When you're planning a trip to Mexico, Xalapa isn't usually the first place that comes to mind. It's unlikely that it comes to mind at all.
Located in the highlands of Veracruz, Xalapa probably isn't what you picture of Mexico: lots of green, lots of rain and mist (the average temperature is 64 degrees), an arts community, and a coffee culture. It's more Seattle than Cabo.
Well, not exactly—Seattle doesn't have quite the mix of cobblestone streets, Neoclassical, neo-Gothic, and Moorish architecture. There are other quiet delights, including the 750 species in the city's Francisco Javier Clavijero Botanic Garden. The Pinacoteca Diego Rivera has the largest collection of the artist's work in the country. The Xalapa Anthropology Museum has an extraordinary collection, featuring the giant heads excavated from the Olmec settlements. Hiking in the nearby mountains and forests is a popular activity. And Xalapa (sometimes spelled Jalapa), gave its name to the jalapeno pepper–and that's only a small part of the food culture here.
What are you waiting for?
PAR-KING SKILL GOLF
There are those, hard as it is to believe, who like their mini-golf to be one with nature: with grass and flowers, shrubs and water. Thanks, but we'll take the clowns and windmills. And when April rolls around, one of the most imaginative mini-golf courses in the country reopens, as happy a harbinger of spring as any we know.
Located north of Chicago, the much-loved Par-King Skill Golf (originally called George's Gorgeous Golfing Gardens) has been around for over 50 years. Over time, the place has grown and changed (this isn't the original location, either) but it's retained its sense of fun and innocence. The holes include a roller-coaster, the Super Looper, a roulette wheel, Mount Rushmore and the Sears Tower. (There are actually two separate 18-hole courses with mostly different features).
As it happens, Par-King does a nice job with the landscaping, but we've never paid much attention to that — not as long as there are moving clowns to conquer.
MARTIN AND OSA JOHNSON SAFARI MUSEUM
Your only encounter with Martin and Osa Johnson may be if you shopped American Eagle Outfitters some years ago. Launched in 2006 (and shut down in 2010), the Martin + Osa line was a hat-tip to the husband-and-wife explorers who traveled Africa and the South Pacific Islands from 1917-1936.
The Johnsons, though, deserve more attention than a shuttered clothing line. The couple, who filmed and photographed their expeditions, provided extraordinary insight into cultures, landscapes, and wildlife, much of which has vanished. Their work also inspired generations to conserve wildlife in faraway continents.
They do get a proper hometown tribute (Osa's hometown) at the Martin and Osa Johnson Safari Museum in Chanute, Kansas, where you learn about the Johnsons from their collection of movies, books, personal effects, and articles. The museum, which opened in 1961, has grown over the years to include over 10,000 volumes of cultural and natural history, as well as additional ethnographic collections.
If anyone can inspire wanderlust, it's Martin and Osa Johnson. So even if a safari isn't in your plans anytime soon, a trip to Kansas can open up whole new worlds.