Irrespective of the season, Mexico is the go-to destination for American travelers, but it’s particularly popular in winter when the tropical storms subside, humidity is not overpowering, and the weather stays warm.
After all, it has a primarily subtropical climate.
If that’s where you’re headed for your year-end break, yet you’re not entirely sure which cities to add to your itinerary, especially if you’re a frequent visitor in search of uncrowded off-path destinations, maybe it’s time you finally explore this underrated coastal spot.
From cultural landmarks to marvelous beaches, it ticks all the boxes, and it’s not as massively popular as the likes of Cancun or Puerto Vallarta:
The Gulf Gem
Mexico may continue to be the average American’s dream destination year after year, but most arrival figures are concentrated in four major destinations: Cancun, Mexico City, Los Cabos, and Puerto Vallarta. In the meantime, other parts of Mexico are largely ignored.
This includes Veracruz, on the shores of the Gulf of Mexico, often skipped by tourists altogether when planning a trip to Mexico, either due to the limited promotion it receives on an international stage or purely out of sheer ignorance.
Little do they know that Veracruz is, in fact, one of the most culturally significant cities in the country, Mexico’s oldest and most significant Atlantic port, and a beautiful colonial-era gem that is yet to be overrun by the gringo masses.
A Colonial-Era Treasure
The largest city in the state of Veracruz, Heroica Veracruz, as it is formally called, straddles the Gulf of Mexico and it’s home to over half a million inhabitants.
The largest urban conurbation in the state, the wider Veracruz Metro Area comprises not only the city itself but also the neighboring municipality of Boca del Río and other smaller, suburban coastal districts in between.
It sits 56 miles southeast of the state capital in Xalapa, and it is undoubtedly the cultural and economic center of Veracruz.
Settled and developed during the Spanish colonization of Mexico as early as 1519, it was home to a wealthy mercantile class, and one could argue it was even more prosperous than Mexico City, as it played a key role in the Transatlantic trade.
Still to this day, remnants of this golden era can still be seen all around the historic center of Veracruz, where a majority of the colonial monuments are concentrated.
It may not an extremely developed tourist destination compared to other coastal resort areas, especially in the Mexican Caribbean, but local authorities have gone to great lengths to promote tourism locally in recent years by revitalizing historical structures.
Walking Downtown Veracruz today, tourists will find a well-kept Plaza de las Armas, most famously known among locals as Zócalo, a tree-bounded square flanked by beautiful colonial buildings that wouldn’t look out of place in Iberian Europe.
Several cultural events are held weekly in the Zócalo, including danzón performances, which originated in Cuba and were brought over by migrants in the late 19th century.
What To See Around Veracruz
The most important attractions surrounding the square are the Municipal Palace, a Baroque effort built in 1608 to house the city council, distinctive for being the oldest city government building in all of Mexico, and the Neoclassic Cathedral of Veracruz, finished in 1731.
Further away, other attractions include the Aquarium, where visitors can see unique specimens natives to the Gulf; the City Museum, which chronicles Veracruz’ rich past; and the Fort San Juan de Ulúa, built by the settlers following pirate raids on the port.
It is located on an island connected to the mainland by a bridge. The island itself is part of the La Gallega coral reef, with 2,500 meters of beach.
A huge part of Veracruz’s appeal is that it sits on the Gulf, and naturally, the port area should not be missed on a visit.
With a several kilometers-long malecón unfolding along the Gulf, from the city center all the way to the suburbs, it is incredibly pleasant to stroll and a popular location for trying street food.
Every day, street vendors set up food stalls along the boardwalk, selling all of your Mexican favorites: tacos, tamales, burritos, you name it.
Still on the topic of food, the regional ‘Old World Meets New’ Veracruz cuisine is so inexplicably delicious it should be granted intangible heritage status by the Mexican Government, and it’s certainly been at the front of the state’s promotional campaign abroad.
Dishes often feature the native vanilla, corn, and seafood, with signature dishes being baked snapper fish, Veracruz style, crema de palmitos, eggs with beans, among others.
Close to the port, other points of interest include Pemex Tower, the historical lighthouse, and the Marina Mercant Street, filled with Spanish-era civic buildings, such as the Postal and Telegraph offices and the train terminal.
Passenger trains haven’t been operational in Mexico for decades, since railways were dismantled in the 20th century, but they are bound to make a comeback, with the long-awaited Maya Train setting off in its inaugural journey this December.
As reported by Mexican President AMLO, other parts of Mexico will see the reactivation of trains, as well, as this may include Veracruz, so that’s something else to look forward to in the future.
Veracruz is not all about the culture and the cuisine, either.
Meet The Emerald Coast
Traveling just north of the city, visitors will hit the Emerald Coast, an area of outstanding natural beauty that is yet to be spoiled by mass tourism or ultra-luxurious international hospitality brands.
Lined with small fishing villages and boasting lush green vegetation and stunning sandy beaches lapped by a bright-blue ocean, this unheard-of stretch of coast is ideal for relaxing and taking in the tropical atmosphere.
When it comes to affordability, Veracruz can be much cheaper than Cancun or Los Cabos, also.
While the latter has an average overnight rate of over $600, Veracruz has beachfront hotels with King Rooms as cheap as $66 and even luxurious five-star listings, such as the Grand Fiesta America, where a single night will set you back by a reasonable $216 this winter.
Veracruz is one of your best bets for experiencing a more authentic side of Mexico, where all of the country’s founding cultures, namely the indigenous, Spanish, and Afro-Caribbean merge in a single melting pot.
Fortunately for Americans, they are able to fly to Veracruz and experience all of its manmade wonders and incredible cuisine without long layovers, as Houston International offers nonstop flights there, sometimes for as cheap as $191 one-way.
↓ Join Our Community ↓
The Travel Off Path Community FB group has all the latest reopening news, conversations, and Q&A’s happening daily!
SUBSCRIBE TO OUR LATEST POSTS
Enter your email address to subscribe to Travel Off Path’s latest breaking travel news, straight to your inbox.
This article originally appeared on TravelOffPath.com