The historical and lively port city of Veracruz, 345 km east of Mexico City, is a major business hub for the eastern Gulf coast of Mexico. Being a national as well as an international port, it plays an important role in the transportation of many of the products that enter and leave the country through the innumerable trade and cargo ships that dock there.
Veracruz has historically been a very important city since the arrival of the Spaniards. The frequent pirate attacks and their battles to intercept Spanish goods, gave a swashbuckling tinge to the history of this oldest port in the Americas. It witnessed the end of 300 years of Spanish colonial rule when the foreign invaders fled to the Castillo de San Juan de Ulúa, their last retreat. The city has witnessed many historical events. It was called the ‘four times heroic city’ for resisting four foreign invasions — two from France and two from the US.
The city offers a very colonial ambience with the beautiful Zócalo, the palm-lined promenades, the traditional markets, and block upon block of colonial architecture. The Veracruzanos or Jarochos, as the city’s residents are known, have a great zest for life which is reflected in their everyday life. Café culture is king here. Be it day or night, it is common to see patios, squares and street-side tables crammed with people tucking into some of the fine cuisine or a drink, socializing with friends or just soaking up the lively atmosphere. Listening to music played in the squares until late at night and sipping coffee in the sidewalk cafés early the next morning, is part of the tradition of the city folks.
Veracruz is famous for its party atmosphere which peaks during the state’s most important event, the yearly Carnaval (Carnival) festival, a nine-day party which takes place in February or March. The city buzzes with life, music, dancing, food, performances, culture, fireworks, arts and crafts and much more. It is in many ways more connected to the Afro-Caribbean culture due to the African slaves who were brought by the Spanish and the arrival of the Cuban immigrants much later.
Beautifully arrayed with palm trees, a colonial fountain and lovely arches, the Zócalo or the Plaza de Armas (Plaza of Arms) is one of the oldest in the country. Lined with arcades that house bars and cafes, it has been the hub of the social scene in Veracruz since colonial times. It is the place where everyone gathers for morning coffee, lunch, afternoon strolls and night-time revelry. In the evenings, local couples dance the formal danzón to the tunes of the municipal band, or semi-professionals in regional costumes perform the colourful Jarocho Veracruzano, both of which attract large audiences. The famous Carnaval of Veracruz and all other events are held here. This lively Main Square is surrounded by the Palacio Municipal, the cathedral and majestic civil buildings like the Correos (Post Office) and the Aduana Maritima (Maritime Customs) and various others which now operate mainly as bars, cafés and hotels.
The ten-mile long Malecón is one of the most beautiful places in the city. Besides the people out on a leisure stroll, the place is full of street vendors and entertainers. At night, the twinkling lights of the ships in the port and the lively surrounding atmosphere makes this lovely promenade one of the most attractive places in the city. From here, the city’s most impressive attraction, the Castillo de San Juan de Ulúa, is clearly visible across the harbour. Originally built by the Spaniards in the sixteenth century to protect against pirates and, later, against foreign invaders, the Castillo became the last refuge of the Spaniards before they were defeated and forced to leave Mexico.
After the Mexican War of Independence in the nineteenth century, the fortress became an infamous prison, specifically during the Porfirio Diaz era. The ocean water would sometimes flood the cells. Many of the prisoners sent here never lived to be released because of the prevalent harsh conditions, including tuberculosis and yellow fever. Today, the main attraction of the fortress is its prison. But for the prison, the fortress is an empty ruin of battlements and stairways. This place attracts hordes of tourists who flock to the museum in its premises for a glimpse of its colourful history. The climax scene in the late 1980’s Hollywood film, Romancing the Stone with Michael Douglas and Kathleen Turner, was filmed here. This large island fortress is accessible by road or by lanchas, or motorboats, leaving from the Malecón.
Veracruz City has two municipalities: the historic port of Veracruz and the fishing village of Boca del Río both of which are linked together by the Malecón. Boca del Rio with a large number of hotels, restaurants and commercial centres is mostly geared toward tourists, and has the best beaches in Veracruz, the most famous being the Playa Mocambo. Although the hotels in Veracruz are charming, those in Boca del Río, especially along the beaches near Playa Mocambo attract more tourists looking for sun and sand. ‘Boca’ also offers some of the best seafood restaurants in the city.
El Tajín is located 13 km away from Papantla, one of the world’s largest vanilla producing zones which is a three-hour drive from Veracruz City. Discovered in 1785, it is the most important archaeological site on the Gulf coast and one of the most enigmatic cities of ancient Mexico. It was the principal ceremonial centre of the Classic Veracruz culture (or Gulf Coast Classic culture).
The most imposing structure in El Tajin is the Píramide de los Nichos (Pyramid of the Niches), named for the approximately 365 recesses on its four sides, representing the solar year. The place was completely abandoned when the Spaniards arrived and was overgrown with forest in 1785, when Diego Ruiz visited the ruins and published the first description of the site. The first archaeological excavation of the site was made by Jose Garcia Payon from 1943 to 1963. Since the 1980s, INAH, the Institute of Anthropology & History, has made additional restorations.
You can read more on Veracruz, my travel experiences and discover the many beautiful destinations in Mexico in my ebook “Discovering Mexico“
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I leave you with this cool song from M.I.A. : Bad Girls Enjoy 🙂
Take care… hasta luego