El Oriente is what Mexicans call this region stretching from the central valley of Mexico east to the Gulf. It includes the states of Puebla, Tlaxcala, and Veracruz, and has much to recommend it. For adventure travelers, it offers excellent white-water rafting, challenging climbs that include Mexico's highest mountain -- a dormant volcano called the Pico de Orizaba -- and scuba diving along Veracruz's coastal reefs. For culture, the region has three fascinating ruins, excellent museums and historical sites, and great food and architecture.

Puebla and Cholula have the ideal highland climate, beautiful colonial churches and palaces, incredible food, and a strong local culture. The ruins in the area feature the startlingly vivid pre-Columbian murals of Cacaxtla and the New World's largest man-made structure, the great pyramid of Cholula. Farther east you'll find the magnificent anthropology museum in Xalapa, and the ruins of El Tajín. Finally, you get to the coast and the old port of Veracruz, a fun town for music, dancing, and nightlife, and for soaking up the easygoing way of life of the Tropics.