Veracruz: The place that has it all.
Now that I live far away from my country of origin I am gaining a whole new perspective on how the rest of the world sees Mexico. This has been a really enlightening experience, mostly a positive one. I am not offended by the stereotypes attached to my country, quite the opposite! But there is more that tequila, tacos and mariachi to this beautiful country (not denying these are pretty awesome) And the one thing that pleases me the most is that people are mostly curious to hear more about it, what places are the best? What else do you eat with tortillas? Do you own a sombrero? (Ok, I’m just teasing… of course I do).
So now, I will tell a Little about the placeI spend most of my childhood in: Veracruz. It might not be as well known as cities like Cancun or Mexico City, but it’s definitely worth knowing about it.
If you ever find yourself in this corner of the world you might want to read this list of the top reasons why you are lucky.
Food, food and more FOOD! This alone is reason enough to be there, RIGHT… NOW.
Not only can you satisfy your craving for the amazing typical tacos in all it’s varieties in Veracruz, but the state’s local traditional dishes are something to experience, repeat, dream about and describe to all your friends while drooling just thinking about the heavenly experience your taste buds went through.
Let my describe a day from this “culinary glorious” point of view. Let’s say you find yourself downtown at the malecón overlooking the pier and hunger strikes. You let that growling beast in your stomach guide you right to “Los Portales” or “Gran Café de la Parroquia” two of the oldest, most popular restaurants. You enter an air conditioned (one of the best feelings in the world! It is quite hot outside…) area where a smiling waiter guides you to a table and pours in the most traditional style a lechero (coffee and hot milk) and freshly squeezed orange juice. You then proceed to devour a few of the traditional breakfast “antojitos”: picadas, empanadas, gorditas, mostly consisting of fried corn based dough filled with beans, cheese, meat, etc, topped with salsa, cream some more cheese and a bit more salsa.
For lunch or dinner you really want to hit a sea food restaurant. There are a variety of small, family owned restaurants with beautiful views of the beach, the river or the lagoons, where you can eat a shrimp cocktail followed by a fried mojarra (crappie) or a fish fillet (or squid or octopus if you want to change it up) “a la veracruzana”, ice cold beer and finish with traditional candy or a flan with a “torito” (sweet, creamy alcoholic beverage flavored with peanut, vanilla, strawberry or other yummy fruits) for dessert.
And in between meals don’t forget to try one the amazing sherbets and ice creams, home made style flavored with fresh local fruits or snacks like squites (corn kernels seasoned with mayonnaise, lemon and lots of chili)
Ah! Mouth. Watering…
People: Nowhere will you ever feel this welcome.
I have encountered that Mexicans have the reputation to be cheerful, friendly and very open. This might be an over generalization of course but in Veracruz it might just be true. People will welcome you, everywhere, hotels, restaurants, beaches, etc. They might not speak your language but they will talk to you open their house for you, feed you till you drop, then feed you some more and adopt you as part of the family, sent a postcard for Christmas and some tamales after you are gone.
You can make good friends here.
Culture and History,: Even if you slept through half your history lessons, you might want to see this.
The territory of Veracruz was home to three different pre hispanic cultures: totonacans, olmecs and huastecas. Throughout the state there are more than 10 archaeological areas with wonderful ruins and monuments where you can immerse yourself in what this mesoamerican groups life looked like. These places always have an amazing energy and environment that attracts tourists and locals alike. You can’t miss seeing the ruins at “Tajin”. If you happen to visit around March, be sure to time your stay to the spring Equinox. This date people come from all over the country to participate in ceremonies, workshops, rituals, dance at the concerts and admire the local artisan shows and expositions.
Veracruz was also one of the most important ports in the country, making it witness of more that a couple important events throughout history. This was place through which Spaniards entered the territory. You can even visit the remains of the house in which Spanish conqueror Hernan Cortes inhabited in the town “La Antigua” and the fortress that was used by Spaniard travelers for commercial trade and protection of newly founded city.
Shopping: because you’ll make grandma happy with these unique souvenirs!
There are several supermarkets and malls that are not only very complete and varied but include really cool landscapes overlooking the bays. So you can take great pictures there that can include both your misspelled name on your Starbucks coffee cup and a beautiful background of seagulls flying over the ocean. #awesome
Downtown at the “Zocalo” and “malecón” (after eating some of the delicious food… did I mention food?) You can take a walk and get some handmade crafts to take back home. A bag of local coffee from Coatepec, a little bottle vanilla essence from Papantla (the best!) and the obligated “Veracruz-I-was-here-die-of-envy” T-shirt. You know you want one…
There are many other landmarks you for sure won’t want to miss, but some of your new friends you make (whether the taxi driver, the cleaning lady from the restaurant bathroom or the kid you bumped into on the way out) will tell you all about it. For now I will beg you not to miss the aquarium. One of the biggest in Latin america and home to hundreds of species. You won’t regret it!