Xalapa in 100 words or less: Xalapa Mexico is one of our favorite off the beaten track destinations in Mexico. Cool temperatures, artsy and cultural, both modern and traditional, great colonial architecture, photogenic streets, relatively inexpensive with a cool intelectual vibe that comes from its status as a major university town.
For the avid, nouveau-Mexico traveler, the state de Veracruz resembles a near perfect destination. A pre-Hispanic territory of unique villas, broad rainforests and meandering rivers, the state of Veracruz serves up variegated delights that will both compel curiosity and whet your (literal) appetite. Veracruz features two of the most scenic and addictive cities to be found in Mexico – the port city of Veracruz and state capital Xalapa. Best known for its diverse ethnic culture, Veracruz lures with a world class reputation for cuisine and a melting pot of cultural heritage, inspired by Olmecs, Totonacs and later, Hispanic conquerors. Xalapa bottles the big-heart and loud culture of Veracruz city within an altogether different realm, maintaining the precarious balance between keeping up with modernity, and timeless rustic tradition.
Saturated in sunshine from Spring to Fall each year, the heartland city of Xalapa, Veracruz is surprisingly cool. Temperatures rarely exceed 80 Fahrenheit, yet even the subtropical humidity of the hottest days is gently eased by cool mountain breezes from the slumbering volcanoes of Sierra Madre Occidental. Geographically positioned at the heart of Veracruz State, the capital city is blessed with an unusual topography, usually credited to the far North. Occupying a long narrow plateau some 1,400 meters above sea-level, the entire municipality is ringed by Tertiary volcanic monuments, overwhelming green rainforest and near constant basalt lava flows ever altering its environment. Northern Xalapa is littered with volcanic cinder cones, spread across an area known as Naolinco Volcanic Field. Near constant volcanic activity provides spectacular cinder firework shows among the 2,000 meter peaks, while old man Cerro Acatlán (the largest of the cones) puffs plumes of acrid smoke high above the plains. Fertile rainforest punctuates the scarred landscape, many patches estimated to exceed 3,000 years old.
A mesmerizing cityscape of color and greenery, Xalapa is often nicknamed “city of flowers” for its decorative street efforts. Over 15 public parks dominated the hinter-city area, including Parque Los Berros, famed for being the location of the first baseball game in Mexico (1909) – played by the Fourth Illinois Infantry Regiment, after the Battle of Cerro Gordo. With its tree-lined avenues and regal layout, Parque Los Berros is one of the most picturesque in Xalapa, concealing a number of magical properties within its spread. Built upon an ancient marsh, an abundance of water cress grew beside the streams and vales the area has become a mecca for herbalists, owing to the story of a liver diseased farmer, said to have been healed by consumption of Laguna Cress. Others believe the winding streams carry magical mineral deposits down from the spirit-inhabited volcano region, bringing vital medicinal cures to the people of the town.
Central Xalapa is an unpredictable love affair that will have you at “hello.” A labyrinthine layout of gallery-lined portales and boutique flanked plazas, the mystique of tiny alleyways is impossible to resist. Towering like a beacon above the red roofed metropolis, Catedral Metropolitana de la Immaculada Concepción de Xalapa commands attention from every aspect of the Palacio de Goberno Plaza. Intriguingly, the 17th Century cathedral remains an unfinished dream of Spanish settlers, who set about reviving its lackluster exterior in the 18th Century with neo-gothic and baroque installments.
Although bewitching to the eye, the Cathedral conveys little of Xalapa's true creative heritage which oozes from modest seeming gallerias throughout the central zocalo. Some say Diego Rivera began the city's obsession with art culture. Although never an inhabitant of Xalapa, his fascination with its staid indigenous practices and enchanting natural surroundings brought him to the municipality on many occasions. Inaugurated in 1998, the Pinacoteca Diego Riviera Gallery evokes the magic of the city through the eyes of one of Mexico's most prolific painters. It has since become the largest in-house collection of works by the artist, of anywhere in Mexico.
Attractions & Things To Do in Xalapa
Museo de Antropología de Xalapa – noted for its extensive array of exhibits from the Olmec culture, the Anthropology Museum is also reputed to house the “largest collection of artifacts from the Gulf Coast.” Of key interest are the Olmec Heads – huge carved heads thought to date back to 1200 B.C. Also worthy of a look are the "caritas sonrientes" (little faces) depicting such deities as Mictlantecuhtli (God of the Dead, or Underworld.) Open: Monday – Saturday, 9 am – 5pm.
Pinacoteca Diego Riviera Gallery – Mexico's premier gallery devoted entirely to the work of its most famous creative son – Diego Rivera. A renowned communist campaigner and nationalist, Diego Rivera is praised for his depictions of pre and post-Revolution Mexico, conveying the highlights and the heartbreak through stunning ethnic murals and city landscapes. Open: Monday – Friday, 9 am – 5: 30 pm.