Tour Guide
Veracruz, Mexico

Good

Relatively untouched by tourists
Inexpensive travel (hotels $10 a night and up)
Beautiful scenery and architecture
Friendly locals
Bad

Hot in summer (40°C plus and humid)
Hard to travel without speaking a little Spanish
Rough roads, bad water
Beggars, petty theft


Poza Rica is a city of about 180,000, located in the state of Veracruz. The city is set near the ocean and serves as an interchange between highways leading to Mexico City and roads going to Tampico or Veracruz. Driving in Mexico isn't for the faint of heart, but it's easy and cheap to get around by bus. Poza Rica is easy to navigate and has tons of hotels. The city is safe for walking around at night, but petty theft can be a nuisance.
The main industry is oil, served by the Mexican company Pemex. Poza Rica isn't terribly attractive in itself, but it's not a bad place to live. It's easy to get around, the people are friendly, and there's lots to do nearby the city. The main road and walkway is Ruiz Cortinez, which spikes off onto Puebla (which goes to the bus terminal) and ends at the Pemex buildings on the left and a second bus area right of the intersection.
The only real problem you'll have with gulf coast Mexicans is communication; few of them know any English. It's essential that you learn a little Spanish. It's a Catholic nation and has many interesting traditions, such as the Day of the Dead (Nov. 1) when Mexicans remember lost loved ones with gifts. There are apparently more cantinas in Poza Rica per capita than anywhere else in Mexico, and they can be a little rough at night, filled with hard-drinking amigos, but they can be a lot of fun as well.
First class buses can be nicer than Greyhound buses, but it's kind of a detached way of seeing Mexico. Second class buses have local music and stop for people selling candy and food, and are cheaper. Local third-class buses usually have their destination written in soap on the front. These buses have a rough ride, break down, and stop every ten feet to let someone on or off. But they can be the most interesting way to travel if you're not in a rush. There are few trains left in Mexico other than the overpriced Copper Canyon.

Things to See in or Near Poza Rica
Keep in mind that my information is from 2002
and details and prices may be different now.

1. Boca del Rio

Where is it: about half an hour north of Veracruz.

How to get there: Take a city bus marked Boca del Rio and get off at the beach.

What to see: It's an expensive place to stay overnight, and the water can be dirty, but the scenery is nice and there's some good restaurants.

2. Carnaval Veracruz

Where is it: in Veracruz city, in mid to late February.

How to get there: If you're in Veracruz, it's pretty hard not to be in Carnaval, but most of the action is downtown near the waterfront.

What to see: "No, I'd rather not watch scantily-clad Cuban women dance and party all night with revellers from everywhere—I'd rather read a book." It doesn't get much better if you want nightlife.

3. Castillo de Teayo

Where is it: about an hour northwest of Poza Rica.

How to get there: Take a bus from the bus area north of the Pemex buildings. You may need to transfer, so ask around.

What to see: It's a millenium-old indigenous sacred pyramid, with a small sacred area at the top of the stairs. It's not to die for, but if you have an afternoon to see it, it's an interesting enough example of ancient Mexican architecture.

4. Castle of Edward James

Where is it: about three to four hours northwest of Poza Rica, past the towns of Tamusanchale and near Xilitla.

How to get there: Finding a bus will be difficult, but you might find something out of Tampico. A car is really necessary to get there.

What to see: Edward James was an eccentric British aristocrat who spent his life and money after Word War II building a Roman-style villa in the middle of the jungle. It's a beautiful place with tranquil scenery, even without the weirdness of the whole idea.

5. Catemaco

Where is it: about three hours south of Veracruz, and about eight hours south of Poza Rica, near the bottom of Veracruz state.

How to get there: Take a bus from Veracruz direct.

What to see: Catemaco is famous for witchcraft in the middle ages, an island full of monkeys, and a nearby rainforest preserve (Nanciyaga). It's a wonderfully peaceful weekend getaway, and after the noise of many Mexican cities it's nice to hear the birds at night.

6. Cazones

Where is it: about forty-five minutes east of Poza Rica.

How to get there: You have to walk about halfway down Ruiz Cortinez to find the buses heading east to Cazones, but it's usually a direct and inexpensive trip on some pretty dodgy buses. On one trip I was sitting next to a chicken.

What to see: The beach itself has some nice seafood restaurants, although the shore is dirty. The locals run boats back and forth to a large sand spit nearby, with some pleasant, shallow water that's fine for swimming.

7. Coyutla

Where is it: about an hour and a half southwest of Poza Rica, at the foot of the mountains.

How to get there: At the park north of the Pemex buildings, there are direct buses to Coyutla.

What to see: The town is very simple but has a rustic, rural quality. If you make your way down the hillside, past the garbage and down the river's edge, you will eventually be rewarded with a beautiful series of swimming holes and small waterfalls. For the adventurous walker who's willing to get wet.

8. El Tajin

Where is it: about forty-five minutes south of Poza Rica.

How to get there: At the park north of the Pemex buildings, there are direct buses.

What to see: Built around the year 800, El Tajin is a large complex of buildings used for sacred games or sacrificial purposes by the ancient Mexican indians. It's a little expensive to enter, but the immensity and eerie quiet of the site make it worthwhile. You can also see voladore flyers, and one can easily fill a camera chip here.

9. Eyipantla

Where is it: half an hour east of Catemaco.

How to get there: Take a collectivo from Catemaco—these are taxis which run on a fixed route, and are cheaper. There may be buses.

What to see: Well, it's a waterfall. But it's a huge one, and you can swim downriver, and there's lots to see.

10. Filobobos

Where is it: about two to three hours south of Poza Rica.

How to get there: There are buses which will get you within proximity of the site, but it's a little hard to get to Filobobos without a car.

What to see: Not much unless you take a rubber-raft ride into the cavern, which exits at the foot of a beautiful, dimly lit waterfall. Filobobos is a nice place to swim or walk around, and if you have more money there's an extended whitewater-rafting tour you can go on which lasts several hours.

11. Jalapa

Where is it: three to four hours south of Poza Rica.

How to get there: Take a touring bus from the first or second class station for Jalapa (pronounced hu-lah-puh and sometimes spelled Xalapa).

What to see: Lots. It's a picturesque Spanish university city in the mountains with cooler temperatures and some beautiful little cafes, cathedrals, and hotels. There isn't a great deal of nightlife, but I found it unusually inexpensive for a large city.

12. Jalapa Anthropological Museum

Where is it: in Jalapa.

How to get there: by city bus.

What to see: The building itself is a treat, but the wealth of indigenous art and stonework inside is a must-see. There's also a garden out back with more art and exotic flowers.

13. Juarez Park, Poza Rica

Where is it: near downtown Poza Rica, along Ruiz Cortinez.

How to get there: on foot, by bus, or in a collectivo.

What to see: It's not the end of the world if you miss it, but it's not a bad place to spend a few hours, sitting on the fine marble benches and eating some fruit or people-watching in the shade. Sometimes there are some shows or some craft fairs to look through.

14. Nanciyaga

Where is it: near Catemaco, about twenty minutes by boat.

How to get there: At the shore of Catemaco there are lots of boats which charge either by the seat or by the boat.

What to see: After passing an island full of spoiled monkeys who live on tourist bananas, and another one full of birds, Nanciyaga seems extremely peaceful. It's a preserve of original rainforest, with some strange flora and a pool of natural and drinkable mineral water. You can have a mud pack, stay overnight in a bamboo hut, or see some of the sets where Sean Connery filmed The Medicine Man.

15. Naolinco

Where is it: about forty minutes north of Jalapa.

How to get there: Take a direct bus from the downtown area.

What to see: The road there is a little rough, but it's a pretty town to walk around, and you can climb the nearby hill to see a view of the entire mountain range as well as a waterfall.

16. Papantla

Where is it: thirty minutes south of Poza Rica.

How to get there: Take a collectivo or bus from the stand in front of the Pemex buildings, near downtown.

What to see: It's a much older city than Poza Rica, and has more authentic history to see. Along with a beautiful cathedral with some indigenous-style art, there's a square park (the zocalo) and lots of the vanilla liquor that the city is famous for.

17. Petroleum Day

Where is it: in downtown Poza Rica, on March 18.

How to get there: How do you avoid it? It passes through the main streets of the city.

What to see: It begins in the morning with military and marching bands, and ends in the evening with floats and more dancing girls. The day commemorates Mexico's nationalization of their oil companies, although it's much more like a mini-carnaval in practise.

18. Puebla

Where is it: four hours west of Poza Rica, an hour from Mexico City.

How to get there: Take a first or second class bus from the tourist bus station.

What to see: Puebla is a little out of our gulf-coast area, but go anyway as the large city has beautiful architecture, a stunning downtown cathedral, and lots of museums to go along with its French ambience. But go to Veracruz to party as Puebla seems to shut down at night.

19. San Andras Tuxtla

Where is it: about twenty minutes west of Catemaco

How to get there: It's a little town next to Catemaco, and you can get there by bus or in one of the many collectivos.

What to see: It's a nice mountain village, but my highlight was the cigar factory on the outskirts of town. It's a small operation and they'll show you how the cigars are made, and there's a factory outlet next door where you can buy some of the world's best stogies. I don't smoke them, but I like the smell.

20. Tamihua

Where is it: two hours north of Poza Rica

How to get there: By car. I don't know if there are buses there, but probably there are out of Tuxpan, which is nearby to the south.

What to see: You can take a boat out to the sand spit for a swim at the beach, or you can spend an afternoon on the docks watching the fishing and shrimp harvesting, or eat some excellent seafood at the restaurants there.

21. Tamusanchale

Where is it: about three or four hours north of Poza Rica

How to get there: By car. There might be buses going west from Tampico.

What to see: It's a quiet mountainside town with some good views of the mountains, and it's on the way to Edward James' villa.

22. Tecolutla

Where is it: one hour south of Poza Rica

How to get there: You can take a first or second class bus, or a cheap bus next to the Pemex offices. Some buses only go to nearby Zamora, but there are collectivos which will take you the rest of the way quickly.

What to see: It's one of my favorite places in Mexico, a wonderful little Mexican beach with pleasant swimming, good seafood restaurants, and lots of people and around in the evening at the street bars. The hotel next to the beach costs about US$10-15 a person, and there's tons of cheesy souvenirs stands.

23. Tecolutla Boat Ride

Where is it: on the south beach of Tecolutla.

How to get there: Walk to the beach, or just follow one of the hawkers on bicycles who will lead you there.

What to see: It's a boat ride of about an hour which takes you through the swamp and mangrove, with views of exotic birds and animals, and a stop-off at a waterside cafe. Go with a group as it's cheaper.

24. Tlaxcalatonga

Where is it: about one hour west of Poza Rica.

How to get there: It's a little hidden. Take a bus westward with a stop at La Ceiba, and you may have to take a taxi from there if there aren't collectivos.

What to see: That's the nice thing; it's hidden and few people have seen this secluded waterfall. There are actually two waterfalls, one on the roadside, and one further up the hill hidden behind a cave. You have to drive through a foot of water on a submerged bridge, and the scenery after the waterfalls also has nice views of the mountainside.

25. Tuxpan

Where is it: fifty minutes north of Poza Rica.

How to get there: Take a first or second class bus, or a cheapie bus at the station north of the Pemex buildings. It's not hard to find a bus.

What to see: Tuxpan (or Tuxpam) is a little grubby, but there are good markets and old buildings, and a ferry ride which takes you across the river. There's a museum where Castro lived and planned the invasion of Cuba, which is worth a visit if it's raining and there's nothing else to do.

26. Tuxpan Beach

Where is it: ten minutes east of Tuxpan.

How to get there: There are buses all over Tuxpan marked playa, and collectivos as well, so it's hard to mess up getting there.

What to see: Go to Tecolutla for creature comforts, and Tuxpan for quiet. It's seldom crowded, although sometimes you might find it too secluded when everything is closed and you want a beer or dinner.

27. Veracruz City

Where is it: four hours south of Poza Rica.

How to get there: An intercity bus that far can be a little rough, so take a first or second class bus from the terminal near the supermarket.

What to see: There's nice Euro-Mexican scenery and museums, but go to Veracruz to party—this city never seems to sleep, and there's always music and dancing in the square, and lots of Cuban bars with cheap and flowing booze. Book ahead during Carnaval, and take the bus there—parking can be difficult.

28. Veracruz Fortress

Where is it: in Veracruz, on the shore facing downtown

How to get there: I went in a car, but buses are probably easy to find.

What to see: The fortress was for centuries the gateway to the new world for the Spanish. It's big, there's lots to see, and there's some nice views of the ocean. Something to see while you recover from a hangover.

29. Voladores

Where are they: all over the state of Veracruz, but especially in Poza Rica's parks on Sundays, at Papantla's cathedral on Sundays, and most days at El Tajin.

How to get there: Walk right up and have a look!

What to see: It's a ritual from the aboriginal Mexicans' pre-Christian days, where men in costume ascend the pole and slowly glide through the air as their ropes slowly unwind toward the ground. One man stays on top and plays a meditative flute song. Free but usually a small donation is requested.

30. Zamora

Where is it: an hour south of Poza Rica, just before Tecolutla.

How to get there: Take a bus from the Pemex buildings marked 'Zamora.'

What to see: Not very much, but it has a sort of rough charm, and it's worthwhile to see the park and river before going on to Tecolutla.