North of Veracruz

North of Veracruz, the highway skirts a procession of windswept shores and low-key resorts, popular with Mexicans in holiday season but eerily desolate off-peak. Here, minor detours reward intrepid travellers with fascinating off-beat experiences. The ruins of the first Spanish settlement at Villa Rica, the ancient burial grounds of Quiahuitzlán, the little visited pre-Columbian city of El Pital, and a low-key turtle conservation project at Tecolutla - all are ignored by the mainstream. But continue north and you'll soon hit the Totonac heartland, marked by the colourful indigenous town of Papantla, where surviving traditions are the basis for a vivid and often teeming daily life. Perhaps no spectacle is as unforgettable as the traditional dance of the voladores, performed by four dancers who spiral down a pole on slowly twisting ropes. Resembling eagles in flight, there is no firm agreement about the symbolic meaning of the dance, although elements of its design closely correspond to the ancient Mesoamerican calendar. Nearby, at the pre-Hispanic ruins of El Tajín, the pyramid of the Niches also exhibits a reverence for time-keeping with 365 carved niches, one for each day of the year. Replete with vast ball courts and temples, El Tajín is one of Mexico's most fabulous archaeological sites, a UNESCO World Heritage Site and well worth a visit.

This is edited copy from Footprint Handbooks. For comprehensive details (incl address, tel no, directions, opening times and prices) please refer to book or individual chapter PDF
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