Budget Travel: 5 Reasons Why You Should Consider Veracruz

The Port of Veracruz is the oldest city in the Americas. It is full of history, culture and amazing people who will become your lifelong friends. I used to call it my home, and it took me a few years, but I final made it back for a visit and am pleased to see that many things haven’t changed. These are my top reasons why you should consider visiting Veracruz on your next (or first) trip to Mexico.

#1. It’s Still Undiscovered by Tourism Standards

You won’t find a huge expat community or hear English all around you in Veracruz. I know it sounds strange that one would consider this a positive, but think about it. Foreign tourism raises the prices of everything from hotels to taxis, to restaurant bills. This isn’t to say that Veracruz doesn’t get any tourists. It is quite a popular destination for Mexicans. Foreigners that come here tend to be the adventurous types, the young European backpackers, and couchsurfers or those who have frequently traveled throughout Mexico and Latin America. They often want to immerse themselves in the Spanish language. They don’t come for the all-inclusive, drink until you throw up experience that happens so often in Cancun, the come for an authentic dive into Mexican culture, food and experiences.

#2. The Beaches are Great for Swimming

Veracruz is situated on the Gulf of Mexico. You won’t find white sand and crystal clear water here, but the beaches are still worth enjoying. The water is very calm, with hardly any waves, and you don’t have to worry about undertows or going in too deep. The beaches here are perfect for families, especially with young children and for swimming, which isn’t true for many beaches (I visited Hawaii a few years back and was very disappointed at how dangerous the ocean was and never actually ended up getting in it.). You will find them filled with families and children of all ages. I was very happy to be able to bring my 4 month old into the water for the first time here, without being in fear of a wave knocking us over.

My baby’s first time in the water. She loved it!

If you go to Playa Villa Del Mar in Veracruz, you can eat and drink on the beach at a number of beach front restaurants. Vendors will come by and sell local souvenirs, snacks like fruit and peanuts and boat tours.

Playa Villa del Mar is the most popular in the port.
You can enjoy fresh guacamole and a margarita on the beach.

If you prefer a more relaxing beach experience, you can head a few miles south to Boca del Rio, a wealthier town next to Veracruz. The beaches are less crowded and you won’t be bothered by any vendors. But, you will have to bring your own chairs and umbrella.

The beaches in Boca del Rio (in front of the Fiesta Americana and Camino Real hotels) are much less crowded.

#3. How Incredibly Cheap it is

Remember that since Veracruz is mainly a tourist destination for Mexican people, the prices reflect that. In addition, right now the dollar to peso exchange rate very much favors American dollars. It changes daily but is close to 20 pesos to 1 USD. While this makes all of Mexico more affordable, it is especially true for Veracruz, which isn’t dependent on American tourism and doesn’t change its prices based on the conversion rate. For example, when I lived here 3 years ago, the peso to dollar exchange rate was 12 to 1. Now it is nearly 20 to 1 and I am visiting the same restaurants and attractions and paying the same prices despite the weaker peso. Essentially, I am almost paying half for things than what I did when I lived here.

To stay here, you can easily find mid-level accommodations for $30 – $50 per night. If you are on a budget, there are hotels and Airbnb options for under $15 per night. Since it’s a smaller town, you are never too far from the beach no matter where you choose to stay. (I have been staying in an Airbnb rented room for the last month, which cost me $9 per night. It is located 2 blocks from the beach, 2 blocks from the market and also 2 blocks from a local convenience store. It also comes with amazing roommates who are happy to show me around and cook authentic, Mexican dishes as a bonus!)

#4. The Food

No doubt the food is my favorite part of visiting Veracruz. I think I have gained 10 pounds at the point of writing this article. Taking advantage of the exchange rate, you can find options on the beach starting at $5. Fresh seafood dishes might run you $7 – $10. But, if you go to the market or economic restaurants off the beach, you can expect to pay at least half of those prices.

In the morning, you can choose between street tacos (5 for $1) or even from a decent restaurant/eatery for a little more. Other typical breakfast dishes in the area include picadas, empanadas and quesadillas. They are accompanied by a bottle of Coca Cola or freshly squeezed fruit juice.

My large breakfast quesadilla and freshly squeezed orange juice from the market.

For lunch, my personal favorite is a type of food called comida corrida. Comida corrida is homemade food, made by Mexican mothers and grandmothers, just like they would in their own kitchen. You get an entire meal package for one price. For example, the meal typically includes a soup starter, a main dish (you can choose from several options which change daily) with rice and/or beans and/or salad, tortillas, salsas and a drink. Some places will even include a small dessert. Prices range from about $2 – $3. This meal is served usually between noon and 3 to 4 PM.

By far, my favorite food concept that exists.

At night, tacos are everywhere. My favorite are tacos al pastor, which are pork tacos cooked on a turn style. They are topped with onion, cilantro, pineapple and habanero salsa.

Tacos al pastor from the restaurant in front of my accomadation for $2.

I typically spend about $7 per day if I eat out all three meals at the local market and restaurants. Occasionally I’ll splurge at the beach or a nicer restaurant but it never costs me more than $10 for a meal. I’ve discussed with my local friends how we could eat on less than $5 per day easily, but it would require a little more walking to get away from the beach area where I am staying.

#5. The Attractions

This is something that the city has improved on in the last few years. In its main beach plaza, they have a small aquarium with an educational dolphin show. They offer swimming with the dolphin options from $25 for the baby option (unfortunately mine was too young to do it) to $50 for the best package. There is also a wax museum and a Ripley’s Believe it or Not museum in the same shopping plaza. I purchased a 3 attraction adult pass for about $13 total and was not disappointed.

If you are interested in a more historical option, there are El Tajin ruins just a few hours north of the city. You can purchase bus tickets in the ADO bus terminal with buses leaving at least every hour.

The dolphin show was short but educational and fun.
Frida Kahlo at the wax museum.
Ripley’s museums are always fun and interesting.

And Lastly…

Having spent almost a month already in the city in Veracruz, and living here from 2012 to 2014, I was surprised to learn that people think it is dangerous. It’s important at this point to distinguish between the state of Veracruz, which is quite long, and the city of Veracruz often called “el Puerto” or the port. I can tell you personally that el Puerto is very safe for foreigners and locals alike. While there are issues in some of the smaller cities in the south, dismissing a trip to Veracruz, based on those incidents would be like not visiting San Francisco because of something that happened in Los Angeles. But, if you are the type to be scared off by sensational news stories, travel in Mexico probably isn’t for you anyway.

The Port of Veracruz is located in the middle of the state.

If you have any questions about the Port of Veracruz, I’d be happy to answer them. Just comment below or contact me by e-mail.

 

The 5 Must Have (and cheap!) Products When Traveling with an Infant

It’s not easy to be a minimal packer with an infant. But it is possible. My daughter, Sofia, and I started our journey when she turned just 3 months old. She was born in El Salvador. It took us a few weeks to straighten out her paperwork with the American embassy, get her American passport and then her first round of vaccines so we could begin traveling abroad. The vaccines weren’t a requirement but I just felt more comfortable with her having at least one round. Since then we have gone to Guatemala City, Cancun, Progreso (Yucatan, Mexico) and now we are located in Veracruz. We have been traveling for 6 weeks so far and although I thought that I had thought of everything… there are things we have had to pick up along the way. Although it’s tempting to buy secondhand walkers, baby gyms, and bouncers to keep her occupied, we always travel on budget airlines (think Spirit), and so packing light is a priority. To keep our travel cheap, and avoid additional luggage fees, and in the spirit of being a minimalist, I have been very selective in what I have packed and purchased for her.

*FYI: This blog will be updated as we continue to travel and discover new finds that make life easier for baby and myself.*

#1 A Foldable Travel Bed

There are two options for this and I own both of them. One way to avoid overloading your luggage is to leave the pack and play at home. My daughter isn’t crawling yet and is very happy to co-sleep with me in the same bed. There is the regular co-sleeping travel bed (if you are traveling to an area that doesn’t have a mosquito problem) and the one with a mosquito net over the top if you decide to go the tropical route. Right now we are using the 2nd option, as Veracruz is very hot, humid and full of mosquitos. But the best part is that this travel bed is foldable and barely weighs a thing. I also flip it over and use it as a tummy time mat and when we go to the beach, I throw a lightweight sheet over the mosquito net to keep her in the shade as she sleeps. As you can see from the pictures, this option is best for newborns to babies about 6 months of age

Travel bed with mosquito net.

Her improvised tummy time mat.

#1 – Non-Tropical Option

#2 – Mosquito Net Option



#2 Chair to High Chair Converter

This is my favorite purchase so far. I bought it when we arrived in Veracruz from the US Amazon website. I realized that as we went out to eat with friends, my daughter would feel out of the loop and bored in her stroller, which keeps her located lower than a typical restaurant table. In order for her to join the “action”, I needed something else… but she isn’t quite ready for a regular restaurant high chair and many places abroad don’t even offer them, so I came across this converter. It has harness straps so it is more supportive than a typical restaurant grade high chair, and can be used with almost any chair. The best part is that is folds up very small and can be tossed into my purse (I don’t even carry a diaper bag). This product is recommended for babies up to 35 pounds so I know we will be using it for a while.

This cover converts almost any chair into a high chair.

My baby is able to use it at 4 months old. And it goes up to 35 pounds.

 

#3 Manual Food Puree Device

I spent a great deal of time in the Mexican Walmart viewing my options for making my own baby food. There are the obvious choices, blenders, and food processors, but they require electricity. We are often on buses or airplanes and even in restaurants at times there is not a nearby wall outlet. Plus, I wanted something small that could be carried in my purse/diaper bag. I found this gadget which resembles a large garlic press. You put the food into the bottom part and it smashes it by connecting the handles together. It comes with a spoon to feed the baby directly from the device and a cover to save any uneaten food. I love this because it means when we eat out, or even at home, my daughter can have the same exact food as I eat. No extra preparation and if we are on an airplane/bus/in rural Mexico I can easily mash up some food for her on the go – without electricity. This does mean that I have to eat healthier but I am willing to make that sacrifice for her.

The on the go food pureeing tool.

Nuby food masher.

The product that I have seem to only be available in Mexico. Here is the link to the Nuby Mexico if you happen to be in the country.

Below is the 2nd choice that I was considering. It’s slightly larger but it is also a great option. It has a bowl and separate masher. It comes with a spoon and lid to save the leftovers.

#4 Mesh Feeder

When I originally planned this big international trip for my baby and myself, I did it at a specific age. I wanted to avoid the teething stage. And well, don’t you know it, the week we get to our first Airbnb in Progreso, Yucatan, Mexico, she starts teething (at 4 months!). I was so happy that I happened to throw a mesh feeder into the duffle bag “just in case”. This has been one of the most valuable things for us as we travel. I can stuff it with ice so she relieves the pain on her gums, and also gets a little extra water (In tropical climates, the doctors recommend giving infant a few ounces of water each day because of the heat. I understand that this is not usually recommended in the U.S.), and even try out some new foods. The mesh part means that she has to mash the food completely before it exits the feeder, so basically, she is making a puree herself. You can put small pieces of frozen fruit for hot summer days or soft, cooked vegetables. She has been using it since she turned 4 months when the doctor gave the go-ahead to start eating actual food but she is just getting the hang of how to hold it herself now. I still have to help her a bit but she loves it. Also, I have found that in restaurants, the waitstaff is more than happen to bring me ice or small pieces of fruit to put in her feeder. It makes for a better dining experience for everyone.

This is a lifesaver at teething time or on very hot days.

#5 Foldable Bathtub

At home, we use a fillable bathtub which allows her to be immersed in the water. But on the road, I wasn’t about to bring that huge plastic tub with us, so I found this option. This bathtub folds up nicely, is made of mesh so it is very light and it also serves as a chair to feed her in and a beach chair (under very close supervision of course since there are no securing straps). Bathtubs themselves are very rare in Mexico so I end up filling up a large bucket with water and using a cup to “shower” her with the water

Her “bathtub” which also doubles as a place to feed her and her beach chair.

*Disclaimer: The above are affiliate links from Amazon which means that I get a percentage of the sale for referring you to the product. However, these are all products that I have purchased and we use as we travel. I try to find inexpensive items that will be useful for as long as possible to stay within our budget.