How to get thereBy bus from Veracruz, changing buses at San Andrés Tuxtla; by car from Veracruz (about 155km/96mi) or Minatitlán (about 120km/75mi), both via the MEX 180.Surrounded by mountains of volcanic origin, Laguna de Catemaco lies just off the Veracruz-Coatzacoalcos road (MEX 180), some 10km/6mi south-east of San Andrés Tuxtla and roughly 35km/22mi from the Gulf coast. One of Mexico's most beautiful lakes, it is 16km/10mi long with an area of 130sq.km/50sq.mi. There are two islands, Ténapi and Agaltepec.SceneryInsulated from the hot and humid coastal lowlands of the Gulf by the Sierra de los Tuxtlas, Catemaco enjoys a pleasantly equable climate. Together with its European-style landscape, this once prompted Alexander von Humboldt to call the area "the Switzerland of Veracruz" (Suíza Veracruzana). The extinct San Martín volcano, visible in the near distance, is, at 1850 m (6071 ft), the highest peak. Catemaco is blessed by Mexican standards with an abundance of water, evidenced by the flow of the Río Cuetzalapa and the Eyipantla waterfall, setting of many a jungle film (41 m (135 ft) high; 8km/5mi) south of San Andrés Tuxtla). On the volcanic slopes of San Martín east of Acayucan, Popoluca Indian villages can still be found, home to tribes such as the Mecayapan and Soteapan whose languages are distinct from those of the Náhuatl family.
The principal town on the lake, also called Catemaco (370 m (1215 ft); population: 42,000), lies on the north-west shore, its inhabitants making a living mainly from fishing and tourism. The church of the Virgen del Carmen (feast day: July 16th), situated on the plaza, is a popular place of pilgrimage, as is evident from the many votive offerings left at the portal. Catemaco also has a reputation for its "curanderos" (healers) and "brujos" (medicine men) who, with their supposedly miraculous powers, still wield considerable influence over some elements of the population. The tropical forests around Catemaco are in any case famous for their many species of medicinal plant.
The excursion by boat to the Isla Tanaxpilo or Isla de Changos (Monkey Island) rarely disappoints. A colony of Macaques originally introduced from Thailand live on the island under the aegis of a biological institute and keep visitors amply amused.
From Catemaco a road makes its way north to the fishing village of Montepío, some 40km/25mi distant. It winds past steep mountain slopes covered with luxuriant vegetation, picturesque lagoons and attractive beaches - of which Jicacal and Escondida are the most delightful.
Catemaco to Villahermosa
Acayucan (160 m (525 ft)); population: 37,000), about 80km/58mi south-east of Catemaco on the MEX 180, is a major road junction where the MEX 185 branches off southwards, crossing the Isthmus of Tehuantepec to Juchitán (195km/121mi), Tehuantepec (220km/137mi; see entry) and Santa Cruz (235km/146mi).
Beyond Acayucan, the MEX 180 turns north-eastwards towards Minatitlán (65 m (113 ft); population: 180,000) which lies just off the road some 40km/25mi distant. Exploitation of oil and sulphur deposits has transformed the town in recent years into a busy industrial centre.
San Lorenzo Tenochtitlán
Located on the Río Chiquito 45km/28mi or so south of Minatitlán (and somewhat difficult of access) is the San Lorenzo Tenochtitlán archaeological zone, site of the earliest known centre of Olmec culture on the Gulf coast (it flourished between 1400 and 1200 BC). Here numerous ritually mutilated stone images were found. Originally connected in some way with the death of a ruler of the time, they had later been buried, presumably when the culture went into decline. Artefacts from San Lorenzo can be seen in several Mexican museums, but particularly those in Jalapa and Villahermosa.
Beyond Minatitlán a motorway, carried across the Río Coatzacoalcos by a magnificent bridge, provides speedy access to Coatzacoalcos (5 m (16 ft); population: 400,000), a major industrial city and port 25km/16mi to the north-east. Here too the oil boom has brought massive expansion, including development of a huge petro-chemicals complex. A terrible price has however been exacted, with air, soil and water pollution reaching catastrophic levels. The once thriving fishing and farming economies have today all but disappeared.