A Gulf Coast oil town midway between Brownsville, Texas, and Veracruz, Tampico, Mexico, was a great fishing port until water pollution destroyed the sportfishing industry in the 1970s. Today, even though the water is clean again, the town's main attraction is its atmosphere: Tampico abounds in interesting characters and buildings of decaying grandeur.

Linger if you have time, but otherwise just plan on stopping for a meal (or the night) on the way to Veracruz, which lies 300 mi/480 km to the south. There are a few luxury hotels and an all-inclusive beachside resort, but most accommodations are midpriced properties.

Two hours west of Tampico is Xilitla, a tiny village that boasts one of the strangest attractions in the country. Las Pozas is a bizarre collection of multicolored sculptures, buildings, stairways that go nowhere and fountains set along a twisting jungle path. Resembling something out of a Dr. Seuss book, Las Pozas was created by the eccentric British artist Edward James in the 1960s and '70s.

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