If you take the direct route from Mexico City to Veracruz – the scenic Hwy-150 – you’ll bypass every major town en route; if you’re driving yourself, note that the tolls along this stretch of road are extremely high (over M$450). For those pressed for time, the fast highway is a blessing – Veracruz and the coast are very much the outstanding attractions – but the cities in the mountains merit a stop if you have room in your itinerary. Regardless of how fast you go or what form of transport you take, the journey over the Sierra Madre Oriental is one of the most beautiful in Mexico: as Ixtaccíhuatl gradually disappears behind you, the snow on the Pico de Orizaba comes into view, and the plains of corn and maguey in the west are supplanted on the eastern slopes by woods of pine and cypress, and by green fields dotted with contented cows out to pasture.

It’s worth noting, however, that this is the rainiest area of the country, and while the damp brings bounties in terms of great coffee and a luxuriance of flowers, downpours can become a problem. Particularly irritating – especially in October and November – is what the locals call chipichipi, a persistent fine drizzle caused by warm airstreams from the Gulf hitting cooler air as they reach the eastern face of the sierra. Drivers should also watch out for the fog that frequently cloaks the higher sections of this road.

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