Yet another tourism megaproject, this time in Nayarit

 Mexico's geography in the Press  Comments Off on Yet another tourism megaproject, this time in Nayarit
Jun 272016
 

Despite some recent setbacks to hotel projects planned for the Caribbean side of Mexico, hotel building continues to gather pace elsewhere in the country, seemingly regardless of the long-term advantages and ecological value of retaining an undisturbed, or minimally-disturbed, coastline

In April, at Mexico’s major tourism trade fair, the Tianguis Turistico, in Guadalajara, authorities announced the go-ahead for Costa Canuva, a $1.8 billion tourism project in the state of Nayarit. The project is a joint venture between the federal tourism development agency, Fonatur, and Portuguese construction firm Mota Engil.

Costa Canuva is in the municipality of Compostela, and is situated about 65 km (40 mi) north of Puerto Vallarta international airport and will be under three hours driving time from Guadalajara once the new Guadalajara-Puerto Vallarta road is completed.

Costa-Canuva

The 255 hectares (630 acres) of beach, estuary and mountains involved in Costa Canuva has 7 kilometers (4.3 mi) of beachfront, and was designated by Fonatur several years ago as the site for a purpose-built resort. The original version of the project, which never got off the ground, was known as Costa Capomo.

The revamped project, Costa Canuva, will add five hotels and more than 2,500 homes to this stretch of coast known as Riviera Nayarit. The first phase, expected to take three years and create more than 2,000 direct jobs, includes a luxury Fairmont Hotel, residential areas, and a golf course designed jointly by golf supertars Greg Norman and Lorena Ochoa.

The master plan for the project includes a beachfront village with 2,500 residential units, more than 20 kilometers of cycling tracks designed by the International Mountain Bicycling Association and an adventure park featuring canopy rides and ziplines.

The centerpiece Fairmont hotel will have 250 guestrooms and suites, more than 22,000 square feet of meeting and event space, six restaurants and bars, an expansive outdoor swimming pool and a massive spa, as well as a center for children and young adults.

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The downside to publicizing one of Mexico’s most beautiful beaches

 Mexico's geography in the Press, Other  Comments Off on The downside to publicizing one of Mexico’s most beautiful beaches
May 232016
 

In the past couple of years, Mexico’s federal tourism department has included a truly magnificent beach on some of its publicity posters. It is one of those advertising posters that really catches the eye. I first saw a poster featuring Playa Escondida (“Hidden Beach”) in a departure lounge at Vancouver’s International Airport and spent the next hour watching people’s reactions as they passed it. Several people paused and studied the photo, demonstrating its success in capturing people’s attention.

playa-escondida-tourism-poster-2The beach concerned, also known as the “Beach of Love”) is on one of the small, uninhabited Marieta Islands, in the Marieta Islands National Park, off the west coast of Mexico, and relatively close to Puerto Vallarta.

The posters, and resulting publicity, have led to so many tourists wanting to experience the beach for themselves – more than 2500 visitors a day during Easter Week this year – that Mexico’s National Protected Areas Commission (Conanp) has ordered the beach closed for at least three months due to concerns about environmental damage. Conanp has indicated that the local coral reef has already been adversely impacted by tourism.

Conanp’s decision follows a study by scientists at the University of Guadalajara which concluded that tourism has led to the death of coral, accumulation of garbage, and to pollution from hydrocarbons. The study estimated the beach’s environmental carrying capacity (the number of people that could visit the beach without causing lasting environmental damage) to be 625 visitors a day. Given the secluded nature of this beach, its perceptual carrying capacity (the maximum number of visitors that other visitors can tolerate, based on such impacts as noise) may be even lower.

To assuage some of the economic concerns of tour operators, Conanp is making plans to open a different beach on another of the Marieta Islands for tourism at some point in the near future.

During Easter week, there were numerous press reports that boats ferrying people to the Marieta Islands from El Anclote, Nayarit, were often overcrowded and carrying more passengers than their permits allowed. Boat owners, not surprisingly, deny this, and claim that this is yet another attempt to dislodge them from their remaining toehold on Punta de Mita, where a major upscale tourism development forced many fishermen out of their homes about thirty years ago. For details, see the text accompanying our Map of the Beaches of Jalisco.

islas-marietas-playa-excondida

The number of tourists traveling to Playa Escondida increased from 27,500 in 2012 to 127,372 in 2015. While the federal tourism poster was not the only publicity given the beach, it certainly appears to have played a part in increasing public awareness of this scenic geotourism location, ultimately resulting in the need to make it off limits for tourism, at least for now.

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We discuss the consequences of tourism, good, bad and neutral, at length, in chapter 19 of Geo-Mexico: the geography and dynamics of modern Mexico. Buy your copy (Print or ebook) today!

Apr 182016
 

Only weeks after the suspension of hotel construction work in the Malecón Tajamar area of Cancún due to the wanton destruction of mangroves, work on another major hotel project in Cancón has also been stopped.

This time, it is the building of Riu Hotel’s 95-million-dollar, 530-room, Hotel Riviera Cancún, with two 70-story towers, that has been halted. The project is in the Punta Nizuc area of Cancún’s Hotel Zone, off Boulevard Kukulcán. A judge has now ordered that the project be permanently suspended because it infringes a federally-protected zone that extends 100 meters from nearby mangroves in the Nichupté protected area.

Cancún by Arthur Gonoretzky (Flickr)

Cancún by Arthur Gonoretzky (Flickr)

The judge also ruled that Fonatur (the National Tourism Development Fund) had illegally sold a beach access road to benefit the Riu development. In addition, the municipal government of Cancún had approved a change of land use category (zoning) for the area in order for the hotel construction to begin. The original zoning limited construction to a height of only three stories.

According to press reports, Luis Riu, the president of the Riu hotel chain, claims the issue has nothing to do with mangroves but is about political influence, and because the wealthy owner of a neighboring hotel had been upset at not acquiring the land himself.

Despite these local successes, it is unlikely that this latest setback to hotel construction on the coast really signals a sea-change in Mexico’s attitude to unbridled development of its shoreline. There are still numerous other projects underway in other parts of the country that endanger local habitats, as well as many more major projects on the drawing board. Even so, it is encouraging that the judicial process is showing signs of siding with environmentalists and those seeking to ensure that Mexico’s magnificent coastline and scenery survive its grandiose tourism development plans.

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The world’s first ecological museum was designed and built in Mexico

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Apr 042016
 

The world’s first ecological museum was designed and built in Mexico, at the archaeological site of Xochicalco, in the state of Morelos. The museum, about thirty kilometers south of Cuernavaca, was built as part of Mexico’s celebrations to commemorate the 500th anniversary of the voyage of Christopher Columbus.

The project, which overs 12,676 square meters, was begun in 1993. Basic construction was completed in 1994 and the museum was formally inaugurated in April 1996.

Xochicalco is an interesting archaeological site, best known for its astronomical significance. Some archaeologists have made a case that its most lavishly-decorated pyramid commemorates a major conference of astronomers, held here in the eighth century AD, in order to plan a calendar adjustment.

At Xochicalco, the scenic and imposing ruins visible today reflect only a small part of what was formerly a much more extensive city. Numerous constructions, linked by cobblestone tracks, rise above the platforms; they include palaces, temples, ball courts and more than one “observatory”.

Xochicalco remained prominent until about AD1000, after which it was abandoned. When the Spaniards arrived in the sixteenth century, they learned of the ruins, but had no inkling of their astronomical significance.

Two of the many natural underground caves at Xochicalco show clear evidence of architectural modification, with the perforation of an artificial hole or “chimney” from the cave to the ground above. These vertical shafts enabled very precise celestial observations. For instance, the vertical north side of the five-meter-long chimney down into one cave would have resulted in a precisely vertical beam of sunlight on the days the sun is directly overhead.

Xochicalco was declared a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1999 and receives about 800,000 visitors a year.

 

Xochicalco site museum

Xochicalco site museum

The challenge in building the museum is that there is no established settlement near the archaeological site, so there was no local provision of potable water, drainage or electricity.

As a result, the local Mexican architect, Rolando J. Dada y Lemus, designed a building that was almost entirely self-sufficient.

The project, which is fully wheelchair accessible. had three components:

  • Access, parking and exterior gardens, covering 4,550 square meters
  • Entrance patio and three interior gardens, 1,237 square meters
  • Six covered exhibition rooms connected to an entrance hall which has a view of the site, restaurant, administrative and service areas, 1,870 square meters

The museum has parking for 70 cars and 14 buses, and can accommodate 600 people at a time.

How is this museum so sustainable?

  • Underlying the museum is a 550,000-liter cistern. For a few months during the winter dry season, water has to be trucked in from a nearby reservoir – this is the only “input” from outside.
  • The museum’s interior temperatures remain moderate all year because there is a 20-cm gap between exterior and interior walls. When exterior walls heat up in summer, that heat has little effect on the temperature of the interior walls.
  • Shallow outdoor pools around the perimeter cool outside air before it enters the building.
  • Skylights, used to illuminate the exhibits, also allow warm air inside the building to escape.
  • Photo-voltaic solar panels provide sufficient power for computers, lights, and the cistern pump.
  • Rainwater is captured and utilized for much of the year.
  • Wastewater is treated and used to water the gardens

The museum cost 6 million pesos to build, but the energy savings alone mean that all that cost has already been “recuperated”. (Similar size museums have electricity bills of around 1 million pesos a year)

Sources:

Mar 072016
 

Tourism accounts for about 9% of Mexico’s GNI and provides almost 4 million direct jobs. In 2015, Mexico welcomed a record 32.1 million international tourists, making it the 10th most popular international destination in the world. They spent a combined $17.5 billion in the country. Almost 50% of these overseas visitors arrived by air; they accounted for 80% of total foreign tourist expenditures.

Mexico_Tourism

This year, tourism officials are predicting that 35 million international foreign visitors will holiday in Mexico, with total spending of 19 billion dollars. Officials believe, probably optimistically, that Mexico can attract 40 million tourists in 2018 and 50 million by 2030. They stress the need for policies that will result in more hotels, additional air routes, new attractions, and packages designed for niche markets including health, religion, and seniors-based tourism.

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Cable cars in Mexico

 Other  Comments Off on Cable cars in Mexico
Feb 222016
 

There are now at least eight cable cars (teleféricos) for tourism operating in Mexico, as well as one under construction :

  • Durango City, Durango
  • Copper Canyon (Barrancas del Cobre), Chihuahua
  • García Caves (Grutas de García), Nuevo León
  • Zacatecas City, Zacatecas
  • Hotel Montetaxco, Taxco, Guerrero
  • Hotel Vida en el Lago, Tepecoacuilco, Guerrero
  • Orizaba, Veracruz
  • Puebla City, Puebla
  • Torreón, Coahuila (under construction)

All these cable cars are primarily designed for sightseeing and tourism, rather than as a means of regular transport for local inhabitants. In addition, there is at least one urban cable car in the Mexico City Metropolitan Area designed for mass transit:

Mexico-Cable-Cars

Durango City

The Durango teleférico, inaugurated in 2010, is 750 meters long. It links Cerro del Calvario in the historic center of the city with the viewpoint of Cerro de Los Remedios. It cost about $70 million to build and its two gondola cars can carry up to 5000 people a day. Parts of the ride are some 80 meters above the city. The system was built by a Swiss firm and is one of only a handful of cable cars that start from a historic city center anywhere in the world. (The Zacatecas City cable car is another).

Copper Canyon (Barrancas del Cobre) in the state of Chihuahua

The Copper Canyon teleférico starts alongside Divisadero railway station in Mexico’s famous Copper Canyon region, and runs 2.8 km across a section of canyon, up to 400 meters above the ground level. Inaugurated in 2010, it is the longest cable car in Mexico, cost $25 million and can carry 500 passengers an hour, using two cabins (one traveling in each direction), each able to hold 60 people. It is a 10-minute ride each way to the Mesa de Bacajipare, a viewpoint which offers a magnificent view of several canyons.

García Caves (Grutas de García) in Nuevo León

The Garcia Caves are located in the Cumbres de Monterrey National Park, 9 km from the small town of García, and about 30 km from the city of Monterrey. The caves are deep inside the imposing Cerro del Fraile, a mountain whose summit rises to an elevation of 1080 meters above sea level, more than 700 meters above the main access road. The entrance to the caves is usually accessed via a short ride on the 625-meter teleférico, which was built to replace a funicular railway.

zacatecas-teleferico

Zacatecas City

The Zacatecas teleférico, opened in 1979, is 650 meters long and links the Cerro del Grillo, near the entrance to the El Eden mine on the edge of the city’s historic center, with the Cerro de la Bufa. It carries 300,000 people a year high over the city, affording splendid views of church domes, homes, narrow streets and plazas during a trip that lasts about ten minutes. On top of Cerro de la Bufa is an equestrian statue of General Doroteo Arango (aka “Pancho” Villa), commemorating 23 June 1914, when he and his troops successfully captured the city after a nine-hour battle.

La Bufa is also the setting for a curious children’s New Year legend involving a giant cave housing a great palace with silver floors, gold walls, and lights of precious stones. This palace is inhabited by thousands of gnomes, whose job is to look after the future “New Years”. Each December the gnomes choose which “New Year” will be given to the world outside… (For the full story, see chapter 21 of my Western Mexico, A Traveler’s Treasury)

Hotel Montetaxco, in Taxco, Guerrero

This hotel teleférico is a convenient link between the hotel, set high above the city, and the downtown area of this important tourist destination, best known for its silver workshops.

Hotel Vida en el Lago, in Tepecoacuilco, Guerrero

A second hotel in Guerrero also has its own teleférico, running from the hotel to a viewpoint atop the Cerro del Titicuilchi.

Orizaba, Veracruz

Cable car in Orizaba, Mexico

A 950-meter-long cable car, using 6-person cabins (see image), began operations in the city of Orizaba in Veracruz in December 2013. The cable car goes from Pichucalco Park, next to the City Hall in downtown Orizaba, to the summit of Cerro del Borrego. which overlooks the city. The 8-minute ride affords outstanding views over the city center.

Puebla City

Initial construction of the teleférico in the city of Puebla, in central Mexico, was halted in 2013, amidst considerable controversy about its route and the demolition of a protected, historic building (the Casona de Torno) in this UNESCO World Heritage city. The original route was 2 kilometers long and linked the historic center of Puebla with a nearby hill, home to the forts of Loreto and Guadalupe. In 1862, these forts were the site of the famous Battle of Puebla, at which Mexican forces proved victorious over the French, a victory celebrated each year on 5 May (Cinco de Mayo).

When it proved impossible to inaugurate this cable car in time for Mexico’s 2013 Tourist Tianguis (the largest tourism trade fair in Latin America), authorities boarded up the partially-completed structures (3 metal towers and 2 concrete bases) to completely hide them from public view. Construction resumed in 2014, but only of a 688-meter-long stretch which cost $11 million to build. This section, which includes a tower in Centro Expositor, the city’s main exhibition center, was officially opened in January 2016. The 5-minute ride costs about $30 pesos ($1.60) each way.

Torreón, Coahuila (under construction)

Italian firm Leitner Ropeways has begun construction of Torreón’s cable car. (Leitner built Mexico’s first cable car for regular urban transit in Ecatepec in the State of Mexico). The Torreón cable car runs 1400 meters between Paseo Morelos in the downtown area and the Cerro de las Noas, site of the large sculture El Cristo de las Noas. The system will initially have eight 8-pasenger cabins giving a capacity of 350 passengers an hour each way. The cable car, due to enter service in December 2016, will cost $10 million to complete, and users are likely to pay about 3 dollars for a round trip. City officials hope its completion will provide a welcome boost to Torreón’s fledgling tourism sector.

[Note: This is an updated version of a post first published in 2014]

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New highway in Acapulco

 Mexico's geography in the Press  Comments Off on New highway in Acapulco
Jan 252016
 

A new highway linking Mozimba and Pie de la Cuesta has been formally inaugurated in Acapulco. According to the SCT (Communications and Transportation Secretariat), the $37 million highway will benefit 860,000 people living in Acapulco and Coyuca de Benítez.

PRY-Mozimba-002

On average, 18,000 vehicles are expected to use the highway each day. The highway reduces travel times from about 30 minutes to 10 minutes.

Acapulco (Google Earth)

Acapulco (Google Earth)

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Dec 172015
 

Is mass tourism a form of colonialism or imperialism? This, essentially, is the question thoughtfully considered by Denise Fay Brown of the University of Calgary in her article, “Tourists as colonizers in Quintana Roo, Mexico”, published in the Summer 2014 issue of The Canadian Geographer.

Map of Quintana Roo. Copyright 2010 Tony Burton. All rights reserved.

Map of Quintana Roo. Copyright 2010 Tony Burton. All rights reserved.

Brown draws on decades of personal ethnographic fieldwork related to Maya spatiality and sociospatial organization in the Yucatec Maya zone, Quintana Roo. She argues that tourists, albeit unwittingly, are increasingly able (financially and in terms of ready access) to engage with “exotic landscapes”, but that their presence in such landscapes “results in the reterritorialization of the destinations that mimics the colonial enterprise.” In particular, in Quintana Roo, she claims that “an important segment of the landscape of the Yucatec Maya people has been appropriated and reterritorialized.” (How many tourists visiting Cancún and the so-called Riviera Maya region realize that this coast was largely terra incognita fifty years ago?)

One of the classic indicators of colonialism is spatial appropriation. Maya infighting aside, the earliest attempts at spatial appropriation in Quintana Roo were by Spain during early colonial times in the early sixteenth century. Even after independence in 1821, the Yucatán Peninsula resisted integration with the rest of the (new) nation. This resistance was not only due to cultural differences, but also to the Yucatán Peninsula’s location in the periphery, a long way from the seat of power in Mexico City. Indeed, despite the massive program of railway building that helped consolidate other parts of Mexico during the late nineteenth century, a rail link from central Mexico to the Yucatán Peninsula was only finally put in place in the 1950s.

Brown makes the case that the assault on Maya territory has continued into recent times, even if, “Today, it is not the conventional notion of nation state colonialism but a much more subtle invasion brought about by the ability of tourists from richer nations to travel south.”

She makes a strong argument that the growth of tourism in the Yucatán Peninsula has been “predatory” and that foreign tourists, especially those engaging in mass tourism, are, in fact, unwitting colonizers.

Brown concludes that, “The case of Quintana Roo, Mexico illustrates how the tourist can be seen as a pawn in a larger political project. Exposure of this predatory nature of tourism reveals processes that have implications for other Native regions of the Americas and beyond that are suffering similar “invasions.””

Thinking about the extent to which tourism is just one more manifestation of colonialism adds a whole new dimension to traditional tourism studies looking at economic, social and environmental advantages and disadvantages. Brown’s argument is persuasive, and, clearly, the political and cultural impacts of tourism deserve equal consideration.

Reference:

  • Denise Fay Brown. 2014. “Tourists as colonizers in Quintana Roo, Mexico”, The Canadian Geographer, vol 57, #2, Summer 2014, pp 186-205.

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The Aqueduct of Padre Tembleque is Mexico’s 33rd UNESCO World Heritage Site

 Mexico's geography in the Press  Comments Off on The Aqueduct of Padre Tembleque is Mexico’s 33rd UNESCO World Heritage Site
Nov 102015
 

Earlier this year, UNESCO added a 16th century aqueduct in Mexico to its list of world heritage sites, bringing the total number of such sites in Mexico to 33.

The Aqueduct of Padre Tembleque was constructed between 1554 and 1571. It is named for the Franciscan friar, Francisco de Tembleque, who began the 48-kilometer-long aqueduct, which was built to transport water from what is now Zempoala, Hidalgo, to Otumba in the State of México. The aqueduct connects to an engineered water catchment area, springs, canals and distribution tanks.

Location of Aqueduct of Padre Tembleque

Location of Aqueduct of Padre Tembleque (Source: Google Maps)

The aqueduct was built with support from the local indigenous communities: “This hydraulic system is an example of the exchange of influences between the European tradition of Roman hydraulics and traditional Mesoamerican construction techniques, including the use of adobe.” (UNESCO)

Aqueduct of Padre Tembleque

Aqueduct of Padre Tembleque (Credit: Xinhua/INAH/NOTIMEX)

While much of the aqueduct is at ground level or underground, it crosses over the Papalote River near Santiago Tepeyahualco supported by a graceful series of high arches called the Main Arcade, 67 arches in total, and at one point 39 meters above the river (the highest single-level arcade ever built in an aqueduct “from Roman times until the middle of the 16th century.”)

The Aqueduct of Padre Tembleque is the largest single hydraulic engineering project completed in the Americas during Spanish colonial times and is a worthy addition to the World Heritage list.

For more information:

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Sep 282015
 

The gradual devaluation of Mexico’s Magic Towns (Pueblos Mágicos) program, reported here in earlier posts, continues with the recent addition of 28 new Magic Towns to the list, bringing the total number to 111.

Magic Towns

At the Second Annual Fair of Magic Towns, held in Puebla recently, the Federal Tourism Secretary Enrique de la Madrid announced that 28 of the 180 applicant towns had been accepted into the promotional program. The designation is supposedly reserved for “cities, towns and villages with special symbolic features, legends and history, and opportunities in tourism”, but several existing Magic Towns have very little indeed to offer tourists, and little cultural or historical significance. The same can be said for several of the latest group of 28 Magic Towns.

Towns, by state (September 2015) [corrected]

Mexico’s Magic Towns, by state (September 2015) [corrected]

Towns in the program are eligible for federal grants towards maintenance, rebuilding historic centers, improving infrastructure, installing underground utilities, developing tourism products, training and other projects. According to Magic Town proponents, the program increases visitor numbers and income by between 20 and 30%, though it is very hard to see where such positive numbers come from.

The latest 28 additions to the Magic Towns program are:

  • San José de Casas (Aguascalientes)
  • Candela and Guerrero (Coahuila)
  • Palenque (Chiapas)
  • Aculco, Ixtapan de la Sal [incorrectly given as Ixtapa de la Sal in the press release], Teotihuacán, San Martín de las Pirámides and Villa de Carbón (State of Mexico – Estado de México)
  • Tecozahutla (Hidalgo)
  • Mascota and Talpa de Allende (Jalisco)
  • Sayulita, (Nayarit)
  • Linares (Nuevo León)
  • Huautla de Jiménez, Mazunte, San Pablo Villa Mitla and San Pedro y San Pablo (Oaxaca)
  • Atlixco and Huauchinango (Puebla)
  • Isla Mujeres and Tulum (Quintana Roo)
  • San Joaquín (Querétaro)
  • Mocorito (Sinaloa)
  • Tlaxco (Tlaxcala)
  • Coscomatepec, Orizaba and Zozocolco (Veracruz)

On a positive note, it means that my Western Mexico, A Traveler’s Treasury (2013) now has descriptions and details of no fewer than 18 Magic Towns, rather than the 15 previously included!

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