Veracruz, Mexico: Adventure beyond the beach

Veracruz just might be Mexico's next big adventure travel destination. Photo: Jason Heflin

WASHINGTON, October 23, 2013When American tourists imagine a vacation in Mexico, it’s likely they have visions of sandy beaches on the Riviera Maya or of overflowing nightclubs in Cabo San Lucas. But Mexico is so much more than beaches and bars. For travelers seeking out the adventurous side of Mexico, they needn’t look farther than the state of Veracruz on the east coast.

The Hustle of the City

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Veracruz rests on the shores of the Gulf of Mexico, to the west of the Yucatan peninsula. Its position as a seaport is its claim to fame. For active travelers it is a fantastic home base. On any given day at the malecon (or boardwalk) one can see cyclists and runners utilizing this wide, paved ocean front space. At night there are Zumba classes, social gatherings, and group runs and rides. Across the street from the malecon is where locals come to enjoy food and drink. Open air taco vendors, loud dance clubs, and even a country & western themed bar are among the nightlife options.

Getting Dirty

Have the need for speed? The beaches near Chachalacas are the perfect place to get a fix. A short trip north of the city of Veracruz, there are two activities not to be missed. First, the dunes. Hire a guide in the village of Ursulo Galván and rent an ATV. Look for the shops with motorcycles and quads parked in front. Your guide can take you to massive sand dunes sitting right on the ocean’s edge. Riding up and sliding down these dunes on a four-wheeled machine is a thrilling way to spend an afternoon.

Before embarking on your odyssey, ask the guide to bring a sand board along. These cousins of snowboards add another adventurous element to the trip. Climb the highest dune with an ATV, stand on the board, and carve lines all the way down its sandy slope. Once the board reaches the bottom it usually slows to a gentle stop, so those who keep their balance all the way down have an easy dismount.


Rapid Descents

To the west of Veracruz, the land rises slowly toward the mountains. As travelers drive that direction, they’ll notice a large cone-shaped volcano in the distance: Pico de Orizaba. With no other major peaks in the region, this massive mountain dominates the landscape. Its snowy summit and wetter climate provide plenty of runoff to feed the creeks and rivers, creating fantastic rafting opportunities on the Rio Pecados (Fish River).

Mexico Verde is the premier eco resort in the region, featuring zip-lining, rappelling, an obstacle course, and the area’s most beloved activity - paddling. The river’s guides are experienced; the training beforehand is excellent; and the trip offers intense class III and IV rapids. There is a half-day guided option, so even day trippers from Veracruz can enjoy the waves and still make it back to the city to dine on cervezas and tacos near the malecon that night.

Making it Happen

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Veracruz may not be on the radar for most Americans on vacation in Mexico, but it certainly is popular with Mexicans. This means the area infrastructure is in place for visitors (there are decent hotels, an adequate airport, and good roads). American Airlines flies non-stop from Dallas, a major hub, so for most visitors, it is only two flights away. For accommodations, the Holiday Inn Veracruz Boca Del Rio offers ocean views, multiple pools, and a restaurant. For those looking for a bit more luxury, try the Hotel Indigo, a boutique option with a great restaurant, a bar, underground secure parking, and updated rooms.

For more information on a trip to Veracruz, see their page on

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Jason Heflin

Jason spent his youth exploring the creeks, trails, and back roads of his home state, Kentucky. His final year in college he joined a study abroad trip to Ireland.  His time exploirng the hills and pubs of the Emerald Isle sparked his passion for  travel.  Since then, his journeys have landed him on five continents and in dozens of countries.

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