The First Veracruz

Quiahuiztlán/Villa Rica
From 1519 to 1523
Remote Beauty and Peace

Photographs and Text by John Todd, Jr.

Quiahuiztlán is My Favorite Place
Quiahuiztlán, without a doubt is one of the most beautiful places in all of Mexico. And, it´s only about 15 minutes off the busy main highway between Veracruz and the Costa Esmeralda toward the US border.

Several years ago I visited Machu Pichu in Peru, and although it is not as large, Quiahuiztlán has the same peaceful atmosphere. What is really nice is that it isn´t over run with tourists. Most of the time the only people there are the 4 or 5 friendly caretakers of the Institute of Anthropology and History.

It is not mentioned in the Lonely Planet Guide, and many tour people don´t know about this area which is only about 20 minutes north of the pyramids of Cempoala.

If you come to Veracruz, don´t miss it. Aside from its historical importance, it has one of the most spectacular views I have ever seen in Mexico. Here´s some more information on How to Get There.

The View of Villa Rica from Quiahuiztlán

How to Get There
Quiahuiztlán/Villa Rica
Quiahuiztlán is one of my favorite spots to bring friends.

You can´t believe the beauty of this place.

And it is almost always deserted.

Most of the time we are the only ones there.

Quiahuiztlán is on the Gulf Coast about 45 minutes north of Veracruz opposite Punta Villa Rica.
Flowers from El Día de los Muertos
The Name is Aztec
The name in the Aztec language is Quiahuiztlán, or "place of the rains" or in the Totonaco language it means, "precious stones".

It was an Indian burial ground for the very wealthy from nearby Cempoala.

It is on a hillside overshadowed by the majestic Cerro de los Metates, or Metate Mountain.
El Cerro de los Metates
Not Only for Archeologists
Directly in front of Quiahuiztlán, is Villa Rica.

It is the exact place where it is said that Hernán Cortez, burned his ships before leaving for the conquest of in 1519 of Tenochtitlán.

Nowadays there is some debate about this, since wood for building was scarce. More than likely he dismantled his ships and built houses where his men could live.

The imposing Cerro de las Lluvias kind of looks like Machu Pichu, without all the tourists.

The caretakers told me that there is a rough trail and sometimes people come to climb the Cerro. The view from the top must be breathtaking.

Not in Many History Books
History books about the Spanish Conquest of Mexico mention Villa Rica and Quiahuiztlán. Some may have a map, but none have photos of the area.

Little Tombs and a Palm Tree

Tourists and the Little Tombs
Not Well Known
Quiahuiztlán and Villa Rica are casually mentioned about as if everyone knew where the location.

But there are few pictures or mention of where they were located other than it is north of the present Port of Veracruz.

One account I saw has it wrongly located 110 km. north of Veracruz.

The hillside above and below is scattered with several hundred of these square looking tombs.
The View
Still Unexplored
And most of these tombs are still unexplored.

Rather than study history, people come here on Sundays with friends to relax and enjoy the beauty of this beautiful park.

This is from high above in Quiahuiztlán, and in the background on the coast next to what looks like an island is Villa Rica, where Hernán Cortez and his men had their base camp.
Twin Tombs
The Villa Rica Peninsula
Even though there is a pretty good dirt road up the mountain Quiahuiztlán doesn't have many visitors.

The grounds are maintained by caretakers assigned by the Instituto Nacional de Antropología e Historia.

They are friendly and told us a lot about the history of the area.

The view is spectacular! Many times I have tried, and it seems impossible to capture the scene in one photograph.

About all you can do is take a deep breath and say, "Wow!".
The View in September
Wow!
One Tomb Up Close
The Tombs
In the background is view of the Gulf and the point that was Cortez Base camp until 1521.

It wasn't until 1911 that these tombs were examined by archaeologists.

Inside these little meter high tombs were funeral urns typical of those used by the coastal Indians to house the remains of their loved ones.

I was told that when Hernán Cortes arrived, Quiahuiztlán was still an active cemetery.
Spanish Lookout
Spanish Lookout
Security and safety in an unknown land were important to physical survival.

From a military point of view a Spanish lookout from the top of the peninsula could clearly see anyone approaching by land or by sea.

Lookouts from high above on the Cerro de las Lluvias can watch 10 km. up or down the coast and signal by smoke by day or lights by night the signs of any incoming intruders whether they be Indians or other hostile Europeans.

For those who remained at the camp, the long months during the conquest of the Aztec empire must have been lonely.

Waiting in a hostile unknown land in hopes that their Captain Hernán Cortes would return victoriously. Then they would be safe.

They were only 300 Spaniards against a force of hundreds of thousands of native Indians.
Talking in the Shade
Pyramids

One Last Look at Villa Rica

The Cliffs of the Villa Rica Peninsula
Exploring Villa Rica Point
To the relief of his men Hernán Cortez did return victorious to Villa Rica and is now a typical tropical coastal village with a few summer homes scattered through the area.

We explored the peninsula and were surprised to see a steep cliff like the famous "Quebrada" in Acapulco where men dive off the cliffs into the water.

With the exception of two ladies gathering herbs and plants, we found we were the only ones there that day.
Restaurant Quiahuiztlán
Restaurant Quiahuiztlán
After a long days exploring we followed the signs from the highway for the new Restaurant Quiahuiztlán,

It was time to stop for a coke in the shade of the palapa and to enjoy the view from the south side of the Punta Villa Rica peninsula.

On this particular day a distant hurricane was pounding the Yucatan Peninsula.

We were fortunate not to feel any wind or waves, but around 4 o'clock we noticed a north wind was picking up and white caps were forming and decided to start back to Veracruz.

Shrimp Cocktail
Lunch
The huge shrimp cocktail was more than enough.

What was really good were the chips and chile chipotle hot sauce on the left. It only takes a couple of droplets.

The green on the top is avocado, and cilantro. With a few squeezes of lime, the shrimp cocktail was plenty for lunch.

Later, we leisurely drove back to Veracruz for a well earned siesta.

On the way back we were planning the next part of our trip, a visit to Antigua, the Second Veracruz.

Back to the History Section