Tampico is a city of 315,000 people (2015) in Tamaulipas. The city is famous for its architecture, which is often compared to that of Venice and New Orleans, as well as for its food.
Tampico sits on the banks of the Pánuco River and among extensive wetlands adjacent to the Gulf of Mexico. The locals are informally known as Jaibas (crabs), and the crab emblem is seen in many places, from sports logos to the sides of buses to park benches.
The city does not receive a lot of international tourists. Instead, most tourists are Mexicans, particularly from Monterrey, who arrive by car and head straight to the beach. Therefore, much of the tourist infrastructure in the city tends to cater to the drive-in crowd, and so hotels, restaurants, etc., tend to be spread further away from the city center than in other Mexican cities. This also means that English is not commonly spoken, even by hotel staff. That said, the locals are generally warm and friendly and will do their best to help you, regardless of your Spanish skills.
Tampico is an oil town, and when the oil refinery is running (and as of March 2022, it is) the air in the city is often tinged with the acrid smell of its exhaust. Although the locals are used to it, be aware that you might find it irritating, particularly if you are sensitive to air pollutants. Fortunately, you can usually find some respite the beach, where the fresh on-shore breeze keeps the pollution away.
Once one of the wealthiest cities in Mexico, the drug war took a brutal toll on Tampico in the 2010s. More than 200 hotels, restaurants and bars closed throughout the city and over half the businesses in the city's center were abandoned as residents fled the violence. Late in the decade the government regained control through extreme measures such as disbanding the city's entire police force. Today, Tampico is a city rising from these ashes, with redevelopment projects such as those around the canal zone and the lagoon lending many areas a modern, upscale feel. Yet the scars from the war remain. Although the city is now safe, once grand buildings lie partially collapsed, trees emerging from rooftops and growing out of windows. This contrast – dilapidation and development – gives the city an interesting character both in its physical state and in its people, who are often quite impressed by the presence of a foreigner after so many years. Unlike much of the rest of Mexico, expect shouts of "qué tal?" (how's it going) as you walk along the street, as well as people approaching you out of sheer curiosity to ask how you are and where you're from (in Spanish, of course).
Tampico's weather, though reasonably pleasant in spring and autumn, is hot in the summer; the average high reaches 32 °C (90 °F) in August. Winters are pleasantly cool; the average January high is 23 °C (73 °F) and the average low in January is 13 °C (58 °F). Rainfall is frequent from May through September.
Tampico is an extremely humid city, with summer heat indices reaching 40 °C (104 °F). During autumn and winter, it is affected by cold fronts that pass through the gulf and bring high winds that can reach 50 km/h (37 mph) with gusts of 70 to 80 km/h (43 to 50 mph).
The easiest way to enter Tampico is via the international airport. There is one flight per day from Houston via United Airlines, and several others via Monterrey, Reynosa, or Mexico City.
- 1 Tampico International Airport (Aeropuerto Internacional General Francisco Javier Mina), Adolfo López Mateos 1001.
Alternately, Tampico is a six-hour drive away from Mexico City. Travelling from the United States, the closest border crossings are either McAllen or Brownsville, Texas. In both cases it's a six to eight hours drive.
Buses connect from Mexico City and most cities to the north (including Texas) to 2 Tampico Central Bus Station. The primary intercity bus companies are ADO, Omnibus de Mexico and Futura. The bus ride from Mexico City through the Sierra Madre Oriental is especially beautiful. Connections from the south are rather sparse, surprisingly. From Veracruz, for example, expect a long and bumpy bus ride – consider splitting your journey in two at Tuxpan or Poza Rica.
Driving is the easiest way to travel around Tampico. Speed limits and red lights are enforced – other laws tend to be rather lax.
Taxis are relatively safe to take in and around Tampico at any time of day or night, but as always, use caution when traveling alone. The ride hailing services Uber and Didi are also available.
Carros de ruta are shared taxis that travel fixed routes around the city, costing around M$10 per ride (as of March 2022). For example, to get from the city to the beach, ask a local where to catch the "Tampico-Playa" carro. You'll stand on the street, give it a wave, get in and go.
Should you want to cross the river, for whatever reason, there are water taxis dotted along the shore to the east of the city center. Just find a road that seems to head towards the river and there's usually a water taxi stand at the end of it.
- 1 Plaza de Armas (Plaza de la Constitución). One of the two colonial squares downtown, with nearby market, beautiful old cathedral, and very good shopping.
- 2 Plaza de la Libertad. The other colonial square, surrounded by beautiful buildings adorned with wrought-iron balconies.
- 3 Cathedral of Tampico (Catedral de la Inmaculada Concepción) (located on the Plaza de Armas). Tampico's main cathedral, built in the late 19th century in the neoclassical style.
- 4 Laguna del Carpintero. Tampico's Central Park. Don't bother bringing your bathing suit... the lagoon is full of crocodiles! They're easy to spot from the shore; you won't be disappointed.
- 5 Huasteca Culture Museum (Museo de la Cultura Huasteca), ☏ +52 833 210 2217. Daily 10:00-18:00. Includes over 1800 archaeological and ethnographic pieces. Guided tours available. M$65.
- 6 Old Maritime Customs House (Ex Aduana Maritima/Antigua Aduana Maritima). W-Su 10:00-16:00. A museum showcasing the history of Tampico. Guided tours are free, although tips are appreciated. Tours are available in English, but you'll need to check on the times. M$15.
- 7 Las Escolleras (Malecón) (at the southern tip of Playa Miramar). A long pier protruding into the Gulf of Mexico, at the beginning of which is a memorial to the crews of Mexican merchant ships sunk by submarines during World War II.
- 8 Miramar Beach Lighthouse (Faro de Playa Miramar Madero) (at the far end of Las Escolleras pier). A small lighthouse along with a great view of Playa Miramar as well as the ships and shrimp boats coming and going from the river mouth. Also, lots of raccoons waiting to be fed.
- 9 House of Nature (La Casa De La Naturaleza) (off Highway 70D heading north from downtown), ☏ +52 833 385 0257, firstname.lastname@example.org. An impressive Art Deco building that hosts nature-themed photography exhibitions.
- 10 Tampico Automobile Museum (Museo del Automovil y Transporte de Tampico), Diagonal Sur - Nte 611, ☏ +52 833 299 6902. Tu-Su 11:00-18:00. Contains more than 100 classic and vintage cars. Adults M$40 children M$20.
- 11 Barco Children's Museum (Barco Museo del Niño), ☏ +52 833 125 8020. Th-Su 10:00-18:00. Once a state prison, now a children's educational and cultural center.
- 12 Tampico Bridge (Puente Tampico). An impressive cable-stayed bridge that spans the Pánuco River. While you can't access the bridge on foot, it can be seen from many places in the city, including the Laguna del Carpintero.
- 13 The Abandoned Hospital (Antiguo Hospital Civil De Tampico), Altamira 502. A majestic hospital that was abandoned in the 1980s and now is eerily overgrown with trees and weeds. Although not strictly legal, you can explore it, and in fact you may be invited to do so by the on-site restoration workers. There are great views of the city at the top, but be careful! This is an abandoned building with potentially fatal falls. You are at your own risk.
- Bullfights. Several times a year the local cattle ranchers host a matador show, which usually lasts 3-4 days.
- 1 Playa Miramar. A popular beach destination for residents of Monterrey. The beach is safe and relatively clean, though some work needs to be done by the local residents and authorities on this count, especially during the high season. There are also, oddly enough, raccoons, which you can feed with chips bought from local vendors.
- 2 Boat tour of the Canal de la Cortadura. W-Su. Take a 40-minute boat tour amongst the crocodiles and wildlife of the Canal de la Cortadura and the Laguna del Carpintero. The boat launches from the north side of the canal, at the end of 2 de Enero street. Adults M$50, children M$25.
- 3 Metropolitan Cultural Center (Espacio Cultural Metropolitano). Opened in 2004, the center features a museum, a library, as well as theaters for opera, ballet and more avant-garde productions.
- 4 Kayak the Chairel Lagoon. Boats and kayaks can be rented at Fray Andrés de Olmos Park. Guided tours are also available.
- 1 Altama City Center, Av. Ejército Mexicano 706. The city's newest and most upscale shopping mall.
- 2 Mercado de Mariscos La Puntilla (on the shore of the Laguna del Chairel near where it meets the Pánuco River). The city seafood market. Fresh, high-quality fish and shellfish at low prices.
Tampico is known for its food. Seafood is important in the city. There are also typical dishes of the area, mainly the "torta de la barda", which is a sandwich that contains over 12 toppings, "jaibas rellenas" or stuffed crabs, and the famous "tampiquena" (a steak with refried beans) and "entomatadas" (tortillas with tomato sauce and cheese). Near the Old Maritime Customs House (Ex Aduana Maritima) is a zone of torta restaurants, popular among locals and tourists alike.
- 1 Tortas René (in the Ex Aduana torta zone). Established in 1928 and famous for its torta de la barda. M$40 for a torta.
- 2 Mercado Municipal de Tampico (just south of the Plaza de la Libertad). Tons of cheap dining options inside the market. Take your pick.
- 3 Tacos & Tortas "El Güero", Isauro Alfaro 204, ☏ +52 833 487 1106. Daily 16:00–04:00. This is a food cart but they also have an indoor seating area and a bathroom. Get the tacos (or torta) de cecina (cured beef).
- 4 Tacos Ana, General Calle López de Lara 307, ☏ +52 833 214 4699. Tu-Su 07:00-15:00. A locally-famous chain. Order the breakfast tacos.
- 5 Tacos Mazatlán, 4a. Avenida 800. Tu-Su 07:00-23:30. A very local restaurant, located in the north of the city. Try the papa asada, a delicious stuffed baked potato. M$30-$100.
- 6 El Gran Pipián, Cap. Emilio Carranza 313, ☏ +52 833 214 5381. Daily 08:00–18:00. A great spot for breakfast. Good enchiladas as well.
- 7 Super Cream, Altamira 210, ☏ +52 833 212 5084. Daily 08:00-21:00. Another solid breakfast spot. Makes a decent burger later in the day.
- 8 Troles Estrella (on the corner of C. Carranza and B. Juárez in Ciudad Madero). A food cart whose speciality is a cup of corn, cheese, mayonnaise and a lot of butter. Yes, it is as rich as it sounds.
- 9 Restaurante El Porvenir, Av. Miguel Hidalgo 1403, ☏ +52 833 213 0568. M-Sa 12:00-22:00, Su 12:00-20:00. Some of the best seafood in the city. A sign on the building declares "better in here than in front" (the city cemetery across the street).
- 10 El Muelle, Av. Cuauhtémoc 3417, ☏ +52 833 217 4720, email@example.com. Daily 12:00-20:00. Another excellent seafood restaurant. Very busy on weekends.
- 11 Los Curricanes, C. México 411, ☏ +52 833 217 0217. Daily 12:00-18:45. Los Curricanes has fantastic... you guessed it! Seafood. The service is fantastic as well.
- 12 AZOTEA 42, Dr. Alfredo Gochicoa 1020, ☏ +52 833 107 1771. Daily 14:00-23:00. Enjoy a cocktail while gazing out over the Carpintero Lagoon.
- 13 Restaurante Don Churrasco, Francisco I. Madero 218 (on the northwest corner of the Plaza de la Libertad), ☏ +52 833 688 7241. Tu-Su 08:30-19:30. A buffet restaurant where you can drink a beer with a great view of the Plaza de la Libertad. However, service can be slow and the food... questionable.
- 14 Restaurante Puesta Del Sol (in Ciudad Cuauhtémoc, a city across the river from Tampico), ☏ +52 833 233 0208. A seafood restaurant sitting atop a dock that extends out over the Pueblo Viejo lagoon. M$130-$170 mains.
- 15 La Sevillana, H. del Cañonero Tampico 302 (across from the southwest corner of Plaza de la Libertdad), ☏ +52 833 471 9829. Daily 10:30-17:30. A bar and restaurant serving local specialties such as jaibas de rellenas. M$120-$200 mains.
- 16 Jardín Corona, Av. Miguel Hidalgo 2505, ☏ +52 833 213 9383. Daily 13:00-23:00. An elegant Argentinian restaurant on the pricier side. Excellent seafood and empanadas.
If you're the sit-outside-and-enjoy-a-beer (or coffee) type, there are a couple of restaurants and cafes located along the southern edge of the Plaza de Armas with outdoor seating. There is also a number of bars and restaurants dotted along the Playa Miramar.
- 1 La Caverna, Heroes del Cañonero 405. A life-saver. Decent beer, good pool tables and an affable barkeep/owner.
- 2 Rico's (at the southern tip of Playa Miramar), ☏ +52 833 245 8936. Daily 12:00-01:00. Food, drinks and live music with a view out over the beach.
- 3 Byblos, Rotaria 1, ☏ +52 833 217 3050. F-Sa 22:00-04:00. The most popular nightclub in the city. Liquor only.
Budget hotels of passable quality are hard to come by in Tampico. For the best deals on centrally-located accommodation, check out home stay websites such as Airbnb.
- 1 Hotel Inglaterra Tampico, Salvador Díaz Mirón 116, ☏ +52 833 230 4440. Check-in: 15ː00, check-out: 12ː00. Classic luxury hotel, located next to the Plaza de Armas.
- 2 HS Hotsson Smart Tampico, Salvador Díaz Mirón 106, ☏ +52 833 230 3434. Check-in: 15:00, check-out: 13:00. Also located next to the Plaza de Armas. M$800+.
- 3 Hotel Posada de Tampico, Av. Miguel Hidalgo 5300, ☏ +52 833 230 1010. Near the airport. Has a pool.
- 4 Arenas del Mar, Blvd. Costero No.504, ☏ +52 833 357 5750. Check-in: 15:00, check-out: 12:00. A beachfront resort hotel in Playa Miramar. M$1200+.
Tampico was devastated by the Mexican drug war in the 2010s but has since recovered and is now considered one of the safest cities in Mexico. While the same cannot be said for the rest of Tamaulipas, Tampico and its surrounds are secure and there really isn't much to worry about as a tourist (apart from the usual "don't walk down that dark street at night", etc.).
Internet speed is excellent. A phone SIM card can be acquired at the 1 Telcel store on Francisco I. Madero street, one block south of the Plaza de Armas.
- Aldama. A town two hours north of Tampico renown for its cenotes.