The capital of Veracruz state, Jalapa (also spelled Xalapa) is also a university town with its own symphony orchestra and is surprisingly dynamic for its small size. There are frequent concerts in the main square, and theater productions and traveling exhibitions at the Galeria de Arte Contemporaneo, which includes an attractive cafe with a splendid view of the city.
Traffic and pollution are increasing in this city 75 mi/120 km northwest of Veracruz, but the many parks in town still make this a pleasant place to stroll. Jalapa's restaurants serve some of the best cuisine in the country, and the Anthropology Museum, one of Mexico's finest, has archaeological displays, preconquest sculpture, pottery and some of the giant heads created by the Olmec. A small museum beneath Juarez Park features work by Diego Rivera.
Perhaps the best reasons to visit Jalapa are the many attractive little towns in the surrounding countryside. Coatepec, in the heart of Mexico's most lucrative coffee-growing region, has a distinguished 19th-century feel. Hip cafes and coffee roasters can be found on every corner, and the heavy smell of coffee permeates the town.
Naolinco is famed for its high-quality leather shops, its sweet-spicy mole (made with bananas) and its intricate cobblestoned streets. In Xico, boutiques sell mora and torito, alcoholic drinks made with blackberries and peanuts. A short walk out of town are a string of spectacular waterfalls.
Two hours northwest of Jalapa is the stunning archaeological site of El Tajin, a complex of large pyramids built by the Totonac people in a remote jungle setting.
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