DescriptionNote: For current information about safety/security issues in Papantla, refer to the U.S. State Department website (travel.state.gov).
Papantla (pah-PAHN-tlah) spreads out over the green foothills of the Sierra Madre Oriental, about 243 kilometers (150 miles) northwest of Veracruz. This was the capital of the Totonac kingdom in the mid-15th century, before it fell to the conquering Aztecs. The vanquished Totonacs extracted a revenge of sorts by aiding Hernando Cortés in defeating the Aztecs. The city remains a center of Totonac culture today, and visitors are likely to see locals wearing native garb: billowing white pants and sailor shirts for men, lacy skirts and embroidered white blouses for women.
This is Mexico's vanilla-producing center, and the distinctively sweet scent frequently hovers in the air. Vanilla bean pods are fashioned into small figures that are sold around town, along with textiles, embroidered clothing and baskets. Souvenir hunters also can try the Hidalgo Market (Mercado Hidalgo), on Avenida 20 de Noviembre just off the northwest corner of the main plaza, for handmade men's and women's clothing.
Papantla is celebrated for its Papantla Flyers (Voladores de Papantla), Totonac Indians who give an exciting rendition of the “Flying Pole” dance. Ropes that have been wound around a 70-foot-tall pole are tied around their waists. Four dancers jump backward off a tiny revolving platform atop the pole, whirling downwards as the ropes unwind. A fifth man, who dances while playing a flute and beating a drum, remains on top of the platform. Each performer revolves around the pole 13 times; the total number of revolutions, 52, equals the number of years in the Aztec religious life cycle.
Before it evolved into a crowd-pleasing spectacle of its own, the dance was part of a pre-Hispanic agricultural ceremony designed to secure the favor of the rain gods and to celebrate the vanilla harvest. The dancers perform up to three times a day during the Festival of Corpus Christi in late May and early June. Papantla's signature annual event, the festival is celebrated with art exhibitions, traditional dances and fireworks displays.
Overlooking the city from a hilltop is a giant likeness of a flute-playing volador, a monument erected in 1988. There are good views of the surrounding countryside from the base of the statue, which can be reached by walking up Avenida Reforma from the cathedral.
The first-class Autobuses del Oriente (ADO) bus station is at the intersection of avenidas Venustiano Carranza and Benito Juárez, north of Plaza Tellez. From the station there is service to Jalapa and Veracruz.
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