Things to Do in Veracruz
In the shadows of the Macuiltépec volcano, Xalapa’s cool climate and highland scenery makes it one of Mexico’s most attractive state capitals. The Veracruz city boasts a large student population and a reputation as a cultural hub, while day-trippers are also drawn to its elegant colonial architecture, lush parks, and impressive anthropological museum.
Keeping guard over the Port of Veracruz since the 16th century, the imposing San Juan de Ulúa Fortress was once one of the most important strongholds of the Spanish Empire in the Americas. Now preserved as a national historic monument; the long-abandoned fortress stands testament to the city’s colonial past.
Impressively preserved and brightly colored colonial architecture characterizes downtown Tlacotalpan, a UNESCO-recognized former river port city. Highlights include the whitewashed San Cristóbal Church, the salmon-pink Church of the Candelaria, and the striking riverside sunsets.
The so-called "Coffee Capital of Mexico," Coatepec is one of Veracruz’s most alluring pueblos mágicos (magic towns) where coffee, culture, and cloud forests combine. Situated at the foothills of the Cofre de Perote, Coatepec—once a sacred Aztec site now strewn with cafés and an impressive orchid garden—offers a quieter alternative to nearby Xalapa.
One of the most enigmatic yet well-preserved archaeological ruins in the state of Veracruz, the UNESCO-recognized El Tajín is characterized by relief carvings, dozens of ball courts, and unique architectural features not found at other Mesoamerican sites. Highlights of this expansive complex include the 6-story Pyramid of the Niches, the Southern Ball Court, and the regular "Danza de los Voladores" performances.
Stretching along the shores of Veracruz harbor, Veracruz Pier (Malecon offers stellar views across the water to the San Juan de Ulúa Fortress, and a place for locals and travelers to congregate. The scenic seafront promenade serves as a tourist attraction, recreational area, and marketplace all rolled into one— it’s always buzzing with activity.
At a cool elevation of 4,000 feet (1,220 meters), the Veracruz uplands have the perfect climate for growing Mexican coffee. At the Coatepec Coffee Museum, you can learn about some of the secrets behind Veracruz’s coffee, from its rich history in this part of Mexico to its production. Plus, you can taste coffee samples and take some local beans home with you.
Created by a volcanic eruption millennia ago, Lake Catemaco (Laguna Catemaco) is best known for its non-native population of Stumptail Macaque monkeys. Take a boat to Monkey Island or get spiritual during the annual Witchcraft Festival, before using the lake as a jumping-off point for exploration of the Los Tuxtlas Biosphere Reserve.
While best known for vanilla production, proximity to the El Tajín ruins, and views of the striking Sierra Papanteca mountains, Papantla is also an attractive pueblo mágico (magic town) with a rich indigenous culture. Here, learn about the Totonac people at the Takilhsukut Theme Park and catch a live "Danza de los Voladores" performance.
Wonder at the more than 250 native and international species, spread across 10 exhibitions and ranging from ethereal jellyfish to salt-water sharks and even penguins, at the Veracruz Aquarium (Acuario de Veracruz). Considered one of the largest aquariums in Latin America, it's focused on marine conservation and education.
More Things to Do in Veracruz
Lively dance performances, roaming street vendors, and proximity to some of the city’s top attractions—such as salsa clubs, an 18th-century cathedral, and an imposing fortress—characterize the pedestrianized Veracruz Zócalo. Use the zócalo as a jumping-off point for further exploration of the city or relax in the café-filled arcades which line the square.
One of Mexico’s lesser-visited archaeological ruins, Quiahuiztlán offers a quieter alternative to similar Totonac sites such as El Tajín or Cempoala. Highlights include commanding views over the Gulf of Mexico, numerous tombs, and the remains of both pyramids and a ball court.
Taking its name—which translates as “the place of twenty waters”—from the aqueducts and irrigation systems that fed its fertile farmlands; Cempoala was once one of the region’s most important pre-Columbian cities. Inhabited by the Totonac, Zapotec, and Chinantecas people, the scattered ruins date back to 1200 AD.
Glimpse into Mexico’s complex past in historically rich La Antigua, thought to be one of the first Spanish towns in Mexico. Highlights include some of the country’s oldest surviving colonial buildings, such as the 16th-century home of Hernán Cortés and what’s thought to be the oldest church in the Americas, Ermita del Rosario.