Veracruz has a rich history. It has been the main gate of the country for sea travelers and products since its foundation. In this region, the Spanish first entered Mexico in the 16th century and remained for three centuries, forever changing the region. About 20 km northwest from Puerto Veracruz, in a town known as La Antingua Veracruz, Hernán Cortés first landed in Mexico. Veracruz would be one of the main ports of the Spanish Treasure Fleets. From its harbor, Mexican silver and the Asian silks, porcelain and spices of the Acapulco-Manila galleon trade were loaded onto galleons for transport to Spain. San Juan de Ulua fortress, located on an island off the city's coast, was built in the 16th century to guard against pirate attacks. It was the scene of the final stand of Spanish colonialism in the New Spain, being occupied by Spanish soldiers for four years after Mexico's War of Independence. Veracruz has witnessed four foreign invasions, earning the city the title 'Cuatro Veces Heroica' "Four times Heroic". Two of these attacks led to full-scale invasions of Mexico which retraced the route of Cortés, by the U.S. in 1847 and France in 1862.
Despite its status as the oldest European settlement on the American mainland, much of the colonial city was destroyed by invasions. The city walls were demolished during the era of Porfirio Diaz. However, there is some significant historic architecture, including two historic fortresses, several museums, and historical buildings in the "Malecon."
Local language is, of course, Spanish. More than half (but not all) of the hospitality workers speak English. Local people are known as "jarochos." This denomination is not only for the people of the city but for the whole region of the State of Veracruz, known as "Llanuras de Sotavento." The jarochos are friendly people who love to be outdoors. The weather is mild, averaging between 25 and 32 degree Celsius, but between January and March high winds from the north known as "nortes" can reach up to 120 Km/h.
Veracruz has a small international airport. The only direct US flights are from Houston, Texas via Continental Airlines or Dallas-Fort Worth via American Airlines. There are many options from other Mexican cities, including Mexico City. The airport is about 10km west of downtown.
The ADO bus station is located a short distance from the city centre. The bus trip from Mexico City TAPO terminal (located next to the San Lazaro metro station) takes 5 1/2 hours. The bus trip from Puebla takes 3-4 hours.
Railway has not been in operation for passengers since about 1995.
Arriving at the ADO bus station, there are dozens of cabs in front 24 hours a day; they are lined up in rotation so always go to the cab to the right. Cab drivers are helpful but few speak English. Have your destination address written down and show it to the driver; it is easier for both of you. As anywhere, ask how much before you get in the cab. The station is located on Salvador Diaz Miron Street. The bus station is located only about 10 blocks (1 km) from one of the main tourist attractions of the city, "Villa del Mar." It is about a 40-minute walk from the Zocalo.
Taxis: Taxis are very inexpensive. A journey costs between 2.50 and 5.00 USD according to the your zone destination. Passengers are advised to agree to the cost before entering a taxi.
Taxis to other cities: There are always taxis in front of the bus station hawking transportation to Xalapa, Cordoba and other cities near Veracruz. Yes they are safe, BUT, they are expensive. Check at the bus station ticket counter for the next bus to your destination and save your self $50-100 dollars US. There are some really good and cheap local-style restaurants across the street from the station (toward town center) if you have to wait an hour or so. Depending on the time of day, there is also a large outdoor flower market that is worth a walk through.
Walking: The cheaper way to know the city is walking in the downtown and after that walk to the "Malecon" where several boats, historical buildings as well as tourist facilities and stores are located.
By bus: One very interesting possibility is to take the Bus "Boca del Rio", its path almost goes across the Boulevard of the City to the downtown of "Boca del Rio", a city joined with Veracruz that has better hotels, modern building and beaches. Almost all the other public buses are not recommended for tourists because they are old, in bad condition, often very crowded and the paths are not easily understandable for new people in the city.
Veracruz's brightly painted US school buses are used for city buses. Fares are M$90 pesos. Here it helps if you can speak at least a little Spanish and/or have your destination written down to show the driver if you are unsure.
Meals depend on where you eat, you can eat great sea food in Boca del Rio and Mandinga and Alvarado (but for this last one you have to travel about 45 minutes). Look for the Palapas (huts) and you can have a great meal for little money.
Jarocho cuisine is unique among Mexico's regional cuisines in its pronounced Spanish and Afro-Caribbean influences. The long coastlines make Veracruz a seafood paradise. Seafood dishes include octopus and red snapper (huachinango) prepared a la veracruzana (a tomato-olive based sauce), "arroz a la tumbada" (tumbled rice) and "caldo de mariscos". Baked plantains are a ubiquitous side. Other foods of Afro-Caribbean origin are "pollo encacahuatado" (chicken in peanut sauce) and "mondogo" (tripe soup). Veracruz is famous for its café con leche. Visit the cities famous coffee houses, El Gran Cafe de la Parroquia and El Gran Cafe del Portal.
In Veracruz, as in most Mexican cities, you won't notice much difference in taste between tacos from a fancy restaurant on the plaza and tacos from a street cart, it all more or less tastes fantastic. If you're on a budget, it's best to stay away from restaurants on the plaza, where you'll pay a premium for location. Street carts are definitely the cheapest option, but if you like to sit down and eat, a good compromise that's still dirt-cheap is any of lunch counters at the Mercado Hidalgo.
Night clubs are the most expensive places. They will ask you to buy a bottle (whiskey, rum, vodka, whatever) in order to give you a table to seat. If you don't mind standing you can drink single drinks around 13 USD for a Cosmopolitan, for example. Besides men have to pay at the entrance 5-10 USD, women enter for free.
Although Veracruz was once a safe haven from drug related crime prevalent in Northern Mexico, as of 2011 violence is steadily increasing. That being said, Veracruz is as safe as any large city (USA or otherwise) if you use common sense: don't walk around non-main streets late at night, especially if you've been drinking; don't flash or carry large amounts of cash; and if in doubt, always take cabs late at night, they are safe and cheap. Use good travel sense. If you don't go looking for the drug culture, you are safe from it as a tourist or local.
The picturesque lakeside town of Catemaco lies nearby. The bus takes around 4 hours and you'll find some nice beaches, water activities and more.