Ed and Fran
Feb 28, 2004, 2:43 PM
A couple of days ago, Smokesilver asked for some general info on Veracruz. I’ve written down a few of my thoughts on the various parts of the state. Obviously this is only my point of view, so as always, your mileage may vary. Asking about Veracruz is kind of like asking about Texas. It’s a pretty big state (actually pretty long, not all that wide) so there are significant differences from one part to another. Let’s start at the northern end.
Crossing the Rio Panuco from Tampico (at the southern tip of Tamaulipas, see later notes on Tampico) you enter Veracruz state. There’s not much other than a few towns and a fairly marginal highway until you get to Tuxpan.
Tuxpan – Relatively small port city. The town itself is set back about 6 km from the mouth of the river. Although it’s fairly old, it’s definitely not colonial. Nothing particularly interesting about the town, although it does look good in the morning and evening stretched out along the river. Typical gulf coast beach which is busy only at holiday time when people from the interior flock to the nearest seashore. Limited shopping, Chedraui finally opened a branch here last year (anyone want to restart the thread on how supermarkets are either destroying the local mercados or helping the economy?). I haven’t seen many (any) expat types running around town (except for the occasional tour bus that seems to get lost and stop here) and don’t think this place will ever be a big draw for people north of the border. The major drawbacks are: 1. It’s way to hot in the summer, even with the occasional breeze off the gulf, 2. It’s way too humid all year round, 3. You’ll have a hard time getting by here if you don’t speak Spanish, 4. Marginal shopping, 5. Probably limited advanced health care facilities, 7. It’s not that easy to get here, and 7. Did I mention the heat? My local Immigration Officer says there actually are some other expats in the general area but he suggested that most live down towards Tecolutla.
I certainly don’t want to paint a totally negative picture of Tuxpan. We live here and I’m well accustomed to the town and feel very comfortable here (except for the heat). I just don’t think many others would make the choice we did. I figure Tuxpan is pretty far off the radar screen for any terrorist attacks, so it does have that going for it.
Anyway, moving down the highway you come to….
Poza Rica – This is a basically Pemex town. It didn’t even exist back as far as 1935 when the area was being exploited for oil. The city kind of grew up around the oil field activity and the Pemex petrochemical plant. Don’t have the stats but I would guess that it’s slightly larger than Tuxpan. Like Tuxpan, the town itself is not particularly interesting. It does have slightly better shopping, although still nothing to brag about. We run over there sometimes when we need something that we can’t find in Tuxpan, but aren’t ready to make the big trip up to Tampico for. I could be wrong, but my feeling is that Poza isn’t any more English speaking than Tuxpan. Poza tends to be even hotter than Tuxpan. It’s farther inland, and surrounded by low hills, so that it sits down in a low spot. So it doesn’t have the breeze and the closeness to the water that Tuxpan has going for it.
Leaving Poza Rica you come to ….
Papantla – Best known as the traditional home of the “Voladores”, the Totonac Indian groups that do the ceremonial dance involving four men spinning down from a tall pole while suspended upside down by ropes attached to their ankles. Of course you can see this performed in all parts of the republic today (there’s a permanent group that performs outside the Museum of Anthropology in Mexico City) but it originated here. Also know as the center of vanilla production (yum) and as being the nearest place to stay if you visit El Tajin. Still a small town with a lot of local flavor. Gets a lot of tourist traffic do to the closeness of El Tajin.
Imho, El Tajin ranks right up there with Teotihuacan, Monte Alban, Palenque, Uxmal and Chichen Itza as one of the best archaeological zones in the country. Certainly worth a visit.
Going out of Papantla we head down the hill towards the coast where we come to…
Gutierrez Zamora / Tecolutla / and La Costa Esmeralda – I’ve grouped these together although they’re all separate. GZ is the town on Highway 180, and Tecolutla is the one on the water. If you stretch the point a bit you can call Tecolutla the northern end of ‘La Costa Esmeralda’ or The Emerald Coast. This is a stretch of beach than runs south as far as Nautla. This area is known as a local beach resort area and is filled with small hotels (none of your big names), beach cabins, and restaurants. There’s lots of activity with people coming to the beach from the interior of the republic during the various holiday breaks. I’ve seen some of these places that obviously cater to expats as they have all their signs in English. Mostly small towns until you get to Nautla. This area suffered a lot in the floods back in 1999 (think it was that year) but all seems to have been reconstructed. There may be some expats resident in this area. I remember exchanging emails with a forum member several years ago who was considering setting up a B&B or vacation hotel in the area. It’s a nice stretch of beach for the gulf, and the breeze off the water helps a lot.
After you leave Nautla you start into a fairly low density population zone that stretches almost to Veracruz. In the middle of this stretch you come to the nuclear generating station at …..
Laguna Verde – Mexico’s only (that I know of) nuclear generating station. It’s been in business for a number of years and seems to run fine. The plant itself is located at a particularly attractive point on the coast. The area north and south of the plant is also pretty attractive, with the mountain foothills coming down to the water and some pretty stretches of beach. Driving through here we’ve commented on how nice the area was and how neat it might be to buy some land in the foothills with the beach view. I mean really, if you’re going to throw caution to the wind and move to Mexico, then why would you worry about being near a nuclear plant?
As you continue south down the coast, pretty soon you’re going to come to…
Veracruz – as in the port city of Veracruz – You know the one…”Veracruz, rinconcito de patria que sabe sufrir y cantar…”. This is where the conquest of Mexico started. Okay, it actually started a bit up the coast from here, but they moved the settlement here soon afterwards. Neat old city that dates back almost 500 years. Probably still the largest port (by tonnage) in the republic. As with any large city, it has great shopping, good medical facilities, and all the services you probably need. The strech of beach running south from the city (through the suburb of Boca del Rio) is very nice, and has some pretty swank resort hotels. The old fort of San Juan de Ulua is a must see. They have a great aquarium just south of downtown. Great coffee (from up the hill in the Coatepec area – see Xalapa). You have to have breakfast outdoors in the Café Parroquia on the malecon (the main wharf) or in Los Portales under the arches around the main plaza. Any of the restaurants around the plaza are also a good bet in the evening to sit outside, have a drink, and listen to one of the marimba groups.
It’s just a guess on my part but I suspect that due to the size of the city, and amount of traffic (both tourist and business) that it gets, that you could probably survive in Veracruz with minimal Spanish skills. Can’t say if there are many expats in residence there. I assume that most that I have seen there are tourists, but who knows. Regardless, you’re still going to be faced with the heat and humidity problems.
Even if you don’t choose Veracruz as you ultimate location, it’s well worth a trip to visit.
We’re going to run pretty quickly through the southernmost part of the state since I don’t know that area very well. While I’ve ridden or driven through it a number of times, we’ve never had the time to explore it. I’ll just mention a couple of points.
Continuing southeast along the coast you would hit…
Tlacotalpan – supposedly the birthplace of Augustin Lara. Nowadays it is known for its typical old coast-style architecture, especially around the main plaza.
The Tuxtla Mountains and Catemaco – low range of mountains that come down to the coast. Some interesting small towns in the area. Catemaco is known as the center of witchcraft and spells in the republic.
Beyond the Tuxtlas you come down to the low, hot, humid, swampy coastal plain that was the cradle of the Olmec civilization, known as the mother culture of Mexico. Nowadays it is better known for the refinery and petrochemical complexes of Minatitlan and Coatzacoalcos (previously called Puerto Mexico). This is also the northern side of the Ithmus of Tehuantepec, the place where Mexico is the narrowest.
Okay, let’s take a breather and hit a few places in the state with some better climatic conditions. I’m also going to mention these only briefly because I don’t have a lot of hard data about them, and I hope that Roy Dudley (our resident expert for these parts) will chime in and expand on these skeleton notes.
If you take the main highway from Veracruz to Mexico City you be making a steady climb up out of the Tierra Caliente and into the Sierra Madre Oriental. You wind up coming to a trio of interesting towns…
Cordoba / Orizaba and Fortin de las Flores – these three are nestled in the shadow of Pico de Orizaba, the highest mountain in Mexico. I can’t say much about the towns, having only passed through briefly, except that they are physically attractive places, with a good climate (not too hot, not too cold), and surrounded by green hills.
If you take the secondary highway from Veracruz to Mexico City you also head up into the highlands, just looping a bit farther north. Here you will come to the state capital……..
Xalapa (or Jalapa) – good sized city with lots of government offices, university, a great anthropology museum, and a wonderful climate. I’ve only visited a few times, but always liked it. Roy lives here, so he needs to provide more detail. There was a thread a few days ago with a little info on the area. Some really neat little towns around the area, including Coatepec, the center of the coffee growing region.
Well, that’s a really quick and inadequate description of the state of Veracruz. And we didn’t even try to touch all the smaller communities along the coast or back up in the sierra. But at least it’s probably more than has been posted recently. I’m sure there are points I wanted to make that I’ve forgotten in my haste to get this typed up.
Before I close I wanted to mention Tampico. While it’s not in Veracruz, it borders on the state and is worth a mention. I lived there for a couple of years and really enjoyed it. The greater Tampico metropolitan area, which includes Tampico, Cd Madero, and Altamira, has most of the amenities of a large city, including decent shopping, good medical facilities, an airport, and a nice beach. Tampico is a large port. These days, Altamira is being developed as a new port and is expected to surpass (if it hasn’t already) the tonnage handled in Tampico. Cd Madero has a refinery, but all the new industrial and petrochemical growth is out in the Boulevard Industrial sector in Altamira. The presence of lots of industry draws a number of expats as employees. While they don’t necessarily maintain themselves as a community, there are a number of them in the area. There is a good American School. There’s a really nice golf course in Altamira. It’s a bit warm and humid, but so is Houston. Tampico is about a 7 hours drive south of the border, so it’s easily reachable in a day.
Hope this is of some help to you.