Xalapa (pronounced Jalapa), my current hometown, is also home to some 400,000 people – and yes they are called jalapeños like the chile. It is the capital city of the state of Veracruz, a vibrant university city and is also known as The City of Flowers thanks to its numerous parks and the many trees which also populate the sidewalks.
Xalapa is a cultural centre. The largest university – La Universidad Veracruzana – has a great anthropology inspired by Mexico’s diverse cultural surroundings and also a very popular music program which attracts young musicians from all over the country. There is always some kind of cultural spectacular showing here. The Teatro del Estado (state theatre) often has the local symphony orchestra playing there along with other shows including music, dance and acting.
There are many small cafés and bars which have great shows on. In the cafe Tierra Luna I saw some great comedy with comedians from all over Latin America. Salsa is vibrant in this city as it is in the rest of the state and a great place to start out is in La Tentación, a popular small bar with a great live salsa band and a lively dance floor.
Documentaries and films are also often shown in this city, the Contemporary Art Gallery and the Garden of Sculptures being popular places for showing the which usually are works from all over Latin America as well as Mexico. These places are also popular for hosting art exhibitions along with dance workshops as well as the Agora Gallery, found underneath the central Parque Juarez. These are only a handful of the cultural spots the city has to offer, there are many more to be found around its winding streets. Hola Xalapa is a great guide (in Spanish) on cultural events here in Xalapa.
For a more historical experience, the Anthropology Museum is a great bet. It is here that you can find thousands of artifacts belonging to indigenous cultures from around the region including the colossal Olmec heads.
As previously mentioned, Xalapa has many parks. The most well know would have to be Parque Juarez, right in the centre of the city. Below Parque Juarez you can find Los Lagos (the lakes) with paths around the edges perfect for a nice stroll and if you are a daredevil you might want to try the short flying fox which makes it’s way from the raised edge of the lake out to a float off the shore. Also very popular and full of families on the weekends are Parque Tecajetes – home to ponds full of Koi fish and a great playground for children, Parque los Berros – also very popular with families especially on Sundays when not only can you buy candy floss but mount a miniature pony or bounce your life away on a trampoline.
There is also Xallitic, a kind of square/park underneath a bridge in the center of town where you can see some beautiful graffiti and be in awe at the houses towering up the sides of the park. If you want a great view of the whole of Xalapa and it’s surroundings, you can venture up El Cerro (The Hill). Not only a great place to walk or run if you feel like it, at the top there is a café and a mirador (lookout) where you can see all of the city, even out to Naolinco and Pico de Orizaba, the highest peak in Mexico.
In the center the Callejón del Diamante is littered with stalls selling trinkets, shops full of clothes, handicrafts and souvenirs and some great little cafés for those looking for a strong coffee. In fact in the centre of town there are many great little cafés, some acting as small art galleries as well as a place to take a break. Another Callejón (small street) nearby hosts some great bars including one that even sells arabic food and the cuban inspired Cubanías.
For such a small and rather un-touristic place, Xalapa has a lot of offer, especially if you are willing to look for it. Tucked away in the mountains it is a great place to stop over if you are willing to discover a part of Mexico as the locals know it.