What is there to visit in Papantla Veracruz?

Papantla de Olarte in Veracruz is one of the few cities in the world with three World Heritage Sites. Explore its main tourist attractions.

What is there to visit in Papantla Veracruz?
El Tajin Archaeological Zone and site museum. Photo: INAH

Papantla is located in the north of the state of Veracruz, 270 kilometers from its capital. The surrounding countryside is made up of soft hills of intense green, in exceptional landscapes, between the Cazones and Tecolutla rivers. The layout of the streets of this Magical Town is irregular and capricious, leaving picturesque corners among houses with tile roofs. The occasional colonial mansion still survives with its gates, vestibules, and patios called asoleaderos, traditional places where vanilla was dried in the sun.

Papantla was founded around the year 1200 by Tuzapan Indians, heirs of the Olmecs, who came to dominate the extensive region where the Totonaca culture flourished, creator of the imposing city of El Tajin, whose name means "city of thunder". When the Spaniards arrived, they baptized it as Papantla de Santa María de la Asunción and today it is called Papantla de Olarte, in honor of the insurgent Serafín Olarte, born in this locality.

The main crop in the area is vanilla, from which the locals not only make candies but also figures derived from its pod. In textiles, it is possible to get typical costumes of the dancers, which are also represented in clay figures and glazed ceramics. Other materials used are palm for the manufacture of baskets, sandals, fans, and hats; wood, flutes, and drums are made with reeds and squirrel skin. The main tourist attractions in Papantla are the following.

El Tajin

Located on the coast of the Gulf of Mexico, the Pre-Columbian City of El Tajin is considered one of the sacred precincts of the Totonacs and Huaxtecs. It was founded around 200 AD.

In the indigenous language it means "lightning or hurricane", it was dedicated to the god responsible for these natural phenomena. It comprises three perfectly differentiated zones: the lower city, the upper city, and the complex of the building of the columns. In the lower city, there are numerous courts (17) for the ritual ball game, so it must have been the sacred center of this game.

The most important and surprising construction is the pyramid of the niches, consecrated to the god of rain and winds. It has a height of 18 meters and a square base of 36 meters per side. The seven levels separated from each other by cornices are formed by successive square niches, 365 in total. The whole complex is dominated by the building of the columns, but already with Toltec influences, has a height of 45 meters, the bas-reliefs that embellish the columns testify to the religious life of the inhabitants.

The Papantla Flyers

The Totonaca region is bordered to the north by the Huasteca Veracruzana and to the south by the northern highlands of Puebla; within the latter is the city of Papantla, known as "The city that perfumes the world" because of the orchid from which the pod known as "vanilla" is extracted.

The elements that make up the different cultures, including the Totonaca, remain and are shown in features such as clothing, food, and one of the best-known manifestations that identifies Papantla: The Flyers.

From a symbolic load, the ceremony of the flyers communicates, according to diverse scholars, that the thirteen turns that each one of the four flyers gives signify the 52 years that correspond to the entrance of a new sun. While these descend, another one stays at the tip of the trunk touching and dancing.

Some aspects to follow involve choosing the tree to be cut and the offerings to be deposited in the hole where the trunk is buried. These preparations give way to the performance of the ceremony in Papantla and so many other places in the state of Veracruz.

Papantla Cathedral, Lady of the Assumption

The Cathedral is located in the center of the city and its construction began in the XVI century by the Franciscan order, around 1570, and finished in 1590. It is a Franciscan style construction, with a cross-shaped nave. The facade is made up of four Romanesque pilasters flanking an entrance arch and a huge door of two carved cedar leaves. The tower was not built until 1875 and was finished in 1879, with a height of 30 meters. Its clock dates from 1895, still in operation.

As part of its architectural treasures, the church has a central altar where the Virgin of the Assumption is located, on the right side of the pulpit, there are three medallions with the apparitions of the Virgin of Lourdes, on the left side the apparitions of the Tepeyac hill. Finally, in the lower part of the cathedral, there is a mural that tells the history of Papantla, from pre-Hispanic times to the present day.

Corpus Christi Festival

It takes place in June, it is the main celebration of Papantla; the famous dance of the Voladores de Papantla is performed, which consists of a spinning descent from the top of a vertical structure to the rhythm of a musical touch that executes a dancer in its tip. According to its indigenous meaning, these are bird men who dance to please their gods. During this festivity, it is also possible to contemplate other types of dances, such as that of Los Guaguas, always with the attraction represented by the colorful costumes.