Last Updated on April 6, 2022 by Janine
I first learned about Xalapa back in 2010 when I spontaneously applied to a study abroad program to learn Spanish in Mexico. My program was based in Xalapa, and while I was initially resentful of its lack of beaches and tanning opportunities (back then I was all about Mexico stereotypes), I quickly fell in love with this charming, artistic city. It turns out, there are so many things to do in Xalapa that I forgot about the beach altogether!
In fact, my love for Xalapa was so strong, that I ended up moving back here in 2018!
Now, I’m sure you’re thinking: if Xalapa is SO special, why am I just now hearing about it?
Well… I could hypothesize about this all day, but the important thing is that you’re learning about it now.
Xalapa may not sound as alluring on paper as traveler-favorites like Oaxaca and Guanajuato, and it certainly doesn’t have the swagger of Mexico City, but in my opinion, it has just as much to offer.
For one, Xalapa has amazing food. This is due to Veracruz state’s subtropical climate which facilitates the growth of a dizzying array of fruits, vegetables, and of course, Xalapa’s namesake, the jalapeño pepper. The proximity to the coast means there are all kinds of seafood influences to enjoy as well! And most importantly (to me, anyway), Xalapa and the surrounding area is a prime coffee growing region, which yields some of Mexico’s very best coffee.
Xalapa has also played an important role throughout Mexican history. It was one of the first locations reached by the conquistador Hernán Cortes. Over the years Xalapa has served as the birthplace to significant figures in Mexico’s government as well as famous writers, musicians, and other cultural figures. Their legacies are apparent as you explore the city. There is an endless supply of cafe-galerias, mini-museums, historical sites, bookstores, and musical venues, many of which hold workshops or classes to help you learn new forms of artistic expression.
And finally, what I think makes Xalapa so incredibly special, is the location. The city sits among mountains, in what you might be inclined to call a cloud forest. While the steep landscape of the city can be frustrating for pedestrians, we can probably agree that the views make it worth it. From almost anywhere in Xalapa you’re exposed to views of lush, green hillsides with snowy peaks lingering in the distances. It’s truly breathtaking.
Have I convinced you yet?
Things to do in Xalapa
1. Browse the Anthropology Museum
Av. Xalapa | Tuesday – Sunday from 9am – 5pm | Admission $50 MXN
The Museo de Antropología de Xalapa features an impressive collection of artifacts from the Olmec, Huastec, and Totonac cultures, all of which hail from the gulf coast of Mexico. The enormous Olmec heads are literally impossible to miss, while the smaller Totonac sculptures and other artifacts will draw you in with their quirky, comical expressions!
The museum’s interpretive signs are in Spanish but for a couple of dollars, you can rent an iPod featuring English translations for all of the exhibits.
After your visit, sprawl out on the huge grassy lawn which is perfect for a picnic on warm days.
2. Wander the Scenic Centro Histórico
The centro histórico neighborhood of Xalapa is truly beautiful. Despite being compact, you could easily spend half a day wandering the callejones, exploring the parks, and popping in and out of coffee shops and eateries. If you’re a photographer you’ll be in heaven. The colonial buildings are striking against the backdrop of the lush green mountains in the distance! I recommend starting your exploration at Parque Juarez and working your way out from there.
Visiting the ex-Hacienda El Lencero is one of my favorite things to do in Xalapa!
3. Visit the Ex Hacienda El Lencero Museum
Carr. Federal Xalapa – Veracruz km 10 | Tuesday – Sunday from 10am – 5pm | Admission $40 MXN adults, $25 MXN kids 4 and up
This Spanish colonial hacienda sits just a few minutes outside Xalapa and is well worth a visit. The original owner of the hacienda was one of the soldiers of Spanish conquistador Hernán Cortes (Cortes first landed in the village of Antigua, about 30 minutes from Xalapa).
In 1842 the hacienda was sold to Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna who was a military general and eventually became president of Mexico not once, not twice, but eleven times (despite doing a terrible job the first 10 times). Santa Anna has a long, storied history in Mexican politics but one of his major “claims to fame” was repealing the Mexican constitution in 1835, which resulted in the Texas revolution and ultimately led to Texas seceding from Mexico. Inside El Lencero you will find a number of documents and artifacts related to Santa Anna’s military career and the Texas Revolution in particular.
The grounds of the hacienda feature a beautiful garden, a chapel (because why wouldn’t you have your own private chapel?) and a swimming pool connected to a beautiful pond filled with ducks and geese!
The hacienda itself is gorgeous and filled with antique furniture from the era– I don’t believe any of it is original, but it still serves to help you imagine what it could have been like back in the day. There are also a couple of old fashioned carriages and wagons on the site– these would be even more intriguing if they had horses attached to them, but alas they do not. All in all, the hacienda is a beautiful site and a great way to spend a few hours outside the city.
4. Explore the Markets
For me, exploring the local market is a fascinating exercise everywhere I visit. It’s also a good opportunity to grab an inexpensive sample of the local cuisine. If there’s a regional specialty to be found, the market is usually a good place to get a first taste.
If this sounds like fun to you, Xalapa has three markets located right in the city center:
- La Rotunda
- Mercado San Jose
- Mercado Jauregui
Jauregui (pronounced “how-rag-ee”) is host to food along with textiles, flowers, woodcrafts, and more, while La Rotunda and San Jose are mostly food focused. I buy my fruit and veggies at Mercado San Jose every week and find it to be the most “relaxed” of the three. It also has a selection of restaurants and cantinas lining the perimeter, in case you find yourself needing a refreshment after your shopping excursion. ?
5. Hop Aboard El Piojito for a City Tour
El Piojito is a trolley car that shuttles tourists around the city for historical tours. The one hour tour will take you to some of the city’s most notable locations while explaining their historical significance. The tour is offered in Spanish, but even if your skills are limited, you’re sure to enjoy the scenery. For 50 pesos, el piojito is a great way to get to know the city. Buy tickets and climb onboard on Calle Enriquez in front of the Santander bank.
6. Visit the Many City Parks
Parque Tecajetes is a green, jungle oasis near the center of Xalapa. In this small, meandering park you’ll find sculptures, koi ponds, and even a waterfall! It’s a peaceful and scenic spot to spend some time amongst greenery. After wandering for a while, treat yourself to some nieve (ice cream) from the cart out front.
This circular city park is my favorite in the city for a couple of reasons:
1. Ponies. Every weekend nearby pony ranchers (I don’t know what to call them), bring their shaggy equines to the park, outfitted with big western saddles (complete with toy pistols) to sell pony rides to the kids. If you’re an adult you can pet the ponies for free!
2. The neighborhood. The neighborhood surrounding Los Berros is filled with some of Xalapa’s prettiest homes and some of the best coffee shops in town. Honestly, it’s fun just to wander the streets in this part of town and enjoy the scenery!
Los Berros is beautiful any time, but it’s at it’s best on the weekends when it is filled with families partaking in activities together. You’ll find vendors selling ice cream, tamales, elotes, balloons, and more! There’s also a train that circles the outer rim of the park blasting reggaeton and offering rides to children and families for a small fee.
In the center of the park, there’s usually a stand where kids can rent miniature electric cars and drive them around in circles as their parents look on. Be careful as you walk through, the kids are aggressive drivers!
Almost every park in Mexico is a lively scene on the weekend, but Los Berros is especially fun in my opinion. Even if you don’t have a child with you to partake in all of the activities, the joy and excitement in the air is contagious!
Located right in the center of Xalapa, Parque Juarez is a traditional town zócalo, bordered by the Municipal Palace and the Government Palace. This is a common location for public events including political rallies, concerts, and dance presentations, among other things. On the weekends Parque Juarez is full of families, couples and vendors selling everything from crepes and elote to candy and toys.
The park sits on the top of a hill and as such, consists of multiple levels. On the top level, there is a lookout point that offers views of the Pico de Orizaba (one of the tallest peaks in North America), and the beautiful green mountains surrounding Xalapa. Directly below the lookout point sits a Don Justo coffee shop where you can grab a warm beverage and bite to eat as you take in the scenery from the balcony.
Los Lagos is a series of man-made lakes surrounded by a pedestrian walkway. The main lake is located just down the hill from Xalapa’s center. The lakes are located between the historic center and the Universidad Veracruzana. As a result, the neighborhoods surrounding the lake host a large student population and the eateries and bars within these neighborhoods feature really budget-friendly (and tasty) food and drink.
Los Lagos is a popular walking/jogging/dog walking route. It’s a great spot to go for a leisurely stroll and stop off for an ice cream cone or elote along the way. On sunny days you can rent little boats and row out onto the lake!
Find Xalapa’s parks on this map:
7. Hike Macuiltepetl
6am – 7pm daily
Right in the (geographical) center of the city, sits a hill called Macuiltepetl which also happens to be home to a park of the same name… or, as I like to call it, the “Runyon Canyon of Xalapa.” On a clear day, this 30-minute “hike” (it’s mostly paved) will reward you with stunning, panoramic views of the city and surrounding mountains. But, even when it’s not clear, it still makes a fun trek. When you reach the bottom again, reward yourself with an elote or nieve!
8. Eat Mexico’s BEST Tacos
I know, it sounds like an exaggeration but I promise it isn’t. These tacos are one of the Top 3 reasons that I moved to Mexico, and definitely one of the main reasons I live in Xalapa. I discovered this taco stand 8 years ago on my way home from school and I was relieved to find that it still exists.
Now, the word “stand” is a bit generous, since it’s actually a woman who sells tacos out of the trunk of her car, but just go with it. Every day, Monday to Friday, she sets up near the corner of Calle Pino Suarez and Calle Jose Maria Mata. She has a printed sign advertising her 8 or so different taco fillings. I recommend encebollado (steak with onions) or carnitas, but there are tons of other options to experiment with. She’ll hand you a massive taco con copia (meaning it’s wrapped in 2 tortillas), and then it’s up to you to add fixin’s.
I recommend going all in on toppings: cilantro, onions, lime, and a spoonful of her mind-blowing salsa verde. In my opinion, the salsa verde is the best part of the experience so don’t you dare skip it. One taco makes a hearty snack, two makes a meal. Each taco will run you 12 pesos.
9. Go on a Coffee Crawl
There are so many coffee shops in Xalapa that you could spend a lifetime trying them all out. …That was meant to be an exaggeration, but I don’t think it actually is.
That said, I have found a few favorites that I return to time and again. These should get you started:
El Cafe-Tal – Along with serving tasty coffee, this happens to be one of my favorite brunch spots in Xalapa. The cafe occupies an old house which has been converted into a restaurant. As such, there are 3 different dining rooms upstairs, which creates kind of an intimate, speakeasy feel even though this place is hardly a secret. If you visit for breakfast they offer great packages, called paquetes, which include an entree along with coffee and orange juice for a really reasonable price (like, under $5 USD).
Kariva Cafe – Conveniently located within Xalapa’s centro histórico, Kariva is one of my favorite places for a coffee. Their coffee has a rich, well-rounded flavor and they roast it on site. The interior of the cafe offers low lighting and comfortable seating. It makes for a cozy and relaxing spot to work or read for a couple of hours.
Flor 14 – Another cafe within a repurposed house, Flor 14 offers multiple different dining/coffee sipping spaces including a covered patio adorned with a plethora of plants, a library room, a cozy mezzanine, and more! A true cafe/gallery, sometimes they host live music events or book readings. Personally, I come for the chocolate Oaxaqueña and you should too. This tasty cinnamon-accented hot chocolate can’t be missed.
10. Catch a Performance at the Teatro del Estado
Calle Ignacio de la Llave 2
As the capital city of Veracruz and a thriving university town, Xalapa is a cultural hub. The Teatro del Estado (State theatre) hosts everything from symphony performances to internationally renowned comedians, theatre groups, musicians, and more. It’s definitely worth checking the performance schedule during your visit to Xalapa!
11. Explore the Callejones
Xalapa’s callejones (or, alleys as we call them in English) aren’t anywhere near as narrow or extensive as what you might find in a city like Guanajuato, but they are still worth a visit. Most of the callejones are residential and, lined with beautifully painted homes featuring rustic wooden doors, they make from great photo opps. In my opinion, Callejón de Rojas and callejón Jesús te Ampare are two of the most beautiful, but you’ll find plenty of others as you explore Xalapa on foot!
There are a couple of callejones which aren’t residential, both can found in Xalapa’s historic center.
- The callejón de diamantes is lined with cafes and vendors selling anything from keychains and bracelets to crystals and pashminas. If you’re searching for souvenirs, this is a great place to start.
- The callejón de Gonzalez Aparicio is home to an array of restaurants and bars and is a lively scene on weekend evenings. If you’re looking for a cocktail, this is a safe bet.
Use this map to plan your callejón exploration!
Xalapa Restaurants & Bars
Calle Diego Leño 24A
Tierra Luna is a cafe/theatre, which means you’ll have a chance to catch a performance while you’re there. They regularly host events and workshops such as Tango nights, live music performances, and more. The food menu features an array of traditional Mexican offerings, all of which are delicious. This is a great spot for lunch or dinner, and even if there is no event you’ll enjoy a relaxing meal in their beautiful, spacious, colonial-style dining room!
Av. Manuel Ávila Camacho 118
If you love tacos you’ve got to give Asadero Cien a try. This popular restaurant originated in Xalapa as a taco shop with just 4 tables. Now they’ve expanded into a chain of large, modern restaurants throughout the city. They specialize in carne asada tacos but offer a lengthy menu filled with tasty options. Trust me, you can’t go wrong with anything on the menu. Don’t skip the sopa Azteca. I listed my favorite location here, but there are many to choose from throughout the city.
Av. Manuel Ávila Camacho 11B
If pastor tacos are your thing, you’ll love Tom-Mix. It’s a typical taco shop with a trompo out front and a basic dining room. I’ve been slowly working my way through Xalapa’s pastor offerings for the past year and Tom-Mix continues to be my top pick. Again, there are multiple locations but I listed my favorite above.
La Lola Pizzas
J. Ma. Pino Suárez 2
Lola is one of my favorite places for date night. They have tasty cocktails, great service, and delicious pizza. They also have live music a few nights a week. If you’re willing to take a break from tacos, Lola is a fun spot to spend the evening. You can check their Facebook page for info on their current promos and theme nights.
Calle José María Mata 18B
This laid-back bar is a great place for pre or post dinner drinks. The space is mostly open-air, with only a few tables inside, each illuminated by a combo of candles and twinkly string lights. The menu features an array of beer and cocktails and a few botanas (appetizers) so you don’t have to drink on an empty stomach.
Hotels in Xalapa, Mexico
Hostal de la Niebla
Budget travelers will appreciate not only the affordable rates but also the central location of this delightful hostel. The dorm rooms are clean, the communal spaces are large and comfortable, and the staff is friendly and happy to help with anything you need. This hostel is right in downtown Xalapa so finding a taxi will never be a challenge and there are plenty of affordable dining options as well as a grocery store, and multiple mercados within walking distance.
Airbnb – Pino Suarez
I can recommend this Airbnb whole-heartedly because, well, I used to live there. That’s right, it was my apartment during my study abroad program years ago! This apartment is spacious and bright and has an excellent location. It’s on a quiet street and centrally located; you’ll be able to walk just about anywhere from here.
Meson de Alferez Xalapa
This gorgeous, hacienda-style hotel makes a wonderful oasis right in the center of Xalapa. Located just a few minutes walk from Parque Juarez, you’ll be within easy walking distance of many of Xalapa’s attractions.
Hotel Colombe Boutique
The Hotel Colombe Boutique offers a modern, stylish experience. While you will find throwbacks to the gorgeous hacienda style that is common in Xalapa, the focus here is providing a tranquil and updated experience. This hotel is centrally located and features all the amenities you could possibly need, including an on-site restaurant, a swimming pool, and parking.
What to Pack For Xalapa
Xalapa Mexico Weather
Xalapa has a sub-tropical climate, meaning it’s hot and humid in the summer and cold and humid in the winter. The rainy months are June through October. At this time of year, the days are warm and sunny until about 4pm when the daily rain shower occurs. Usually, the rain doesn’t last more than a couple of hours and then the sun returns.
In the winter, full-on rain is minimal, but light, misty rain is common. Xalapeños call this phenomenon Chipi Chipi. You won’t feel like a rain jacket is necessary until you arrive at your destination completely soaked through due to persistent mist.
Moral of the story? Bring a rain shell when you visit Xalapa. This one stuffs into one of the hand pockets, making it a great option of carry-on travelers!
It’s also worth mentioning that the winter months can be quite cold. Xalapa is at 4,600 feet (1400 m) of elevation, so the temperature drops when the sun goes down. On top of that, indoor heating is rare in Mexico. Be sure to pack layers for visiting Xalapa (unless you come in the summer).
Xalapa Street Style
As you pack for Xalapa, you’ll want to consider the city’s culture. Even though the climate isn’t necessarily different, visiting Mexico’s cities calls for a slightly different wardrobe than visiting the beach towns.
I don’t know about where you’re from, but when I first arrived in Xalapa after living in Los Angeles and then the Riviera Maya, I felt chronically under-dressed at all times. Over the past year, since moving here, I’ve been working to upgrade my wardrobe so I can fit in a little better! Basically, the trend-ripped jeans and stylishly faded t-shirts that helped me blend in in California have the opposite effect here.
If you want to blend in here, aim for a polished look. I’d also recommend erring on the conservative side and avoiding anything strapless or that shows a lot of leg. Obviously, it’s up to you, but I don’t feel comfortable showing a lot of skin on the street.
In the summer, I rely on sundresses, shorts (not too short though!) and t-shirts. In the winter jeans and sweaters are comfiest.
For footwear you’ll want something sensible. Xalapa is full of hills. In fact, you know that old saying, “when I was a kid I had to walk up the hill BOTH ways to get to school and back”? Well, that’s TRUE in Xalapa.
On top of that, the sidewalks aren’t always in good repair, and sometimes they don’t even exist at all!
You should pick a shoe that’s comfortable and has a good grip, as the streets and sidewalks get slippery here when it rains. I LIVE in these Vans slip-ons, but any comfortable sneaker will do.
Remember, Xalapa is a big city. If you happen to forget anything essential you’ll likely be able to buy a substitute somewhere here. The Plaza Americas shopping mall has just about anything you could possibly need.
Xalapa, Mexico Safety
Mention your plans to visit the state of Veracruz and you’re sure to encounter someone who has negative things to say about the security of the area. Just remember, the same could be said for almost anywhere in Mexico.
If you look up crime statistics the figures aren’t favorable for this area. But I can tell you, having lived here for the past year, that I don’t feel like Xalapa is a dangerous destination for travelers. Of course, it’s always important to be cautious, but I have no qualms about encouraging you to visit the area.
Getting to and From Xalapa
Where is Xalapa, Veracruz?
Xalapa is located about 5 hours Southeast of Mexico City and about 1 hour from the port city of Veracruz on the gulf coast of Mexico. With an elevation of 4,600 feet, Xalapa sits in a cloud forest within the Sierra Madre Oriental mountain range. Surrounded by volcanoes and lush tropical forests, Xalapa is incredibly scenic!
Arriving to Xalapa by Air
Xalapa’s nearest airport is the Veracruz International Airport which is 45 – 60 minutes away by car. Depending on where you are traveling from, arriving to Xalapa via Veracruz is a good option. The Veracruz airport is small and easy to navigate and the drive to Xalapa is really scenic! If you choose to rent a car, it can be done from the airport. If you wish to travel to Xalapa via bus, you will have to take a taxi to the nearest ADO station. A first class bus ticket to Xalapa will cost approximately $200 MXN.
Arriving to Xalapa by Bus
Xalapa’s bus station is called CAXA (central de autobuses de Xalapa) and it is serviced by the ADO bus line. There are multiple buses to Xalapa daily that leave directly from Benito Juarez International Airport in Mexico City. There are also ADO buses to Xalapa leaving hourly from Mexico City’s TAPO station. A ticket for the airport shuttle bus will cost you approximately $670 MXN while a ticket from TAPO will cost between $200 – $700 MXN depending on which class of bus you opt for.
If you happen to be in another city in Mexico and want to arrive by bus, you’ll have to look for ADO or AU bus fares as those are the only two companies which service Xalapa. These companies don’t service states north of Mexico City, so if you’re coming from far away you’ll likely have to transfer buses in Mexico City or Puebla.
Have you ever heard of Xalapa? Would you go?
Did you like this post? Pin it!