Ever wondered about the smile shaped region that curves along the Gulf of Mexico? It’s Veracruz! The main port city of this region shares its name and is infused with a multi-cultural blend of music, food, and festive spirit. Dating back to around 1500 BC, the Olmecs inhabited this region, before the Aztecans and the Mayans. In 1519, almost 3,000 years later, Hernán Cortés considered the founder of Veracruz, came here in search for gold.
Since that time, Spanish conquistadors, Caribbean, Afro-Cuban settlers have entered this historic region. Today, Veracruz is inhabited these by people from many lands, who live with the indigenous people – Huastec, Totonac, and the Olmec.
The Veracruz region offers several vacation adventures from rafting, canyoning, rappelling, canoeing, mountain biking, mountain climbing, horseback riding, cave diving, kayaking, fishing, to scuba diving and snorkeling! There are many colonial towns throughout the region with the Huicholes in the north to the Mayas in the Yucatan Peninsula and many pre-Hispanic historic sites in between.There are so many things to do in Veracruz, check out our list of the top things to do in Veracruz.
Top Things to do in Veracruz!
How to Get There:
United Airlines flies direct from IAH (Houston) to Veracruz International Airport. If you have a layover in Houston, stop by the United Club (non-members can buy a day pass for $50).
Where to Stay:
Veracruz Centro Histórico – our favorite place to stay in historical downtown Veracruz is Emporio Veracruz!
Emporio Veracruz, an official member of the Preferred Hotels, this top-rated hotel is a contemporary masterpiece with 223 guestrooms and suites.
The elegant rooms, modern facilities, luxury interiors, and high level of customer service make this 5-star hotel stand out in this city. Emporio is centrally located on the legendary Paseo del Malecón, with fantastic views of the Port and the Fort of San Juan de Ulúa.
Upon my arrival, the Guest Relations service was superb with Sergio and Jose attending to every need and request I had. During my stay, I was able to walk out the hotel door and within a block, enjoy the city highlights – the port promenade, the artisans market, a streetcar city tour, harbor tour, and the historical plazas and the aquarium are just a couple blocks away. Emporio is within 20 minutes to the airport and 10 minutes to the World Trade Center. There are a variety of daytrips throughout the city’s region with many adventures/activities nearby. For Reservations: firstname.lastname@example.org
Where to Dine:
A MUST on our list of things to do in Veracruz!! Los Canarios: located on the street level of the Emporio hotel, Los Canarios offers fine dining and many of the region’s traditional dishes. I savored a fusion of flavors from classic 19th Century Mexican and Spanish cuisine, and even got reminder on the heat levels of hot sauces (habanero, jalapeno, serrano) from Miguel Angel Valdivia, the restaurant manager.
Table server Samuel introduced some local favorites, La Veracruzana (snapper with tomato sauce, onion, chiles, capers, and green olives), and the Chile en Nogada, the poblano pork/beef stuffed pepper with dried fruits and sweet cream with nuts on top. For dessert, the creme brulee made with vanilla from local orchids is divine! While dining, you can look out at the traditional Paseo del Malecón boardwalk and families, friends passing by on the evening stroll.
Gran Café de la Parroquia:
Right next door to Emporio Hotel, this Veracruz landmark has been around for nearly 200 years, where locals congregate for a morning coffee, or meals at lunch and dinner. One of the highlights in Centro Veracruz is to order the signature drink “Café Lechero” at the Gran Café de la Parróquia, established in 1808. Click here to watch and you can see how this cafe prepares coffee con leche – espresso coffee with steamed milk!
Or stop by the Gran Café del Portal Right on the zocalo on Avda. Independencia (next to the Gran Hotel) if you want to visit the older coffee institution (from what the locals tell me).
Villa Rica you can relax under a palapa and lookout to the Gulf while dining on delicious Veracruzano seafood – snapper, shrimp. Calzada Mocambo, Playa de Oro Mocambo, Boca del Rio
Restaurant Isla Paraiso South of the city, 20 mins drive to Isla Paraiso de Mandinga, a small village on an island, where you can have fresh fish.
Or you can stop in cafés along the portal archways for a meal
Only $2USD, 20 pesos, and pick up a coconut from the truck stands along the malecón, and take a walk to see the art along the boardwalk and enjoy the beach!
What to Do –
Here are a few of the many sights to see in Centro Veracruz:
- Walk, Run, Rollerblade along the malecón, the waterfront promenade that stretches from Veracruz to Boca del Rio, a few miles to the east.
- Visit the Plaza de Armas – Click here for a 40 second stroll thru Zócalo, Heroica Plaza in the heart of central historical Veracruz, listen to local music, visit the white cathedral, stop at the wood carved cigar booths, get your shoes shined at the old shoe shine booths, rest at the cafés lining the square and listen to the classical Cuban music.
Veracruz Artisans Market
-Just located a couple blocks from the Plaza de Armas
- San Juan de Ulúa
This old Spanish Fortress built in the 17th c. to defend the city (Romancing the Stone filmed here) – an ancient fort that still stands as the last Spanish stronghold in the Americas.
Plazuela de la Campana,
A small historical square worth the visit!
A charming and traditional meeting place for locals and visitors. You can enjoy the regional dishes here while listening to marimba xylophone players and jarocho folksongs & melodies.
Venustiano Carranza Lighthouse –
Home to the Navy Department’s Revolution Museum.
Recinto de la Reforma –
the ancient Church of San Francisco built in 1715. Benito Juarez wrote the 1859 Reform Acts here.
Veracruz Aquarium –
The #1 aquarium in Latin America, located on Avila Camacho Blvd.
The “La Prueba” Cigar Factory –
This highlight in Veracruz, dates back 125 yrs, where workers would roll cigars in the factory while listening to music.
This building dates back to the 19th c. and has an exquisite stained-glass window by the famous Mexican artist, Alberto Beltran.
Visit the local fish market
(located at Calle Landero and Coss, between Arista and Serdan)
Daytrips surrounding Veracruz:
this town is surrounded by hills and woodlands, and the Tourism Ministry considers it to be a “magical town”. Take time to walk the stone paved streets, stop by the colonial cathedrals, or go rappelling at the nearby Xico waterfall. Click here to watch as we rappel down the 100 ft waterfall at Xico, Veracruz – hosted by ZiltomExpediciones (video shot by Mike Vondruska)
Before you leave Xico, be sure to have a meal at La Molienda de Xico serves up regional dishes made from fresh ingredients and masa, stone-ground. The food is excellent, especially the chicken enchiladas with mole sauce.
Chachalacas Beach –
Ride ATV’s or sandsurf on the sand dunes along the shoreline. This playa is also great to enjoy water sports and scuba diving.
La Antigua Villa Rica de la Vera Cruz –
visit this charming little coastal town where Hernán Cortés landed in 1519.
This is the state capital and is a key stop between Veracruz and Mexico City. This university town also has the Museum of Anthropology exhibits the best treasures of the ancient Olmec culture. There are also many parks to visit – The Lake Walk, the Hague Park, the Macuitepec Ecological Park.
Known as the “rafting capital” of the world, many go to ride the rapids of the La Antigua and Pescados Rivers. Also, a popular place to climb and rappel the slopes of Tuzumapan and Cotlamani.
This quaint town known as the “Pearl of the Papaloapan” was declared a World Heritage Site. Sitting alongside a river, it has broad streets, colorful doorways, and Porfirian-style architecture. Many visit this town during early February for the Virgin of Candelaria Festival.
Music & Dance:
The people of Veracruz are known as Jarochos, and their folk dancing includes rapid and intricate footwork, as the ladies swirl their flowing white gowns, symbolic of the ocean waves. Click here to watch a video of the ATMEX 2013 performance.
Just about every you go in Veracruz, someone is playing music and/or dancing…on the malecón, in the plazas, at cafes, in the fish market. Before you know it, you’ll be doing the salsa, rumba or zumba in the streets, back into the hotel, and even on the plane as you go home. It’s contagious and a local shared that “once you feel the rhythm, it enters your heart, your soul, and never leaves you.” Cuban musicians such as legendary singer Benny Moré made a huge impact on Veraruzanos, and you’ll see the Cuban influence in Veracruz local song and dance.
We were entertained by local and dancing throughout our stay. Check the Veracruz Institute of Culture site here to find the schedule for live music and the weekly danzón nights. Here’s a shortlist – be sure to check the schedule in case days/times change:
- The Zocalo at Plaza de Armas – gets crowded Saturday nights, lots of fun! (Tues & Thurs 7-8 pm &Sat. 7:30-9 pm)
- Parque Zamora on Avenida. Rayon and Avenida Independencia (Wed 8-9 pm & Sun 6-9 pm)
- Plazuela de la Campana on Callejon Campana, between Calle Serdan and Calle Arista (Wed 8-9 pm)
- Rincón de la Trova – a 2 story nightclub at 59 Callejon de la Lagunilla, where hundreds dance to 2+ bands into the early morning hours (Fri, Sat, Sun 9 pm-3 am)
- Instituto Veracruzano de la Cultura offers danzón classes
History & Culture of Veracruz:
Pole Click here to watch the pole flying ritual “Danza de los Voladores” performed at ATMEX 2013. Palo Volador (pole flying) is an ancient ritual of the Nahua, Huastec and Otomi. Five men (one stands on top playing the flute/drums), and the others drop from the top of a 100 ft pole, hanging by ropes, circle around 13 times upside down. Combined, there’s a total of 52 turns which represent 52 weeks of the year, and every 52 years, the cycle of the new sun is fulfilled or the cycle of the renewal of fire.
Sombreros off to ATMEX for hosting a great show in Veracruz! Viva Veracruz!
Thanks to ATMEX 2013 and ATTA for hosting my trip to Veracruz, and to Emporio Veracruz Hotel and Los Canarios for hosting me.
To learn more about the Veracruz region, contact: www.veracruz.gob.mx/turismo
By Patricia Stone, a travel writer based in Seattle, Washington.