If you’ve been to Cancun, Vallarta, Los Cabos, Ixtapa, Acapulco, Mazatlan or Huatulco chances are you don’t know Mexico. Yes, you’ve enjoyed the privileged beaches, the top-notch hotels, a first-class experience and you fell in love with these places and the people that live in them. But you are probably missing the best part. As Manuel was saying a few days ago: “I dare you to find Holbox”. In reinventing tourism in mexico, I implied that all these beach destinations are going to have a really difficult time getting back on track:
Mexico has a privileged geography and has exploited it through the continuous development of its traditional hubs, usually beach destinations flocked by charters full of travellers that prepaid the entire experience back home. I believe those days are over, not because those people will no longer consider Mexico as an alternative and will gradually rediscover its benefits, but because there are far too many options outside of Mexico where the exact same experience is available: blue waters, white sand, palm trees, cheap drinks and lots of sun. The quintessential beach vacation. As people are forced to try other options, they will find them and will have no problem in evaluating their loyalties.
But because of the “celebrity” status of these destinations, people tend to stop looking further or deeper into Mexico. And there is a lot of Mexico that you should know about.
A few days ago I did a short road-trip to a little town called Papalotla, not to far from Mexico City, but distant enough that you can enjoy the traditional country life style so characteristic of the region: horses, “charros”, “toreros”, “haciendas”. While I’m a frequent visitor to the area, I was pleasantly surprised that for the first time the road was paved, literally, all the way to the town. I was told that many of the little towns in the Central Valley were getting the same treatment. Now, that is some important signal. Certainly, infrastructure spending is in vogue these days, but maybe this effort is also the response of a visionary government agency that understands that road infrastructure was one of the bottlenecks to further develop regional tourism in Mexico (as reported by The Travel & Tourism Competitiveness Report 2009, page 273).
While “cultural tourism” may not be for everyone, I’m convinced the abundance of heritage destinations throughout the country could, one day, represent an important percentage of tourism receipts. Not only by targeting a different kind of tourist, but also by getting them closer to the people that enable the experiences. Without travel agents, global hotel franchises, charter operators and so on, the money spent on these types of trips is likely to help the people that live there.
So where is this unknown Mexico I’m talking about? Well, if you’re going to find it, I better put together a really good map. Luckily I know a couple of people that are very good at this. A few places that should be in the list: Taxco, Dolores Hidalgo, Janitzio, Tapalpa, Teotitlan del Valle, Bernal.