El Tajín (Ehl Tah-heen) is among the most important archaeological sites in Mexico. It has a large ceremonial center with several pyramids, platforms, and ball courts, some in the architectural styles of other cultures (Olmec, Teotihuacán, Maya) and some in the city's own unique style. It was probably built and inhabited (at least, in its last stages) by the Totonac Indians, who still live in this region. The Totonac culture is most famous for the "dance" of the voladores, a pre-Columbian religious ritual in which four men are suspended from the top of a tall pole while another beats a drum and plays a flute while balancing himself at the top.

The major stopover for seeing these ruins is Papantla, a hilly city of 165,000 in the coastal lowlands 225km (140 miles) north of Veracruz. In many respects, it's a typical Mexican town, with lots of clay-tile roofs, a jumble of small shops, and a lively street scene. It's best known for producing vanilla beans. Vanilla is native to Mexico and was used principally to flavor a beverage made with cacao, also indigenous to Mexico.