Natural Mexico

Three ecotravel picks that add up to real adventure
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Perhaps no other country in the world is as tourist-friendly as Mexico. The country has an excellent system of ground-, air-, and sea-based transportation, tens of thousands of hotel rooms, and cuisine that is world-famous for its flavor and diversity. Biologists call Mexico a "megadiversity country" because of its incredible variety and abundance of flora and fauna. The country is home to almost every kind of ecological habitat on Earth, making it the perfect destination for travelers interested in nature and the environment.

Until recently, most of Mexico's protected areas and biosphere reserves were off-limits to tourism. Either the government tried to keep areas"tourist-free" because of the lack of park guides, or the areas themselves were too remote to attract visitors. But in the early 1990s organized tours and individual travelers discovered and raved about the natural wonders of Mexico. Whether to watch birds or whales, people began visiting the great outdoors to experience the diversity and beauty of nature. Tourism providers discovered the accompanying economic benefits of offering natural history tours, and communities began to see that ecotourism offered the potential to expand their economic base.

All regions in Mexico differ greatly from each other, but some are profoundly if not cosmicallyh different. The Yucatan Peninsula is one of Mexico's newest territories; it merged from the sea roughly 60 million years ago as a result of a tremendous meteor crash. Mexico's Caribbean Coast is also known as the Turquoise Coast because of its impossibly blue waters. Along the shore runs the Northern Hemisphere's longest barrier reef, much of which is officially protected as a marine park. For the beauty and diversity of its life forms, the reef can be considered the aquatic equivalent to a tropical rain forest. Puerto Morelos is one bastion against overdevelopment, a glimpse of the Yucatan as it once was.

Oaxaca, known as"Tierra del Sol" or "Land of the Sun," is a large, rambling state blessed with mountains, lakes, and miles of beautiful Pacific coastline. Located 5 hours south of Mexico City in a picturesque valley, Oaxaca City, the state's capital, enjoys a spring-like climate year round. Oaxaca is renowned for its artisans. SEDETUR, the tourism agency, offers an enlightened program that allows the adventurous traveller to some time in the villages absorbing the indigenous culture along with the surrounding natural beauty.

Chiapas is a magical state with outstanding natural resources and abundant biodiversity. But older Chiapenecos can remember when the landscape was even greener and the wildlife more abundant. Such is the legacy of the 20th century. On January 1, 1994, several hundred rebels of the Zapatista National Liberation Army (EZLN) seized towns in central and eastern Chiapas. Within two weeks the government's forces had forced the EZLN into retreat. A dialogue ensued that spurred the nation and the world to review Mexico's official policy toward indigenous peoples, land tenure issues, and agriculture. Ironically, instead of halting or diminishing tourism, the rebellion sparked a renaissance in political tourism.

Is travel in Chiapas safe? Since the 1994 Zapatista insurrection, tourism has increased, not decreased in this region. Be sensitive to the realities and the dangers here. If traveling in the forests, take a local guide or participate in an organized tour. Bus travel and in particular organized tours offer safe transportation to many destinations. The route from San Cristobal to Palenque is relatively safe, and nonetheless magnificent.

Published: 29 Apr 2002 | Last Updated: 15 Sep 2010
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication


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