The capital of the state of Veracruz, Xalapa is a big city, but remarkably attractive despite its relative modernity and traffic-laden streets. It is set in countryside of sometimes breathtaking beauty, sprawling across a hillside below the volcanic peak of the Cofre de Perote (4282m) and with views to the snow-capped Pico de Orizaba, with a warm, damp climate that encourages rich, jungly vegetation. In addition to these natural advantages, Xalapa has been promoted by its civic leaders as a cultural centre, with an international jazz festival in August and a classical and traditional music festival in June, as well as many lesser events year-round. Home, too, of the University of Veracruz and the exceptional Museo de Antropología, it’s a lively place, enjoyable even if you simply hang out in one of the many wonderful cafés in the centre of town, sip the locally grown coffee and watch life pass by. For adrenaline junkies and lovers of nature there’s much more, though, as Xalapa is also close to numerous rivers: as they crash down from the high sierra to the coast these create numerous spectacular waterfalls and some of Mexico’s finest opportunities for whitewater-rafting and kayaking.
Xalapa’s appealing colonial downtown is centred on the Parque Juárez (the zócalo), its trees filled with extraordinarily raucous birds at dusk. There are stunning mountain views towards the Cofre de Perote from the south side of the plaza, where the land drops away steeply. Xalapa’s contemporary arts crowd meets up at the Agorá de la Ciudad (wwww.agora.xalapa.net), a cultural centre built under this edge of the plaza, where there are often interesting temporary exhibitions. Also beneath the plaza, at Herrera 5, the Pinacoteca Diego Rivera showcases a few works by Rivera and other Mexican artists, along with more temporary exhibition space. Next door at Herrera 7 the Museo Casa de Xalapa (MUXA; Tues–Sun 10am–7pm; free) is a lovely seventeenth-century colonial home in whose rooms a small, modern museum of local history (lots of interactivity, but mainly in Spanish) has been installed.
The Palacio de Gobierno, on the east side of the plaza, has interesting murals by Chilean artist José Chaves Morado. Beside it, on the adjoining Parque Lerdo, is the eighteenth-century Catedral. Inside there’s a richly decorated nave, a striking Calvary at the altar and a chapel dedicated to Rafael Guízar y Valencia (1878–1938), who was canonized as St Rafael Guízar in 2006 – the first bishop born in the Americas to receive the honour. He is most admired for resisting the state’s persecution of the church in the 1920s and 1930s, forming a “guerrilla ministry” and later becoming the bishop of Veracruz; behind the cathedral, at the corner of Juárez and Revolución, there’s an entire museum dedicated to him. Finally in the centre, there’s yet more temporary art exhibition space at the Galería de Arte Contemporáneo, Xalapeños Ilustres 135.Read More
Museo de Antropología and Museo Interactivo
Museo de Antropología and Museo Interactivo
Beyond question the city’s outstanding sight is the Museo de Antropología (wwww.uv.mx/max), a brilliant museum with arguably the best archeological collection in the country after that in Mexico City. The collection is excellent in both scope and quality, and makes for a wonderful introduction to the various pre-Hispanic cultures of the Gulf coast. The building itself is also lovely, flowing down the hillside in a series of marble steps. Start your visit at the top of the hill, where the first halls deal with the Olmecs. There are several of the celebrated colossal stone heads, a vast array of other statuary and some beautiful masks. Later cultures are represented mainly through their pottery – lifelike human and animal figurines especially – and there are also displays on the architecture of the major sites: El Tajín, Cempoala and so on. Finally, with the Huastec culture come more giant stone statues. Some larger, less valuable pieces are displayed in landscaped gardens outside. Labels are in Spanish only, though there are a few English information sheets. There’s a café on the first floor, and also a shop selling fantastic, though expensive, masks. The museum lies 3km from the zócalo on the outskirts of town – to get there take a bus marked “Museo” from Camacho, on the northwest corner of the Parque Juárez, or a taxi.
Another worthwhile museum on the edge of town, especially if you have kids, is the Museo Interactivo (wwww.mix.org.mx), southeast of the centre on Murillo Vidal. Along with a permanent exhibit of Mexican cars and planes and a massive IMAX cinema, the museum features a planetarium and rooms dedicated to different sciences, such as space exploration, with interactive displays and impressive models. Take a taxi or a bus marked “Murillo Vidal”.
Jalcomulco is the prime spot in Veracruz for whitewater-rafting and other adventure sports including kayaking, canyoning, rappelling and mountain-biking. The village is about 25km southeast of Coatepec, on the banks of the Río Antigua (also known as the Río de los Pescados). The journey descends from the highlands into a steamy and impressive valley where the river runs through a series of rapids of varying intensity. Local buses run at least hourly throughout the day between Coatepec and Jalcomulco, and there are half a dozen or so direct connections with Cardel and Xalapa.
Parklife in Xalapa
Parklife in Xalapa
Xalapa is renowned for its parks and their wonderful tropical flora. A couple of fine potential picnic spots are within walking distance of the centre. The Parque Los Tecajetes, ten minutes’ walk west of the zócalo along María Ávila Camacho, is a pristine public park with lush vegetation and plenty of shaded seating areas. South of the zócalo, Herrera leads steeply down towards the Paseo de los Lagos, where walkways lead around a series of small, artificial lakes edged by parkland; popular with runners in the morning and strolling families later on. In the north of the city, the entrance to the woody Parque Ecológico Macuiltépec is close to the Archeological Museum. At 1590m, the easily climbable Macuiltépec is the highest of the hills on which the town is built, and from its mirador you might catch a glimpse of the Gulf. There are panoramic views of the city even if you don’t make it to the peak, and it also has a small Museo de la Fauna with a reptile house and aviary. Finally, on the edge of the city on the old road to Coatepec, about 3.5km from the centre, the Jardín Botánico Francisco Clavijero boasts an impressive collection of plants native to the state.