Amazing Destination Veracruz
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Amazing Destination Veracruz
Endless Opportunities Abound in Magical Veracruz
By Rick Stedman
Over the last dozen years, Mexico has used the designation Magic Town, Pueblos Magicos, to describe some of its unique cities and villages. That same moniker could easily be applied to the entire state of Veracruz in eastern Mexico. The unique blend of rich cultural, cuisine, nature, and history make up the fabric that defines Veracruz. Since the state is noted for its mixed ethnic and large indigenous populations, those elements heavily influence the cuisine and colorful cultural still seen today. To fully appreciate Veracruz today, you have to know a little about its past.
Veracruz, which became a state in 1824, is crescent-shaped land mass, and stretches about 400 miles (650 km) along the Gulf coast but averages only about 60 miles (100 km) in width. The first major civilization in territory of the current state is that of the Olmecs, whose origin is unknown. Theories vary, including one which has a group of people with Negroid features arriving to Campeche then north to Veracruz more than 3,500 years ago. The Olmecs settled in the Coatzacoalcos River region and it became the center of Olmec culture.
Ceramics have been made in almost all parts of Veracruz since the Olmecs. One area known for its work is Papantla which also includes life sized representations of folk dancers from the area along with more mundane items of glazed and unglazed pottery. Traditional clothing and embroidery can be most easily found in the La Huasteca area, where elaborately decorated women’s blouses can be seen, especially in the El Higo and Tlalixcoyan areas. In Totonacalpan, men are still often seen in white shirts and pants with a bag to hold personal items. This dress dates back to the early colonial period and has not changed much since.
Veracruz is well known throughout Mexico for its music and dance. The fandango is a dance brought over by the Spanish. Today, the state has two varieties: The jarocho and the huasteco. Indigenous and folk dances in the state are most often associated with rituals and religious festivals. These include Los Lisceres, also called the Tigres from the Los Tuxtlas region. Participants wear Olmec style masks which represent the rain god Tlalóc. Another is Los Guaguas in which the participants pay homage to the sun, and Los Santiagos, which is related to the veneration of Saint James, patron saint of Hernán Cortés.
In a land as vast as Mexico, travelers experience a special satisfaction when they stumble upon a hidden gem filled with history and culture – and thanks to the Pueblos Magicos program, visitors can choose from more than 50 such towns scattered throughout the country’s heartland, with several in Veracruz.
While the primary focus of Pueblos Magicos is to develop cultural tourism, other segments, such as eco-tourism, adventure tourism, and rural tourism also fall under the program’s canopy. As the towns develop the products offered in the different segments, sustainable tourism is cultivated. Here’s a snapshot of Veracruz’s Magic Towns.
The indigenous population named the town Coatepec, which means “Snake Hill” in the native Nahuatl language, because they wished to pay homage to the goddess of fertility, which was embodied by a serpent. Coatepec’s history extends from the pre-Hispanic to the colonial, with the town still faithfully celebrating the day of Patron Saint Jerome on Sept. 30 and the Coffee Festival in mid-April.
Although Coatepec’s buildings each have a distinct style, they are influenced by the baroque and neoclassic styles of architecture. The town’s churches, buildings, and traditional homes add such historic value to the town that it was named an official Veracruz Historical Monument Region in 1995. Among the town’s more significant buildings are the Scared Heart Temple, the Calvary Parrish, and the Guadalupe Basilica.
The town’s elegant and traditional restaurants offer typical fare such as chileatole (a corn-based soup), mole sauce, red meat, prawns, trout, seafood and other, more common Mexican specialties. If you’re tempted to try a dessert, it’d be hard to beat the local lime ice cream, served with orange leaves for spoons.
This lovely little town features streets that are lined with colonial houses, while the mild climate results in colorful flowers present year round. Residents have a stunning view of the mountains, and seemingly never-ending classic pastoral scenes, like milkmen making deliveries, women cooking home-made tortillas, and the elderly praying in church at sunrise. Xico’s Maria Magdalena Parish Church is not to be missed. As you ascend a staircase while entering, admire its neoclassical façade and side towers. From the bell tower, you can enjoy an unparalleled view of the beautiful town below, filled with gable-roofed houses and winding streets. At the so-called “Dove’s Patio” in an annex of the church, you’ll find the Dress Museum. The museum exhibits a permanent collection of more than 700 dresses, some dating as far back as 1910, and all having been worn by the Mary Magdalene effigy. One of Xico’s delicious traditional dishes is xonequi (beans prepared with cornmeal and aromatic herbs). You might also try pork enchiladas, another local specialty, but what you really can’t afford to miss are the local liquors, Moritas (made from wild berries) and Verde (from green herbs), which locals claim is good for the stomach. If you’re inclined to take some local goods back home, then visit the Doña Lilu’s store in Calle Hidalgo where you’ll find a wide range of mole, preserves, and liquors.
Since Papantla is the heart of Mexico’s vanilla-growing region, it seems natural that the town would hold an annual Vanilla Festival, which takes place each summer. The origins of the festival pre-date the Spanish conquest. Today, it is tied to the Catholic celebration of the Feast of Corpus Christi (Body of Christ), and held 60 days after Easter.
Also of note in Papantla is the Church of Nuestra Señora de la Asunción, which was constructed between 1570 and 1590 by the Franciscans. The church is in the form of a Latin cross and has an entrance flanked by Roman style pilasters. Across from the main facade are the principal markets, Hidalgo and Juarez. On the atrium wall is a sculpted mural by Teodoro Cano Garcia which depicts the evolution of Totonac culture superimposed on the body of the god Quetzalcoatl.
XALAPA – THE CAPITAL CITY OF VERACRUZ
Though the city of Veracruz is the largest in the state of Veracruz, the capital is Xalapa some 220 miles from Mexico City. Xalapa’s unique charm includes scenic winding alleys and historic monuments. Xalapa, known in Mexico as the “Athens of Veracruz,” was in colonial times, a key trading post linking Europe, the Caribbean, and the empire of New Spain. On top of its colonial significance, the city is simply brimming with traditions and celebrations. The Museo de Antropologia de Xalapa (Xalapa Anthropology Museum) is the second largest of its kind in the country.
During the Spring Festival – held during the last two weeks of April and a great time to visit the city – the town’s floral traditions are on display in their full glory, as regional flower growers compete for the year’s “best flower arrangement” prize. The abundance of orchids, roses, and azaleas is a clear reminder of why Xalapa is famed in Mexico as the “City of Flowers.”
Not to be missed…
Veracruz offers so much, and it would take a lifetime to explore. Here are a few more gems to consider while visiting this Gulf coast state.
COSTA ESMERALDA (EMERALD COST)
Covering roughly 23 miles of coastline along the Gulf of Mexico between Nautla and Papantla, Costa Esmeralda’s clean wide beaches and calm waters are popular with beachgoers and fishermen alike. Here Highway 180 is lined with small restaurants and stands selling fresh pineapples, oranges, and cheese. It’s also peppered with campgrounds and hotels taking advantage of the amazing beachfront.
The Costa Esmeralda is the stretch of beaches which run north from Veracruz to the mouth of the Rio Tecolutla near the town of Tecolutla on the Gulf coast of Mexico. Located in Veracruz state and about two hours north of the city of Veracruz, the Costa Esmeralda is practically unknown to most outside of Mexico.
The town of Jalcomulco is home to one of the largest adventure tourism operators in the country, so if outdoor pursuits and extreme sports are your thing, this is the place for you. This is Mexico’s #1 rafting destination. More than 40 rivers traverse the rugged topography of Veracruz and many are excellent for white water rafting and kayaking. Two of the most well-known rivers are the Rio Filobobos and Rio Actopan. Several archeological ruins can be visited from the banks of the Rio Filobobos. Zip-lining between mango trees, climbing, and mountain biking are other outdoor attractions in Jalcomulco.
SAN ANDRES TUXTIA
Together with Catemaco and Santiago Tuxtla, San Andres is part of the region known as “Los Tuxtlas.” The region of Los Tuxtlas is known for biodiversity, and for excellent bird watching opportunities. San Andres is located in southern Veracruz, and has a warm tropical climate throughout most of the year.
The arch at the entrance to the city of Catemaco says “Escape to Paradise!” Catemaco is both a town and a lake in Los Tuxtlas, southern Veracruz. Most Americans have never heard of Catemaco, but Mexicans jokingly ask if you are going there for a ritual cleansing. Catemaco is the site of an annual witchcraft gathering on the first Friday in March.
The town plaza is just above the lake, and is dominated by the Basilica. The street and sidewalk along the lake features a Malecon, which is lined with restaurants, hotels, shops, and vendors offering tours of the lake. The region is known for ecotourism.
Of the trio of cities that encompass the Tuxtlas region, Santiago continues to preserve many of its traditions and customs. For example, on June 24, San Juan day is celebrated with religious processions and traditional dances. On July 25, Santiago Apóstol is celebrated with folkloric dances and music in festivities that last two full days. Starting December 24, Santiago delights visitors with traditional music and instruments.
VERACRUZ FUN FACTS
• The number of ethnic communities in the state has been calculated at 2,062.
• The state contains numerous remains of pre-Hispanic Olmec, Totonac, and Huastec cities. El Tajín, a ruined city that reached its apex between the 9th and 13th Centuries A.D., was designated a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1992.
• Two-thirds of scenes from the 1984 movie “Romancing the Stone”, were filmed in Jalcomulco, a Veracruz municipality.
• Jalcomulco is Mexico’s No. 1 rafting destination.
• The Magic Town of Coatepec is also known as the coffee capital of Mexico.
It’s no wonder, our cover man selected Veracruz for the filming of his latest video, “Mi Marciana”… in his words, “Veracruz is an AMAZING place,” said Alejandro Sanz.