Scouting the Vanilla Route in Veracruz

Our scouting adventures are remembered vividly. We enter new areas and encounter interesting people, new cultural experiences, experts with fascinating information, and make decisions about what can be used in future Travelian tours.

This year Rodrigo, the founder of Travelian, and I decided to scout the newly opened area of northeastern Estado de Veracruz. Why did we choose to explore this region? The first part of the answer began with our friend, Dirk, a Dutch-born photographer-extraordinaire and Mexican ruins –aficionado, who has wanted to go to this site for longer than we have known him. Rodrigo and I had also talked about going to explore the site and the region, but treacherous mountainous roads kept us at bay until a new “20 years in the making” super highway opened in November 2014.  This highway allowed us to drive from San Miguel de Allende to Poza Rica, Veracruz, safely and swiftly.

Mexico - Tuxpan Highway

The new Mexico – Tuxpan Highway

So six of us ~ Dirk the photographer and fearless driver; his wife Hope the artist and unique commentator; Diane the botanist, writer and artist; Norman the bird watcher, photographer, and kibitzer; Rodrigo the adventurer, bird watcher, insect lover and photographer, and I, Colleen the chatterer, and general assessment manager, piled into Dirk and Hope’s Honda Odyssey and off we went!

We realized the minute we arrived in Poza Rica and got out of the van that we were in Humidlandia~ Junglelandia. Luckily, Rodrigo and I booked us at the best hotel in town, sitting up on top of a hill overlooking the city. Poza Rica is not yet a tourist draw, it’s an oil export city, and full of international businessmen. However, the city is in crisis with oil prices crashing, and the new highway has given them a gift ~ the possibility of increased tourism! So, when Rodrigo contacted our host, to say we were coming and for advice about what to see in the area, we didn’t know we were in for a surreal surprise!  Only in Mexico, one of the world’s happiest countries, would we be greeted in a fashion so over the top, yet, with such honor. We had no idea that the owner of the hotel would host us for a comida of local specialties and bring with her several other locally important friends.  At the end of our regional meal, she said she’d see us all again at 7:00 that evening!  We all ran to our rooms or to the pool to get a little rest. At 7:00 p.m. we learned that our hosts had invited all the local VIPS involved with tourism to join us for appetizers, drinks, and a regional dance show prepared just for us! I wish you could have seen the way we were dressed, (casual-sweaty) while our gracious and amazing hosts were dressed and coifed to the nines! After hours of socializing and exhausted, but smiling, we crawled back to our rooms and collapsed into our beds unable to fight sleep.

The adventurous gang and our amazing hosts

The adventurous gang and our amazing hosts

The first morning, we toured the majestic ancient site of El Tajin with an expert guide, and were then graciously invited for an authentic Totonaco banquet lunch. Back at our relaxing hotel pool, our hosts arranged for three of us to have foot massages by two sweet Totonacan women who have been trained in Indigenous medicine. It was a genuine offering of local kindness.

The following day, we went to visit new friends, owners of a massive ranch with mountains and pristine jungle. They were exceptionally welcoming and friendly. They made it clear that we were part of their family. They showed us around, fed us and put us up in their guest rooms for two nights. Although it was very hot and humid we were joined by three cheerful UNAM researchers from Mexico City (a botanist and two ornithologists), who were doing surveys of the property. What a gift!  Diane went off to do field work with them the next day. The rest of us went to visit the Totonaco Indigenous Artisan Center – an amazing experience.  We once again were treated with grace and honor. The Totonaco elders ceremoniously greeted us, and we were given the privilege of hearing from them about their remarkable culture and beliefs. We then spent hours at the site learning about their traditions in weaving, painting, pottery, cooking, and flying like birds from high poles.

After early morning bird-watching and breakfast at the ranch, we drove to the coast on a tiny pot-holed road via the French settlement of San Rafael. We had a delicious lunch at a riverside restaurant and headed to the beach of La Costa Esmeralda.

La Costa Esmeralda (the Emerald Coast) is a very beautiful stretch of Gulf coastline in northern Veracruz. Our chic hotel sat serenely above the beach. It was euphoric entering the swimming pool after sweating for five days. We could finally relax and enjoyed delicious fresh fish grilled for dinner. The following morning, Norm, Diane, Hope and Rodrigo went on a boat trip into the jungles of the nearby reserve to observe birds and flora. After they finally returned, Dirk drove us back to San Rafael as we were longing to have traditional French cuisine at a local high end hotel/restaurant, but alas it was French in name only; the actual was a distinctly Mexican take on the named French dishes.

On our later drive back to San Miguel, we stopped at a vanilla plantation for an insightful tour, and vanilla purchases. After piling into the van, Dirk patiently drove out of the jungle and up through the dense fog of the pine-forested mountains with Rodrigo as our sage navigator. Once we reached the top of the pass, our views switched to the open sunny vistas of the high desert, offering us an easy drive back to San Miguel de Allende.

Now we have gathered enough material and made remarkable new friends in the creation of a breathtaking nature/culture tour in the Totonac -Vanilla Route region of Veracruz. Life is grand, especially if one has curious and adventurous friends who enjoy exploring new territory.

For more information about our special small-group tour to El Tajin and The Vanilla Route, please give us a call on +52 (415) 100 2798 / 52 (415) 101 9175 or visit: or

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