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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 Posted by at 6:43 am  Tagged with:
Sep 102015
 

We have seen numerous examples in previous posts of Mexico’s astonishingly diverse attractions for international tourism. Having succeeded in attracting mass tourism (e.g. Cancún, Ixtapa, Huatulco), Mexico has sought to diversify its tourism appeal by developing niche markets for visitors with special interests, such as cuisine, adventure tourism, historic sites and health-related holidays.

Mexico’s tourism development agency, FONATUR, recently announced it is seeking help from Spain’s leading cultural tourism firm, Paradores de Turismo, to establish a network of Paradores (luxury hotels in historic buildings) in Mexico. Frequent travelers to Spain will be more than familiar with the Paradores system there which offers visitors the chance to stay in some unique historical buildings without sacrificing too many creature comforts.

Route followed by Cortés, 1519-1521. Credit: Wikimedia Commons.

Route followed by Cortés, 1519-1521. Credit: Wikimedia Commons. Click to enlarge.

In Mexico, a “History Tourism Plan” is being developed by FONATUR and the Federación de Haciendas, Estancias y Hoteles Históricos de México. In the first stage, an inventory will be compiled of the best existing haciendas, monasteries and other historic buildings that already are, or could be converted to, hotels. At the same time, experts will be discussing which “routes” offer the best combinations and provide most interest to tourists. Routes will be developed to highlight specific themes.

The first route to be proposed is The Route of Cortés, linking properties in five states: Veracruz, Puebla, Tlaxcala, State of Mexico and the Federal District (see map). This is a timely idea given that the 500th Anniversary of the arrival of Cortés and his journey to central Mexico comes in 2019.

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Will UNESCO give World Heritage status to Lake Chapala?

 Books and resources, Other  Comments Off on Will UNESCO give World Heritage status to Lake Chapala?
Sep 072015
 

We don’t often champion causes in these pages, but are more than willing to lend our support to a campaign hoping to persuade UNESCO to declare Lake Chapala a “World Heritage” site. The campaign appears to have stalled, and deserves more support.

The following 6-minute video (English subtitles) from 2008 sets the scene for those unfamiliar with the area:

Where is Lake Chapala?

Map of Lake Chapala

Map of Lake Chapala. Credit: Tony Burton; all rights reserved.

Why should Lake Chapala be declared a World Heritage site?

Natural history: it is Mexico’s largest natural lake and home to some unique endemic fauna.

Cultural and historic significance: it is a sacred site for the indigenous Huichol Indian people. Specifically, the southernmost “cardinal point” in their cosmology is XapaWiyemeta, which is Scorpion Island (Isla de los Alacranes) in Lake Chapala.

In the nineteenth century, as Mexico fought for its independence from Spain, Lake Chapala was the scene of a truly heroic struggle, centered on Mezcala Island, between the Royalist forces and a determined group of insurgents. It proved to be a landmark event, since after four years of fighting, an honorable truce was agreed.

At the very end of the nineteenth century, influential families from Mexico and from overseas “discovered” Lake Chapala. For several years, Mexico’s then president, Porfirio Díaz, made annual trips to vacation at the lake. As the twentieth century progressed, the area attracted increasing numbers of authors, poets and artists, many of them from abroad, including such greats as D.H. Lawrence, Tennessee Williams, Witter Bynner, Charles Pollock and Sylvia Fein. (To discover more of the literary and artistic characters associated with Lake Chapala, please see this on-going series of mini-biographies.)

Today, it is the single largest retirement community of Americans anywhere outside of the USA.

Is this enough to qualify Lake Chapala for World Heritage status? I don’t know, but it certainly seems worth a shot!

Posts related to Lake Chapala:

Tourism in the Lake Chapala (Ajijic, Chapala, Jocotepec) and the Lerma-Chapala basin:

Want to read more?

For general introduction and background to this area, see the first eight chapters of my Western Mexico: A Traveler’s Treasury (4th ed, 2013). In the words of Dale Palfrey, reviewing the book for the Guadalajara Reporter, “First published in 1993, the revised and expanded fourth edition of “Western Mexico”… opens with what qualifies as the most comprehensive guide to the Lake Chapala region available in English.“

For a more in-depth account of the history of the Lake Chapala region up to 1910, see my Lake Chapala Through the Ages, an anthology of travelers’ tales. It features informative extracts from more than fifty original sources, linked by explanatory text and comments, together with brief biographies of the writers of each extract. They include some truly fascinating characters… see for yourself!

Both books are available as regular print books, or in Kindle and Kobo editions.

Mexico’s tourism development policies: a model for the world?

 Mexico's geography in the Press  Comments Off on Mexico’s tourism development policies: a model for the world?
Aug 272015
 

Mexico welcomed a record number of tourist last year: 29.1 million visitors, a 20.5% increase over 2013. The number of tourists is projected to grow 8% this year. Most tourists visiting Mexico come from the U.S., followed by Canada, U.K., Colombia and Brazil. During the first six months of 2015, the average expenditure/tourist was 865 dollars.

Mexico is the top international destination for U.S. tourists and according to U.S. Commerce Department data, visits to Mexico by U.S. tourists rose 24% in 2014 to a record 25.9 million, despite U.S. travel warnings relating to parts of the country. Figures from the Mexican side of the border suggest a more modest, though still substantial, increase of 11.8% in U.S. tourists entering the country. The differences in the figures reflect slight differences in definitions and methodology.

Just how did Mexico achieve its tourism success? The answer appears to be a combination of its fortuitous proximity to the USA allied with some smart policy decisions. This helps to explain why the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) has chosen Mexico as the basis for developing a transferable model to demonstrate the potential of tourism in international development. The in-depth study, to be published next year, will focus on the economic and political aspects of international tourism.

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Mexican artist-geographer helped put Bali on the tourist map…

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Jul 062015
 

In an earlier post – Mexico in the USA: Pacific fauna and flora mural in San Francisco – we looked at the beautiful (and very geographic!) mural by Mexican artist José Miguel Covarrubias (1904-1957).

Covarrubias had a lengthy commercial art career as an illustrator of books, designer of theater sets and costumes, and as a caricaturist for magazines including Vanity Fair and The New Yorker, but at heart, he was very much a geographer, with a healthy side-interest in ethnology.

In the mid-1920s, he moved to New York, where he fell in love with a young dancer and choreographer Rosa (Rosemonde) Cowan. The couple traveled together to Mexico, the Caribbean, Africa and Europe. In Mexico, Rosa met Miguel’s friends, including Diego Rivera and his wife Frida Kahlo, and was introduced to photography by Edward Weston.

Miguel’s illustrations for advertisers, especially the one he painted for Steinway & Sons pianos, helped speed up the inclusion of Bali, Indonesia, on the world tourist map. Miguel’s piano artwork won the 1929 National Art Directors’ Medal for color painting. After Miguel and Rosa married in 1930, they used the prize money to take an extended honeymoon to Bali.

Miguel Covarrubias: "Offering of Fruits for the Temple", Bali, 1932

Miguel Covarrubias: “Offering of Fruits for the Temple”, Bali, 1932

The couple loved Bali and quickly became interested in the local language and culture. Three years later, in 1933, Miguel was awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship, and the couple returned to Bali, also visiting Java, India and Vietnam. Miguel’s art and Rosa’s photographs were key ingredients in the success of Island of Bali (1937).

The book was released in New York at a particularly propitious time, just as interest in far-flung tourism was being fired up by travel firms. The book coincided with, and refueled, a craze among well-to-do New Yorkers to visit the island. The rest of the world soon followed, and Bali’s tourist future was guaranteed.

Island of Bali is “still regarded by many as the most authoritative text on Bali and its fascinating people. Included is a wealth of information on the daily life, art, customs and religion of this magical ‘Island of the Gods.'” For more about the book, see Miguel Covarrubias: Island of Bali. on Chris Morrison’s blog Thirty-Two Minutes.

Miguel Covarrubias’s later books included Mexico South (1946); The Eagle, the Jaguar, and the Serpent – Indian Art of the Americas; North America: Alaska, Canada, the United States (1954); and Indian Art of Mexico and Central America (1957).

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May 252015
 

The Mexican government is funding a 100-million-dollar project to build Mexico’s first cruise ship home port at Puerto Peñasco (Rocky Point) in Sonora on the Sea of Cortés (Gulf of California). Construction began in 2013 and is scheduled to be completed by early in 2017.  Proponents hope that the port will help transform the existing town (population about 60,000) into a fully-fledged tourist resort, taking advantage of its proximity to Phoenix and Tucson in Arizona. The project includes a state-of-the-art terminal and convention center.

pinacate-map-google

The town already has a small international airport, inaugurated in 2008, which has a daily capacity of 2000 passengers and would need to be expanded if the port takes off.

Puerto Peñasco has an embryonic tourism industry at present, mainly attracting Arizonans (it is their nearest beach), fishing enthusiasts, and school and college students during spring-break (attracted, in part, by the legal drinking age being 18 in the town, compared to 21 in Arizona).

puerto-penasco

Puerto Peñasco also has research stations of the Universidad de Sonora: its Centro de Investigaciones Científicas y Tecnológicas (Scientific and Technological Research Center) and its Centro de Estudios del Desierto (Center for Desert Studies).

According to cruise line statistics, the number of Mexicans taking cruises in 2014 rose by 15%, but analysts argue that many Mexicans stay at home and are unable to take cruises at present because they lack a U.S. visa. Establishing a home port in Mexico, they argue, would therefore open up a significant new market. A cruise ship port at Puerto Peñasco would clearly have immense impacts on the town, boosting the local economy and generating up to 2,500 direct and 5,000 indirect jobs.

However, critics say this will come at a cost. They cite potential problems related to local residents, wildlife and biodiversity. They fear that development of the town will raise property prices beyond the level of affordability of local residents. A Tucson-based non-profit, The Intercultural Center for the Study of Deserts and Oceans is working with local fishermen and government agencies to “empower coastal communities in the Northern Gulf of California region with the knowledge and tools to create sustainable livelihoods that exist in concert with the surrounding natural and multicultural environment”. The research center believes the port development will lead to environmental changes adversely affecting important fishing grounds. The center has also expressed concern about the potential hazards to nesting sites used by sea turtles.

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30 top geotourism sites in Mexico (Geo-Mexico special)

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May 142015
 

Mexico has literally thousands of geotourism sites (locations where the primary recreational attraction is some phenomenon of geographic importance, such as a coral reef, mangrove swamp, volcano, mountain peak, cave or canyon. Many of Mexico’s geotourism sites are geomorphosites, where the primary attraction is one or more ”landforms that have acquired a scientific, cultural/historical, aesthetic and/or social/economic value due to human perception or exploitation.” (Panniza, 2001)

Here is a partial index (by state) to the geotourism sites described on Geo-mexico.com to date:

Baja California Sur

Chiapas

Chihuahua

Colima

Hidalgo

Jalisco

México (State of)

Michoacán

Morelos

Nayarit

Nuevo León

Oaxaca

Puebla

Querétaro

Quintana Roo

San Luis Potosí

Sonora

Tamaulipas

Veracruz

Reference:

  • Panizza M. (2001) Geomorphosites : concepts, methods and example of geomorphological survey. Chinese Science Bulletin, 46: 4-6

Mexico’s geomorphosites: Peñas Cargadas, Mineral del Monte, Hidalgo

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Apr 232015
 

This short Postandfly video of an area known as Peñas Cargardas (“Loaded Rocks”) in the state of Hidalgo is the perfect excuse to add to our posts about Mexico’s geomorphosites – sites where landforms have provided amazing scenery for our enjoyment. This area of Mexico is definitely one of my favorites, partly because it is crammed with interesting sights for geographers, including the Basalt Prisms of San Miguel Regla, only a few kilometers away from the Piedras Cargadas, and an equally-stunning geomorphosite.

A few minutes east of the city of Pachuca, the Peñas Cargadas (sometimes called the Piedras Cargadas) are located in a valley in the surrounding pine-fir forest. The rocks comprising the Peñas Cargadas have capricious shapes; some appear to be balanced on top of others. Their formation may well be due to the same processes that formed the Piedras Encimadas in Puebla, which are actually not all that far away as the crow flies.

The nearest town, Mineral del Monte (aka Real del Monte) has lots of interest for cultural tourists. Among many other claims to fame, it was where the first soccer and tennis matches in Mexico were played ~ in the nineteenth century, when the surrounding hills echoed to the sounds of Cornish miners, brought here from the U.K. to work the silver mines.

The miners introduced the Cornish Pasty, chile-enriched variations of which are still sold in the town as pastes. Real del Monte also has an English Cemetery, testament not only to the many tragic accidents that befell miners when mining here was at its peak, but also to the long-standing allegiance that led many in-comers to remain here to raise their families long after mining was in near-terminal decline. The town has typical nineteenth century mining architecture. The larger buildings retain many signs of their former wealth the glory.

pachuca-map

The following Spanish language video has some ground-level views, as well as more information about the scenery and the area’s flora:

How to get there

The Peñas Cargadas are about ten kilometers east of Pachuca (see map). From Pachuca, follow signs for Mineral del Monte, and then drive past the “Panteón Inglés” (English Cemetery) in that town on the road to Tezoantla. The Peñas Cargadas are about 3.5 kilometers beyond Tezoantla. This is a great place for a day trip from Mexico City.

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Many of Mexico’s archaeological sites now on Google Street View

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Apr 132015
 

An agreement between the National Anthropology and History Institute (INAH) and Google means that many of Mexico’s most famous archaeological sites can now be explored using Google’s Street View. Perfect for the armchair traveler!

The system allows for viewers to rotate street level views the full 360 degrees horizontally, and 290 degrees vertically to take a “virtual walk” through such major sites as Teotihuacan, Xochicalco, Monte Albán, Chichén Itzá, Tulum, Palenque, Tula and Paquimé.

Sites included in INAH/Google system

Sites included in INAH/Google system

Google’s images were captured by specially-designed equipment on bicycles that could navigate the paths and ruins without causing damage to the ancient structures.

Google Street Views can be accessed via either Google Earth or Google Maps.

The INAH/Google system includes the following sites in the Maya World region (Mundo Maya):

Dzibilchaltún
Uxmal (Street view) – Uxmal (article)
Kabah
Ek Balam
Chichén Itzá (Street view) – Chichén Itzá (article)
Kohunlich
Dzibanché
Chacchoben
Tulum (Street view) – Tulum (article)
El Rey
El Meco
Cobá
Becán
Palenque (Street view) – Palenque (article)
Bonampak
Comalcalco (Street view) – Comalcalco (article)

It also includes these noteworthy sites in other parts of Mexico:

Teotihuacan  (Street view) – Teotihuacan (article)
Xochicalco (Street view) – Xochicalco (article)
Monte Albán (Street view) – Monte Albán (article)
Mitla (Street view) – Mitla (article)
Yagul (Street view) – Yagul (article)
Peralta
Plazuelas
Tzintzuntzan (Street view) – Tzintzuntzan (article)
Tajín
Paquimé (Street view) – Paquimé (article)
Cuicuilco
Cholula, Puebla (Street view) – Cholula (article)
Xochitécatla
Tula

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Beach replenishment needed in Quintana Roo

 Mexico's geography in the Press  Comments Off on Beach replenishment needed in Quintana Roo
Mar 022015
 

Officials in Quintana Roo claim that beach replenishment in the state requires the investment of at least 500 million pesos (about 35 million dollars) in the next few years, and are asking for federal help.

After Hurricane Wilma in 2005, many beaches in Quintana Roo were badly damaged. Following the hurricane, initial beach restoration efforts were funded by the federal Tourism Secretariat, with maintenance then passed over to local (municipal) authorities and the state government. The restoration program included the planting of more than 8,000 palm trees in an effort to help stabilize the coast. However, storms in late 2014 caused considerable damage to beaches, especially the Gaviota Azul beach in Punta Cancún, prompting tourism representatives to call for renewed investment in restoration.

State officials have singled out five areas where the beaches are of particular concern:

  • Cancún
  • Playa del Carmen
  • Isla Mujeres
  • Cozumel
  • Holbox Island

Quintana Roo has budgeted 5 million pesos in this year’s budget to complete the five Environmental Impact studies needed prior to applying for federal funding.

In related news, four Quintana Roo towns have applied for Magic Town status:

  • Tulum
  • Holbox
  • Isla Mujeres
  • Felipe Carrillo Puerto

Quintana Roo currently has only one Magic Town: Bacalar.

The Tourism Secretariat has previously announced that it plans to add 17 towns to the list this year, bringing the total by year-end to 100. Towns that have applied for Magic Town status will be evaluated in June this year, with decisions expected to be announced in July. Given the number of towns submitting applications, some locations are clearly going to be disappointed in this round of nominations.

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