From Veracruz, curvy Hwy 180 follows the coast past dark-sand beaches to the busy transportation hub of Cardel, where Hwy 140 branches west to Xalapa, the state capital, surrounded by coffee-growing highland villages and home to one of Mexico's best museums. Two of Mexico's white-water-rafting hubs, Tlapacoyan and Jalcomulco, lie north and south of Xalapa, respectively. Just south of Veracruz, Hwy 150D heads southwest to Córdoba, Fortín de las Flores and Orizaba, on the edge of the Sierra Madre. Orizaba is a particularly appealing town, with Mexico's highest mountain looming beyond it.
Between Nautla and Veracruz, the coast is remarkably wild and unexplored, despite its weighty historical significance. The sleepy village of Antigua makes a delightful stopover, while the town of Zempoala hides a significant archaeological site of the same name. If rarely visited archaeological sites thrill you, you'll be in raptures at Quiahuiztlán, further along the coast.