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A More Sustainable Face of Mexican Tourism

New Generation of Tours in Mexico Offer Green Adventures

Eco tours

For many decades, Mexico has been best known as the land of concrete beach resorts in master-planned developments like Cancun and Ixtapa. The goal has been to bring the masses to the mass tourism destinations, currently up to 28 million people annually. As many foreign travelers visit for the third or fourth time, however, and a more sophisticated traveler arrives with new demands, there's now a real market for sustainable tourism.

At the same time, through work by the Adventure Travel Trade Association and a few state governments, the rest of North America is waking up to the vast array of adventure activities south of the border. Several forward-looking tour companies are focused on providing more than sun and fun. They aim to make a difference in local communities and preserve the threatened environment. At the same time, they accomplish it by providing unforgettable adventures for visitors.

Paying clients support local initiatives that attempt to change bad behavior—such as poaching, overfishing, or pollution—by giving economic incentives to locals and providing better jobs. Here are a few companies to consider for a Mexican tour that goes beyond pure hedonism. All are family-friendly and would provide great learning experiences for children.

RED Sustainable Travel Baja Sur

Sea turtles in Mexico

By turning fishermen who used to sell turtle meat into men who tag and release sea turtles for scientific study, the RED Travel camp has changed the dynamic in the local region. At night guests stay in tents with cots that are nestled in the dunes by the sea. A chef prepares fine meals and there’s wine by a campfire.

By day participants try kayaking, climbing sand dune mountains, and going whale watching around Magdalena Bay. Visitors also help with the turtle tagging and net checking along with the locals, learning about sea turtle migration patterns.

Best immersive tour: Gray Whale and Sea Turtle Adventure (4 days).

Sierra Gorda Eco Tours Queretaro

Wild river in Mexico

As the tourism branch of the Sierra Gorda Alliance, this organization works to increase appreciation of the huge nature reserve with visitors while creating sustainable economic opportunities for the hundreds of impoverished communities who call the region home.

Through education and incentives, the group has decreased illegal logging, unsustainable farming, and hunting of wild animals, at the same time giving communities the chance to keep their rich culture and traditions intact. Tours emphasize the balance between nature and communities and guests stay in lodges made with sustainable building practices.

Best immersive tour: Sierra Gorda Nature Tour (4 days).

La Mano del Mono Chiapas

A river in Mexico

Mixing together ecotourism and experiential learning with its adventure tours, La Mano del Mono makes a difference in local communities through sustainable job creation and environmental education. Tours visit remote areas of wet and wild Chiapas, a jungle and mountain state filled with rivers and waterfalls. Chiapas has been at the forefront of responsible travel and adventure tours in Mexico, trying hard to strike the right balance between development and preservation.

Best immersive tour: El Triunfo Water Routes Tour (3 days).

Maya Ka'an Quintana Roo

Woman making tortillas in Mexico

Based in the UNESCO World Heritage Sian Ka'an Biosphere of the Yucatan Peninsula, the Maya Ka'an Alliance supports the preserve and the villagers living here through investment in village production of handicrafts and food. All tours are operated and promoted by local communities, ensuring that the benefits go directly to the Mayan population of Quintana Roo.

While the northern coastal part of this state receives millions of resort tourists and honeymooners each year, the Mayan villages further inland don’t see much benefit in their areas. By bringing those tourists into a more authentic part of the region, guests get a less pre-packaged experience and can support traditional cultures.

Best immersive tour: Ximbal Maya Circuit (2 days).

Mexico is a huge country, with plenty to see and do beyond the coastal resort areas. Through these sustainable adventure tours, guests willing to go beyond the resort bubbles can find a whole other side of one of the world’s richest natural beauties.

Tim Leffel is author of several books, including A Better Life for Half the Price: How to prosper on less money in the cheapest places to live. See more on his Cheapest Destinations Blog.

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