The city of Veracruz is one of Mexico’s most important ports in the Gulf of Mexico. The thriving port has a rich history; it is here where the first Spanish explorers arrived in the early 1500s, making Veracruz the oldest colonial city in Mexico. History buffs, architecture enthusiasts, and foodies have many reasons to explore this historical city.
Enjoy the Folklore
Visit Plaza de las Armas, grab an ice cream, and enjoy the live folklore music — the city’s main square is a popular destination for locals and tourists alike, all looking to experience a taste of the city’s traditions. Watch young and old couples dancing the slow-paced Danzón and enjoy a wide variety of local street-food specialties while shopping for arts and crafts until the sun goes down. This is Veracruz’s heart and soul — although there’s a lot to see and do in Veracruz, it’s the people who will leave the most lasting impression.
Spend a Day at the Beach
Veracruz might be a huge commercial port receiving dozens of massive freighters and merchant ships every day, but there are many small beaches along the Gulf of Mexico. Playa de Hornos, Playa Martí, Isla del Amor, Playa Villa del Mar, and Cancuncito are popular public beaches, all minutes away from Veracruz’s historical downtown in neighboring Boca del Río. And they’re all waiting for you with beautiful, tanned sand, water sports, and the freshest local seafood specialties.
Visit the Ancient Forts
Back in the day, Veracruz was no stranger to pirate attacks and more than one foreign invasion attempt. Proof of it are the awe-inspiring forts and fortresses, including the Castle of San Juan de Ulúa. Built between 1535 and 1769, this impressive complex of fortifications and prison once held Francis Drake’s crew and was the stage for many historical battles. If you’re into naval history, this is a must-visit. If you’re not into history, visit the castle for the humbling experience alone.
Enjoy a Cup of Coffee
The Veracruz region extends inland well into Mexico’s highlands — home to the country’s most prized coffee plantations. It comes without saying coffee shops in Veracruz serve the finest coffee in the country. Los Portales and La Parroquia are unquestionably the most popular coffee spots in the city of Veracruz, but even the smallest eateries serve a delicious cup of coffee. The coffee here is served in a tall glass, and the concentrated brew is topped with warm, foamy milk for a heart-warming coffee specialty you won’t find at any of the chain coffee shops any time soon.
Visit the Port
Walk along the boulevard bordering the city of Veracruz along the Gulf of Mexico to experience the magnificence of one of the most important commercial ports in America. Ships as large as buildings, coming from every corner of the earth, line up to deliver their cargo. The logistics are inspiring on their own. The best part? Dozens of restaurants and coffee shops with views of the maritime spectacle are everywhere.
Not Your Average Aquarium
Every major city has an aquarium, and Veracruz is not the exception. The Aquarium in Veracruz is nothing like you’ve seen before — this is the largest aquarium in Latin America. With underwater see-through tunnels and cages for swimming with sharks, the park has something for everyone, and it’s gratifying, especially if you visit with kids. From manatees and penguins to an entire jellyfish exhibition, the aquarium in Veracruz is one you’ll remember for a long time.
Eat Like Never Before
If you think you know Mexican food, think again. Veracruz has a unique cuisine focused on the bounty of the sea. The famous chilpachole, a crab stew, is legendary, and the Veracruz-style whole fish, served with tomatoes, capers, onions, and olives, is as hearty as seafood gets. Fried fish, shrimp or oysters, and all seafood in Veracruz is of the most extraordinary quality, and it’s always freshly caught. And if you want to try something truly remarkable, the crunchy chicatana ants are a specialty here. Yes, you’ll love them, so DO try the ants!
Veracruz shows a side of Mexico no one expects, in a good way. With over five hundred years of history, traditions go deeper in Veracruz than in any other city in Mexico or the entire American continent, for that matter. So come and visit Veracruz for an entirely different experience in Mexico.
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This article originally appeared on TravelOffPath.com