The name TLACOTALPAN comes from the Nahuatl language, loosely meaning “land floating on water, as the area was an island before sediment filled in the “Rio Chiquito”..(little river), to one side, consolidating the island with the mainland.


In 1518, Pedro de Alvarado first explored the ” Sotavento “-or-the leeward side (to which the wind blows) of the Papaloapan river delta, for his homeland of Spain. This also was the first contact with the Indigenous inhabitants.

Around 1521 a Spanish land grant was given to Sr. Alonso Romero Soldier. The town government was created, and the new name..” SAN CRISTOBAL de TLACOTALPAN ” was given to the area.

Three sections of the community were established.

1. First Settlement…the official government offices and residences

2. The Native Congregation

3. The Spanish Settlement

Then in 1580 TLACOTALPAN was given the title ” Pueblo de Cabecras “…roughly meaning …official recognition as a Pueblo by Spain.

At this time, and throughout the 17th century, the population was divided into two groups. The Spanish, around the Zocalo and to the left side. And the Native village to the right side of the Zocalo. Untill the early 1600s, TLACOTALPAN was mainly an Indigenous community where a Spanish minority lived.

On into the 17th century more and more Spanish and other Europeans arrived and the Indigenous were pushed back to the area surrounding the current location of the San Miguel Church.


The main streets were planned in an East-West direction, running parallel to the river. The houses benefited from this position, taking advantage of the ventilation from the Northwest prevailing winds. Porticos were created to protect the houses from the morning and afternoon sun, and providing a covered walkway for the pedestrians.


The lime and brick factories, as well as the first meat and fish markets were located on the opposite side of the river,  in accordance to Spanish statutes. The remains of the brick factory can still be seen there today.


The construction of the Royal Shipyard in 1750, and a Spanish court decree, turned TLACOTALPAN into a renound port by the early 1800s.

By 1821, TLACOTALPAN was a significant port with established trade routes with New Orleans, Havana, and Bordeaux. With steamers sailing up the Papaloapan River from the Gulf of Mexico at Alvarado. One of the reasons for the ports great success was the fact that it was easy to defend from PIRATES and even the invading French of Napoleon III. The port was defended from the French for 3 full years, until the end of the conflict.

At the height of its trading days, The Port of TLACOTALPAN owned over 13 steamships.

Amongst the items exported were: Leathers, Tobacco, Seeds, Cotton, cut Corn, Rum, Moral Stick, Alligators, Sugar, Ceder, Mahogany, Pine, and Heron Feathers.


In 1849 the Government Building was built and oil burning street lamps were installed. Also during this period, the central market was built, and several public squares were created. Also a city Band and a music academy was established.

In 1885, with donations from merchants, traders and ranchers, construction was begun on the San Cristobal Church and  Parrish. Two years later the right tower was completed and the clock was installed. During this period, the Casino Tlacotalpaño was constructed , where today, the  Hotel Doña LaLa now stands. This was also the time in which the NETZAHUALCOYOTL THEATER was constructed.

By 1909, TLACOTALPAN had eight government offices, six public schools, four private schools, three hotels, nine factories, and one Parrish with two churches. Also one hospital, one jail, 1200 houses, and 54 huts.


In 1905 the Isthmus Railroad bypassed TLACOTALPAN, for the Port of Veracruz…..This combined with a cyclone and earthquake in the 1930s, and several subsequent floods, brought commerce to a halt and the ultimate decline of ” THE JEWEL OF THE PAPALOAPAN”. In 1944, 460 hectares of the Popaloapan river delta were flooded.

By the end of the 19TH century, sugar cane and cattle raising had taken over about 95% of all the surrounding land.


The type of housing construction seen today was developed in the 18th & 19th centuries, partially due to a series of fires that devastated most of the village. After that, buildings made from palm wood were prohibited in the urban area.


Besides cattle and horse raising, some of the crops cultivated at the time were : Corn, Sugar cane, Cotton, Rice, Beans, Tobacco, Water Mellon, Mellon, Pineapple, Sweet potato, Mamey, seven different types of Bananas, Oranges, Lemons, limes, Papaya, Avocado, Plum, Red Current, Coco, Nanche, Guava, Apple, Fig,  Almonds, Coconut, Pumpkin, and Mangos.

Squash, Chayote, Yucca, Cabbage, Radishes, Jicama,  Beets, Chard, Squash, Eggplant, Sweet & Common Chillies, Tomatoes, Garlic, Onions, and Kidney Beans.

There were, and are, many species of animals and birds…but hunting was never a preferred activity.

Fish, including Sea Bass, Jolote, Stripped Mullitt, Lake Trout, Shad, Eel, Blue Crab, Black and White Mojarra, Catfish, Shrimp, and Grouper. As well as several species of Turtles.


In 1998, TLACOTALPAN was recognized by UNESCO as a WORLD HERITAGE SITE. TLACOTALPAN is one of only a few places to have the entire town so designated.

The modest, single story homes, with colonnades, porticos, and tajas tile roofs, are a blend of Spanish and Caribbean architectural design. This theme continues with the brightly painted buildings and wide streets that are virtually untouched today. The historic town center has maintained its  Renaissance layout ..” For the Foundation and Establishments of Towns ” ..dictated by FELIPE II of Spain, in the so called “Laws Of The Indies “.



Julio Sesto, a romantic Spanish poet who visited TLACOTALPAN wrote: ” Oh, my brother, if you are weary of suffering, go to the Papaloapan, take in the air of the Sotavento,..everything is cured in TLACOTALPAN, everything is forgotten. The soul that, when injured, is incurable…is cured” !

As the Mexican writer..ELENA PONIATOWSKA says……………………………………….

“When I want to smile, I remember TLACOTALPAN; when you pronounce the word TLA-CO-TAL-PAN, its’ as tho you wash your face and laughter comes out”


The always smiling, friendly people contribute to making a visit to TLACOTALPAN a restful and everlasting experience.   WELCOME.


For more pictures of TLACOTALPAN…click on the “webshots/billdelaluz” link, listed on the right hand side at the top of this blog page.




  1. Pingback: Nos curamos las penas « buscando atardeceres

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