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.
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.
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.
#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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.