Mexico // Veracruz //

La Antigua

For all its antiquity, there’s not a great deal to see in LA ANTIGUA, site of the second Spanish settlement in Mexico (it’s often incorrectly described as the first – Villa Rica is further north). It is, however, a beautiful, cobble-streeted tropical village, just 20km north of Veracruz on the banks of the Río La Antigua (or Río Huitzilapan). At weekends it makes a popular excursion for Veracruzanos, who picnic by the river and swim or take boat rides.

In the semi-ruined centre of the village stand some of the oldest surviving Spanish buildings in the country: on the plaza are the Edificio del Cabildo, built in 1523, which housed the first ayuntamiento (local government) established in Mexico, and the Casa de Cortés, a fairly crude stone construction, which, despite the name, was probably never lived in by Cortés and is now a ruin, undergoing restoration. Nearby is the tranquil Ermita del Rosario, the first Christian church built in New Spain, which also dates from the early sixteenth century, though it’s been altered and restored since.

On the riverbank stands a grand old tree – the Ceiba de la Noche Feliz – to which it is claimed that Cortés moored his ships. A pedestrian suspension bridge crosses the river near the tree, and on this stretch of the bank are lanchas offering river trips and a little row of restaurants with waterside terraces, the pick of which is Las Maravillas.