Appearing positively trendy after Veracruz, Xalapa (which is sometimes spelled ‘Jalapa’ but always pronounced ‘ha-la-pa’) is Mexico in an Afghan coat with a heavy literary tome under its arm. Welcome to the political and cultural capital of Veracruz state, a city as urbane as it is urban where everything seems to be a little ‘cooler’ than it is on the coast, including the climate. While Veracruz enjoys tropical Miami-like weather, Xalapa – on a wet weekend in January – could pass for Seattle.
Sprawled around the verdant skirts of Cofre de Perote, the city juxtaposes its jungle-like environs with a traffic-asphyxiated urban core punctuated – life-savingly – with a smattering of pleasant parks. The state’s most important university resides here, as does a superb anthropological museum that rivals El Tajín as Veracruz state’s top sight. The gargantuan pre-Hispanic relics are supplemented by hip bars, weighty bookstores and enough quality coffee bars to make a caffeine-infused Roman jealous. Reminding you that you’re still in Mexico are narrow colonial streets clogged with traffic and policed by brave whistle-blowing transit cops.