A Rainy Month in Veracruz

One of the big Toltec heads from the Museo of Anthropologia
One of the big Toltec heads from the Museo of Anthropologia

Jalapa, or Xalapa, is considered the “Athens of Mexico” for its city orchestra (Sorry for us, not in September) the fab Anthropology museum (indeed it was) and the numerous and splendid parks (lush and well kept.) Also there are several art galleries (it is the luck of the draw what is being shown as to the quality.) I contend that Jalapa should be more correctly considered NOT the Athens of Mexico, but the Seattle of Mexico. Everyday was gray and overcast, it rained most every day we were there, of course it is the rainy season, and there are coffee shops everywhere in Centro. This makes sense since they grow coffee all over the countryside. Now the bad part. We were disappointed in the city.  I was talking to a young guy, not from Jalapa, and he said it best describing the city. The word is Dull. Many of the buildings could have used a can of paint, the streets are clean, but the traffic (I know, another rant about cars) is another problem altogether. On weekdays between 10 and 4 don’t even think about driving into the city. Think Guadalajara traffic times four. In defense, there are two major road works projects going on and, God love the Mexicans, driving courtesy is not contagious. Adding to the congestion are the abundant and deep pot holes that are by definition craters. The best way to get into the city is on a Sunday, in a cab. It costs, depending on where you start and end, around 30 pesos. Sunday, the Centro doesn’t get rolling until 11 a.m. The restaurants are nothing special with the usual menu of Mexican dishes. Surprisingly, unlike Mexico City, there are no taco stands anywhere. WARNING: Since Jalapa, as in jalapeño, the food is hotter than normal Mexican food. For a week, Jalapa has things to do and see, a month is too long.  But all was not lost. There several nearby cities that deserve favor and recommendation.

The pueblo of Coatepec
The pueblo of Coatepec

One is Coatepec and the other is Xico.

Lunch by the river in the lovely little town of Xico
Lunch by the river in the lovely little town of Xico

Both are Pueblos Magico, Coatepec has a small enclave of Americans and Europeans. Xico, according to the tourist office has about 20 foreigners.  These two towns are the colorful, sleepy and livable cities that busy Jalapa was 30 years ago. I would stay in one of these smaller towns and not in congested Jalapa. Jalapa has for the most part escaped the economic downturn plaguing Mexico, because it is the center of government and the university props up the economy AND the state of Veracruz is perhaps the richest of all the Mexican states. Think oil related money. Perhaps one of the reasons we weren’t enthralled with Japala was our accommodations. We rented a small, two room apartment outside of the city because it was all we could find. It had no kitchen, except a microwave and college dorm size refrigerator, no kitchen sink, we had to clean dishes in the bathroom sink, we didn’t have running water for a week, (repair work down the road) the hot water was iffy and the place was situated near a road that ran downhill and all the BIG TRUCKS  started rolling at 5 a.m. and they all seem to want to save their brakes on the downgrade and use first gear all…the…way…down…the…road.  Plus there was a bitch (as in female dog) that barked at Lassen every time we took him for a walk. Another city in the area that deserves kudos and was a FIND is Naolinco, 20 miles away from Jalapa.

The main square in Naolinco
The main square in Naolinco

This small community is in the always lush, green mountains complete with waterfalls and a special charm that is impossible to describe. The city is  a commercial center for leather goods. There must be over 100 shops scattered around the city selling shoes, purses and other leather items. I bought a pair of cowboy boots for $30. Yippeee! A bronze statue on the road into town has a seated cobbler at work. They also make wooden masks. I would suggest if you wanted to get away from it all Naolinco is the place. I don’t know why it isn’t a magic pueblo, it is lovely. We took a two night journey to the Costa Esmeralda,

Lassen enjoying the deserted beach on the Costa Esmeralda
Lassen enjoying the deserted beach on the Costa Esmeralda

a fancy name for the beaches north of Veracruz. This is an area that would be another Cancun if only it had white sand instead of gray making the water lose the beautiful turquoise and just be a clear and darker blue green. The beaches were lovely though and deserted with many smaller hotels. After a struggle finding a place that would take dogs we checked into a lovely hotel and were the only guests the first night we were there. Just an hour north of there we did visit the impressive Toltec ruins at El Tajin which was our main reason for going north. We also stopped in the town of Papantla, the vanilla capital of Mexico and another Pueblo Magic.

The famous pyramid of the niches at El Tajin
The famous pyramid of the niches at El Tajin

We flew the coop a week early to our next destination and stopped in the “First city in the Americas” Veracruz (Or so says a large sign coming into town.) We liked this city, thought we wouldn’t, surprise, surprise. The city has an up tempo vibe and energy sure not found in Jalapa. Of course, I would NOT visit here in summer when the humidity must mug you at the door and make you want to take a shower every hour. This time of year the temperature is moderate and had delightful evening breezes off the ocean. Veracruz had pretty buildings, a modern cool aquarium that claims to be the largest in Latin America and dancers and an orchestra on the zocalo in the evening.

Veracruz main plaza at night
Veracruz main plaza at night

We stopped in Tlacotalpan next, it is a UNESCO world heritage city found 90 km south of Veracruz. Situated next to a river it has a population of only 7000. The town is flat and has many colorful houses. It looks like a set from a movie and is just too cute. The music of Veracruz is said to have originated here. Before the seaport and railroad went to Veracruz this place was the main port in Mexico. Around 1900 that ended and this sleepy little village keeps its former glory to this day because no one cared to go there or build.

The UNESCO World Heritage City of Tlacotalpan
The UNESCO World Heritage City of Tlacotalpan

The downside of this city is it must be the mosquito capital of Mexico. People tell me after the rainy season the mosquitoes are gone.  Not much to do here however. There are only 3 Americans living here. One owns the place we stayed at. Like Veracruz it is well worth a weekend visit in the non mosquito season. They do have a huge festival during Candelaria when the bulls, as in 1500 pounds, run free in the town. If you go let us know what that is like. This event attracts upward to 15,000 people from around Mexico. Most of them return home. One last word about the state of Veracruz, it is very beautiful physically. You go from flatter plains in the north to gorgeous canyons with towering waterfalls in the center to lush rolling hills in the south. If for nothing else it is worth seeing just for the beauty. People told us that it is pretty much green and lush all year around. Orchids abound and are everywhere, as are bromeliads. Banana and tropical plants, coffee are all around so that it feels like you are always in a botanical garden.

for those who have not seen these photos on Facebook you can view these photos at the links below without joining Facebook.

Xalapa go to:  http://www.facebook.com/album.php?aid=106319&id=667416515&l=e82a508294


Xalapa Parks and Museo of Anthropologia go to:  http://www.facebook.com/album.php?aid=109755&id=667416515&l=dd5d08a686

El Tajin go to: http://www.facebook.com/album.php?aid=109961&id=667416515&l=04ae55f4eb

Costa Esmeralda go to:  http://www.facebook.com/album.php?aid=109955&id=667416515&l=ab89942c9e

Naolinco go to: http://www.facebook.com/album.php?aid=107701&id=667416515&l=d92cfcd723

Veracruz go to:   http://www.facebook.com/album.php?aid=110963&id=667416515&l=4930a701de

Tlacotalpan go to: http://www.facebook.com/album.php?aid=112053&id=667416515&l=25811f6d37

Now we are onward to San Cristobal de Las Casas


10 Responses to “A Rainy Month in Veracruz”

  1. Char Says:

    Love the blogs and photos……you should be getting paid for this!

  2. su Says:

    Thanks for the armchair watchers guide. Just spoke to Anita. I loved Veracruz 30 years ago. San Cristobal sounds lovely though. I’d like to visit too…

  3. Eileen collard Says:

    What’s the dance scene like in Veracruz city at this time of year??? when I was there for Carnaval 2 years ago, there were free Cuban-style street dances all over the city every night and people told me that’s a year-round thing. Did you encounter any of that? Or maybe just at the main plaza? Enjoy your adventures – I’m now back in Chapala. eileen

  4. Anita & Michael's travels Says:

    The only dancing we encountered was in the main plaza. They have danzon three nights a week. The band was large and not very good.

  5. Lois Cugini Says:

    Great info. Look forward to your future experiences in San Cristobal.
    Happy New Year.

  6. blema steinman Says:

    Hi Anita and Michael,
    Loved reading your blog on your travels in Mexico. The comments and photos are interesting. Are you going to write a book?
    We just returned from a big trip to Australia, to visit my son, then Chang Mai in Thailand where we went out for dinner with Fran and Bill who used to live in Ajijic. They love living in Chang Mai, and we fell in love with the place too. The people are so gentle, respectful and eager to please….so much to see and do!!! Then on to Beijing and Xian to see the Terra Cotta Warriors. What an incredible sight! No wonder it is the 8th wonder of the world! Back home now, very jetlagged…… enjoy your travels.

  7. Brooke Says:

    great post!! beautiful travels.

  8. Stephanie Smith Says:

    Am very much enjoying your blog. The combo of photos and narrative is great — colorful, informative, pithy. I love knowing you two are out exploring Mexico, and doing such a bang up job of it!

  9. Char Says:

    I always look forward to your blogs and photos! So informative and the photos are so alive! But then I wouldn’t expect anything less…sure hope you write a book when you decide to settle down!

  10. blema steinman Says:

    Hi Anita,

    Now that you have travelled to many areas in Mexico, what would you advise for a more interesting trip, Oaxaca or Chiapas?? I want to visit one of these areas this winter. What is your advice?


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