Mayo) a national holiday. In Heroica Puebla de Zaragoza (the honorary title bestowed upon the city), the historic event is lavishly celebrated every year.
Cinco de Mayo is not just a holiday. It combines a living history lesson, a food fest and a celebration of Mexico’s cultural heritage. The festivities are not limited to just the one day: in Puebla, Cinco de Mayo is a month-long festival. On 5 May, the Battle of Puebla is re-enacted at the site where it took place; a colourful parade of floats and participants dressed in bright traditional costumes files through the streets. The entire history of Mexico is on display. In the weeks before and after the main day (from 2 April through 10 May), the city celebrates with mariachis, tacos and margaritas, all in addition to dance performances, theatre, classical music, pop concerts and fun fairs in various locations. Cinco de Mayo is also celebrated in the United States, although many Americans believe that it represents Mexican Independence Day, which is actually celebrated on 16 September. But forget the US: there is no better place to celebrate Cinco de Mayo than in the city where history was written. Off to Puebla!
“The city celebrates with mariachis, tacos and margaritas before and after 5 May as well”
Cinco de Mayo is a great excuse to travel to Puebla, but certainly not the only one. The 4th largest city in Mexico has plenty to offer. The colonial city centre packed with churches and convents is on the World Heritage list. Crane your neck to admire the cathedral: the 2 spires are the tallest in Mexico. Puebla is also the gourmet capital of Mexico. This is where the ‘mole poblano’ originated, a spicy sauce made with peppers and chocolate. Another dish that hails from here is ‘chiles en nogada’, prepared with peppers, walnut sauce and pomegranate seeds in the colours of the Mexican flag. In nearby Cholula, the Aztec built an enormous pyramid; it is the largest remaining pyramid in the world.