TLACOTALPAN is a beautiful, languid town on the north bank of the broad Río Papaloapan. An important port and railhead in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, it now has just six hundred permanent inhabitants, but its elegant colonial architecture has led to its being declared a Unesco World Heritage Site. At the weekend it can be packed with locals, who come here to eat at the riverside restaurants, fish, swim or take boat rides on the river, browse the artesanía shops and hang out in the bars and cafés on the plaza. Come on a weekday afternoon and you’ll find the place all but deserted.
Among Mexicans, Tlacotalpan is best known as the place where musician and composer Agustín Lara (1900–70), whose works have been interpreted by the likes of Pavarotti, Carreras and Domingo, spent his early childhood. Two museums and a cultural centre honour the man, but unless you’re a huge fan they’re not worth the admission – the true pleasure here is simply to wander the streets, admiring the architecture (many of the buildings are labelled with their history) and soaking up the steamy, tropical atmosphere. On the zócalo, the Plaza Zaragoza, are two magnificent churches and a florid, wrought-iron bandstand; Enriquez and Miguel Chazaro, parallel streets heading west from here, are lined with magnificent colonnaded houses. The most enjoyable of the town’s few sights is the Museo Salvador Ferrando, on Alegre on the Plaza Hidalgo. Named after one of the town’s most respected painters, it’s a fine old house containing an Old Curiosity Shop of paintings, antique furniture, historical artefacts and junk, around which you’re given a lightning conducted tour in Spanish.