Leaving Veracruz to the south, Hwy-180 traverses a long expanse of plain, a country of broad river deltas and salty lagoons where the river port of Tlacotalpan oozes elegant decay. Some 150km south of Veracruz, the volcanic hills of the Sierra Tuxtla are home to the townships of Santiago Tuxtla and San Andrés Tuxtla. This beautiful region of rolling green hills, known as “La Suiza Veracruzana” (the Switzerland of Veracruz, plainly named by someone who’d never been to Switzerland), makes a welcome change from the flat plains, and the cooler climate is an infinite relief. The idyllic Lago de Catemaco, around which the last expanse of Gulf coast rainforest is preserved, makes a rewarding place to break the journey south, with plenty of opportunities to explore the nearby mountains and coast. Beyond the Tuxtla mountains, low, flat, dull country leads all the way to Villahermosa.
Historically, the region’s great claim to fame is that it was the birthplace of Mexico’s first civilization, the Olmecs. Here lies the Volcán de San Martín, where the Olmecs believed the earth to have been created; they built a replica “creation mountain” at their city, La Venta, on the border with Tabasco. Their second major city, at Tres Zapotes near Santiago Tuxtla, is now little more than a mound in a maize field. For most modern Mexicans, however, this part of southern Veracruz, especially around Lago de Catemaco, is best known as the Tierra de los Brujos (land of the witches/wizards).