For those who insist on driving the Gulf Coast
A map for driving from Tampico to Acayucan, Veracruz is on the following page.
To be honest, not many people drive the Gulf Coast routes these days. There is a lot of cartel activity that, while not directed at tourists, is just uncomfortable. I've left this page here becasue some people just love the Gulf Coast. And RV caravans frequently take it.
This is just a small sample of the road logs you'll get from my store. If you want a personalized trip made just for you, I can do that too .This road log is very abbreviated. The full roadlog is at least 40 pages.
This road log starts at Tampico and continues to Veracruz, Mexico. It's part of any Gulf Coast route. This driving route or road log takes you down Mexican highway 180.
92 miles south of Tampico on Mexican highway 180 is Tuxpan. Unless you have to go there for business, don't. It used to be a laid-back river port town, but today is crowded, bustling and noisy. Stay on the bypass to Poza Rica. Then bypass Poza Rica too.
There is fishing, of course, and mediocre diving. Fidel Castro stayed here while planning his invasion of Cuba, back in the sixties. There is a small museum to Fidel here.
Now we’re getting to the joys of Mexico's Gulf Coast! 34 miles south of Tuxpan Mexican highway 180, the toll road veers off to the east. By all means avoid Poza Rica, which is an industrial oil town. The toll road reconnects to the free road a little southeast of Papantla, so you will have to backtrack for a few miles to get there. It is worth it. This is the “Vanilla Capitol of Mexico” and was once the vanilla capitol of the world. There is a bizarre statue of a vanilla bean as you enter town. By the way, real vanilla no longer contains coumarin, which is a blood-thinner. Good vanilla from Mexico is not 98% alcohol as is vanilla extract. However, alcohol is used to extract the flavor from the vanilla beans, in even the "best" Mexican vanilla. Different brands have different concentrations of alcohol, but they all contain alcohol. 35% is pretty standard worldwide. Read the label and hope it is truthful. Some say there is no longer pure vanilla bottled and sold in Mexico. The only way to be sure you are getting pure vanilla is to buy the beans. Vanilla is the only edible fruit of the orchid family.
There are new hotels in Papantla and the place is busy and prosperous today. The Hotel Tajín on the square is the best in town. The El Tajín archaeological ruins are, to me, among the best in Mexico. Unlike Chichen Itza, they don’t have the manicured, Disneyland atmosphere and are more natural. The exhibitions of the voladores or flying pole dancers are done every day. The Totonac Indians leap from the top of a 150-foot pole, tethered by a rope on their ankles. They swirl around the pole in gradually increasing arcs and it is a sight you won’t forget. Papantla itself has an otherworldly, eerie feeling to it and I swear I felt the presence of white and black magic there. The dancers perform daily at irregular intervals. They will perform for just one person, as that happened to me. Of course, that will cost you quite a bit. For me, it was worth it.
Fifteen miles down Mexican highway 180 Gutierrez Zamora, the turnoff for Tecolutla. This is an inexpensive, non-touristed beach front resort. Tecolutla is very tropical and the road to it is lined with tall palm trees, banana plants and more tropical vegetation that we have in the Rio Grande Valley. There are hotels and RV parks here that are reasonably priced to moderately expensive. The best-known hotel in Tecolutla is the Hotel Tecolutla.
Bridget Bardot was probably the most famous guest (after “Mexico” Mike) and she shot a movie here, ages ago, when I was just a tyke. There are several newer hotels, the best being in front of the Hotel Tecolutla. The Hotel Tecolutla has 4 star prices and 3 star quality - unless you get a Gulf view view If you can't get a Gulf view room, go half a block up the street to Los Delfines. Price is a little less, people are friendlier, wifi is great. Indoor pool. Surprisingly quiet. I have heard about the Hotel Real del Quijote but don't know it.
The great thing about Tecolutla is the food. There is a slight French influence, due to a number of French deserters who decided that fighting for the French invasion in the early 1860’s was a losing proposition. Make love not war was their rallying cry (well, if it wasn’t, it should have been). Seafood is king and it is reasonably-priced. Nothing is cheap anymore. The beaches are not exactly stunning white sand, being more of a mixture of volcanic sand, but they are much whiter than the beaches in Veracruz city. Trust me, Tecolutla will grow on you.
The next twenty miles on Mexican highway 180 on the way to Veracruz is one little town after another with hotels of all descriptions. Nautla is one I like. You will see spectacular (okay, maybe just pretty) views of sandy beaches, palm trees and bananas everywhere. There are also RV parks along the way. They are more rustic than fancy, but do have electrical hookups. This is an area to enjoy nature at its mildest and most serene.
Twenty-five miles south of Gutierrez Zamora is the turnoff for Jalapa at Cardel. Sixty miles to the west, Jalapa is much higher (4,469 feet), in the coffee-growing region. The weather is cooler, but never, ever cold. It is called the “Athens of Mexico,” because it is very cultured. It is so cultured that the city fathers tried to ban “Mexico” Mike from visiting. The archeology museum was originally larger than the one in Mexico City, but when the folks in DF found out about it, they enlarged their museum. Machismo extends to archaeologists, too, I guess.
The coffee from the area is mild to moderately strong, but you might actually be able to find real espresso here. In most places in Mexico, what they call espresso is a blend of French roast and Chiapas coffee.
Veracruz is the New Orleans of Mexico. I call it that because it is lively, there is music in the square nearly every night (be aware of that if you choose a downtown hotel), the food is rich and decadent and, well the whole atmosphere is decadent. A thriving seaport, Veracruz has all the flavors of the world.
Drink coffee at either of the Café Parroquia open-air coffee shops in Veracruz where the waiters pour milk into your coffee, holding the pitcher about two feet above the cup. It’s quite a show. Sit on Veracruz's Zócalo or town square and watch people. Listen to the Navy band concerts and other concerts – all for free. Nightlife? There is something for every taste here, including transvestite shows. Family fun? As long as you stay away from the decadent sections of town, it is as family-friendly as anywhere in Mexico. There are too many attractions to list them all, but the Naval Academy will interest sailors and the cadets will show you around. The fortress, Castillo San Juan de Ulua was the setting for Romancing The Stone.
Hotels? Geez, what a variety. You can find anything from $20 a night pensions to $200+ a night suites along the Malecón. You’ll need a guidebook to choose one. I’ve always liked the expensive Emporio ($100-$150) on the Malecón when on an expense account (it has Jacuzzi suites) and the moderately priced Colonial ($50-60) on the square. Spend some time in Veracruz, several days. You will be glad you did.