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Veracruz - aka Puerto de Veracruz - is a major port city and municipality on the Gulf of Mexico in the east coast Mexican state of Veracruz. A natural harbour, Veracruz has been fought over throughout its history, and boasts the title as the Four Times Heroic City after resisting invasions from France and the USA. It was founded by Hernán Cortés, who first landed there in 1519 at the start of his quest to conquer Mexico for Spain. It was New Spain's main port where silver and wares from the Manila Galleons transported overland from Acapulco were loaded onto the Spanish treasure fleets for shipment to Spain. The city is known for its rich traditions of music, including marimba bands. On a nearly nightly basis in downtown Veracruz, large groups of people sit outside in the plaza enjoying food, drinks and cigars, while they watch musicians and dancers perform in the square.
Cruise lines very seldom visit Veracruz port destination below reasons:
Veracruz is a bit too far out of the way to make easily on a 7-day cruise. The cruise line either skips a more popular port to get there (not a good marketing idea) or makes it an 8-day cruise (a VERY unpopular idea with the American Cruising public).
Veracruz is located in a very swampy and humid area. It has very frequent rains, very high humidity, and constant swarms of mosquitos carrying fun diseases like malaria.
The Port facilities are not very good.
There is not very much to do in Veracruz once you get there.
Where You're Dock
Industrial cruise port is located within easy walking distance of the downtown area of Veracruz.
Things to see and do
Listen to Music in the Zocalo
The people of Veracruz, called "jarochos," are lively and friendly, and the culture here is both laid-back and festive. The main square of the Port of Veracruz, called the Zocalo or Plaza de Armas, is the main social center of the city. Start your day here with a breakfast served at one of the many outdoor cafes and restaurants, or end the day to the sound of marimba music or dancing to danzón, a unique combination of Cuban rhythms and ballroom dancing.
The zócalo is the social hub, where locals hang out in the cafes chatting with friends while the marimbas, Jarocha bands, and mariachis make a lively scene, playing well into the night. Bordering the zócalo are the cathedral and the Palacio Municipal (City Hall). There always seems to be some kind of performance on the square: exhibitions of danzón, clown acts, band concerts, and comedy sketches.
One block east is the Plaza de la República, a long plaza where you'll find the post office, the old Customs house, and the civil registry, all built around the turn of the 19th century. On the north side is the old train station, Estación de Ferrocarriles, with its remarkable yellow-and-blue tile facade. From the east side of this plaza, you can board a bus to Veracruz's most famous tourist attraction, the fortress of San Juan de Ulúa. Around the corner from the south side of the plaza is the malecón (boardwalk), where you can take a boat ride or have coffee at the city's most popular gathering spot, El Café de la Parroquia.
Turibus  runs sightseeing buses around the downtown area and then south along the shore past the hotel zone, all the way to the township of Boca del Rio. Explanations are given in several languages, including English. You buy a ticket on board the bus (120 pesos), which entitles you to get off at any of the 20 stops and catch any later bus that same day. Schedules and hours of operation vary depending on the season. You can get details from the tourism office. (www.turibus.com.mx)
Excursions -- Popular day-trip destinations include La Antigua; the Totonac ruins at Zempoala; Xalapa, the state capital and home of an excellent anthropology museum; and the archaeological site at El Tajín. For prices and reservations, contact VIP Tours (tel. 229/922-3315 or -1918) or Centro de Reservaciones de Veracruz (tel. 229/935-6422).
Stroll the Malecon
Veracruz port's Malecon, or boardwalk, is a relaxing place to stroll. You can people-watch, see street performers or shop for souvenirs. There is a crafts market where you can purchase some of the traditional handicrafts, such as a hammock or a guayabera (tropical shirt). On your walk you can also get a glimpse at the workings of Mexico's largest port as you pass by cargo and military ships. A variety of double-decker sightseeing buses depart from here for city tours, including "El Piojito," and the Turibus.
Veracruz Aquarium - Courtesy Acuario de Veracruz
Courtesy Acuario de Veracruz
Visit the Veracruz Aquarium
Besides offering educational displays and shows, the largest aquarium in Latin America also serves as a marine research center. The aquarium houses a wide variety of sea life from the Gulf region, as well as from other parts of the world. Here you can see barracudas, nurse sharks, giant manta rays, sea turtles, and manatees. Visitors can also participate in swim with dolphins and shark feeding activities. The Acuario de Veracruz is open Monday to Thursday from 10 am to 7 pm, and Friday to Sunday from 10 am to 7:30 pm.
Have Coffee at La Parroquía
The city streets of Veracruz are lined with sidewalk cafes and bars. The oldest cafe is Cafe La Parroquia, which has been a Veracruz institution for over two hundred years. The specialty here is "lechero," coffee served with milk. Your waiter will bring you a glass on a saucer, filled one third of the way with strong black coffee. Bang on your glass with a spoon to signal another waiter who will bring a metal kettle to fill your glass to the rim with hot milk, elevating the pot as he pours in a thin stream, creating a nice layer of foam on your coffee. Delicious!
See el Baluarte de Santiago
The Santiago Bulwark was built in 1635 and now is the only visible remnant of the defensive wall that once surrounded the port city. Go inside to the museum where you can view “Las Joyas del Pescador” (the Jewels of the Fisherman), an exhibit of prehispanic jewelry and weapons. This remnant from Veracruz' past is located on Calle Canal between Avenida Gomez Farías and 16 de Septiembre. Open Tuesday through Sunday from 9 am to 5 pm, closed Mondays.
Sample Seafood Specialties
The food from Veracruz state is one of the most distinctive of Mexico's varied cuisines. Seafood and spices are the hallmark of this rich culinary tradition. Huachinango a la veracruzana, red snapper prepared in a spicy tomato sauce, is one of the specialties to try, along with arroz a la tumbada, a rice dish baked with seafood, and caldo de mariscos, a seafood stew which is said to be a great hangover remedy.
Visit San Juan de Ulua
The fortress of San Juan de Ulúa is one of Veracruz city's most important landmarks. The fortress is on Isla Gallega, a small island in the harbor, and formed part of the fortifications that protected the city against pirates. Construction began in the mid-1500s, and it was later expanded. For hundreds of years San Juan de Ulúa served as the primary military stronghold of the Spanish Empire in the Americas. It was also used to store products that were to be shipped to Spain. After Mexico gained its independence it was used as a military base and a prison. The ramparts, dungeon and barracks are now open to visitors.
Hit the Beach
Although Veracruz is not among Mexico's most popular beach destinations, the beaches of Veracruz certainly offer a great way to find relief from the heat in this tropical city. The Villa del Mar beach is within walking distance from the aquarium, and there is also a decent beach in Boca del Río (a new suburb of Veracruz). Slightly farther away, you can also check out the beaches at Punta Mocambo, or farther south, Punta Antón Lizardo. This is a great spot to begin exploring the Veracruz Reef System.
Tlacotalpan Veracruz - Creative Commons photo by Plumerio Pipichas
Creative Commons photo by Plumerio Pipichas
Take a Day Trip to Tlacotalpan
This UNESCO-listed city has elegant colonial-period architecture and a slow pace. It makes for a long, but do-able day trip from Veracruz (about two hours drive each way). While there, visit the Nuestra Señora de la Candelaria church, dedicated to the town's patron saint (celebrated on February 2nd, Día de la Candelaria), take a boat tour on the Papaloapan river, and visit the Casa Museo Agustin Lara, dedicated to one of Mexico's most beloved singer-songwriters.
Cempoala - Creative Commons photo by Alejandro Ocana
Go to Cempoala Archaeological Site
Cempoala (sometimes spelled Zempoala), is an archaeological site located 27 miles north of Veracruz port. This was the capital of the Totonac civilization at the time of the arrival of the Spaniards. It was the first city that Hernan Cortes and his men visited in Mesoamerica.l Grand Cafe de la Parroquia" - the most famous coffehouse in Veracruz.
Music, Dance & Carnaval
Hang out in the zócalo, and you'll be serenaded with danzonera, marimba, Jarocha, mariachi, and norteño music playing to a large crowd of Veracruzanos who've stopped to drink and chat with friends. On Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday, a band plays in front of the Palacio Municipal for couples dancing the danzón. It's a stately affair: They alternate between dancing perfectly erect in a slow rumbalike fashion and promenading arm in arm while the women wave their fans. The danzón came to Veracruz from Cuba in the 1890s; today you won't often see it elsewhere.
If you would like to see more styles of traditional dance, inquire at the tourism office in the zócalo about performances by the Ballet Tradiciones de México. Several times throughout the year, the company appears at the Teatro Clavijero (tel. 229/931-0574 or 229/932-6693 for reservations). Tickets cost 50 to 80 pesos. The shows are fun and colorful.
In the week before Ash Wednesday, Veracruz explodes with Carnaval, one of the best in Mexico. By local tradition, Carnaval begins with the ritual burning of "ill humor" and ends with the funeral of "Juan Carnaval." Visitors flood in from all over the country, packing the streets and hotels.
Carros alegóricos (floats) are made with true Mexican flair -- bright colors, papier-mâché figures, flowers, and live entertainment. Groups from neighboring villages dance in peacock- and pheasant-feathered headdresses. Draculas, drag queens, and women in sparkling dresses fill the streets. The parades follow Bulevar Avila Camacho; most of the other activities center in the zócalo and begin around noon, lasting well into the night.
On the Sunday before Ash Wednesday, the longest and most lavish of the Carnaval parades takes place on the malecón. Parades on Monday and Tuesday are scaled-down versions of the Sunday parade (ask at the tourist office about these routes); by Wednesday, it's all over.
Beaches -- Veracruz has beaches, but they mostly have brown sand, and the Gulf water is a dull green. The nearest true beach is at the Villa del Mar, a little way down el bulevar, followed by Costa de Oro and then Mocambo beach.
Boat Trips -- Boats tour the harbor (most narration is in Spanish only), around the tankers and ships docked in the port and San Juan de Ulúa fortress, and out to the Isle of Sacrifices. Departures are sporadic (depending on the weather and demand) from the malecón in front of the Hotel Emporio. The cost is 120 pesos for adults and 50 pesos for children ages 2 to 8.
Scuba Diving -- Divers can explore a series of reefs and shipwrecks south of town toward Boca del Río. Contact Dorado Divers (tel. 229/931-4305; www.doradobuceo.com) at Avila Camacho 865. Or try Mundo Submarino (tel. 229/980-6374; www.mundosubmarino.com.mx) at Avila Camacho 3549.
Eating Out
Meals depend on where you eat, you can eat great sea food in Boca del Rio and Mandinga and Alvarado (but for this last one you have to travel about 45 minutes). Look for the Palapas (huts) and you can have a great meal for little money. If you want to have seafood with the locals, go to the city fish market on Landero y Coss around the corner from the malecón. Facing the street are several small restaurants. Find the one called La Cría.
Jarocho cuisine is unique among Mexico's regional cuisines in its pronounced Spanish and Afro-Caribbean influences. The long coastlines make Veracruz a seafood paradise. Seafood dishes include octopus and red snapper (huachinango) prepared a la veracruzana (a tomato-olive based sauce), "arroz a la tumbada" (tumbled rice) and "caldo de mariscos". Baked plantains are a ubiquitous side. Other foods of Afro-Caribbean origin are "pollo encacahuatado" (chicken in peanut sauce) and "mondogo" (tripe soup). Veracruz is famous for its café con leche. Visit the cities famous coffee houses, El Gran Cafe de la Parroquia and El Gran Cafe del Portal.
Night clubs are the most expensive places. They will ask you to buy a bottle (whiskey, rum, vodka, whatever) in order to give you a table to seat. If you don't mind standing you can drink single drinks around 13 USD for a Cosmopolitan, for example. Besides men have to pay at the entrance 5-10 USD, women enter for free.

Bar Titos, on the corner of Aquiles Serdan and José Ma. Morelos. A great local bar, but be prepared for an awkward silence if you're a gringo walking in the door. Relax and be polite and the regulars will undoubtedly warm to you and try to get you to salsa dance with them. Beer and drinks are much less expensive than in more touristy bars. Also, unlike many Mexican dive bars, the clientele is coed and well-mixed. Plus, there's usually a late-night taco cart right outside for a snack when your night's over
The first thing that always comes to mind with Veracruz is the scene on the zócalo, which on a weekend can go on until the wee hours of the morning. The evening shows presented by the municipal government can be quite good. I've seen some great dance troupes perform jarocho.
Rincón de la Trova (no phone) is a small bar downtown with a real local feel, where on weekends you can hear live groups play son montuno, an old-style Latin tropical music. It's at Plazuela de la Campana, which is simply the widening of the pedestrian-only Callejón Lagunilla between Arteaga and Serdán. Live music is Thursday through Saturday. Friday and Saturday, there's a 35-peso cover.
There are several dance clubs to choose from. Most play Latin music and are in or near the hotel zone. One with good acts is La Casona de la Condesa (tel. 229/933-5451), at Bulevar Avila Camacho 2014.
A stroll through the streets of downtown Veracruz could end up being an interesting shopping adventure. Whether they are souvenirs or everyday objects, shops at the Mercado Hidalgo, Mercado Orizaba and Plaza Acuario have a great variety of products and most of them made in the vicinity.
Compras-Portales de VeracruzAmong the handcrafts that you can find there are waist loom-woven textiles, cross stitched embroidery, crochet work, blown glass; toys, tools and hats made out of palm leaf; coconut, seashell and conch crafts and wickerwork furniture. If you stay by the plaza at night after a spell of danzon (a couple's dance, popular in the Caribbean), you will find the place turns into a huge souvenir market where the best buy will probably be a fan.
If you wish, however, to expand your wardrobe, you'll find the best department stores available in Mexico in many of the modern malls, with internationally renowned brands, in the Port as well as in Boca del Rio area.
Plaza Acuario -- When you finish your visit to the city aquarium, you can continue your adventure in this mall where you will find a wax museum, a totally functional scaled-down city for kids called Portal de los Ninos and an ample selection of the best handcrafts of Veracruz.
Handcrafts Market - Plaza de las ArtesaníasIf you don't feel like going back home with just a t-shirt as your only souvenir, at the handcrafts market you will find an eclectic assortment from hand fans, Barbie dolls turned into mermaids decorated with shells, ashtrays and adorned feathers with ocean motifs, small wooden ships, necklaces and other crafts made of wooden and shells. Your best bet for original souvenirs.
Las Americas Shopping Mall -- Plaza Las Americas in Veracruz is connected to Puerta del Sol Hotel and features top quality department stores, avant-garde boutiques and a food court. Its modern installations are air conditioned and beautifully decorated to provide you with a comfortable shopping experience.
Mocambo Shopping Mall -- The oldest mall in Veracruz is located in the south of the city. It is fully air conditioned and sells all the popular brands, both local and national.

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