Of course, there are always marimbas and mariachis on the zócalo. And the coastline boulevard is known as la barra más grande del mundo (the biggest bar in the world), barra referring both to the sandbar and the drinks bar. There is also a bona fide theater and some live-music venues.

Danzón Days

It’s hard to wander far in Veracruz without stumbling into a plaza full of romantic jarochos (inhabitants of Veracruz) indulging in the city’s favorite pastime, the danzón. An elegant tropical dance, it melds aspects of the French contradance with the rhythms of African slaves.

As with most Latin American dances, the danzón has its roots in Cuba. It was purportedly ‘invented’ in 1879 by popular band leader Miguel Failde, who showcased his catchy dance composition Las Alturas de Simpson in the port city of Matanzas. Elegant and purely instrumental in its early days, the danźon required dancers to circulate in couples rather than groups, a move that scandalized white polite society of the era. By the time the dance arrived in Mexico, brought by Cuban immigrants in the 1890s, it had become more complex, expanding on its peculiar syncopated rhythm, and adding other instruments such as the conga to form an orquesta típica.

Though the danzón faded in popularity in Cuba in the 1940s and '50s with the arrival of the mambo and the chachachá, in Mexico it continued to flourish. Indeed, since the 1990s the danzón has undergone a huge revival in Veracruz, particularly among mature citizens. The bastion of the dance is the zócalo on Friday and Saturday evenings, and if you hang out on the square for long enough it's quite probable that someone will whisk you off your feet and make you join in (which can be something of a mixed blessing).