Along the 200km of road southeast from Ciudad Victoria to TAMPICO, the country's busiest port, the vegetation becomes increasingly lush, green and tropical – the Tropic of Cancer passes just south of Ciudad Victoria, and the Río Pánuco forms the border with the steamy Gulf state of Veracruz. As a treasure port in the Spanish empire, Tampico suffered numerous pirate raids and was destroyed in 1684. Rebuilding didn't begin in earnest until 1823, the date of the cathedral's foundation, and in 1828 Spain landed troops in Tampico in a vain and short-lived attempt to reconquer its New World empire. The discovery of oil in 1901 sparked Tampico's rise to prominence as the world's biggest oil port in the early years of the twentieth century.
Tampico's oil boom lasted into the 1920s, with many of the city's finer buildings constructed during this period of rapid economic growth. Today, following a decline in fortunes, the older parts of town have a slightly dilapidated feel, with peeling, ramshackle clapboard houses. Additionally, many campesinos and unskilled labourers have moved to town from the surrounding rural areas in search of work, contributing to a visible homelessness problem and adding to the air of decay.