El Tajin is situated south east of San Miguel de Allende.
The area in which Papantla is found has been dominated by a number of pre-Hispanic cultures. The first known is that of the Olmec, with the Huastecs coming afterward. Evidence of these cultures can be found at nearby archeological sites such as Cempoala, El Tajin, San Lorenzo and Tres Zapotes. The settlement was founded around 1200, by various groups of Totonacs, some of whom migrated here after being pushed south by the Chichimecas and other groups coming from the fallen city of El Tajín. During the rest of the pre-Hispanic period the site belonged to the Pueblos del Totonacapan, dominated by Tuzapan, and paid tribute to the Aztec Empire.
Soon after the Spanish conquest of the Aztec Empire, the Spanish quickly realized the value of the vanilla bean, which is native to this area. The Totonac town was refounded as Papantla de Santa María de la Asunción with Spanish families moving in. Soon after, vanilla was being sent to European markets.
In 1785, the nearby ruins of the pre-Hispanic city of El Tajín were accidentally discovered by Spaniard Diego Ruiz, while he was looking for clandestine plantings of tobacco. This site became famous around the world soon after due to the writings of Alexander von Humboldt and others.