|By Carla Land
When most people think of Veracruz they think of the famous international port city by the same name along the Gulf of Mexico. Some may even be familiar with the city's long and rich history and its many former and great indigenous civilizations, from the Olmecs and the Toltecs to the Totonacs and the Aztecs -- and its' eventual colonization by Spain.
But many active travelers may be surprised to learn that within the State of Veracruz lies Mexico's number one rafting destination, Jalcomulco ( "the sand corner" in Nahuatl). The State of Veracruz, in fact, has more than 40 rivers that traverse its rugged topography creating excellent areas for world class white water rafting and kayaking. Typically, the rivers of Veracruz are narrow, steep and continuous and carry a medium to low volume of water which makes maneuvering both technical and challenging.
Jalcomulco, nestled in the Sierra Madres between Mexico City and coastal Veracruz, is the best destination for those wishing to test their whitewater skills. This sleepy rural village is just a two hour drive from the city of Veracruz, and an enchanting road trip that slowly melts away the high tech world you've left behind. You first drive through the through the foot hills of the Sierra Madres Orientals, past coffee plantations of Coatepec, and down through the Mango plantations of the Antigua River Valley, a spectacular visual introduction to the region.
Upon arriving in the village it is easy to fall into the pace of the village life where generations of families have lived harvesting sugar cane, mangos and trapping langostinos (the giant crawfish the village that has made the cuisine a favorite of local and visitor alike). The quaint village sits on the banks of one of the best whitewater rivers in Mexico, surrounded by lush vegetation, abundant wildlife, challenging bike trails, and adrenaline rushing cliffs and gorges.
Jalcomulco borders the Antigua river (the river of the hummingbird) and is able to accommodate rafters with varying levels of experience from beginners to advanced. Parts of the river range from class II to Class IV rapids and experienced guides in the area will adjust your float adventure according to your level of experience.
While there are some areas of the river that demand all of your paddling attention, there is plenty of time in other areas to observe the magnificent views. For instance, it's not unusual to see lush bromeliads hanging from high cliff walls, interspersed with lush forested slopes. There are many colorful bird species to be seen as well across this region, huge bird nests and unique larger birds like the Kingfisher or "Oropendola" fly above as you as you float down the waterway.
While the Rio Antigua has the most variety of class runs along the river, you won't want to miss the chance to raft and explore two other well known rivers in the region, the Rio Filobobos and Rio Actopan. If you have an interest in archeology you can visit recently discovered ruins from the banks of the Rio Filobobos.
But for shear excitement the Rio Actopan is hard to beat. More a creek than a river, the crystal clear water of the Rio Actopan runs narrow and swift through a combination of mango plantations and tropical forests. From the river source of Descabezadero, where springs gush out of a fern covered natural limestone amphitheatre to the take out, 20 km downstream, the river offers almost nonstop Class II and III whitewater. The rapids are perfect for first timers as well as technical and challenging enough for experienced river runners to enjoy. This is a great trip if you just have one day in the area.
If whitewater rafting is not up your alley, the area is filled with other outdoor recreation activities and cultural experiences to enjoy. There are many mountain bike trails in and around Jalcomulco as well as climbing and rappelling areas. Horse riding adventures and even paintball events are available in this small but exciting locale.
There are several unique attractions in the area you won't want to miss, like the hidden waterfall El Salto del Encanto. Or explore the recently discovered Totonaca-Huasteca site of El Cuajilote, a fertility ceremonial site.
Have you ever wanted to swing through the jungle? Try out the local mango tree tour in a harness. Most of these mango trees are over 100 years old!
While October has the best whitewater flow for rafters, thre river is a year round destination. The climate is typical “mountain" weather of hot/sunny days and cool evenings. It is also typical for this region to experience a build up of humidity throughout the day, leading to a tropical rain shower in the evening as the temperature cools. The light daily rain supports the region's rainforest and cloud forest vegetation as well as keeps the water levels consistent in the rivers. It is highly recommend to wear light, loose fitting, natural fiber clothing. It is also very important to protect against the
sun. A good +15 sunblock and a fine sombrero will help keep you from getting burned. Drinking lots of fluids will help fight off dehydration and bottled water is readily available. Small, “no see-um”, mosquitoes are present during the day and light weight, long pants are recommended. Since Jalcomulco is in the hills of the Sierra Madre Oriental (mountains) where it can get cool enough in the evenings to wear a jacket or warm sweater.
For the most part. area accommodations are small and charming with small family style haciendas being the main source of lodging. Most of these haciendas have anywhere from 15 to 24 rooms, usually centered around a tropical courtyard or pool,and most with hot showers and/or a hammock bar. It is common practice that rooms are provided on a twin share basis and the wash rooms showers are shared. If you must have a private room and can't live without air-conditioning you will find it at the Hotel "La Alcatraz" in the heart of the city.
Discover Mexico's #1 Rafting destination and enjoy the ride!
Picocanoa Adventure Lodge
24 Cabañas in the heart of the jungle next to Rio Antigua River rafting, kayaking, mountain biking, hiking and treetop tours. After a full day of fun, relax with a swim in the lodge pool, a traditional temascal steam bath or massage before dining alongside the river
tel. (011 52 228) 520-2041 540-7870 520-5018
In downtown Jalcomulco, this high end resort has fine clean and comfortable, single, double and triple occupancy rooms with private bathrooms, ceiling fans and a beautiful interior garden view. Facilities include a dining room, bar, swimming pool, local massages, multipurpose room, garden area and all inclusive packages with eco tourism and adventure activities available. Meals are included.
Tour Guide Sources:
Experience whitewater rafting (Rio Pescados, Rio Antigua, Rio Actopan), rappel, trekking, paintball, and horse rides in beautiful Jalcomulco, Veracruz. They claim to be the only company owned and operated by Jalcomulco natives! About 40 minutes from Xalapa.
A base camp where the eight rooms can accommodate up to 30 people hostel style, each of which can be arranged with either 2 single or 1 double beds or 2 bunk beds according to your needs.