Puebla, Mexico, located 80 mi/130 km east of Mexico City, has played an important role in the nation's history: The only Mexican victory over foreign invaders took place there when Maximilian's French Foreign Legion was defeated on 5 May 1862 (now celebrated as Cinco de Mayo).

Puebla has more than 60 churches (including its grand 16th-century cathedral) and a "secret convent" (it remained active after convents and monasteries were outlawed in 1857). It's known for manufacturing colorful tiles (dating back to the 1600s), as well as antiques, talavera pottery and mole poblano, a rich chocolate and chili sauce that was first prepared there by the nuns and has become one of Mexico's signature dishes.

Start your visit at the Amparo Museum, which covers 30 centuries of Mexican history and has an audiovisual system that allows visitors to listen to explanations in a number of languages (be selective—there are 18 hours of narration). http://www.museoamparo.com.

Museo Bello contains an impressive collection of colonial-era art, and Santa Rosa Convent is fascinating for its enormous tiled kitchen and museum of local crafts. Other sights include the Bazaar of Toads (known for antiquities and antiques, not frogs); the Parian, an art market; the Art District, where tourists can gape at artists at work; and Los Remedios Church with El Popo volcano in the background.

Just strolling the city's streets is a treat, too: Many buildings are covered in gorgeous tiles, and shops display an irresistible array of Puebla's famous hand-painted talavera pottery.

The well-designed Africam Safari, 20 minutes out of town, features 250 species of wild animals from every part of the world. http://africamsafari.orciuslabs1.com.

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