Choose from 8 Fun Things to Do in Veracruz
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Cempoala—a name that means “the place of twenty waters”—is a set of ancient ruins in the heart of Ursulo Galvan that was once inhabited by the Totonac, Zapotec and Chinantecas people. This historic district’s name came from the aqueducts and irrigation systems that once flowed to the nearby gardens and fertile farmland. Travelers can explore the numerous temples that comprise this archeological site, which include a few landmarks that are not to be missed.
Templo las Caritas, the temple of charity, is a two-story structure decorated by hundreds of stucco skulls that pays homage to the god of death. Ornate murals and detailed clay faces, as well as a hall of hieroglyphs, make it a unique place for travelers to touch the ancient past. Templo del Sol, also known as the great pyramid, is similar to the Sun Temple in Tenochtitlan. It’s built on the same ground as the Templo Mayor and affords beautiful views of Cempoala.
Cempoala is about 26 miles northwest of Veracruz City. Buses depart daily from the main station. The ruins are located between Hernan Cortes Nte. and Carmen Viveros Cruze, north of Miguel Hidalgo.
Address: Cempoala, Veracruz, Mexico
From $ 78
Brightly colored houses with Spanish tiled roofs line the streets of Tlacotalpan, a lively city and river port near the Gulf of Mexico. The architecture, culture, history and tradition of this popular place have made it a destination for visitors looking to experience real Mexico.
Whether it’s taking a scenic boat ride along the Papaloapan River, exploring the neoclassical architecture of the town, or spending an afternoon at Zaragoza Square before enjoying a traditional dinner by the water, Tlacotalpan is ripe with entertainment options. Visitors should be sure to stop by the iconic Church of the Candelaria and Hidalgo Park, as well as the local hub of old-world history, the Agustin Lara House of Culture.
Tlacotalpan is located about 62 miles south of Vera Cruz City. The annual Candlemas Festival begins on January 31 and takes place for eight days. A statue of the Virgin of Candlemas is carried through the streets and locals enjoy nightly fireworks as well as traditional food, song and dance.
Address: Tlacotalpan, Veracruz, Mexico
From $ 96
These ancient ruins of the Totonac people line the lower volcanic slopes near the Gulf of Mexico and have not been occupied since the 16th century. Cortez, the Spanish conquistador, arrived on these rocky shores and wandered through the open plazas and religious temples that still dot the hillside.
Crumbling tombs and game courts peak out over the Gulf of Mexico, offering travelers a chance to capture truly unique photographs—especially from atop the nearby peak. This steep mountain pass is a bit of a challenge, but affords incredible views of this historic site and the scenic Gulf. Despite its beauty and historic significance, few travelers actually make the trek to Quiahuiztlan, which means crowds are thin, making ruins easy to navigate.
It is possible to reach Quiahuiztlan from the city of Cardel. Taxis cost about US$15. Public buses are also available for about US$5 each way
Address: Actopan, Veracruz, Mexico
From $ 71
Catemaco Lake is a natural wonderland for travelers who love the outdoors. Whether it’s joining one of the thousands of fishermen casting lines into the 22-meter-deep waters, or hiring a boat to explore the surrounding sites, Catemaco is a still undeveloped Mecca perfect for spending a sunny afternoon.
This rustic freshwater lake in south central Veracruz was formed by a natural lava flow from the nearby San Marin Tuxtla volcano. Its chilly waters and the fertile foothills that surround it offer plenty of options for outdoor exploring. Travelers can hire a local boat and paddle into the depths of Catemaco Lake before washing ashore Monkey Island, where playful primates swing freely between towering emerald green trees. Or they can head to nearby Nanciyaga Ecological Reserve for a refreshing swim in the peaceful lagoon, followed by relaxing mud massages and a dip in the hot springs.
The lake is located in the heart of the Sierra de Los Tuxtlas, about 100 miles south of Vera Cruz City. Buses leave from the main station and cost about $10 per person for the 8-hour round-trip ride.
Address: Sierra de Los Tuxtlas, Veracruz, Mexico
From $ 90
It’s easy to see why Xalapa, the capital city of the state of Veracruz, is fondly referred to as the San Francisco of Mexico. This colorful urban center has the same laid back charm and electric night life, with an equally youthful vibe. College students buzz through Xalapa’s hilly city streets aboard quick moving scooters, while well-heeled business men and women make their way to work through the bustling business district.
Dozens of popular cafes that line the streets of Xalapa, where, students, travelers and the city’s cultural elite brush elbows over steaming cups of strong brew. The country’s second-largest archaeological collection is housed in the city’s Museo de Antropologia and travelers say the grounds of this unique landmark are worth a visit. The collection of exhibits, which outlines the traditions and artwork of the Totonac and Huastec people, provide a comprehensive history for first-time visitors. Nearby Parque Ecologico Macuiltepetl, a tranquil 40-hectare park, is home to plenty of running trials and offers impressive views of the Xalapa skyline from atop an extinct volcano.
Xalapa is located about 55 miles from Veracruz City. Local buses depart daily and rides cost less than US$5 each way. Since Xalapa attracts a relatively young crowd there are plenty of decent accommodations for travelers on a budget. Museo de Antropologia is open Tuesday through Sunday from 9 a.m. until 5 p.m. Admission if 50 Mexican pesos for adults and 25 for students.
Address: Xalapa, Veracruz, Mexico
From $ 81
Considered by many to be the first true Spanish town in all of Mexico, La Antigua is the home of Hernan Cortes, who led the expedition that ended the Aztec Empire. His house, which was built in 1523, draws travelers from across the globe who seek a window into Mexico’s incredible—and sometimes bloody—past. Today, Cortes’s home, built of coral and stone, is wrapped thick with vines and overgrown with tree roots.
In addition to Cortes’s family home, the oldest church in the Americas, as well as Edificio del Cabildo—which held the first city council—are both located in La Antigua. Travelers can walk through what remains of the Cavalry Lancers’ garrison, where ready troops were once stationed to defend the town, or explore the Spanish colonial architecture hidden in the landscape of this sleepy town.
La Antigua is about a half hour north of Veracruz City. A Xalapa-bound bus from Veracruz stops about 15 minutes away from La Antigua and costs less than US$2 each way.
Address: La Antigua, Veracruz, Mexico
From $ 70
This popular gathering spot near in the port state of Veracruz is a hot bed for culture, nightlife, entertainment, song and dance. Both travelers and locals gather inside the lively cafes that line the bustling sidewalks of this town center. Musicians playing Cuban-inspired music gather to perform while traditional dancers take to the streets for impromptu performances.
Stalls selling local food and souvenirs, as well as bars serving strong drinks and restaurants dishing Mexican cuisine make this car-free area perfect for curious pedestrians looking to explore. Colonial architecture lines the square, which fills with locals after dusk and on weekends. Travelers love the salsa clubs in close proximity but agree that there’s plenty of dancing in the streets of this Zocala, too.
Zocalo is located in Queretaro on Calle Luis Pasteur near the corner of Libertad, north of Jose Ma. Pino Suarez.
Address: Calle Luis Pasteur, Veracruz, Mexico
From $ 51
During early morning hours the Malecon stretching between Veracruz and Boca del Rio fills with local runners jogging along the scenic path that wraps around the ocean's edge. But by mid-afternoon, it's travelers that flood the area known for its pre-colonial architecture and fine views of imposing naval ships. Stalls selling handmade crafts and traditional food line the area, and happy couples stroll the promenade eating ice cream cones on hot summer days while listening to musicians perform mariachi music in the streets.
The Malecon's relaxing daytime vibe comes alive at night, when cool breezes bring locals back outdoors to enjoy refreshing drinks at the crowded tables of nearby cafes as traditional folk dancers and live musicians stage acts in the open air.
Weekends tend to get crowded at this popular scenic port. Travelers can dodge the masses by venturing to Malecon in the early mornings or on weekday evenings.
Address: Veracruz, Mexico
From $ 51