The capital of the state of Veracruz, XALAPA is a big city, remarkably attractive despite its relative modernity and traffic-laden streets. Set in countryside of sometimes breathtaking beauty, sprawling across a hillside below the volcanic peak of the Cofre de Perote (4282m), it enjoys views to the snowcapped Pico de Orizaba and 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 a classical and traditional music festival in June, an international jazz gathering in August and a major literary festival in September, 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 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.