Aug 072014

An earlier post looked at the significant impacts of the estimated 10,000 to 15,000 residential tourists (non-working, non-Mexicans) living part or full-time in the Lerma-Chapala basin. These residential tourists are concentrated in San Miguel de Allende and in the Chapala-Ajijic area on Lake Chapala:

Day trips and regular tourism are also important activities in the Lerma-Chapala basin. Both day trippers and tourists bring economic, social, cultural and environmental benefits, but may also create adverse impacts. Conflicts between tourism and other activities are increasing as demographic and environmental pressures rise.

Day trips

By definition, day trips last less than 24 hours. Most day trips are to a single destination, usually only a relatively short distance from home. Within the Lerma-Chapala basin, certain day trip flows stand out. The strong flow of day-trippers from Guadalajara to Chapala-Ajijic peaks on Saturdays, Sundays and public holidays. Day trippers account for about two-thirds of the total number of visitors to Chapala-Ajijic. Day trip flows linking San Miguel de Allende, Dolores Hidalgo and Guanajuato, and between Morelia and Pátzcuaro are also important. Elsewhere, the Monarch butterfly reserves have seasonal importance as day trip destinations; for example, El Rosario, the most visited reserve, attracts up to 5,000 visitors a day between early December and late March.


Tourism, on the other hand, involves overnight stays. A typical tourist trip lasts between 3 and 8 days. Tourism may involve multiple destinations, further away from home. In Mexico, national tourists are more numerous, but, on average, earn less, spend less, and stay a shorter time, than international tourists.

In the Lerma-Chapala basin, tourism began to flourish at the end of the nineteenth century, alongside improvements in transportation, especially the building of railways. The shores of Lake Chapala were an early magnet for the wealthy. Developers redesigned the unplanned fishing villages, attracting visitors from all over Mexico. Even today, the Chapala landscape reflects the historical and cultural influences which have influenced it.

Other parts of the basin also became important tourist destinations. The colonial cities route, taking in San Miguel de Allende, Guanajuato, Morelia, Pátzcuaro and Querétaro, is a prime example, which has been very successfully marketed.

Quantifying tourism in the basin is difficult. Official tourism statistics are based on surveys, but these data have their limitations. The size of the circles on the map below represents the total number of tourists visiting each location in 2005, according to Tourism Secretariat figures. The yellow segment represents the percentage of tourists that are international. atlas-tourist-numbers-2The map shows that tourism is heavily concentrated at a small number of locations close to the boundary of the basin: Morelia, Toluca, Querétaro, San Miguel de Allende, Guanajuato and Chapala-Ajijic. Foreign tourists are particularly important in Toluca, San Miguel de Allende and Chapala-Ajijic. The precise numbers should be treated with caution. Many tourists visiting San Miguel and Chapala-Ajijic (but not Toluca) do not stay in hotels but in “Bed and Breakfasts” or with friends or relatives.

Tourism planning needs to consider strategies which:

  • preserve existing and potential natural attractions and historic sites.
  • increase the number and variety of locations visited by tourists.
  • reduce the pronounced seasonality of existing tourism.
  • increase the average length of stay and expenditure of tourists.


This post is based on my contribution (on tourism) to the Atlas de la cuenca Lerma-Chapala, construyendo una visión conjunta, published by Semarnat-UNAM-IE, Mexico, in 2006. (The link is to a low-resolution pdf of the entire atlas).

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