Veracruz is a coastal state located on the Gulf Coast of Mexico with a unique history, culture and gastronomy. Visiting the many Pueblo Magicos and coastal areas of Veracruz is a great way to get a deeper understanding of the region.
Coffee plantations, archaeological sites like El Tajin, historical buildings such as the Casa de Hernan Cortes, cultural traditions like the Dance of the Voladores, and festivals like Carnival are some of the interesting things to do in Veracruz.
- Veracruz, Mexico
- 20 Things To Do In Veracruz
- 1- Explore The El Tajin Ruins
- 2- Watch The Los Voladores de Papantla
- 3- Visit Papantla
- 4- Explore La Antigua’s Historic Places
- 5- Look For Gold At Casa de Hernan Cortés
- 6- See Marinelife At Veracruz Aquarium
- 7- Romance The Stone At San Juan de Ulua
- 8- Stroll Along The Malecon
- 9- Have Fun At Aquatico Inbursa Waterpark
- 10- Visit The Naval Museum
- 11- Explore Quiahuiztlan And Cempoala Ruins
- 12- Laguna de Mandinga
- 13- Enjoy The Beach At Costa Esmeralda
- 14- Go Rafting In Jalcomulco
- 15- Join The Party During Carnival
- 16- Snorkel At Cancuncito Reserva Coral Reef
- 17- See The Monkeys At Catemaco Lake
- 18- Explore Tlacotalpan World Heritage Site
- 19- Visit Orizaba
- 20- Coatepec
- 20 Things To Do In Veracruz
20 Things To Do In Veracruz
1- Explore The El Tajin Ruins
The El Tajin archaeological site is a UNESCO World Heritage site and the most famous and most visited of the pre-Hispanic ruins in the state of Veracruz.
El Tajin, located near the town of Papantla, was once a large city and ceremonial centre that peaked in importance between 800 and 1200 A.D.
The iconic Pyramid of the Niches does not look like any other pyramid construction in Latin America.
With its 365 niches, archaeologists believe that this pyramid was an important device used to measure the passage of time.
The Voladores de Papantla conduct the Dance of the Voladores every 30 minutes at the entrance to this archaeological site.
It’s a unique cultural tradition that you should not miss.
2- Watch The Los Voladores de Papantla
The Los Voladores de Papantla are performers of a ritual fertility dance that originated in pre-Hispanic Mexico.
The dancers from Veracruz are usually members of the Totonac, but other indigenous peoples throughout Mexico and Latin America also participate in the dance.
Dancers are usually trained at the school for Voladores in Papantla, and the dance is recognised as an Intangible Cultural Heritage of Mexico on the UNESCO World Heritage list.
The performers wear white and red costumes with hats that resemble the colourful plumage of birds.
Five men climb a tall wooden pole that sometimes reaches up to 131 ft (40 m) in height and four of the men fling themselves from the top of the pole and spin around it upside down as they are slowly lowered to the ground.
The fifth man sits on top of the pole playing the flute and small drum.
This dance is performed at tourist destinations all over Mexico.
3- Visit Papantla
As Papantla is a Pueblo Magico in the heart of a vanilla-producing region, one of the things to do in Veracruz is to tour a vanilla factory.
The Totonacs discovered vanilla in pre-Hispanic Mexico and indigenous people make a liquor from it that is found nowhere else in the world.
A festival to celebrate vanilla, called Xanath in the Totonac language, occurs at the same time as the Festival of Corpus Christi in June.
A Vanilla Expo takes place in December.
4- Explore La Antigua’s Historic Places
La Antigua, founded in the 16th Century, has a rich history as the first Spanish town in Mexico.
Many important historical sites are located within this town, including the Casa de Hernan Cortés and La Ceiba, an ancient tree thought to be several hundred years old that existed during the time of Hernan Cortés.
You’ll also find the oldest church in the Americas, Ermita del Rosario or Hermitage of Rosario, and the oldest Spanish building in Mexico, the Edificio del Cabildo.
A pedestrian suspension bridge that crosses the river is a famous place in La Antigua, once used in an Arnold Schwartzenegger movie, and an excellent place to take pictures.
5- Look For Gold At Casa de Hernan Cortés
Historians believe that the Casa de Hernan Cortés once housed all of the gold that the Spanish plundered from Mexico before it was eventually shipped to Spain.
Visitors can access the remains of this house for free, although many people highly recommend hiring one of the local guides to explain the history and legends surrounding this 500-year-old building.
Based on the construction materials used to build this house, historians believe that the indigenous Totonac people were the ones who originally constructed it.
Thick tree roots and vegetation growth within the one-story structure help keep the building intact.
Large windows provide light inside the building, and the water wheel remains intact.
This house is a popular destination for photographers and anyone interested in Mexican history.
Casa de Hernan Cortés is at Jardín Plaza Hidalgo 1, Coyoacán, 04000 Ciudad de México.
6- See Marinelife At Veracruz Aquarium
The Veracruz Aquarium is Latin America’s largest aquarium.
This budget-friendly aquarium contains several permanent exhibits, including the Jungle of Los Tuxtlas, showcasing some of the jungle’s iconic bird species like the Royal Toucan and Blue Macaw.
Reptiles such as a boa constrictor and several freshwater turtle species are also displayed here.
The Freshwater Gallery has many species of freshwater fish, reptiles and mammals, while the Reef Fish Tank houses fish species found in the coastal waters of Veracruz.
A Saltwater Gallery contains fish and invertebrate species from all over the world, and there’s an area for holding holds large sharks before releasing them back into the ocean.
Manatees, dolphins, and jellyfish are also displayed at the Veracruz Aquarium.
Veracruz Aquarium is at Blvd. Manuel Ávila Camacho S/n, Ricardo Flores Magón, 91900 Veracruz, Ver., Mexico.
7- Romance The Stone At San Juan de Ulua
San Juan de Ulua was a fort built by the Spanish in the 16th Century that played a role in several wars throughout Mexico’s post-colonisation history.
The French bombarded the fort, later followed by the Americans. Then, during World War I, the Americans took control of the fortress for several months before handing power back to Mexico.
After being decommissioned as a fort, it briefly became a prison in the early 20th Century.
It remained closed until the late 20th Century, when renovations began, and the fort eventually opened to the public.
San Juan de Ulua may look familiar to movie fans because the 1984 movie “Romancing the Stone” filmed its climax at this location.
While it is not required, visitors to this fort would benefit from hiring a guide to explain the history and stories about San Juan de Ulua.
San Juan de Ulua Cam. Escénico a San Juan de Ulúa S/N, Manuel Contreras, 91891 Veracruz, Ver., Mexico.
8- Stroll Along The Malecon
The Malecon in Veracruz City is a beautiful place to stroll along the shore, where many shops line the pathway selling souvenirs, art and artisanal crafts.
Several waterfront restaurants line the Malecon, and you can find all kinds of foods, especially seafood dishes made in the Veracruzana style.
From the Malecon, enjoy a stunning view of the San Juan de Ulua fortress.
In the morning, the scenic sunrise is enjoyed by many who jog along the water or stroll with their coffee and pastry.
Because the path is wide, it easily accommodates strollers and wheelchairs.
9- Have Fun At Aquatico Inbursa Waterpark
A fun, family-friendly attraction in Veracruz is the Aquatico Inbursa Waterpark, a budget-friendly park that offers an excellent adventure for kids and adults of all ages.
Visitors can slide down the Boomerango, the Masterblaster, or the Superbowl and constrictor for a thrilling waterslide adventure. But to really get the adrenaline pumping, slide down the speedy Kamikaze, loop around in the Aqualoop or race down the Wizzard.
Younger children enjoy the Aquaplay area, Kids’ Zone and the Toboganes.
Spending time at this waterpark is perfect for families who can hang out in the large pool, Lazy River, or play a game of volleyball on the grass.
Aquatico Inbursa Waterpark is at Paseo del Parque 873, Fraccionamiento Nuevo, 91726 Veracruz, Ver., Mexico.
The Naval Museum of Mexico is a must-see museum for visitors to Veracruz city, especially visitors with children.
The admission price is relatively low for the fantastic collection of artifacts within its walls.
The museum building was once the Naval Academy of Mexico and currently houses many exhibition halls with over 1700 historical artifacts, including an exhibition of carefully crafted model replicas of ships.
In addition to the impressive collection of navigation equipment, uniforms, and life-sized dioramas, visitors can also learn about Mexico’s marine life in one of the exhibits.
You’ll need to book a tour guide in advance to explore the museum.
Naval Museum of Mexico is at C. Mariano Arista 418, Centro, 91700 Veracruz, Ver., Mexico.
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11- Explore Quiahuiztlan And Cempoala Ruins
These historical sites offer an intriguing glimpse into Mexico’s pre-Hispanic history as they contain remnants of both Olmec and Totonac societies.
Neither of these sites receives as many visitors as El Tajin, so they don’t feel crowded.
At Quiahuiztlan, visitors can climb the mountain to see the ruins and, from the top, enjoy an incredible view of the Gulf of Mexico.
Cempoala has a more contemporary history than Quiahuiztlan.
The Totonac people that lived here allied with Hernan Cortes when he came to visit and helped him to defeat the Aztecs.
Visitors to both sites pay a low admission price. Guides who speak Spanish and English can provide tours for a small donation and taking a tour is highly recommended to learn more about the legends surrounding these sites.
The archaeological ruins of Quiahuiztlan and Cempoala (also Zempoala) are located north of Veracruz City, near the coast.
12- Laguna de Mandinga
Laguna de Mandinga or Mandinga Lake is a gastronomical paradise that attracts foodies who flock there to sample the seafood cuisine for which this area is famous.
Thirty minutes from Veracruz City, you can enjoy excellent lunch of seafood dishes while enjoying water views.
This small fishing village has several boat operators that will take you out on the water to go birdwatching through the mangroves along the shoreline.
Kayaking through the mangroves is another option for those who want a little more action.
Stay for dinner to enjoy the sunset view over the lake at this unique ecosystem.
13- Enjoy The Beach At Costa Esmeralda
Costa Esmerelda, or Emerald Coast, is a 25-mile (40 km) beach strip on the Gulf of Mexico and a three-hour drive from Veracruz City.
Visitors to Costa Esmeralda find less crowded beaches than those of Cancun and Acapulco, turquoise and emerald-green waters and plenty of sandy beaches.
Hotels and resorts along this beach corridor range from luxury to budget-friendly.
You will find many activities to participate in, from the northernmost beach of the Emerald Coast in Tecolutla to the southernmost Maracaibo Beach in Nautla.
Hiking through virgin forests, camping on the beach, diving offshore, fishing and birdwatching are all popular activities to enjoy on Costa Esmeralda.
14- Go Rafting In Jalcomulco
Remember the movie Romancing the Stone? Jalcomulco was where most of it was filmed and is an exciting eco-tourism destination perfect for an adrenaline rush.
Only a 90-minute drive from Veracruz City, travellers to Jalcomulco usually join a white water rafting tour in the rainy season on the Rio de Los Pescados.
Tour companies offer guided tours through the rapids and a photographer to capture those exciting moments.
Besides white water rafting, you’ll find guided rappelling, climbing, mountain biking and hiking adventures.
During the dry season, you can calmly kayak down the Rio de Los Pescados without any rapids.
15- Join The Party During Carnival
Carnival is a Catholic festival that occurs before Lent in February or early March in most Roman Catholic countries.
While the most famous location for this celebration is in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, the Carnival celebration in Veracruz is one of Mexico’s largest and most elaborate.
Mexicans flock to Veracruz during Carnival to see the colourful costumes and immerse themselves in the vibrant atmosphere and raucous celebrations.
The town is filled with parades, parties, and music for six days each year.
While Rio may have the largest Carnival celebration, Veracruz has been named the “World’s Most Cheerful Carnival.”
Visitors to Veracruz City during Carnival can enjoy an uninhibited, joyful vacation amongst thousands of other revellers.
16- Snorkel At Cancuncito Reserva Coral Reef
Cancuncito is a shallow, submerged sandbar off the coast of Veracruz City created by Hurricane Gilbert in 1988.
The white sand and crystal-clear turquoise waters provide the perfect environment for snorkelers to see the colourful tropical fish on the nearby coral reef.
This sandbar and coral reef are in a marine protected area close to Isla de Los Sacrificios.
Several tour operators offer snorkelling excursions in this area but bring your snorkelling gear instead of renting and wearing long sleeves to protect from the sun instead of using sunscreen.
The snorkelling in this area is just as good, if not better than some of Mexico’s more famous beaches.
The best time to go snorkelling at Cancuncito is from March through August.
17- See The Monkeys At Catemaco Lake
The lake is the perfect place to relax on the shores of a laid-back community steps away from an incredible natural area.
Catemaco Lake is famous for its Monkey Island, populated by the non-native Stumptail Macaque monkeys.
You can rent a boat to visit this island or any others on this lake.
The surrounding mountains are an ideal place to explore the jungle to see endemic species of monkeys and other wildlife.
Catemaco is also known as the Witchcraft Capital of Mexico, and each year in March, a witchcraft festival takes place.
Catemaco Lake, a 3.5-hour drive from Veracruz City, is surrounded by jungle and is located in the Sierra de Los Tuxtlas mountain range.
18- Explore Tlacotalpan World Heritage Site
Less than two hours’ drive from Veracruz City lies the small town of Tlacotalpan.
This town was named a UNESCO World Heritage Site because of its unique and beautiful blend of the Caribbean and Spanish architectural styles and its preservation of historical sites.
Known as the Pearl of the Papaloapan River, Tlacotalpan is a popular place to visit in late January and early February during the Candelaria Festival.
Besides tourism, this village’s primary economy is fishing, and the variety of seafood in Tlacotalpan makes it a great place to sample regional cuisine.
Popular dishes include crab empanadas, huachinango in guajillo sauce, fish in garlic sauce, and seabass stuffed with seafood and fish broth.
19- Visit Orizaba
This town lies along the Orizaba River and shares the same name as Mexico’s tallest volcano, Pico de Orizaba.
Orizaba attracts outdoorsy types who go hiking the surrounding mountains in places like the Ecopark Cerro del Borrego, Los Sifones Park, the Rincon del Rio Blanco National Park and the 500 Escalones.
In town, a lovely riverwalk meanders along the Orizaba River.
For those who might find hiking up to the Cerro del Borrego too tedious, a cable car in the town will transport you up into the clouds.
Orizaba, a Pueblo Magico in Veracruz’s High Mountains, is in the state of Veracruz, less than a two-hour drive from Veracruz City.
Coatepec is known as the Coffee Capital of Mexico because of its perfect altitude and temperature for coffee production.
Tour the Museum of Coffee, where they explain the process of growing and harvesting coffee, but there is more to Coatepec than coffee.
You can also hike in La Grenada, an ecological reserve with a waterfall and a mysterious forest often filled with fog.
Coatepec offers gastronomic delights, including cecina coatepecana and desserts and liqueurs made from coffee.
Coatepec, a two-hour drive west from Veracruz City, is a Pueblo Magico in the foothills of the Cofre de Perote.