Have you ever wanted to visit a place truly blessed by nature? Well, you need not look any further, for Patawalk can show you this place, endowed with a paradise-like rainforest as its backyard and the beautiful Gulf of Mexico as its front yard, lies just in the southeastern part of Mexico and it is named: Veracruz.
Veracruz was established by the well-known Spanish conquistador, Hernan Cortes in 1519. Cortes “baptized” the city as Villa Rica de Vera Cruz (Rich Villa of the True Cross) because of the area’s wealth of gold and silver and because he happened to land on Good Friday. Due to its location, Veracruz became a key component of Spain’s business in importing and exporting goods.
Unfortunately, due to the riches of the city (mainly gold) pirates were attracted to this port. As a result, the city built a fort in order to protect itself from the callousness of the pirates. During the 16th century African slaves were brought to Veracruz to work on the sugarcane plantations as well as to help in the shipping docks. In the 17th century a municipal palace, a monastery, and a hospital were built, and as a result the population began to increase. Veracruz has also been the playground of two other invasions, one by France and the other one by the United States. Despite these invasions, Veracruz remains one of Mexico’s most important ports.
It is interesting to note that Veracruz is a lesser known tourist destination, which personally makes it even more attractive. Why it is not a better known destination is almost a complete mystery, for it has more than its share of attractions as any other popular tourist destination. For instance, one particular place to visit here is the Plaza de las Armas (Plaza of Arms) or better known as El Zocalo. This is like the city square. It is surrounded by trees and it is always a busy place; people playing dominos, others selling goods like cigars and snacks, people dancing or playing live music is an everyday event in this place. So, if you want to mingle with the locals and get a true taste of Veracruz’s culture then you must visit this area.
What set Veracruz’s culture apart from the rest of the Mexican Republic are the strong Caribbean and African influences. What better way to witness this rich cultural mix than by trying some of the culinary specialties. One particular tasty dish is Huachinango a la Veracruzana (Red Snapper Veracruz Style). This dish consists of cooking a red snapper fish with a variety of local fruits and vegetables including chilli peppers, tomatoes, olive oil, garlic, and cappers. Caldo de Mariscos (Seafood Stew or Soup) which is a stew of various seafood including fish, shrimp, and octopus; oh, and rumor has it that it can cure a hangover! Pollo Encacahuatado is another traditional dish; this culinary delicacy has strong African influences and it is basically chicken cooked in a special peanut sauce. Another interesting dish to our tastes buds is Carne de Chango (Monkey Meat), but don’t fear it is not actual monkey meat; in reality this dish consists of smoked pork. One particular place to indulge in these heavenly delicacies is “Las Barricas” (The Barrels) which also features a live band to accompany your meal. “La Mera Madre” is another restaurant that offers not only the typical dishes but a very international menu. “Mariscos Ochoa” is a well-established restaurant that has been around for over 30 years and also features live music.
Veracruz’s drink of choice is coffee and as so, the city is filled with an array of coffee houses. The most famous coffee house is “Café de la Parroquia” where people from around the world and a multitude of celebrities have visited. This coffee house invented the “café lechero” which has become a staple of Veracruz. This drink consists of having a glass (notice that it is not served in a cup) of coffee and the waiter pours (from a distance) boiling milk. Oh, and if you want a refill all you have to do is tap your spoon against you glass and the waiter will come immediately.
Why not visit a piece of history and that which propelled the increase of population: go to the Municipal Palace. Although it was built in 1608 it still stands today as strong and powerful as when it was first built. This governmental building was built in a baroque architectural style and most astounding is a tall tower that stands at one corner of the building. The tower provides an excellent view of the port, as it was built to keep watch of the port. Speaking of history why not visit the cathedral, Virgen de la Asunsion (Our Lady of Assumptiion) which was built in 1731 and is conveniently located next to the Municipal Palace. The overall architectural design of this building is breathtaking.
Another incredible site to visit is the Fort San Juan de Ulua, which was the fort built to keep pirates out. This fort is actually located on an island, which is now connected to land, and is home to La Gallega coral reef, now a natural reserve. This fort became a military prison in the 19th century, which reminds me of the Alcatraz Prison. As a prison, it became the home of some notorious figures such as Benito Juarez (a former Mexican president), Fray Servando Teresa de Mier (a Mexican priest who promoted the independence of Mexico), and Jesus Arriaga, aka “Chucho el Roto” who can very well be compared to Robyn Hood, for he stole from the rich and gave to the poor.
Veracruz is not just historical buildings, and as a matter fact it is home to some very modern buildings of which the Pemex Tower is the most renown. Although it was built in 1950 it can still be considered a modern building. Interestingly, and unlike most buildings, it is in the shape of a rectangular prism. The tower is open to the public for them to enjoy the smaller version of maritime ports and a gallery of artifacts and photos of early Veracruz. What’s the best part? Well not only is it open year round, but it is free!
Even more modern is the Veracruz Aquarium, which was built in 1992. In fact, this aquarium is not only the largest in Latin America but also the most important. The aquarium features 13 exhibitions with species from the continents of Africa and Asia as well as South America. Perhaps the most popular attraction is that of the sharks; this is an exhibit that contains more than 20 species of sharks that swim around you as you walk through a very safe and reinforced tunnel.
Like most port cities, Veracruz boasts of a beautiful malecon or beach strip. This beach extends along the Gulf of Mexico, in other words it covers various miles of scenery. Whether you take a stroll during the day or night, you’ll see it full of life as it is filled with vendors selling souvenirs, people jogging, and others just enjoying the cool breeze. Being that it is a port city, Veracruz has some amazing beaches. Right next to the aquarium is Playa de Hornos, where it is completely safe to swim and local vendors offer banana rides; but if you wish to relax then sit under an umbrella and order a refreshing fruity drink. Villa del Mar is a very popular beach, perfect for sunbathing and water sports. Play Marti is even better for sandy sports for it is well-equipped with nets to engage in some friendly competition in a game of volleyball or soccer.
Veracruz is like a sleepless city, particularly at night where people can be seen living the life until the wee hours of the morning. People gather in coffee houses to chat with friends, other dress up and dance in the city’s various nightclubs. Cocoo’s and Beers is one particular place to visit at night; here you can enjoy a yard of beer while chatting with friends and listening to the diversity of music in the background ranging from norternas (music from the north of Mexico), to rock and pop. If you’re looking to do some dancing then you’ll definitely have a blast in “La Bartola” which features a circular bar area in the dance floor, not to mention that it is very stylish. “Los 7 Pecados” (The 7 Sins) is a particularly interesting video bar and when you’re here don’t forget to hang out on the terrace and take in the beautiful nightly view of the seawall area.
If you’re looking to do a little shopping then you should most definitely visit downtown where Mercado Hidalgo, Mercado Orizaba, and Plaza Acuario are located and where you’ll find everything from souvenirs to household items. This last one, Plaza Acuario, also features a wax museum. “Las Americas Shopping Mall” is a very modern shopping mall featuring everything from well-known department stores to a food court.
Ever heard of the song, “La Bamba”? Well, this song made famous by Ritchie Valens is actually a folk song of Veracruz. The original “La Bamba” is the epitome of Veracruz’s typical music, which has musical influences (like the food) from Africa and the Caribbean.
Now, that you’re ready to visit the beautiful port of Veracruz I should tell you that if you’re really looking for adventure then you must visit during the carnival, which takes place in late March and early April or around Easter. The Veracruz Carnaval is one of the city’s most important cultural events; it is a nine-day-long party which has been celebrated since 1866. The carnival begins with the “Quema del Mal Humor” or “Burning of Bad Humor (Mood)” as well as the coronation of the Carnival Queen and the King of Happiness. There is a total of 6 parades consisting of various floats, musical presentations and dancers. The carnival comes to an end with the “Burial of Juan Carnaval,” which consists of a dramatic parody.
But why not get a preview of this truly endowed port, go to Patawalk and get a virtual tour!