Veracruz, one of Mexico’s most important and interesting states, is a narrow strip of land stretching for 650 kilometers (over 400 miles) along the Gulf of Mexico. The topography ranges from a narrow coastal plain to very high mountains on its western border including Mt. Orizaba, Mexico’s highest peak at 5,610 meters (18,406 ft.).
The relief helps to funnel migrating birds into a narrow band across the state:
Veracruz which is one of the rainiest states has three of Mexico’s five largest rivers: the Panuco in the north and the Papaloapan and Coatzacoalcos rivers in the south. Its varied climate and ecosystems mean enormous biodiversity, including species of insects, birds and plants that exist nowhere else on earth. These species are protected in 31 protected areas including three national parks. Previous posts describe the fabulously beautiful Las Tuxtlas Biosphere Reserve and the mysterious Laguna Encantada.
- Las Tuxtlas Biosphere Reserve in Veracruz, Mexico
- Why Las Tuxtlas Biosphere Reserve is well worth a visit
- An enchanted lake in Veracruz
With over 7.6 million residents, Veracruz trails only the State of Mexico and the Federal District in population. While the state is over one-third rural, it has several major metropolitan areas. The state capital is Xalapa (809,000). Other major cities include the industrial twin cities of Coatzacoalcos (234,000) and Minatitlán (356,000) in the extreme south, and the port city of Veracruz (703,000) in the center. The north of the state is served by the port city of Tampico (803,000) on the north bank of the Panuco River in the neighboring state of Tamaulipas.
One of the most interesting towns is Yanga, which was established around 1570 by escaped slaves lead by Gaspar Yanga. The town, the first African-ruled settlement in the New World, successfully resisted efforts by the colonial government to recapture it and its residents. Today, Gaspar Yanga is considered a national hero. It is interesting to note that Negroid features are apparent on the ancient 3,500 year old Olmec carved stone heads found in southern Veracruz. The state is home to numerous indigenous groups including the Nahuas, Huastecos, Otomis, Totonacs.
There are two UNESCO-designated World Heritage sites in Veracruz: the Pre-Hispanic city of El Tajin and the Historic Monuments of the Zone of Tlacotalpan.
Veracruz is one of Mexico’s poorer states. Mostly as a result of its very large rural, agricultural and indigenous populations, Veracruz ranks in the bottom third in most socioeconomic indicators such as production/person, percent living below the poverty level, human development index, literacy, infant mortality, life expectancy and marginalization. On the other hand, these indicators for the major cities are above the national averages.
Veracruz is second in total agricultural production behind only Jalisco. It produces more than half of the country’s sugar cane and oranges and also leads in mangoes and other citrus fruits. It is also a major producer of coffee, beef, pork, dairy, chicken, corn, beans, bananas, tobacco, coconuts, vegetables and vanilla.
Petroleum is extremely important. Most of the oil production is in northern Veracruz while the southern cities of Coatzacoalcos and Minatitlán are noted for their chemical and petrochemical industries.
Veracruz is also famous historically and culturally. Cortés and his men landed in Veracruz on their way to conquering and subduing all of Mexico. Veracruz city was the most important port for many centuries when it served as Mexico’s main link to the rest of the world. The state capital was eventually moved to Xalapa, which has a flourishing cultural life and an anthropology museum second only to the National Anthropology Museum in Mexico City. The annual Carnival staged in Veracruz is one of the most spectacular in all of Mexico. The Danza de los Voladores (Dance of the Flyers) in Papantla is a major tourist attraction for Mexicans and foreigners alike. Veracruz also has its own distinctive music and cuisine, enhancing its regional identity.