20 Jul Veracruz State
Veracruz surprised and hypnotized us.
I’d be lying if I said Veracruz had topped our travel wish list. We’d mainly heard negative things about the weather and safety in the region. Plus we’d heard people rave about so many locations in Mexico that the ones you don’t hear about naturally fall to the bottom. Once we moved to Oaxaca’s Papaloapan region (after 10 years in Guanajuato), we started hearing a lot about Veracruz and its myriad of destinations. Professors from our University interested in biodiversity and conservation efforts, as well as friends who like the same sorts of activities we do, started suggesting places to visit in nearby Veracruz. Our experience was above and beyond any expectation we might have held. We were blown away!
Here’s a guide to everything we loved in Veracruz, with links to individual articles on most of them so you can go more in-depth if you’re interested. We’re drawn to communities with beautiful nature and innovative conservation efforts, and Veracruz has several gems worth celebrating.
Southern Veracruz: Los Tuxtlas, An Incredibly Varied Eco-Adventure
Los Tuxtlas is a region with staggering biodiversity set in a diverse topographical landscape. It contains two volcanoes, Lake Catemaco (among other bodies of water), a plethora of waterfalls, virgin mangroves and wetlands, jungles, forests and beaches. It provides habitat for many endangered species, as well as shelters an abundance of spawning species in it’s brackish waters and marshlands.
Ecotourism in Los Tuxtlas has many hubs, including Catemaco, Benito Juarez, Nanciyaga, San Andrés Tuxtla and Roca Partida.
We started our adventure in Catemaco. Lake Catemaco and its islands are great for kayaking, wildlife observation, and as a jumping off point for exploring Los Tuxtlas. In Catemaco, you have access to pristine mangroves, the brackish river inlets and delta, Barra de Sontecomapan (the sand bar that divides the river from the sea, a great hangout spot with an unique view the convergence of the two), and Playa Escondida (the beach this confluence creates).
Nanciyaga is close to Catemaco and is considered one of the principal eco destinations of Los Tuxtlas. (We went, sans reservation, but they couldn’t accommodate us.) We stayed in Dos Amates instead, choosing to camp outside of Catemaco rather than being in town. From there, we had walking access to hiking trails, creeks, waterfalls and beautiful vistas (read more about that in our Dos Amates blog). We loved Dos Amates.
Next, we stayed in Benito Juarez, home to the Anolis eco co-op that’s spearheading much of the conservation efforts in Los Tuxtlas. This was likely our favorite destination. We stayed in a picturesque cabin on someone’s land, the main house nearby. We ate meals with the family at their house, and from there we headed out with our guide to explore nature. In this area, we hiked through the rain forest to various waterfalls, like Cola de Caballo and Velo de la Novia, swam in transparent turquoise rivers and lagoons like Poza Reina, and saw first-hand, in Benito Juarez itself, the Macaw reintroduction efforts underway in the immense rain forest.
This area also includes some beautiful beaches, like Roca Partida, know for its rock formations, and less so for its thriving reef, great for snorkeling and scuba diving. During our time in Roca Partida, we interviewed a long-time local fisherman about the fishing village turned eco-tourism destination and the reasons why they changed their tactics as a community. The turn towards eco-tourism means more than improving their local economy; it’s also a philosophical shift, recognizing that the fish are worth more alive than dead. While fishing is still necessary, it can be conducted in a more sustainable fashion.
Northern Veracruz: Mountains, Coffee and a One-of-a-kind Coastline
To explore this region we recommend launching from Xalapa, the Athens of Veracruz, where gorgeous architecture is around every turn. History, culture and art all reign supreme in Xalapa. History lies in the Cathedral, the Church of San Jose, the pink limestone Government palace, Mario Orozco Rivera’s murals and the plazas of the city; culture resides in the Xalapa Anthropology Museum (MAX), home to the second largest collection of pre-Hispanic pieces in Mexico; and art resides in the underground music scene, bars and galleries that give Xalapa its grit.
The Pinacoteca Diego Rivera (Diego Rivera’s Painting Museum) houses a variety of different artists, including Diego Rivera’s body of works, and la Galería de Arte Contemporáneo (The Gallery of Contemporary Art) also has national and international works on display. Xalapa celebrates its misty forests, from its oldest and most iconic park, Parque los Barros (Watercress Park), and the University of Veracruz to Los Tecajetes, a park focused on conserving endemic species of plants, and Paseo de los Lagos (Path by the Lake).
The region is famous for coffee, among other gastronomic delights. Coatepec and Xico, both coffee producing areas, are 14km and 22km respectively from Xalapa, making them easy day trip destinations. Both designated by UNESCO as sites of World Heritage because of their culture and history, they celebrate many culinary traditions, have maintained the rustic beauty of cobblestone streets and colorful antique homes, and are surrounded in lush, pine forest. Time slows down in places like these, and you get to soak it in, letting your five senses explore.
Playa Chachalacas, only an hour from Xalapa, has an incredibly unique beach with massive dunes that rise high above the sea. A small fishing village, there is little tourism other than a handful of extreme sport enthusiasts, like dune riders, sandboarders, and paragliders. Otherwise, it’s an empty beach of 100 foot dunes towering over the ocean beneath a sparkling blue sky. (Read our blog to get the full version of our experience in Playa Chachalacas.)
Central Veracruz: The Historic Capital and Tlacotalpan
Veracruz City is historic and incredible and, unfortunately, we haven’t dug in as much as we’d like to. There is so much to see and do – we want to do it justice! So though we’ve been a couple of times, we aren’t ready to bring it to you. Post pandemic we look forward to going back and really digging deep into the city. So stay tuned for future updates! However, one of the most admired gems of Central Veracruz is Tlacotalpan, which we have lots to say about.
Tlacotalpan is a dreamy, riverside time capsule on the banks of the Papaloapan, filled with gastronomic delights and colorful facades. Relaxing and aesthetic, it’s a perfect place to unwind, ride a bicycle, and walk along the water. Among locals, it is a long-standing favorite.
We did all of these things. After hitting the trails, swimming under waterfalls, climbing dunes, and overcoming the dizzying feeling of falling in love with Veracruz, we were thrilled to take it down a notch. We ate everything, took leisurely strolls, tried out a tandem bicycle (unsuccessfully) and opted to ride our own, ate some more and gazed out over the river as the days turned to nights. It was the ideal end to an incredible trip.
We hope you love Veracruz as much as we do! It’s very diverse, and full of cool eco-friendly options. As always, ask us any questions that you have. We’d love to know your experiences if you’ve traveled in Veracruz too. Leave a comment below if you’d like to share!