A gastronomic adventure in Xalapa, Mexico / Logistics
BEST TIME TO GO
Although the city of Veracruz gets plenty hot and humid in the summer, Xalapa ranges between 55 degrees and 75 degrees Fahrenheit all year long because of its altitude. Late March to early May is the “warm” season (think highs of 86 degrees), and May to July is the rainy season (it generally rains in the afternoon). If there were least good times to travel here, they might be Easter or Christmas—because many restaurants and stores shut down during these major Catholic holidays—or the more crowded month of July, when Mexicans typically take their own vacations.
Carnaval in Veracruz is one of the largest and craziest outside of Brazil, with more than 3 million (mainly Mexicans) attending the festivities staged along the malecón (sea wall). Six nightly parades begin with the Burning of Bad Humor and end with the Burial of Juan Carnaval. To make the party, book a room very early (a year in advance isn’t a stretch).
You might also plan around three great music festivals. Junio Musical in Xalapa takes place the entire month of June. The Seminario & Encuentro Internacional de Jazz (International Jazz Fest) typically happens in Xalapa in early August—check the website for exact dates. Past performers have included Gal Costa and Branford Marsalis. And in the city of Veracruz in mid-July, the Afrocaribbean Festival put on by the Instituto Veracruzano de Cultura (IVEC) features superb groups from Cuba, Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic, Jamaica, and more, as well as crowds, heat, and humidity.
You can fly into Veracruz International Airport from the United States via the following airlines:
- Aero California
- Click Mexicana (Mexicana’s discount brand)
Most flights touch down first in Mexico City. Flights from the continental United States aren’t terribly expensive—expect to pay under $500.
To get to Xalapa from the Veracruz airport, you can either rent a car and drive the 70 minutes yourself; or get a taxi to the Camionera Central bus station in Veracruz ($15 taxi fare, fixed rate) then catch an ADO-GL (Grand Luxury) or ADO bus to Xalapa, which takes about two hours. (The ADO-GL runs to Xalapa every few hours for about $12; the ADO runs much more frequently for about $7.) Both buses are comfortable and not overcrowded. You can get reclining/sleeper seats on the ADO-GL. Check your larger bags into the cargo hold with the porter at the side of the bus, and don’t lose the luggage receipt. Once in Xalapa, you’ll find that taxis are abundant and can take you anywhere in the city for less than $3. They do not use meters, and instead charge according to an estimate of the distance traveled; negotiate in advance if this worries you, but the cabbies are generally fair.
For day trips you can rent a car, but Xalapa’s narrow, twisting, cobblestone streets make cabs an easier way to get around. When driving elsewhere, watch for speed bumps, called topes, outside of the towns.
Don’t leave valuables visible inside your car, and always lock up. Gas can be purchased only with cash.
Cash is a safer bet: Many restaurants and bars don’t accept credit cards. ATM machines are plentiful in the larger towns and cities, less so in the very small towns. It might be wise to get a second copy of your ATM card and bring it as backup. Traveler’s checks can be a hassle, so bring them only for an emergency. If you plan to use a credit card while there, inform your credit card company that you’ll be traveling in Mexico so purchases are not flagged. Monetary exchange rate at the time of writing: 1 USD = 10 MXP (Mexican pesos).
PHONES AND INTERNET
Cell phone reception in the area is generally excellent, although in deep canyons or valleys you can experience some intermittent signal fade. Internet cafés are everywhere, even in small villages, and reasonable (roughly $1 per hour).
Buy a long-distance phone card for calls to the States (available at most convenience stores).
For international long-distance calls with an operator, dial 090; for phone information, in Spanish, 040; for emergency, 066; for the Red Cross, 071.
For more detailed information on phone service in Mexico, click here.
To reach Mexico from the United States, dial 011 52 before all phone numbers listed.
TAKING HOME FOOD AND DRINK
You cannot bring any meats, fresh fruits, or vegetables back into the United States. Two liters of liquor are allowed without additional fees, but they must be in their original labeled bottles, in checked luggage. Sealing of bottles at the producer is woefully inadequate, so we recommend that you carefully seal the caps with duct tape to avoid leakage, pad the bottles securely in bubble wrap, then wrap them inside plastic bags before placing them in your suitcase. Cheese can be imported, but as it will be unrefrigerated for hours, you might want to freeze it the night before, then pack it in bubble wrap for insulation.
Things you might consider buying to bring home: organic vanilla, vanilla beans, coffee beans, liqueurs and cream liqueurs, pulque (a locally made spirit similar to mezcal), tropical fruit jams and preserves, mole pastes, and recados (spice mixtures). All are available at most local markets; organic products are available only at the Ocelote Sunday market (see Xalapa, Markets).
One nonfood item to be on the lookout for is a baseball hat or jersey for the local professional béisbol team, the Xalapa Chileros. The graphics feature a flaming jalapeño chile.
Both available from Amazon.com.
Veracruz State and Xalapa City Map
By Ediciones Independencia, $8.95
Includes Veracruz city and state, Xalapa,
Córdoba, Orizaba, Panuco, Poza Rica,
and the El Tajin ruins
Xalapa City Plan
By Guia Roji, $8.95
Includes state of Veracruz