A gastronomic adventure in Xalapa, Mexico / Other Activities
VANILLA AND RUINS
If you have more than a few days in the area, take in Papantla, about 155 miles north of Xalapa (three hours by car). It’s the ancestral birthplace of vanilla; that is, it’s where the Olmecs and Totonacs “discovered” the process of fermenting vanilla orchid seeds, and it’s the indigenous birthplace of the vine, and the only area on Earth where the blossoms are naturally pollinated.
You can also watch the famous Los Voladores (flying dancers), a 1,500-year-old Totonac Indian rite in which dancers in brightly colored costumes scale a 150-foot pole, tie ropes around their waists, and plunge backward, spinning around the pole until they gently meet the ground.
If you go, be sure to check out the eerily beautiful Totonac ruins at nearby El Tajin.
If you’re traveling from Xalapa to Papantla (see above), it’s nice to spend the night (and a couple of blissful days) on the nearby Costa Esmeralda (Emerald Coast). More than 28 miles of white-sand beach with little fishing towns scattered along it, running north from Veracruz, with coconut palms, palapa bars (open-sided and thatched structures), and countless fish, shrimp, and oyster shacks. You’ll find mostly locals on vacation here, hammocks, cold beer, shallow waters and small waves that make it good for swimming (not surfing), and a laid-back vibe. The best beach is between the towns of Tecolutla and Nautla. About seven miles west of Nautla on Highway 129 is a small, formerly French colonial enclave called San Rafael that’s famous for its fresh French cheeses.
The Xalapa area offers Class 3 to 5 rapids for whitewater rafting and kayaking, as well as opportunities for canyoneering, rappelling, rock climbing, spelunking, orienteering, windsurfing, horseback riding, and mountain biking. It’s also a fisherman’s paradise (freshwater fly fishing and lake fishing, surf fishing, and offshore fishing). For more information, visit Eco-Tourism, Adventure, & Spanish Study in Mexico in the State of Veracruz or Tour by Mexico.
Photograph of ruins by Magnus von Koellerand; photograph of Los Voladores by Robert Valencia