On April 21st 1519 Hernan Cortes landed in Antigua, near the site of Veracruz. There, to prevent all thought of retreat, he burned his ships, and leaving a small force on the coast, led the rest of his men into the interior to change history- without knowing it.
The city of Veracruz is today just a speck of what it was many decades ago. It is true that it is home to the largest harbor in Mexico and all goods coming from Europe into the country go through this city, yet despite this extraordinary display of logistics the city has failed (in my opinion) to create a unique metropolis that attracts tourism from around the world. As a result most of the tourism is from Mexico, but there are plenty of attractions to see in the state, and a few in the city and its immediate surroundings.
This is the area in Veracruz closest to the sea and the harbor. It is also the only area that conserves the colonial buildings the city one had and during the day there’s a lot of people walking, shopping and enjoying the great mood the locals always seem to be in. At night things are not as nice but there’s some walking to be done, or better yet hop on the super cheap (30 MXN) tour bus that will drive you around and explain what there is to see in just 20 minutes.
San Juan de Ulua Fortress
About 20 minutes north of Veracruz is San Juan de Ulua fortress, one of the first garrisons built by the Spaniards when they arrived here 600 years ago. It was built on a small island to protect the area from inclement weather and mostly from possible invaders and pirates, using coral as the predominant construction material. Today there are guided tours for 300 MXN (!!) and while there might be lot of explanation about what happened here there is certainly not a lot to see. I do recommend you stop for a visit thought.
It is here that you will the finest historical attraction close to the city. Antigua is actually an abbreviation for La Antigua Veracruz (the old Veracruz) and it is here that Hernan Cortes arrived in the early 15 hundreds. Small and scarcely populated, its cobbled stones invite the visitor to walk around the old buildings and appreciate its history, much more relevant than what it would appear to the untrained idea.
You will be offered guided tours at no official cost (you only tip what you want at the end) and these I do recommend because they will put some sense into all the crumbling buildings. From the house of Hernan Cortes to the first chapel ever built in continental America (Ermita de San Rosario) Antigua has a bit of history that will please everybody, and it’s also a nice stroll away from Veracruz despite the intense heat you might feel during the day (early morning showers are common).
Antigua used to be the chosen place by the Spaniards to store the gold and jewelry they were gathering during their exploits until Dutch admiral for the Dutch West Indies Company, devised a way to capture the whole fleet near Cuba and was successful. The building is still present though falling apart, yet what impressed me most was how nearby trees had grown roots into its walls, reminding me of similar pattern in the temples of Angkor, Cambodia.
The city of Veracruz had its moment of glory quite some time ago, yet its potential as a tourism destination has not been exploited as it should have been, and has some catch up to do when compared to Mexico’s other interesting state capital in the Caribbean: Merida.
This said there’s enough entertainment for a day or two if you visit it’s unique attractions around town and in Antigua, well worth a visit if you’re in the area.
Perhaps the most difficult part will be getting from one point to the other, and it is here that a rental car will come very handy- unless you want to pay for overpriced tours.
Have you visited Veracruz or Antigua? Had you ever heard about these places? How familiar are you with Hernan Cortes and his reputation? Share your thoughts in the comments section below and this post too if you like it!