Mexico’s two new incentive destinations, Veracruz and Guadalajara, offer travelers a wide array of entertainment and tourism options. From fiestas and carnivals to hiking and extreme sports, they have it all for anyone visiting the beautiful country of Mexico for the first or fifth time.

Veracruz State, located in southeastern Mexico, features the longest coastline on the Gulf of Mexico and is virtually synonymous with enjoyment, music, dancing, charm and witchcraft. Its colorful fiestas held throughout the year culminate in its internationally renowned carnival, which, combined with the superb local cuisine, make it a magnet for tourists.

Veracruz features several important archaeological sites. El Tajin, located in the northern city of Papantla, is one of the country’s most-visited archaeological sites and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. El Tajin was built by the Totonacs, an important civilization that reached its peak from the early ninth to early 13th centuries A.D. and whose cultural influence extended not only all along the Gulf of Mexico but also into the Yucatan Peninsula and central Mexico. It became the most important religious empire in northeast Mesoamerica after the fall of Teotihuacan (located near modern-day Mexico City in 700 AD. The buildings found in El Tajin are masterpieces of ancient Mexican and American architecture that reveal astronomical and symbolic significance. Their unique architecture is characterized by elaborate carved reliefs on the columns, and the Pyramid of the Niches, in particular, features 365 niches representing the days of the year.

Cantona, 60 miles away from Veracruz’s capital city, Xalapa, is another important archaeological zone and considered one of the largest cities in Mesoamerica, spanning 4,633 square miles. This prehispanic city features a series of raised avenues, staircases and alleys surrounded by pyramids and twenty-four ball courts. Additional nearby archaeological sites include Quiahuitztlan and Filalobos.

Outdoor enthusiasts can also participate in a variety of activities. Popular attractions include the waterfalls at Xico, lagoons, the traditional coffee-harvesting town of Coatepec, the Cofre de Perote volcano, and the town of Jalcomulco, where travelers can practice numerous adventurous sports including whitewater rafting and mountaineering. Additionally, the magnificent coastal strip of the Costa Esmeralda provides boundless opportunities for adventure and ecotourism.

The city of Veracruz was founded by Spanish conquistador Hernan Cortes in 1519 at the start of his quest to conquer Mexico and who named the port La Villa Rica de la Vera Cruz (The Rich Town of the Holy Cross). It remains one of the most important port cities in Mexico, is the largest city on the Gulf and features a fascinating blend of colonial and modern architecture.

Walking tours on the malecon (boardwalk) or through the zocalo (downtown historic center) are popular activities among visitors to Veracruz. In the evenings, young and old gather to dance the danzon, a dignified, stately dance attracting large audiences of locals and tourists alike. The city and surrounding towns, among them Boca del Rio, are famous for their seafood dishes, including arroz a la tumbada (a local version of paella) and cangrejo moro (stone crab).

Veracruz is home to colorful cities such as Cordoba, Papantla and Tlacotalpan, declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Catemaco and its Isla de los Monos are known for their magical influences and Catemaco witch festival held annually in March.

Nestled in the lush Atemajac Valley in the foothills of the Sierra Madre Occidental mountain range, Guadalajara embodies the essence of traditional Mexican culture. The city -Mexico’s second-largest and one of Latin America’s wealthiest- is an impressive metropolis whose manufacturing industry has earned it the nickname of Mexico’s Silicon Valley.

Guadalajara offers everything from historic sites and remarkable museums (more than 20) to traditional architecture and elegant monuments which attest to its nearly 500 years of history. Its vibrant cultural and intellectual life has made it a magnet for foreign students. The city also takes pride in being the birthplace of Mariachi music.

Interesting places to visit include the Government Palace, first occupied by the governors of New Galicia during the colonial period. The palace later served as a residence for Miguel Hidalgo, who, from that very palace passed a law abolishing slavery in 1810. Other must-see attractions include the Institute of Jalisco Handicrafts, the Museum of Archaeology of Western Mexico, the Jose Clemente Orozco Museum, the Museum of Huichol Indian Handicrafts and the Museum of Journalism and Graphic Arts.

For outdoor recreation, Guadalajara offers two large parks ideal for hiking and extreme sports. Barranca de Huentitan is a favorite for adventure sports, and the Tequila Volcano, a 9,580-foot-high peak near the town of Tequila, is most frequented by hang-gliders.

Tlaquepaque, a quaint craftsman’s village near Guadalajara, is where travelers can find prestigious and skilled potters molding clay into amazing forms. The colorful village of Tonala, is Jalisco State’s pottery center, where ceramics are produced using eleven different techniques.

Guadalajara is also home to the largest enclosed market in Latin America: the Liberty Market. More than 1,000 vendors sell local blown glass, leather goods and other handicrafts the city and its surroundings are famous for.

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