31 Best Sights in Veracruz, Mexico

Acuario de Veracruz

Fodor's choice

Veracruz is home to one of Latin America's biggest and best aquariums. One tank alone has 2,000 species of marine life native to the Gulf of Mexico, including manta rays, barracudas, and sea turtles. Other tanks display tiger sharks and gentle manatees that enjoy interacting with the crowds. The entry also has a space where birds, including toucans, fly freely. Kids love the touch tanks. A guided immersion tank ($7 adults; $3.50 kids) provides daring visitors the chance to go nose to nose with the sharks.

El Tajín

Fodor's choice

The extensive ruins of El Tajín—from the Totonac word for "thunder"—express the highest degree of artistry of any ancient city in the coastal area. The city was hidden until 1785, when a Spanish engineer happened upon it. Early theories attributed the complex, believed to be a religious center, to a settlement of Mayan-related Huasteca, one of the most important cultures of Veracruz. Because of its immense size and unique architecture, scholars now believe it may have been built by a distinct El Tajín tribe with ties to the Maya. Although much of the site has been restored, many structures are still hidden under jungle.

El Tajín is thought to have reached its peak between AD 600 and 1200. During this time hundreds of structures of native sandstone were built here, including temples, double-storied palaces, ball courts, and houses. But El Tajín was already an important religious and administrative center during the first three centuries AD. Its influence is in part attributed to the fact that it had large reserves of cacao beans, used as currency in pre-Hispanic times.

Evidence suggests that the southern half of the uncovered ruins—the area around the lower plaza—was reserved for ceremonial purposes. Its centerpiece is the 60-foot-high Pirámide de los Nichoes (Pyramid of the Niches), one of Mexico's loveliest pre-Columbian buildings. The finely wrought seven-level structure has 365 coffers (one for each day of the solar year) built around its seven friezes. The reliefs on the pyramid depict the ruler, 13-Rabbit—all the rulers' names were associated with sacred animals—and allude also to the Tajín tribe's main god, the benign Quetzalcóatl. One panel on the pyramid tells the tale of heroic human sacrifice and of the soul's imminent descent to the underworld, where it is rewarded with the gift from the gods of sacred pulque, a milky alcoholic beverage made from cactus.

Just south of the pyramid is the I-shape Juego de Pelotas Sur (Southern Ball Court). This is one of more than 15 ball courts, more than at any other site in Mesoamerica, where the sacred pre-Columbian ball game was played. The game is somewhat similar to soccer—players used a hard rubber ball that could not be touched with the hands, and suited up in pads and body protectors—but far more deadly. Intricate carvings at certain ball courts indicate that games ended with human sacrifice. It's believed that the winner of the match won the opportunity to ask a question of the gods in exchange for his sacrifice. Depending on the importance of his question, his sacrifice could be anything from minor body mutilation to his very life. It is surmised that the players involved in these sacrificial games were high-ranking members of the priest or warrior classes.

To the north, El Tajín Chico (Little El Tajín) is thought to have been the secular part of the city, with mostly administrative buildings and the elite's living quarters. Floors and roofing were made with volcanic rock and limestone. The most important structure here is the Complejo de los Columnos (Complex of the Columns). The columns once held up the concrete ceilings, but early settlers in Papantla removed the stones to construct houses. If you're prepared to work your way through the thick jungle, you can see some more recent finds along the dirt paths that lead over the nearby ridges.

You can leave bags at the visitor center at the entrance, which includes a restaurant and a small museum that displays some pottery and sculpture and tells what little is known of the site. Excellent guided tours are available in English and Spanish and cost about $20 per group. A performance by some voladores normally takes place at midday and sometimes up to five times daily. Start early to avoid the midday sun, and take water, a hat, and sunblock. To get here, take a shuttle bus. Head down Calle 20 de Noviembre until you hit Calle Francisco Madero. Cross the street and wait in front of the gas station for an "El Tajín" shuttle bus. The $1 trip takes about 20 minutes.

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Museo de Antropología

Fodor's choice

Xalapa's Museo de Antropología is second only to the archaeological museum in Mexico City. Its collection of artifacts covers the three main pre-Hispanic cultures of Veracruz: Huasteca, Totonac, and most important, Olmec. It's filled with magnificent Olmec stone heads, carved stelae and offering bowls, terra-cotta jaguars and cross-eyed gods, and cremation urns in the form of bats and monkeys. Especially touching are the life-size sculptures of women who died in childbirth (the ancients elevated them to the status of goddesses). Written explanations appear only in Spanish, but bilingual guides are available. The museum is about 3 km (2 mi) north of Parque Juárez.

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Baluarte de Santiago

The small fortress is all that's left of the old city walls. Like the Fuerte de San Juan de Ulúa, the colonial-era bulwark was built as a defense against pirates. The 1635 structure is impressively solid from the outside, with cannons pointed toward long-gone marauders. Inside is a tiny museum that has an exquisite exhibit of pre-Hispanic jewelry—Spanish plunder, no doubt—discovered by a fisherman in the 1970s.

Veracruz, Veracruz, 91910, Mexico
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Rate Includes: $4.10, Tues.–Sun. 10–4:30

Boca del Río

About 4 km (2½ mi) south of Playa Mocambo is Boca del Río, a small fishing village at the mouth of the Río Jamapa that is quickly getting sucked into Veracruz's orbit. A taxi from the city center costs about $4.

Capilla de la Candelaria

The massive orange-trimmed church on the north side of Plaza Zaragoza is the Capilla de la Candelaria, constructed in 1779. It houses the town's patron saint, the Virgen de la Candelaria. The saint is honored each year with a festival that runs from January 31 to February 9; a parade with hundreds of horses is followed by the running of the bulls through the streets. The most famous image of the festival is a statue of the Virgin Mary drifting down the river, followed by a flotilla of little boats. The buildings in Plaza Zaragoza are helpfully marked with snippets of history printed in Spanish and English.

Casa de Cabildo

The neoclassical Casa de Cabildo, which houses all the governmental offices, is painted vivid shades of red and green. The huge arch in the center of the building leads to the old port, and all newcomers once passed through this portal.

Casa de Cortés

Although locals call it Casa de Cortés, the 16th-century customs house actually had nothing to do with the conquistador. Little is left of the structure, which once housed 22 rooms surrounded by a huge courtyard. Its crumbling masonry has been reclaimed by clinging vines and massive tree roots.

Av. Independencia at Calle Ruiz Cortés, La Antigua, Veracruz, 91687, Mexico

Cascada de Texolo

Xico is known for its natural wonders, notably the Cascada de Texolo, a majestic waterfall set in a deep gorge of tropical greenery. The lush area surrounding the falls is great for exploring; paths lead through forests of banana trees to smaller cascades and crystal-blue pools, perfect for a refreshing swim. There's also a steep staircase that will take you from the observation deck to the base of the falls.

The falls are about 3 km (2 mi) from the center of town. To reach them, start from the red-and-white church where Calle Zaragoza and Calle Matamoros meet and follow the cobblestone street downhill, bearing right when you reach the small roadside shrine to the Virgin Mary. Continue through the coffee plantations, following the signs for "La Cascada" until you reach the main observation deck. It's a long walk, so if it's a hot day you might want to take a taxi from the main square. Entry is free, though there's a small fee for parking.

Ceiba de la Noche Feliz

Heading toward the river on Calle Ruiz Cortés you'll see a tree with tentacle-like branches blocking the road. This is the Ceiba de la Noche Feliz. It's said the river once extended to this tree and that Cortés tied his boats here when he arrived.


Cempoala (sometimes spelled "Zempoala") was the capital of the Totonac people. The name means "place of 20 waters," after the sophisticated Totonac irrigation system. When Cortés arrived here under the cover of night, the plaster covering of the massive Templo Mayor (Main Temple) and other buildings led him to believe the city was constructed of silver. Cortés placed a cross atop this temple—the first gesture of this sort in New Spain—and had Mass said by a Spanish priest.

The city's fate was sealed in 1519 when Cortés formed an alliance with the Totonac leader. Chicomacatl—dubbed "Fat Chief" by his own people because of his enormous girth—was an avowed enemy of the more powerful Aztec, so he decided to fight them alongside the Spanish. The alliance greatly enlarged Cortés's army, and encouraged the Spaniard to march on Mexico City and defeat the Aztec. The strategic move backfired, however. The Totonac could protect themselves against the Spanish swords, but were powerless against the smallpox the invaders brought with them. The population was devastated.

Upon entering the ruins, you'll see Círculo de los Gladiadores, a small circle of waist-high walls to the right of center. This was the site of contests between captured prisoners of war and Totonac warriors: each prisoner was required to fight two armed warriors. One such prisoner, the son of a king from Tlaxcala, won the unfair match and became a national hero. His statue stands in a place of honor in Tlaxcala. Another small structure to the left of the circle marks the spot where an eternal flame was kept lighted during the Totonac sacred 52-year cycle.

At the Templo de la Luna (Temple of the Moon), to the far left of Templo Mayor, outstanding warriors were honored with the title "Eagle Knight" or "Tiger Knight" and awarded an obsidian nose ring to wear as a mark of their status. Just to the left of the Moon Temple is the larger Templo del Sol (Temple of the Sun), where the hearts and blood of sacrificial victims were placed. Back toward the dirt road and across from it is the Templo de la Diosa de la Muerte (Temple of the Goddess of Death), where a statue of the pre-Hispanic deity was found along with 1,700 small idols.

There's a small museum near the entrance that contains some of the minor finds the site has yielded. Well-trained guides offer their services, but tours are mainly in Spanish. Voladores from Papantla usually give a performance here on weekends. To get here from Veracruz, drive 42 km (26 mi) north on Carretera 180, past the turnoff for the town of Cardel. Cempoala is on a clearly marked road a few miles farther on your left. If you are coming by bus, take an ADO bus to Cardel. The terminal for Autotransportes Cempoala buses is at the corner of Calle José Azueta and Avenida Juan Martinez, two blocks from the ADO station. A ride directly to the site costs about 80¢ each way.

Veracruz, Veracruz, Mexico
No phone
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Rate Includes: $3.40, Daily 10–6

Ermita del Rosario

La Antigua also has the first church of New Spain, the diminutive Ermita del Rosario. The little white stucco structure has been restored (and enlarged) many times over the years. The oddly placed arch in the middle of the church was actually once the facade. You can see that two windows near the altar were originally doors.

Av. Independencia at Calle Elodia Rosales, La Antigua, Veracruz, 91687, Mexico

Fuerte de San Juan de Ulúa

During the viceregal era Veracruz was the only east coast port permitted to operate in New Spain and, therefore, was attacked by pirates. This unique coral-stone fort, the last land in Mexico to be held by the Spanish Royalists, is a monument to that era. The moats, ramparts, drawbridges, prison cells, and torture chambers create a miniature city. Fortification began in 1535 under the direction of Antonio de Mendoza, the first viceroy of New Spain. A few centuries later it was used as a prison, housing such prominent figures as Benito Juárez. After independence it was used in unsuccessful attempts to fight off invading French and Americans. You can explore the former dungeons, climb up on the ramparts, and wander across grassy patios. A tiny museum holds swords, pistols, and cannons, but signs are in Spanish only. Guides wander around in the site until about 3 pm—an English-speaking guide will charge around $25 per group. The fort is connected to the city center by a causeway; a taxi here should cost about $5.

Galeria de Arte Contemporáneo de Xalapa

The city's contemporary-art museum, Galeria de Arte Contemporáneo de Xalapa, housed in a restored colonial-era building, has temporary exhibits, primarily with paintings, by regional artists. There are also frequent evening theater, dance, and films events. Many of these are free and advertised on the Web site as well as in the gallery's monthly schedule that you can pick up at the gallery.

Xalapeños Illustres 135 and Arteaga, Xalapa, Veracruz, 91000, Mexico
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Rate Includes: Free, Tues.–Sun. 10–6.

Iglesia de San Miguel Arcangel

Several other churches are scattered around Tlacotalpan, but none are more delightful than the diminutive Iglesia de San Miguel Arcangel. Known to locals as San Miguelito (Little Saint Michael), the whitewashed structure, constructed in 1785, was once a parish church reached by crossing a little bridge. If you're in town September 27 to 29, you can take a peek at the Fiesta de San Miguelito. The church is about three blocks north of Plaza Zaragoza.

Tlacotalpan, Veracruz, Mexico


Mandinga is 8 km (5 mi) south of Boca del Río, and is less frequented by tourists.


Veracruz City's beaches are not particularly inviting, being on the brownish side of gold, with polluted water. Decent beaches with paler, finer sand begin to the south in Mocambo, about 7 km (4½ mi) from downtown, and get better even farther down. The beach in front of the Fiesta Americana hotel is particularly well maintained. (Although it may appear to be claimed by the hotel, it's public.)

Veracruz, Veracruz, Mexico

Museo Casa Lara

Museo Casa Lara is filled with photographs and other items that belonged to Augustín Lara, a musician and movie star. Look for stills from films such as Los Tres Bohemios and Los Tres Amores de Lola. The best reason to visit, though, is the chance to poke around a lovely colonial-era home.

Calle Gonzalo Aguirre Beltrán 6, Tlacotalpan, Veracruz, 91000, Mexico
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Rate Includes: $2, $1 more for use of video, Daily 10–2 and 3–7

Museo de la Ciudad

This museum in a lovely colonial-era building tells the city's history through artifacts, displays, and scale models. Also exhibited are copies of pre-Columbian statues and contemporary art. There are no explanatory materials in English, however.

Av. Zaragoza 397, Veracruz, Veracruz, 91910, Mexico
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Rate Includes: $3, Tues.–Sat. 10–6, Sun. 10–3

Museo Histórico de la Amistad México–Cuba

Across the river from downtown is the grandly named Museo Histórico de la Amistad México–Cuba. This one-room house, bare save for black-and-white photos and a few threadbare uniforms, is where Fidel Castro lived for a time while planning the overthrow of Fulgencio Batista. To get here from the dock, walk three blocks south to Calle Obregón, then head west for several blocks until you reach the end of the street.

Calle Obregón, Tuxpan, Veracruz, 92800, Mexico
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Rate Includes: Free, Weekdays 9–7

Museo Histórico Naval

In an impressive set of buildings that once housed navy officers, the Naval History Museum tells how the country's history was made on the high seas. Veracruz has been dubbed the city that was cuatro veces heróica, or "four times heroic," for its part in defending the country against two attacks by the French and two by the Americans. The museum tells of those wars, as well as the life of revolutionary war hero Venustiano Carranza. Explanatory materials are in Spanish only.

Veracruz, Veracruz, 91910, Mexico
sights Details
Rate Includes: Free, Tues.–Sun. 10–5

Museo Salvador Ferrando

Two tiny museums vie for your attention. On Plaza Hidalgo, diagonally across from Plaza Zaragoza, Museo Salvador Ferrando displays furniture and other objects from the 19th century.

Calle Manuel Alegre 6, Tlacotalpan, Veracruz, 91000, Mexico
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Rate Includes: $1, Tues.–Sun. 10:30–4:30

Parque Juárez

The gorgeous central square, called Parque Juárez, has the neoclassical Palacio de Gobierno on one side and the neocolonial Palacio Municipal on another. At first glance Parque Juárez seems like any park, but a café and art galleries reside below. Between the palaces is the Catedral de Xalapa, dating from 1772. If it looks a little crooked from the outside, wait until you step inside. A chapel juts out at an odd angle, making the whole place seem askew.

Parque Reforma

Avenida Juárez leads to Parque Reforma, where more than 100 tables are set beneath trees clipped into perfect cubes. As the sun goes down, noisy birds roost here and young couples buy ice cream from carts or slip off to secluded benches. The park has a memorial to Fausto Vega Santander, a member of the 201st Squadron of the Mexican Air Force and the first Mexican to be killed in combat during World War II.

Parroquia de Santa María Magdalena

The petite Parroquia de Santa María Magdalena, at the end of Avenida Hidalgo, was built on the highest spot in town, so you have to climb some steep stairs to get to the entrance. Behind the altar is a traditional depiction of the crucifixion with Mary Magdalene, showing a bit more shoulder than usual, lying prostrate beneath the cross. A more demure statue of her is dressed in a different outfit for every day of the festival in her honor. The small museum behind the church has a display of her ensembles.

Parroquia San Jerónimo

The wealth of Coatepec town is apparent in its gilt-covered churches. Across from the main square, the 18th-century Parroquia San Jerónimo has low arches trimmed with gold leaf.

Calle 5 de Mayo at Calle Jiménez de Capillo, Coatepec, Veracruz, 91500, Mexico

Paseo del Malecón

Everyone seems to come here at night, from cuddling young couples in search of a secluded bench to parents with children seeking the best place for ice cream. Drop by during the day and you'll find boats that will take you out into the harbor for about $5 per person.

Northern extension of Calle Molina, Veracruz, Veracruz, 91910, Mexico

Playa Tuxpan

The first and most accessible beach from Tuxpan is Playa Tuxpan. The surf here isn't huge, but there's enough action to warrant breaking out your surf- or Boogie board. There are inexpensive hotels and restaurants along the beach, and many have bathrooms and showers that you can use for a dollar or two. Of the open-air restaurants along Playa Tuxpan, the most established is El Arca, which has a branch at the main beach entrance called El Velero. Both have an extensive menu of freshly caught seafood, and fresh coconuts.

Plaza Zaragoza

The Casa de Cabildo faces Plaza Zaragoza, the town's main square. In the square's shady center you'll find a bandstand decorated with ornamental lyres.

Santuario de Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe

The Santuario de Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe hardly has a surface that isn't covered with some precious metal. Make sure to take a look at the dome, which is cleverly painted to look much taller than it actually is.