Veracruz City is the largest city in the state of Veracruz, Mexico. Being the oldest and largest port in Mexico, Veracruz is full of crumbling colonial-style buildings.
But don’t let the architectural facade fool you, this bustling coastal city is alive, especially after dark when the sounds of son jarocho music, a style with indigenous, Spanish, and afro-cuban influences, fill the plazas. Called Porto by the locals, Veracruz offers a one-of-a-kind cultural experience in Mexico.
If you’re planning a trip to Veracruz City in Mexico, here’s everything you need to know.
Veracruz City history
Located on the Gulf of Mexico, Veracruz City was founded in 1519 after conquistador Hernan Cortez landed on its shores. The city got its name, Vera Cruz meaning “True Cross” because Cortez and his men arrived on Good Friday. Because it was the initial point of contact for the Spanish invasion, Veracruz is rich with history from its colonial past that still carries over into its culture today.
When is the best time to visit Veracruz City?
Veracruz, Mexico has a tropical climate so the best time to visit is in the dry season, November to May when the weather is cooler. Try to avoid visiting Veracruz in the summer as it’s extremely humid and hot which makes exploring the city by foot uncomfortable, to say the least. Summer also brings torrential rains that sweep through the city but don’t last long.
Where to stay in Veracruz
The best way to experience Veracruz City’s culture and history is by staying in the old city or Centro Historico.
In the Centro you can wander down busy commercial streets full of shops and street vendors or quiet colonial alleyways tucked away and preserved from another era. In the evenings, the centro historico is full of lively nightlife when the streets really come alive with sounds of people and music.
Don’t forget to bring your appetite because Veracruz, Mexico has a great mix of delicious cheap street food and upscale restaurants. It’s also home to its own cuisine. Like its music, Veracruz food is influenced by the blend of indigenous, Spanish and afro-cuban cultures. The Gulf of Mexico provides a wide array of seafood that dominates its food scene. Veracruz state is also known for its production of coffee, vanilla, and fresh tropical fruits.
Where and what to eat
The best place to enjoy Veracruz food is at a restaurant in the Zocalo also known as Plaza de las Armas. It’s a beautiful square surrounded by colonial-style buildings with a lively atmosphere of music, dancing, and street vendors. It makes this a great spot to people-watch while you enjoy your dinner. Order the Huachinango a la Veracruzana (Red Snapper) Veracruz style, a famous dish made with tomatoes, capers, and olives.
You will find this dish on most restaurant menus along with another popular option Arroz a la Tumbada, a dish similar to seafood paella.
If you find yourself wandering the streets for something to eat, look out for Volovanes. Around almost every street corner you will encounter vendors with huge baskets selling Volovanes, a flaky puff pastry stuffed with your choice of filling.
Flavors range from seafood like crab and tuna to chorizo and cheese or something sweet like pineapple and cost about 20 pesos a piece. It’s the perfect cheap breakfast on the go or afternoon snack.
On a hot afternoon in this tropical city there is nothing quite like cooling down with a delicious nieve. Nieve is a kind of Mexican sorbet that literally means “snow” and comes in many flavors. If you are near the Zocalo, listen to people shouting “Guero, Guero” and follow their voices to find the best nieves in all of Mexico.
Another yummy frozen treat is raspado or shaved ice. You will find Raspado carts hanging around shady parks or along the boardwalk after dark. Watch them shave the ice off of a huge ice block right in front of you. It is the most refreshing thing on a hot sticky day.
Top things to do in Veracruz
Veracruz is such a large city with so many things to do and areas to explore. But here are a few of the top things to do.
Take a leisurely stroll along the Malecon or boardwalk and enjoy a nieve or raspado from a local vendor. See the collection of fish and sea creatures at the Acuario de Veracruz — the largest Aquarium in Latin America!
Are you a history buff? Check out the Museo de la Ciudad and Museo Naval to learn more about Veracruz’s long and interesting history.
One of the best things to do in Veracruz is to take a bus tour of the city after dark. Because it’s too hot to sit in these open-roof tour buses during the day, hop on a glowing tour bus and roam around the centro after dark.
Of course one of the best things to do in Veracruz aside from strolling the streets, eating its tasty regional food, and getting to know the history of the area is visiting its beautiful beaches.
Beaches in Veracruz
The beaches in Veracruz, Mexico might not be in competition with Caribbean beaches like Cancun, but they have plenty to offer for a day of fun in the sun. The best beaches in Veracruz are located away from the city center. Take a quick cab ride south to some of the more popular and beautiful beaches like Playa Marti, Playa Mocambo, or Playa Boca del Rio.
All the beaches in Veracruz are free and open to the public with many vendors coming by to sell food, drinks, and almost everything you might need to enjoy a day at the beach.
Playa Boca del Rio is especially lovely with its proximity to Boca del Rio, a smaller city where you can find many restaurants with some of the freshest and most delicious seafood in Veracruz. This town is quite literally located near the “mouth of the river” where you can take a cruise upstream and explore the jungle!
Why visit Veracruz?
Veracruz isn’t as popular as other Mexican coastal cities, which means fewer tourists and a more authentic experience of Mexico. It’s a great place to learn about Mexican history, eat incredibly fresh local cuisine and enjoy a unique culture. Veracruz City in Mexico, is a vibrant place that is totally worth exploring! So what are you waiting for?