A weekend in Xalapa, Veracruz

Dancing to huapangos at Xalapa's La Casona del Beaterio

Crayton and I have a friend, Chris, who works as a biologist outside Coatepec, Veracruz. Last month we finally had a chance to visit him. Originally I’d wanted to combine a trip to Veracruz City, too, but a helpful email from Leah at In Veracruz cleared that up — traveling to Coatepec and nearby Xalapa was enough for one weekend.

We caught an early-morning bus from Mexico City’s TAPO terminal and arrived bleary-eyed in Xalapa at about 11 a.m. We decided to use Xalapa as our homebase because friends had told us great things about the city. One friend compared it to Seattle, with its drizzly weather and coffee shops. On Lonely Planet’s Thorn Tree forum, though, people weren’t as nice — some said it was ugly and urban, and not worth spending even a day there.

In the end, Xalapa was just okay. It’s a little too gritty to be Seattle, and the coffee shops weren’t as abundant as I thought they’d be. Also, I expected the people to be a little nicer. At the market one day, two vendors brushed me off when I asked what type of chiles they were selling. “No sabría decirle,” they said, which roughly translates to, “I wouldn’t know.”

I also had trouble hunting down good regional food. Taxi drivers pointed me to an al pastor stand and a grilled meat place. I thought there’d be something more specifically Xalapeño. Maybe I didn’t ask the right people.

I did take a really cool bike tour in Xalapa, though. And I enjoyed the Anthropology Museum. In the end, I’d recommend stopping in Xalapa for a day and a night, and then moving on to some of the smaller villages in the area — specifically Xico.

Here’s a list of a few things I liked in Xalapa. The Xico post is coming in a few days, with lots of gorgeous food.

What I loved about Xalapa:

1. A bike tour with Xalapa Roy.

A break in the rain, during a bike tour with Xalapa Roy

Roy, an American expat, has lived in Xalapa for more than 35 years. He’s a passionate bike-rider and offers tours of the city that start at 2 hours long. Ours was maybe three hours — he took us through some of the pretty parks downtown and through the gorgeous, almost jungle-like university.

It rains a lot in Xalapa, so we got drenched at least three times. But it was a blast. I loved not caring about the rain falling, and feeling the water drip off my helmet onto my face. I’d mentioned that I wanted to stop at a market, so Roy took me to two.

2. The Anthropology Museum. What everyone says is true. The place is phenomenal — the ancient cultures that existed along the Gulf are explained in painstaking detail, in both English and Spanish. It’s nearly impossible to see in one visit. (I skipped a few rooms toward the end to make time to see the codices.) It’s located about 20 minutes from the downtown center. If you’re hungry afterwards, there’s a decent seafood restaurant around the corner on Avda. Orizaba called Nueva Tamiahua.

3. Coffee and sweet bread at La Parroquia.

I know, it’s a chain, but I couldn’t find any other Veracruzan coffee and sweet bread in the two days we were there. Plus the coffee here is fantastic: concentrated and topped with streams of hot milk. And you can get a bomba, or concha, spread with refried beans. (Of course I had to get one.)

A concha, or "bomba" as it's called In Veracruz, with a side of refried beans

And I got some panuchos, too.

The pickled jalapeños in Xalapa, by the way, are fantastic.

Here are a few more pictures from my trip:

A plaza near one of Xalapa's markets. We stopped here on the bike tour.

A picadita, or a large sope, topped with beans, cheese and plantain.

Xalapa's erratic weather: sun, pouring rain, then sun again. I loved it.

A lakeside path in Xalapa, when it was sunny. We biked here.

Dried tejocote, seen at a Xalapa market. I've never seen it in DF.

A gorgeous izote flower, spotted at the Xalapa market downtown. You pluck off the flowers and stew them.

This guy was selling homemade jamoncillos outside Xalapa's central market downtown.

The jamoncillos -- I bought one coconut-flavored, and one pineapple.

Pre-hispanic candy, sold by the same man

Xalapa's typical moody sky.

One night Roy took us to a restaurant called La Casona del Beaterio. They had live music — huapangos, the traditional style of Veracruz — and dancers.

Photos from the Xico portion of our trip coming soon!

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