The first major town en route, midway between Puebla and Veracruz, Orizaba is an industrial city and a major brewing centre: giant Cervecería Cuauhtémoc Moctezuma produces some of the best beer in the republic, including globally famous brands Sol and Dos Equis – ask at the tourist office for details of tours. Despite the industry, the historic centre remains compact and attractive; because the old city was built up against a hill, development has spread in one direction only, so the centro historico is right on the edge of town, with more modern development sprawling to the east and south. There’s not a great deal to see, but it makes an enjoyable short break or overnight stop.
The Parque Castillo, at Colón and Madero, marks the centre of the old town. Here you’ll find the Catedral de San Miguel and the Palacio de Hierro, which houses not only the helpful tourist office (t272/728-9136), but also a tiny one-room Museo de Cerveza and, upstairs, a small Museo Arqueologico. Between them these won’t detain you for more than twenty minutes, but the building itself is well worth a look, an extraordinary nineteenth-century iron structure, prefabricated in Belgium. West of the plaza, Colón continues towards the looming Cerro del Borrego, atop which a vast Mexican flag flies and from where, if you brave the stiff climb, there are fabulous views of the city. Along the way, Colón crosses the Río Orizaba, where an attractive riverside walk winds beneath the city’s many bridges. Colón continues past the Palacio Municipal before ending at the Alameda, a shady park beneath the Cerro. There’s just one other significant sight in the city, the Museo de Arte, whose 36 works by Diego Rivera constitute one of Mexico’s finest collections of this iconic artist. Housed alongside other Mexican art from colonial to contemporary in a fine colonial building, they make this the most worthwhile visit in the city. Unfortunately it’s a long way out – over a dozen blocks east of the centre on Av Oriente 4 at Calle 25 Sur.