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Discovering Catemaco, Veracruz

Story & photos by Gene Gaudi

My life in Catemaco started out with my travel agent friend, Judith, asking if I would be interested in joining a tour to Catemaco (population 45,000). I love Mexico and had been searching for the right spot for sometime so of course I said 'YES!'. We spent several days in Catemaco and the surrounding Los Tuxtlas area (Catemaco, San Andrews, Santiago) visiting the ecological preserves, beaches and of course Lake Catemaco.
Lake Catemaco in Veracruz
Lake Catemaco in Veracruz
Volcanic ridges from sea level to nearly 6,000 feet in elevation surround the area, nestled among the peaks is Lake Catemaco. Lake Catemaco is 7 miles long, nearly 4 miles wide, and up to 98 feet deep. The lake was formed from the calderas of several extinct volcanoes. Mojarra (Black Bass) is caught in the lake and sold fresh daily at many of the restaurants along the lake.

Before the tour bus even left to return to the Texas border I was making plans to return to this beautiful, quiet town on the edge of the rain forest. Less than 2 months later I am heading south on Highway 180 to Catemaco. Driving to Catemaco is an easy 2 day drive from Brownsville or McAllen. Once you are south of the city of Veracruz start looking for the mountains in the horizon. The tallest peak you see will be the San Martin volcano at over 5,500 feet. After about an hours drive in the mountains you will arrive in Catemaco.

Catemaco is blessed with an enlightened attitude toward the environment and the people realise the importance of the rain forests and the nearly deserted beaches. Although mostly undiscovered by tourists from the U.S., it is no secret to the 10's of thousands of Europeans and Mexican nationals who visit the area every year. In fact, 3 - 5 tour busses a week of Europeans is a regular occurrence. The foremost attraction that nearly everyone partakes of is the boat tour of the lake with visitors getting to see Monkey Island, Garza Island, Crocodile Island and of course a stop at Nanciyaga Ecological Park. In fact , the film 'The Medicine Man' with Sean Connery was filmed at Nanciyaga and Poza Reyna, another ecological preserve about 40 minutes from Catemaco. At Poza Reyna there are beautiful water falls where you can swim in the pools below the falls, snorkelling, camping, and kayaking. These waterfalls are just few of the several within an hour or so from Catemaco. The largest by far is Salto de Eyipantla, which is formed by the waters exiting the lake.
The Salto de Eyipantla waterfalls
The Salto de Eyipantla waterfalls

A visit to Catemaco would not be complete without a visit to La Barra beach. To reach La Barra the easiest way is to take your car or a taxi to Santecomapan, a small town about 15 minutes from Catemaco. From there you board a boat taxi for another 15 minute trip across the Laguna to the beach. Remember the name of your boat, tell the driver what time to pick you up and find a spot under one of the palapas. Refreshments, cold beer, and food is served there so just bring you sunscreen and towel. At the agreed upon time your boat taxi will arrive and return you to Santecomapan. Although La Barra is the easiest and closest beach to get to it is by no means the most scenic as there a number of beaches along this section of the Gulf of Mexico.
The local church in Catemaco
The local church in Catemaco

Among the other areas of interest is birdwatching and butterfly watching. Before I moved here I had little interest in the above activities but with over 560 species of birds documented it's hard not to have at least a passing interest. Sport fishing is also a great pass time in both fresh water and salt water. The Black Bass in Lake Catemaco are of above average size (there are stories of huge bass) and the salt water fishing is even more prolific.

Living in Catemaco is far different than in one of the communities of Playa del Carmen or Lake Chapala. Although the Federal Government and the State of Veracruz are investing millions of dollars in infrastructure, it may well be several years until the retirees from the U.S. is a factor. There are well over 450 hotel rooms in town and more on the way, dozens of restaurants (many along the lake), lots along the lake for sale and numerous long term rental apartments. Catemaco is a great place to spend a vacation, the winter or retire in and will continue to grow as one of the most popular ecological areas of Mexico.

Editor's Note: Gene Gaudi has retired in Catemaco and was kind enough to write this informative article. He can also answer your questions about the area.

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