With its beautiful beaches, ancient ruins, and ecological diversity, Mexico is a popular vacation spot and has plenty of ways to adopt an ecotourism-oriented travel plan. Ecotourism, defined by The Global Ecotourism Network, is “responsible travel to natural areas that conserves the environment, sustains the well-being of the local people, and creates knowledge and understanding through interpretation and education of all involved: visitors, staff and the visited”.
Let’s explore some eco-friendly options for your Mexico vacation!
Mexico’s Tourism Background
Ecotourism in Mexico, like many countries, is an ongoing effort that hasn’t been entirely streamlined yet, so having some background information will be helpful in planning your trip to Mexico.
Tourism in the country saw a 8.59% increase from 2018 to 2019. Mexico’s tourism industry—which attracts more than 20 million travellers per year—has both accelerated ecological destruction and prompted initiatives for conservation. For example, The Monarch Butterfly Biosphere Reserve is well-known for its conservation values, but there’s also been an on-going dialogue with how these conservation values can align well with the local economy.
Protected areas cover more than 12% of the national territory—Mexico is home to 42 of UNESCO’s Latin America and Caribbean Biosphere Reserves, which are important to ecotourism. There are also 27 Cultural UNESCO World Heritage Sites which receive funding for conservation and protection in addition to increased popularity for tourism.
Additionally, as of 2019, 8.6% of Mexico’s population was employed by the tourism sector—while a large portion of tourism takes place in larger resort areas such as Cancun, there are many more places to discover within the country and contribute to the economy.
Ecotourism in Mexico: A Contemporary Look
There have been a smattering of programs to promote ecotourism in Mexico, from both the cultural and environmental ends.
Launched in 2001, Magical Towns Programme is an initiative by the Secretariat of Tourism that is an effort to bring travellers to towns throughout Mexico. Cultural activities, indigenous crafts, natural beauty, and historical features are the main tenets of the towns that get approved—each of the 132 towns selected go through a nomination and review process. They are referred to as a Pueblo Mágico, or “magic town”, and receive resources for citizens and regions to benefit from tourism.
For example, Cuetzalan is a small mountain town founded in 200 B.C.E that hosts a variety of festivals, ancestral traditions, and markets for travellers to immerse themselves in. Another Pueblo Mágico is Mazunte, which is famous for its environmental projects, especially their care for sea turtles in several facilities.
In more rural areas especially, you might encounter Ejidos or cooperativos, which are small, local tours where everyone you encounter will be from the surrounding community.
They are local cooperatives which compete with larger travel agencies—they can range from small boat rides to guided tours of ruins. Chiapas, Oaxaca, Quintana Roo, and Yucatán are states with mature networks of cooperatives.
Planning the Itinerary for Your Trip to Mexico
Whether you’re a beach bum, a hiker, or a culture lover, you’ll be able to fill your days with exciting activities.
Think about visiting a cenote, which is a natural swimming hole or cave formed by surrounding limestone, during your Mexico vacation. There are hundreds throughout the country, such as Cenote Azul in the Riviera Maya, close to Playa del Carmen. There is also Cenote Calavera, near Tulum, which is smaller and quieter than other cenotes. While most require an entrance fee, these are easily accessible adventures in nature that are well worth it.
Another popular destination is Xochimilco, which is a district of Mexico City and is well-known for its chinampas (floating gardens). Reed rafts and raised agricultural fields make up the beautiful and unique site. Historically, it provided crops to Tenochtitlan —which is now Mexico City—and the flowers and produce are still important parts of the local economy.
Another outing to add to your trip to Mexico is an intensely unique and natural phenomenon. By visiting The Monarch Butterfly Biosphere Reserve, you can be surrounded by millions of monarch butterflies if you visit in January or February. Conservation efforts, which protect these overwintering sites, have prompted a dialogue with the local rural community in order for mutual-beneficial coexistence.
Another beautiful getaway during your Mexico vacation is Holbox Island, a small island located in the north of the Caribbean that has remained a secluded spot. The local economy is driven by fishing, there are very few cars—instead, golf carts are the main method of travel. Additionally, Isla Pajaros “Birds Island” is a nearby natural refuge for a wide variety of bird species and is home to over 155 species, including flamingo, white ibis, and egrets, as well as iguanas and other wildlife. As a protected wildlife sanctuary, no foot traffic is allowed on the land.
With such a wide array of geographies, climates, and cultural history, Mexico offers many opportunities to the eco-conscious traveller—while some are mentioned here, there are many more options to research and discover for your trip to Mexico.
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