The Augustin Lara Suite at Grand Hotel Diligencias // © 2016 Grand Hotel Diligencias
Feature image (above): Gran Hotel Diligencias features views of the Cathedral of Veracruz. // © 2016 iStock
Veracruz is Mexico’s biggest port city on the Gulf of Mexico. The city was established back in 1519, when Hernan Cortes claimed it as the first Spanish town in Mexico. Since then, Veracruz has fallen off the radar as far as international tourism goes. While still a popular destination for domestic travelers, at any given time you’d be hard-pressed to find more than a handful of visitors from the U.S. This is a shame, since Veracruz has much to offer, especially for travelers who have done the major resort regions in Mexico and are looking for something more authentic
The main appeal of Veracruz is its historic city center and its feel-good Caribbean ambiance. This is a city where it’s important to take your time over a cup of cafe con leche (coffee with milk); to listen to live music, especially from wandering bands of marimba players; to enjoy skillfully prepared fresh seafood; and to dance the “danzon,” a stately dance imported from Cuba. Veracruz's beating heart is its “zocalo,” or central square, where all of the above activities can be experienced in a perpetual Sunday afternoon/Saturday night atmosphere — no matter the day or time.
If your clients stay in a hotel in the historic zone, they’ll have ready access to this lively scene. They’ll also be just a few blocks from Veracruz’s Paseo del Malecon waterfront promenade. This isn’t the loveliest malecon in Mexico, but there’s great flea-market type shopping, and it offers a nice expanse of waterfront for traffic-free strolling. The malecon also has some of the city’s finest hotels.
Gran Hotel Diligencias is located on the edge of the zocalo, with views of the Cathedral of Veracruz and the Palacio Municipal (city hall). While today the hotel offers a thoroughly modern level of service — and is probably the most luxe hotel in the city — Diligencias has roots that go back to 1795. It was originally an inn built to accommodate the stagecoaches and coachmen who carried the mail back and forth between Mexico City and Veracruz. Over the years, the hotel was modified to resemble a European belle epoque style.
The 121-room hotel, which offers four master suites and four junior suites, has a terrace bar with a pool and Jacuzzi; a gym with a sauna; a bar; and a seafood restaurant. Romance-minded clients will want to know about the option to book Room 121, where famous Veracruz composer Agustin Lara penned the romantic ballad “Veracruz.” The room is furnished with 19th-century antiques that date from the time of Lara’s stay.
During a recent visit to Veracruz, I stayed at Hotel Veracruz Centro Historico, which is cataloged in Mexico’s National Institute of Anthropology and History. While the property is a little worn at the edges, it has a prime location facing the zocalo. The six-story hotel has 116 rooms and suites; try to book one of the rooms with a balcony overlooking the square. If clients are sensitive to street noise at night, it’s advisable to book them a room on one of the top floors. Since Veracruz gets quite humid in the summer, the property’s pool will help guests bounce back after a day of sightseeing. Another plus is Sanborns, the restaurant right off the lobby. In addition to Mexican favorites, the menu also features a range of Middle Eastern dishes.
Emporio Veracruz is the grand hotel on the malecon and an official member of Preferred Hotels & Resorts. Emporio is a good choice for clients who want more spacious and quiet surroundings than the zocalo provides, while still being only a few blocks away from the square. Facilities and amenities at the 223-room hotel include two outdoor pools and a heated indoor swimming pool, a pool bar, three restaurants, a spa and Wi-Fi access in the guestrooms, public areas and function rooms. The property is also be a good choice for family travelers, since it has a kids’ pool and children’s club providing supervised activities. Guests can enjoy looking out on the busy port, as well as taking in views of the Fort of San Juan de Ulua, which was built in 1565 and is considered to be the last Spanish stronghold in the Americas.