102km (63 miles) NW of Veracruz; 203km (126 miles) NE of Puebla

Xalapa (pronounced Hah-lah-pa and sometimes spelled "Jalapa," which lent its name to the famed jalape├▒o pepper) is a highland city in the middle of Mexico's prime coffee-growing area and the capital of the state of Veracruz. Less than 2 hours from the port of Veracruz, it's a hilly city, crisscrossed by narrow, winding streets and alleys. A fine, misty rain known as chipi chipi often floats in the air, cloaking the views in a vaporous shroud. When the sky is clear, you can sometimes make out in the distance the snowcapped peak of Pico de Orizaba (also known as Citlalt├ępetl), an extinct volcano that is Mexico's tallest peak, at 5,747m (18,850 ft.).

Xalapa is a university town and has the best music school in the country, which is part of the University of Veracruz. It's easy to come across chamber music and symphony concerts. Xalapa also has an excellent anthropology museum that is second only to Mexico City's monster of a museum. And for active types, there's first-rate white-water rafting nearby.