“Oh, no! It can’t really be 3:51 am. The car is picking me up at 4 am for my Continental flight to Houston with a connection to NY. Oh, gosh! I am still in my hotel room! Whatever happened to my wake-up call?”
Shower, pack, dress, dash to the elevator, throw my room card at the desk clerk, fly through the lobby and dive into the van. “Where were you? We are late for airport” (I think this what the driver said, he barely speaks English and I speak no Spanish).
Good News. Bad News.
But, what did I expect? I am in Mexico! Actually, I am in Veracruz, a part of the country where visitors are still able to feel like they are not in an American suburb or major city. Veracruz is not Puerto Vallarta, Cancun, Acapulco, or other parts of the country that have totally adapted to the American need for sun, very large swimming pools, five-star luxury hotels, gourmet dining and world-class shopping. This is a destination city that has successfully kept its Latin virtues below American radar.
Celebrity Category: Luxury Available
A popular destination for Mexican celebrities, and considered home for the Latino rich and richer, this charming locale is a Latin American special. Don’t expect every hotel, restaurant or shop staff to speak English, and don’t expect kiosk attendants to accept American dollars. (The word has even reached this part of Mexico that the peso has greater value than the US dollar).
The best hotel to find celebrities is the Camino Real. The modern boomerang architectural design with a hot pink and purple lobby instantly transforms guests into “celebrities.” Add a to-die-for swimming pool and an endless view of the beach, and this hotel is a first and last choice for travelers who want ownership of the first and last word in Veracruz accommodations.
Meeting and convention planners will find that the Fiesta America accommodations and conference space meets (and may even exceed) corporate needs for square feet, audio visual services, and tasteful food service.
The best accommodations for business travelers and tourists who put commerce and culture in front of sun and sand will not be disappointed when they check into the Gran Hotel Diligencias. This hotel boasts a fabulous location directly across from the Zocalo (downtown historic center) with an enormous terrace that is busy just about 24/7 with locals and visitors sipping everything from coffee to Tequila.
Assuming that folks with the time to sit and sip are well-heeled, café guests are offered all sorts of goodies from bogus Cartier watches to other fabulous fakes by zealous local salesmen. While the merchandise may be tempting to bring back for gifts, the devalued dollar makes these purchases less then a smart decision. A “branded” watch was offered to me for US$75.00. Even when the charming “hustler” was told that I could get it for $25 in NYC’s Chinatown, he would only reduce his price to US$30.00!
Eating is a Veracruz passion, and from early morning to late night, everyone from grannies to babies are munching on something yummy! From frozen desserts, to pizza slices, dining options run from gourmet to gourmand.
For the best seafood (prepared to meet tastes as varied as steamed to hot and spicy Veracruz –style) a must-do is the Mariscos Villa Rica Mocambo. This is a dining experience where the focus is on the food and not on the ambiance. Courtly waiters attentively address personal requests. While the food is fabulous a Spanish-speaking friend is a necessity – if you want to test the versatility of the kitchen. The “insider’s secret” is not to order from the menu, but to creatively design your meal based on the fish just caught from the surrounding waters and what your taste buds are craving. While the deserts at Villa Rica are too numerous to mention – the fried bananas were a huge success at a recent luncheon. Working their way through fried squid, and soft shell crabs every focused on the fried bananas with cream and Mexican café.
Spend the earliest part of your morning or the late part of the evening sipping coffee at the world famous La Parroquia near the malecon. The featured event in this notorious dining spot is the café lechero. The waiter brings two fingers of espresso in a tall glass. You add sugar or sweetener and then rattle your spoon in the glass, summoning the waiter to bring the steamed milk to your table. Pouring it from great heights the hot liquid finds its way smack dab into the middle of the glass. The chemistry that takes place in your glass cannot be described. This steamed delight must be sipped carefully (it is very hot..use a napkin or two to hold the glass) and savored slowly. There are many desserts to add calories to this treat – but it is a treat best savored on its own merits.
Although the US dollar has lost global value, shopping in Veracruz is a treat that should be savored. Change dollars for pesos at a bank or currency exchange and meander along the Zocalo purchasing trinkets for gifts. Best values are hand-beaded earrings (US$2–3), and beaded bracelets (US$3-4). Shoe shop choices are huge and the styles are primarily for local teenagers, but the inexpensive prices can be very tempting. The best part is meeting and buying from the lovely young women who are working in the shops. While Spanish is the only language to do business, charm and good salesmanship more than makes up for the few extra minutes it takes to understand that a US size 10 translates into a European size 42 and Mexican size 7.
Life cannot be all tranquility, there has to be thrills beyond the excitement of finding Puma sneakers on sale. Mexican eco-adventures (ProAdventure.com) include a day of rafting on the Pescados River, rock rappelling on a nearby mountain, and spending a night at the Chichaki Hotel in Jalcomulco. While cabins meet basic sleeping and showering needs what makes the location very special is the river that whips by, creating the wonderful sound of water crashing on the rocks. The Hotel runs a popular weekly camp program for Spanish-speaking children and from the video’s the kids have a spectacular time, leaving Mom and Dad to dine and sun.
If you long to see “old” Mexico, a part of the country that has not been totally changed by the success of NAFTA, and grows because of its Spanish heritage, Veracruz is the destination of choice.
Thank you Continental Personnel @ LGA
Veracruz is well-served by Continental Airlines where service and kindness seem to be part of the training mantra. Personnel did their best to make weather delays and schedule changes as palatable as possible. Cheers to Continental employees who did their best to make an arduous journey almost pleasant.
Camino Real Veracruz
Chichaki Hotel Km. 4.5 Carr. Jalcomulco – Apazapan Apazapan, Veracruz
Gran Café de la Parroquia
Av. Gómez Farías 34 Veracruz 229/932-2584 (6 AM – 1 AM; cash only)
Gran Hotel Diligencias
Mariscos Villa Rica
Mocambo Calza.Calzada Mocambo 527 0-11-29-222113 in the U.S.