Veracruz, Mexico – April 1999
The Mexican port city of Veracruz lies at 19’12”N and 96’08”W (latitude and longitude for those retentive types who really want to know where in the world they are). It is smack dab in the heart of the Gulf of Mexico, and tropical in climate and attitude.
Important note for American travellers….The (honorary) American Consulate post has been moved to Cancun. There is no American Consulate of any type here so you will have to call the embassy in Mexico City. Pick up a copy of “Adonde en Veracruz” a free, glossy magazine in Spanish and English at most chain type stores and hotels. Each issue has a handy guide to Consulates and Emergency services and a half-decent map of the cities of Veracruz/Boca Del Rio.
Don’t pay for maps or guides as these are free and readily available (though the English can be enough to leave your grammar teacher catatonic).
The state of Veracruz has set up a handy and rather efficient Tourist Office in the Plaza Acuario (the largest aquarium in Latin America containing all the things that bump your feet while you are swimming in the Gulf of Mexico). The office is new and is located between two banks (Banca Promex is the more friendly of the two and will usually have a better exchange rate and faster service though “fast” here is a somewhat subjective measure).
Whew! The February to April party season is now winding down here. Carnival and the Semana Santa festivities are now over.
Carnival here is interesting and matches Rio and Mardi Gras for debauchery, but not for size or show quality.
Semana Santa is the Mexican Easter holiday and Spring break all rolled into one. This is really not one week (una semana) but two (at least for the school kids). The beaches were packed from morning to night, but the vibe is more laid back than Ft. Lauderdale or such.
If you have been here before you will remember that Veracruz was called the “Mexican Riviera”. Things have changed beach-wise for the worse.
The beaches or “playas” from past the north end of the city southward to the Mocambo beach are in a terrible state. There is a real danger of Hepatitis infection! Mocambo and the beaches south are still ok (who knows for how long).
Inadequate sewage treatment plants and a very cavalier attitude to the environment have become cornerstones of the recent political administrations, but things are changing (just don’t expect it “overnight”, more like “overdecade”).
I once read in a noted travel guidebook that Veracruz beaches were murky and sharks lurked offshore. You’re likely to find things floating nearby, but they won’t be sharks and a good deal of the murkiness is caused by you know what. Stick to the southern beaches for swimming, surfing, windsurfing, suntanning etc….
Sport divers take note! Dive trips are easy to arrange and are well away from polluted areas. Dive-wise, Veracruz is still largely undiscovered and undeveloped. This is a chance to experience it before the crowds.
Tridente and Dorado Divers are safe bets with experienced staff and can be found just past the Plaza Acuario (follow the boulevard north for about a kilometer). Pieces of an old Spanish wreck were recently found.
Talk to Ricardo or Nicole at RecreoMarine (they are friendly and can give you some good advice regarding diving and boating). They are located about 200 meters from the Tridente dive shop. Reefs and wrecks are the norms here. I’ll provide more details in the future.
High season for tourism is winding down and the daily temperatures and humidity are starting to climb and so is seat availability on airlines and buslines.
The “norte” or north wind season is also winding down….now we can look forward to the Mango harvest (nature’s most perfect food) and hurricane season by the end of May (nature’s most perfect excuse for missing work).
This neck of the woods is known for fishing and shellfish harvesting among other things and upcoming events include the Santa Ana festivities in Boca Del Rio (details on dates and times to be available soon).
Each year they try to break their Guinness record for cooking the largest seafood fillet (stuffed with crabmeat, fish, octopus, shrimp etc…). This is really rather interesting as the locals have a saying about never eating shellfish during a month that does not have the letter “R” in the spelling. I guess rules are meant to be broken. Forewarned! Yes, Pepto-Bismol is pronounced the same in Spanish as in English and is cheap and readily available!
This record-breaking thing is really becoming quite popular in Mexico these days. We have set records for the largest seafood soup as well and there is a local Justice of the Peace who has the record for most marriages performed. He did my civil wedding ceremony (which didn’t set any records itself, but was a good time thank you very much).
Watch for this trend throughout your travels in Mexico and you too can feel like Clark Griswold!
Interested? Hope so, because here are some details that will help you begin to experience the “Veracruzano” or “Jarocho” lifestyle and attitude.
Modern Veracruz is really the greater Veracruz and Boca Del Rio urban corridor. The city is expanding more to the south to what was previously the small town of Boca Del Rio and today it is tough to separate the two (yet the Municipal Governments seem to be able to do it at will).
When I speak of Veracruz in general, I am including Boca Del Rio too. Living here is really an interesting footnote to anyone’s life. Visiting it will leave you with mixed feelings about Mexican history and some vibrant memories.
This is not Cancun or Acapulco. Veracruz is more of a Mexican tourist area for Mexicans, in other words, it’s pretty close to the real thing. It is not really “touristy” yet it is very friendly and perhaps just more demanding of the traveller who is trying to experience it. Veracruz is also the primary shipping port for Mexico with all the trappings of any busy, international harbour.
Yes , the state has the same name as the city (think New York, N.Y.) but the state capital is the much cooler (in climate not attitude to foreigners or attitude in general) city of Xalapa (which is sometimes spelled Jalapa depending on the origin of your guidebook).
Be advised that many locales are known by a modern Mexican name and a dialect name (I’ll advise you of these when they are being discussed).
Try to gather up a rudimentary knowledge of Spanish before dropping into the area. It will get you a lot further as this part of Mexico is not as “North Americanized” as the tourist spots on the west coast.
Life here is a real mixture….old and new, humble and “in your face”, laid back and “full on party time”. Take what you want and don’t pass judgement on the unknown or untried.
Veracruz operates on Central Time (a bit of an oxymoron as only the buses and planes really operate on time).
What am I talking about? Well, for starters, the siesta is still held in high regard here (and you may bow at its altar in a fetal position everyday after lunch).
Most small businesses and municipal offices will be closed between 2 and 5pm (or so) and sometimes a bank will run out of money and ask for depositors to come forward so you can make a withdrawal (don’t roll your eyes, it happens especially around the 15th and 30th of the month as this is the traditional pay day).
The prices will change in some stores when the owner hears your “Gringo Spanish” (this can actually lead to the honorable practice of haggling over the price and don’t knock it till you’ve tried it and don’t be afraid to give it a go).
The taxi driver will try to overcharge you when he sees your Birkenstocks. The local transit police will try to shake you down for the “mordida” the infamous bribe that fixes things.
DO NOT EVER CONFUSE THE LOCAL TRANSIT POLICE OR AUXILLIARY POLICE WITH THE MEXICAN HIGHWAY PATROL “FEDERALES” AS THIS IS A SERIOUS BREACH OF COOL AND CAN HAVE CONSEQUENCES YOU WILL TELL YOUR GRANDCHILDREN ABOUT.
This is the tropics and you take the good with the bad. “La Hora Mexicana” is widely practiced with a religious fervor. Guests, friends and such, will arrive late (but only late by your standards), service will be a might inconsistent (you’re travelling right, so what’s the hurry?).
Don’t worry as you will be assured by locals that things will happen “durante del transcurso del dia” which means “whenever I feel like it and please do not preoccupy yourself with such trivial details just enjoy yourself and let me look after it” (this is a rough yet sincerely accurate translation).
A word to the wise: Machismo or “macho attitude” reigns supreme in this patriarchal society and foreign ladies especially will receive all the attention they can handle. Forewarned!
By the way, I am an ex – patriot Canadian (northern Ontario, Toronto, Ottawa) who is married to a local lady named Alma (who is a mighty fine dentist and orthodontist thanks for asking).
I’ve been living and working here full-time for more than 5 years now. I first “experienced” Veracruz in 1978. (Time flies when you’re chasing lizards).
I am not an expert on Mexico or travel in general but I am an avid practitioner of common sense, and hope I can help you enjoy Veracruz from my humble and extremely subjective point of view (that should take care of the critics and if not I have a Black Belt in the art of “Siesta”).