Saturday, October 5, 2013

Tampico, Mexico

I've been a lot of places in Mexico - Cancun, Playa del Carmen, Merida, Campeche, Tulum - just to name a few and none of them was anything like Tampico. Located in in the state of Tamaulipas, this is not the Mexico you see in brochures and in glossy travel magazines. This is a city where people live and work and tourists don't often visit.

A taste of Tampico
I found myself in Tampico on a whim for a week in May to visit my mother who was teaching at an international school there and it was an eye-opening look at a totally new side of Mexico, one that I had never seen. It's drab, there are three Walmarts, the place to be on Friday nights is - I kid you not - TGI Fridays (which I sadly didn't get to) and at first glance, there isn't much to do other than hit the Walmart and then fight the crowds at the aforementioned TGI Fridays. But dig beyond the surface and you find some charm.

So if you're wondering what to do if you ever take find yourself in Tampico here are a few suggestions.

Hit the beach
Adults-only pool, Club Maeva Miramar
Miramar beach, a wide 10km stretch of soft caramel-hued sand is fantastic for walking. Food stalls line one end of the beach offering up the catch of the day, along with cold drinks and snacks. There are palapas with lounge chairs you can rent, but if you really want to relax, you can buy a day pass from beachfront hotel Club Maeva Miramar. The all-inclusive pass includes all meals and drinks (booze, too. Yay) and will run you about $56. You can also buy half-day passes. The grounds are pretty extensive with three pools, bars and a restaurant, but head straight for the adult's only area with a gorgeous infinity pool and small swim-up bar. It can get crowded but no kids means more peace and quiet. Grab a lounge chair and order up a michelada (delicious Mexican beer cocktail) and relax. The only issue is that food here isn't great. OK, it's subpar at best but you can always fill up on beer and stick to bread and cheese like I did.

Visit the market
No matter where I go in the world I love markets and always make a point to check out as many as I can. I love the chaotic nature of markets, the peek into local life, the energy and the sights and sounds (but not always the smells). Tampico's market didn't disappoint. It's loud, it's overflowing in colorful piles of produce, there are stalls selling everything from souvenirs to clothing to pet food and there's a maze of alleys just hawking tacos, tortas and other local favourites. Many avocados were purchased and later consumed. Tampico has really good avocados.

Wander the historic downtown area
Pink gazebo
While most of Tampico resembles a sprawling suburb totally void of any character whatsoever, the downtown area is where the city comes alive. Faded yet once colourful neo-classical buildings line the streets, sharing space with carts selling fruit, shoe shine stands and shops. I especially loved the Plaza de Armas, a square boasting a massive gazebo built from pink stone and looking like some sort of space ship crossed with a cathedral. It's hard to miss thanks to the distinct shade of bubble gum (or Pepto-Bismol) pink and makes for a great photo. There are two snack bars in the square selling fresh juices and light snacks if you're hungry. It gets really hot in Tampico so the juice will be welcome. The cathedral of Tampico and Liberty Plaza also worth a look but there's no need to go with a plan, just wander at your own pace. When you need a break head to Degas CafĂ© for a coffee or beer on their cute patio where you can people watch while sipping your beverage of choice (beer for me) and nibbling on the commentary snack mix.
Unless my mom was still working there I wouldn't go back to Tampico, but I'm still glad I went. It was a side of Mexico I haven't see and reminded my why I love to travel - to see what you don't expect and be surprised by what you see.

Have you been to Tampico? What did you think?

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