Mexico has proven over and over again that it is a country of majestic beauty, intriguing history, inspiring sites, warm and welcoming people and some of the best food on the planet.

A trip to Ciudad Victoria proved to be an excellent hub for a variety of adventures — from the religious shrine at El Corrito to the natural wonders of the El Cielo biosphere.

First stop was at a favorite traveler's haunt - Los 4 Vientos or The 4 Winds Restaurant - on the outskirts of Santander Jimenez. Well known for its machacado - shredded beef jerky - the machacado was served with eggs and a pleasing, mild-tasting, freshly made, local Asadera cheese. Gobbled up quickly by hungry travelers, breakfast was a whole 80 pesos with machacado, eggs, cheese, and drink.

In this dry desert/plains area they had needed a means to keep meat from spoiling so they began making the beef jerky. Now their fame has grown and travelers from around Mexico come to Los 4 Vientos to dine and buy the restaurants wares of meat and cheese made fresh on property.

Not far down the road is El Tinieblo with its art and mezcal museums, working mezcal plant, restaurant and hunting and fishing ranch. (www.eltinieblo.com or call 52-834 -303-1288.)

For companies or entrepreneurs looking for something new to develop, the City of Jimenez has discovered they have a veritable gold mine in aloe vera growing naturally in their area. Beginning a process they are calling "Alternative Harvesting Products," they are looking for a company to come to the area, build a plant and process this organic harvest. With aloe vera in such demand in health and beauty products, it seems to be a gift from the gods for an interested entity.

Going on into the town square, a must is a stop at the local museum. The town was founded in 1749 by José de Escandon and his home, Casa del Conde de Sierra Gorda, is now the museum built in colonial style characteristic architecture using arches. An underground tunnel to the river is still there as a reminder of the need to make quick escapes in days of old. Paintings of native Indians fighting mammoths were a surprise find in the museum.

Many pieces of carved stone in the shape of people lined the shelves. If their eyes were open the person was still alive at the time the items were carved. If the eyes were shut it was a figure of a person already dead. A captivating tidbit is that Indians with Down's Syndrome were considered gods there in Mexico.

Looking for a place to stay in the area? Check out Hacienda Don Quixote, not far from Jimenez at www.viphunts.com or call 800-531-7509. Offering rooms, hunting and fishing trips, restaurant, bar and swim-up pool bar, it's set in a lush tropical setting for rest and relaxation.

A most interesting stop was Old City Padilla. For 37 years it had been under the lake, drowned after a new dam was built. However, the drought has now brought a church and a schoolhouse built in 1936 available for sightseers. At sunset, the light dancing among the ruins was an exhilarating experience bringing out the ravaging effects the lake water had on the stone structures.

Nuevo Padilla was developed for the families of Padilla and all were relocated. With the drop in water level, cattle are coming back to the area and picnicking areas are springing up. Around the lake are many fishing clubs such as the Big Bass Club catching the catfish, gar, bass and tilapia abundant in the lake. Check them out at www.lakeguerrero.com or call 800-531-7509.

Cd. Victoria - at last! A city of 350,000, the main economy of the city, the state capital, is from city and state governments, a large university, maquiladoras and in the surrounding areas - agriculture, cattle ranching and even ecotourism.

Cd. Victoria is a beautiful city with magnificent museums, parks, restaurants and hotels. Centrally located in Tamaulipas, it's a perfect spot to make home base during a trip. Simply branch out to the multitude of excursions well within a day's journey and return to the wealth of night life and restaurants in the evening.

A visit to the Tamatán Zoo is another must-see spot. Well laid out, clean restrooms, it's the first zoo devoted to conservation and respect for nature in Tamaulipas. Begun 63 years ago, after a major remodeling five years ago, all animals are now in natural environments, conducive to happy and productive animals. The new baby giraffe was a major hit.

Zoo Director José Vicente, worked at Gladys Porter Zoo in Brownsville and brought his experience to enhance Tamatán. "We'd like to expand the monkeys to several islands since they are our most visited attraction," he said. "The second most visited area is the reptiles. Gladys Porter Zoo will help us develop a house for all the rattlesnakes which exist in Mexico."

What stood out most was the walk-through aviary. Sitting along the railing a cockatoo might tilt his head to check out the visitors. Perhaps the macaws will be gathered right above the heads of the tourists, so close one could reach out and touch them - but don't! Birds of all colors and sizes, turtles, iguanas are a surprise around every bend. An absolutely enchanting experience.

Entry rates are about $2 for adults and $1 for children and persons with disabilities entering free.

From there visit some of their local museums. The Regional History Museum covers both past and present history of Tamaulipas. 12 exhibit areas, including Huasteca culture, the legacy of Nuevo Santander, prehispanic horizons and contemporary Tamaulipas, give a complete overview of the area, using artifacts and well thought out exhibitions.

TAMUX - Victoria's Natural History Museum uses high tech methods to convey their information through computer games, interactive and elaborate displays. It is such a vivid display of lights, sound, and unique means of visual engagement that it makes learning fun! Covering five areas - the Universe, Life, Evolution and Palenotolgy, Tamaulipas' Biodiversity and Man and Nature - TAMUX is an adventure for every visitor. If anyone figures out the incredible sun dial at the entrance, please let me know. Approximately $3 for adults, $1.50 for students/teachers, free for 12 and under, persons handicapped and those 60 and over.

After taking in the city of Victoria, branch out for some day trips. World class fishing and hunting are both within an easy days adventure.

One of the most special religious sites in Mexico is an easy drive northwest to El Chorrito in the municipality of Hidalgo. According to the tale, the Virgin of Guadalupe appeared to Juan Diego in a cave in 1531. Since they weren't able to take the image from the rock, a Basilica was built on the spot with many stories of miracles being accredited to her. 35,000 people gather every Holy Week with 3,500 to 5,000 visiting on weekends.

Cave investigators have gotten lost in the long, dark caves never to see the light of day again. A new road crossing the mountains is being finished which will connect Matehuala, Nuevo Leon to Hildago, Tamaulipas, cutting hours off travel time for drivers coming across Mexico.

Pedro José Mendez lake is on the way back to Victoria. A favorite fishing spot, primitive cabins are available for rent - and the views are stunning.

Driving southwest of Victoria will bring you to Gomez Farias, the doorway to the greatest biosphere in Latin American with over 500 species of birds and butterflies of grand variety and over 350,000 acres. The area is dense foliage, woodlands, raw, unadulterated beauty.

Having been a foresting area, in 1985 they called a halt to the logging. After people began leaving the area for employment, things were looking rather grim. Beginning to realize the importance of the wildlife in the area, the uniqueness of the birds and butterflies - some only found here — they began to learn about, and implement, ecotourism.

Discovering that people all over the world were interested in the natural resources found only in El Cielo, today agriculture and ecotourism are the main economies of the area. Furnishing staff for tours to the majestic cloud forest, the restaurants and hotels, the people don't have to leave. They can stay in the place they love.

Hotels range from simple hotels such as Posada Campestre (www.posadaenelcielo.com.mx or 01 832 236 2200) , a "green" hotel - Casa de Piedras (www.tourbymexico.com/elcielo_casadepiedra or 832-2362196), and a more elaborate Cumbres Inn & Suites (hotelcumbres.com.mx or 1 866 499 3244).

Equipped with a restaurant, pool, hotel and cabins, and a zip line through the rain forest for the ride of a lifetime, Cumbres Inn & Suites is the newest, and fanciest, of the hotels. They say it's mandatory to wear a brightly colored helmet for the zip line - not for protection during the 262 foot drop but to help the rescuers know where to locate the body! No doubt it would have been a great ride!

A four-wheeler trip will take people to the top of El Cielo for staying in cabins or for tours. There, among the clouds, is where the magical mystery tour really begins.

Onward to Gonzalez. Gonzalez has the symbol for Tamaulipas within its borders - Cerro del Bernal - a 2,000-foot mountain for climbing, four-wheeling, and, of course, the fishing in their dam-based lakes. For tequila lovers, Gonzales is the place the exclusive Chinaco brand tequila is made. However, the plant is not open for touring.

Go past Aldama to the coast for a stay at Villas del Tordo (www.villasdeltordo.com or 01 800 388 1010). Not only good for the fishing it's a great resort for the whole family with condos or hotel arrangement and not far from the Gulf and white sandy beaches. Their restaurant also offered some of the top bar-b-que ever eaten - tender and mouth-watering.

On the beach close to the Villas is a local federal government project of a Lora Turtle hatchery. Only a few out of every 1,000 little three inch turtles will live, the rest succumbing to their natural predators such as gulls and coyotes. None the less, when it's time to be released they climb frantically over each other in an attempt to be the first to begin their mad dash to the Gulf.

Near Soto la Marina is a little known archeological site found in 1982. The ethnic group known as Indian Nations built large settlements on the plateaus about 1,312 feet above sea level. Definitely needed is a four-wheeler to make it to the site up the primitive road. Once there a sense of discovery prevails while walking through the narrow path as it twists among the woods.

Poking out from under the thick trees, the first circular ruin comes into view, then another and another. Going along the trail that sense of Indiana Jones continues - We are the discoverer! We are the archeologists finding the long, lost site!

Climbing the weather worn steps up to a plateau, the pyramid and forest stretches out below and all of a sudden, welling up inside - a feeling of great joy. Bursting forth, unable to be contained any longer, are the words, "I'm on top of the world!" Not very Indiana Jones-ish but certainly appropriate.

Last stop before heading home is the little village La Pesca. Destined to become a resort area, this empty stretch of beach with row upon row of thatch covered palapas waits for the crowds, which always come. A mega project, there will be around 6,000 hotel rooms, golf courses, houses, subdivisions and without a doubt, shopping! Currently receiving tourists from Nueva Leon, San Luis Potosi and Zacateca, this ambitious project plans be complete by 2010.

Until then it's an easy drive from Cd. Victoria, the dining is good in Soto de Marina (don't miss Costa Linda Restaurante) and the beaches are grand.

Cd. Victoria and the surrounding area offer so much to see and do in such a variety of venues, such a diverse range of scenery and such welcoming people, it will make any vacation a stupendous success!