Mexico Sustainability

This past summer, 47 students attending EGADE Business School at Mexico’s Monterrey Institute of Technology were faced with a question: How can Mexico compete over the long term? The select group of middle managers and entrepreneurs developed four scenarios in answering this question. The value of sustainability was highlighted in this approach that examined the creation of a competitive economy and the model can be transferred to other settings. The students examined Mexico’s role in the global economy, education and innovation, the role and future of cities, the energy-water food nexus, poverty and inequality, transportation, health and technology.

Students were assigned to four worlds/scenarios: the private sector, the public sector, a radical NGO, and young entrepreneurs that would participate in strategizing Mexico’s sustainable competitiveness in 2024. Participants learned three important lessons: Invest in people; Diversify markets and differentiate products, services, and business models; Focus on social and environmental sustainability. The first lesson obviously points to investing in Mexico’s education system to power the workforce which, in turn, will contribute to the competitive economy and its ability to attract and retain talent that might go elsewhere for employment.

As for diversification and differentiation, Mexico both benefits from and misses’ opportunities due to its trade relationship with the U.S. 80% of Mexican imports go to its northern neighbor, which is convenient but also makes the country vulnerable to potential problems in the U.S. market, such as the 2008 recession. With a growing middle class, Mexico’s economy needs to keep up with the population with environmentally sustainable products and practices. Although “Mexico has a strong tradition of cultural diversity and innovation in the arts and literature, this tradition has not carried over to business innovation.” Mexico must take advantage of its natural resources and biodiversity and move toward entrepreneurship to balance its reliance on energy and manufacturing with quasi-monopolies. Finally, Mexico suffers from inefficient use of water, which is already becoming a scarce commodity. It is necessary to invest in building sustainable infrastructure, including transport methods, to develop the impoverished countryside and to overcome the water scarcity. Although much remains to be done, this eight-week summer business course highlighted the importance of sustainability in moving Mexico forward.



For Torre de Especialidades, a hospital with a new tower currently under construction in Mexico City, Allison Dring and Daniel Schwaag of the Berlin-based firm Elegant Embellishment have developed a tile called proSolve370e, which will cover the facade of the building. The tile’s shape and chemical coating will help neutralize the chemicals present in the city’s smog which is produced by 8,750 cars driving each day.

The paint applied to the tiles is made from titanium dioxide, a pigment used to make a wide range of applications from paint to sunscreen to food coloring. Titanium (IV) oxide or Titania happens to double as a catalyst in certain chemical reactions. When UV light cuts through smoggy air and hits the titanium dioxide on the tiles, a chemical reaction occurs between the tiles and chemicals in the smog. The smog is broken down into small amounts of less noxious chemicals, including calcium nitrate, carbon dioxide, and water. This colorless salt absorbs moisture from the air and is commonly found as a tetrahydrate. It is mainly used as a component in fertilizers, but has other applications. The shape of the tiles also slows wind speeds and creates turbulence, which distributes pollution more evenly across the tiles.

While Torre de Especialidades is the first permanent exterior installation of their system, Dring is hopeful that others will follow Mexico City’s lead. “Other cities with pollution problems including Santiago, Beijing, Los Angeles, Beirut, Astana or those with tightening regulations as is the current case in Germany are ideal environments for proSolve370e.”



Mexico is a leader in renewable energy from solar power. Now, thanks to a new energy bill, rural Mexican communities will be able to power their homes and schools using the sun’s power. The announcement came after the Mexican government approved amendments to the country’s renewable energy bill aimed at promoting rooftop photovoltaic solar panels at public schools.

Not only will the education centers benefit from a free and environmentally friendly source of energy, but also surplus energy will be able to be sold back to others in the community.

Currently Mexico offers a generous reward scheme for those who want to invest in solar photovoltaic. Mexico was the second country in the world to implement long-term climate change targets into national legislation. The renewable energy bill calls for a 30% reduction in emission growth by 2020, and 50% by 2050 with 35% of energy to come from renewable sources by 2024.



Mexico and Central America are regions capable of experiencing growth in the solar market. In particular, Mexico has proven to be a viable candidate, with infrastructure already in place to power and meet the demands of an alternative energy solution.

Mexico’s energy minister has stated that less than one percent of Mexico’s land would need to be developed with solar energy to power the entire nation.

Mexico is committed to investing 31.4 billion pesos in renewable energy programs by 2020, it is no surprise that Solar America is excited to establish a niche in this rapidly growing sector in Mexico.

Moreover, Solar America recently signed a Memorandum of Understanding with Valdez de Cueva Constructores to implement solar energy solutions for a housing project in Tonlola, a suburb of Guadalajara.

The partnership between Solar America and Mexico will help the country reach its renewable energy target of thirty five percent from alternative sources. With such government support, viable space and an abundance of sunlight these are just a few reasons Solar America has targeted Mexico.



In a step away from dependence on fossil fuels, Mexico has approximately doubled their solar photovolataic (PV) market in the past year. Part of this increase is owed to the dropping costs of solar modules.

Despite such an increase in the less than five year old market, however, the growth has been less than that of other countries due to the lack of government subsidies for the alternative energy source.

In recent news, one of the more extensive projects that was proposed involves the Spanish PV developer Isofotón who signed a memorandum of understanding with the Yucatan state government. This document will allow them to develop a 150MW PV facility in Mexico; ultimately helping the nation get one step closer to their goal of a 690MW PV power grid between 2016 and 2019.

Construction of the facility will begin in January of next year, will take about two years to complete, and will cost around $360 million.


China Mexico Climate Change CO2 Laws

The Globe International alliance of lawmakers met in London on January 13-14 to discuss the roles and contributions of governments in a worldwide effort to suppress global warming.

18 out of 33 countries reported “significant” progress in a 2012 study of energy and climate laws; several of which are considered emerging economies. Mexico, China, South Korea, and India have all passed laws or created programs aimed at lowering CO2 emissions and preventing climate change.

Not everyone was given a gold star though as the report showed Germany, the UK, France, and Italy were among a group of countries that made no substantive change, while Canada went so far as to perform worse than recent years.

The Globe alliance hopes that encouragement to pass laws within these countries individually will create a clearer pathway for UN treaty talks and the implementation of a plan to lower emissions by 2015. To do this, the alliance pledged support in the form of political, analytical, and administrative aid for the next three years to the lawmakers who participated in London.


Wind Power, Mexico, new generation record, Wind Farms, Mexican Wind Energy

The latest figures from national power company CFE show that wind power in Mexico sent a record 282GWh to the grid in November, which is up 233% from the 84.5 GWh in the year-ago month. Mexico follows Brazil in the Latin American region with about 6.6 GW of installed capacity by 2025.

The Mexican Wind Energy Association projects the country’s wind power potential to be around 30 GW.

The region best suited for wind development is the Isthmus of Tehuantepec in Oaxaca. GWEC estimates that 10 GW of wind energy could be developed in the region, despite challenging wind and seismic conditions. Currently, 1.9 GW is under construction in Mexico and scheduled to come online by 2015.

Investment in wind power increased 68% between 2010 and 2011 and in 2012, Mexico’s installed capacity of wind power reached 1 GW, 2% of the national energy installed capacity, compared to the 519 MW of 2010. The wind sector is expected to duplicate by 2013 which in turn will generate between 30 thousand to 100 thousand jobs and reduce greenhouse gas emissions by nearly 10%.

According to Mauricio Trujillo, Project Manager in Latin America of the Global Wind Energy Council, at today Mexico’s wind power sector is at the point where the Asian wind power sector was five years ago. This implies that Mexico is at the start of a very steep growth curve and can expect great advancements in the coming years.


Gregor Schapers solar energy Mexico Tortillas

Central Mexico has copious amounts of sun and tortillas, so perhaps it isn’t so surprising that someone came up with the idea of using solar power to make them. In the town of El Sauz, north of Mexico City, German businessman Gregor Schapers has created and installed giant circular solar-powered ovens to make tortillas in a carbon-free manner.

Schapers, who has lived in the town of El Sauz, 180 kilometers (110 miles) north of Mexico City since 2003, hopes that this environmentally-friendly solar cooker can ultimately slash energy bills in Mexico's poor rural communities.

Conventional ovens typically use gas, up to 16 gallons a month. Some might expect a solar oven to be rather anemic in the temperature ranges. However, Schapers solar cookers can reach beyond 1,800 degrees Fahrenheit.

He adapted solar energy-harnessing technology created by the Austrian Wolfgang Scheffler. Scheffler reflectors are used to heat up a griddle, oven, and cauldron. They are made in El Sauz by TrinySol and can last up to thirty years.

Inhabitat reports that one solar cooker costs about $4,000-$5,000, yet the oven more than pays for itself in a relatively short period of time. This is because, once up and running, the solar cooker has no need for anything but sunlight, and helps Gregor Schapers save the money he would otherwise be forced to spend on gas.

These ovens also help promote green-oriented behaviors amongst the people presently living in the town of El Sauz.

"You can cook for a group of up to 60 people per reflector. It's good for social and economic development in rural communities," George Schaper said with respect to his cooker and the business of building it.

The solar panels used to make these ovens are fitted with light sensors, which mean that they automatically turn towards the sun.

In addition to heat, the solar reflectors can produce steam and Schapers is testing three other uses for his giant panels: a greenhouse project; honey production; and a system for steam baths.


COP18 Climate Conference

Mexico participated in the Eighteenth Conference of the Parties to the Framework Convention of the United Nations on Climate Change (COP 18), which recently took place in Doha, Qatar. Francisco Barnés Regueiro, General Director of National Institute of Ecology and Climate Change (INECC), led the Mexican delegation. 

“For  Mexico it is important for the agreement to be legally binding and secure the participation of all States according to their capabilities and responsibilities, focusing not only on mitigation, but in all those aspects that require further development, such as financial" said Barnés Regueiro.

Since hosting COP16 in Cancun, Mexico has worked tirelessly to support the efforts of the international community on climate change, including the establishment of an Interministerial Commission on Climate Change, strengthening local capacities for attention of the phenomenon, and the entry into force of the Act on Climate Change.

Additionally, Mexico has promoted the implementation of the agreements reached at the last conference of the parties, particularly the Durban package that builds on the Cancun Agreements, and promoted to reflect the urgency of immediate action on climate change.

Mexican officials stressed the necessity to find a model of growth with lower carbon emissions, with an efficient use of our natural resources and conserving biodiversity.


Monarchs represent the souls of returned loved ones

As the monarch butterflies’ annual migration brings them closer and closer to Mexico, one of Mexico’s best-known holidays is approaching. The beginning of November marks Día de los Muertos, or “Day of the Dead.” This holiday celebrates and honors deceased loved ones, and coincidently occurs simultaneously with the monarch arrival in Mexico. Monarch butterflies travel thousands of miles from the United States and Canada to their winter nesting grounds in central Mexico.

The native Purépecha Indians believe that encapsulated within each butterfly is the soul of a returned loved one. In the Mexican state of Michoacán, monarchs drift through the cemeteries. As the butterflies dance across graves, these souls are greeted by locals celebrating the holiday.

The orange-winged beauties add a vibrant touch to the celebrations. As 300 million butterflies complete their 3,000-mile journey, the living rejoice in their annual visit from the returning souls. 

In the new movie Flight of the Butterflies, the observance of Día de los Muertos plays a key role in the plot of the movie. Among the citizen scientists search for the monarch butterflies were Ken Brugger and his wife, Catalina Aguado. As Catalina and Ken visit a local cemetery during Día de los Muertos, they see monarch butterflies heading towards a nearby mountain. This mountain is later discovered to be the winter nesting place of millions of monarch butterflies.


Building in Mexico built with green inovations

As cities become more crowded and natural resources more limited, architects and developers are coming up with innovative ways to make sure their projects are environmentally friendly.  The green building trend started gaining momentum in the United States in 1993, when the US Green Building Council was formed, as a way to transform the way builders and corporations approached new construction projects.  The USGBC quickly realized the need for a unified program that builders could use to measure the sustainability of their projects and the LEED certification program was born.  

LEED, which stands for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, has become the industry standard for rating green buildings.  Four different classifications of LEED certification exist:  certified, silver, gold and platinum.  In order to get certified, builders must comply with the minimum program requirements, fill out the appropriate paperwork, and undergo a rigorous third-party review.  Classifications depend on how a project is scored in five main categories: sustainable sites, water efficiency, energy and atmosphere, materials and resources, and indoor environmental quality.       

According to BusinessWeek, in 2007 there were only 2 LEED certified buildings in all of Latin America and one of them was in Mexico.  Since then, Mexico has made great strides in the area of green building and now has over 15 LEED certified buildings, with many more in the certification process pipeline.  Mexico has the 2nd most LEED certified buildings in Latin America after Brazil.  Due to the increased interest in sustainable building, the Mexico Green Building Council (Consejo Mexicano de Edificación Sustentable, a non-profit organization, was founded in 2005.  The Council seeks to promote green building in Mexico through education and professional development.  

VIA Corporativo, located in Tijuana’s prestigious Zona Rio, was Northwest Mexico’s first certified green building and is home to the Tijuana Economic Development Corporation.  It is the only LEED Gold certified building outside of Mexico City.  The 14 story building has unique features, like a stunning air and light chamber, which helps contribute to a 40% electric energy savings and allows natural light to flow through the building.  Water conservation is a key element of VIA Corporativo, and the building boasts an impressive 60% savings compared to conventional buildings as well as a rainwater collector.  Misión 19, one of Tijuana’s most talked about restaurants, also calls VIA Corporativo home.  The building was a natural fit for the restaurant, as Misión 19 prides itself on its farm-to-table menu and green practices.  

The HSBC building, which stands tall among Mexico City’s Paseo de la Reforma, is the first building in Latin America to receive the prestigious LEED Gold certification.  The building has a roof garden, which overlooks one of Mexico City’s cherished landmarks, the Angel de la Independencia.  Not only is the roof garden nice to look at, but it also helps to reduce storm water runoff and filters pollutants.   In addition to the roof garden, the building also makes use of intelligent lighting systems and has several water treatment features.  People who work in the building can also take advantage of the ground level bike racks, which are great for those looking to reduce their environmental footprint.  Not only has the building been recognized for its beautiful exterior, but in 2007 it was awarded the top interior design award by the Mexican Interior Design Association.

Not far from the HSBC building on Paseo de la Reforma, stands one of Mexico’s tallest and greenest buildings, the Torre Mayor.  Home to multinational corporations like Deloitte, British American Tobacco, Hewlett Packard, and McKinsey & Company, the Torre Mayor is a 52 story architectural masterpiece officially inaugurated in March 2003.  From the lightning fast elevators to one of the most well-equipped helipads in the region, the building is a sight to be seen and to this day is considered the tallest building in Latin America.  The double paned glass materials used on the outside of the building block out noise and harmful UV rays, while letting in 60% more natural light than standard glass.  The hermetically sealed air chambers prevent dust, odors, and germs from permeating the office space.  

Mexico’s first LEED Platinum building is the Bioconstruccion y Energia Alternativa Headquarters, located in Garza Garcia, on the outskirts of Monterrey.  The 5,000-square-foot office building has a saw edged roof that allows natural light to flow in, while still maintaining a beautiful design.  

Sustainable building is no longer just for big corporate projects.  Many of Mexico’s developers, like Casas GEO, are bringing the green movement to the masses, by incorporating environmentally friendly practices into their master planned low income communities.  Residents of the communities can enjoy parks, running/biking trails, as well as the “ecotechnology” features in each home.  Cemex is another company that is at the forefront of Mexico’s green movement.  In 2010, Cemex reduced its reliance on fossil fuels and developed projects which allowed it to sell more carbon credits.  The company has not only taken action at their corporate headquarters in Mexico, but also at their foreign subsidiaries.  

Corporations, citizens, and builders in Mexico are waking up to the fact that our precious natural resources are limited.  As sustainable building becomes less of a developing trend and more mainstream, we are sure to see even more LEED certified buildings and sustainable practices in Mexico.  


A Monarch butterfly from Mexico rest on a flower

When I left my house in northern Virginia today, I was initially surprised to see a lone monarch butterfly flitting along my path on a cool September day.  But then I realized he was right on schedule to join millions of his buddies in their annual migration to the mountains of central Mexico.  

The life of the monarchs is a fascinating story and still filled with mystery, despite the best efforts of scientists to understand it.  How do they end up back in the same forests year after year, even though multiple generations of butterflies have lived and died in the meantime?  How can they fly over 70 miles a day during their migration? How do they know when it’s time to hit the skies and head south? 

When I lived in Mexico City in 2008, I had the privilege to visit one of the spots where these butterflies gather for the winter: El Rosario butterfly sanctuary in the state of Michoacán.  My husband and I lucked out with a beautifully sunny day in December for our hike into the oyamel fir tree forests, where millions of monarchs were waiting for us.  

I still remember being on the trail when we first started to see a few scattered butterflies and thinking to myself, “Are we there yet? I don’t know if this was worth the drive….” But it was just a few minutes farther up the trail when I realized, “Woah! Ok, we’re here: butterfly paradise.”  For a creature that makes you feel lucky when you see just one of them, it’s hard to describe the feeling of having thousands flying around you on all sides. 

We walked out from amongst the trees into a clearing, and I felt like we’d discovered their secret vacation property. Hundreds lined the grass along damp creek bed, hanging out and relaxing near the water, while others socialized on logs, tree branches, and in the air. Many were partaking in what seemed to be the butterfly equivalent of a margarita on the beach: clover blossoms. You could actually HEAR the flapping of their wings. It was a pretty magical experience, and I had to resist the temptation to just spend the rest of the day sitting and staring at the beauty around me.

Taking photos of fast-flitting butterflies is tricky, so I grabbed a quick video to help me remember the encounter.  If that 20-second amateur video clip even remotely piques your interest, then you will love the vastly superior movie coming out this month that will bring you millions of butterflies zipping around in 3D!  Flight of the Butterflies tells the story of the monarchs and the scientist who spent 40 years trying to figure out where they vanished to every winter. Check to see when it’s premiering in a city near you, and get more info on the movie website, like how to plant your own butterfly garden. (Think of it as building a bed & breakfast for the monarchs to visit on their travels!)

If you’re as lucky as we were to be in central Mexico during the winter months this year, here are some additional tips for making your own trek to monarch sanctuaries. If you have an extra day or two while in Mexico City or Morelia, I would highly recommend adding this to your must-dos. 

Where to go: There are several sanctuaries west of Mexico City in Michoacán and México state. While this isn’t an exhaustive list, I would say the more easily accessible options are Piedra Herrada (outside of Valle de Bravo), Sierra Chincua (north of Angangueo; website linked is in Spanish, but has helpful maps even for non-Spanish speakers), El Rosario (east of Ocampo; convenient but fairly commercialized), and Cerro Pelon (about 40 minutes southeast of Zitácuaro and a bit trickier to find; great views but a longer trek on horseback to get to the butterflies).

When to go: Butterflies start arriving in mid-November and depart in March.  February brings the arrival of mating season, which is a great time to visit as loads of butterflies are flying around putting out the vibe (rather than hibernating in clumps on the trees, as they tend to be doing in January).  It’s ideal to arrive at the reserve in the morning for a couple reasons— there will be fewer tourists, and the butterflies prefer flying around in the warm sun.  It should be warming up by the time you get up the mountain, and you run the risk of the sky clouding over later in the day. 

What to wear:  The butterfly sanctuaries can be both chilly and muddy, so dress accordingly! El Rosario is in the mountains at 10,000 feet, and you’ll usually be walking on unpaved trails so comfortable shoes are key.  Dressing in layers is also a good idea—you’ll be cold when you get out of the car early in the morning, but I had worked up a pretty good sweat by the time I’d hiked up a mile at that altitude.  Pants may be a good choice as well if you end up riding a horse up the mountain.


Birds flying over a building in Mexico

We all know of the migrations of the monarch butterflies, the great whales, and the sea turtles, but one of the amazing migrations of the Animal Kingdom that gets much less press is that of the raptors across North America. Millions of birds of prey make their way from Alaska, Canada, and the northern United States down to Mexico, Central and South America each year in the fall, and back again in the spring. One place where you can observe this phenomenon particularly well is in Mexico, in the state of Veracruz. Here, at the peak of migration season, observers can sight over 100,000 birds in a day. The sheer number of birds of prey that pass over this specific area has led it to be called  “the River of Raptors”. 

The non-profit organization ProNatura Veracruz has set up two counting stations to monitor the raptors along this major North American migratory route. One station is in Cardel on the roof of the Hotel Bienvenido, and the other is at a Bird Observatory in Chichicaxtle. At these stations, trained counters monitor the populations of various raptor species, so they can keep track of the raptor migration over the long term.

I visited the ProNatura Bird Observatory in Chichicaxtle as part of a fam trip that was held for travel industry professionals and media who were attending ATMEX in September 2012. Adventure Travel Mexico, an adventure travel fair featuring Mexico’s top adventure travel tour operators and destinations, was held at the World Trade Center in Boca del Río, Veracruz from September 5 to 9, 2012. I joined a group who took a three day adventure with in the days prior to the fair. On our way north to the Mexico Verde adventure resort in Jalcomulco, we stopped in Chichicaxtle to visit the observatory. Unfortunately, we didn't see many birds that day, since it was a few weeks before the peak migration time. We did learn a lot about the project and the raptor migration, however.

More than 5 million hawks, eagles, falcons and vultures pass through this migration corridor each year on their journey from their breeding areas in the north to their wintering grounds in the south. The birds concentrate in this area because of the topography. Flying south from Texas, they follow the Sierra Madre mountain chain, and then are funneled between the Neovolcanic Axis and the Gulf of Mexico, sticking to the lowlands. Broad-winged Hawks and Turkey Vultures make up the greatest proportion of birds that cross here, but there are also Swainson's Hawks and Mississippi Kites in great numbers. Other raptors that migrate across Veracruz are the American Kestrel, Sharp-shinned Hawk, Osprey, Cooper's Hawk and Peregrine Falcon. Besides raptors, there is also a large number of aquatic birds, as well as butterflies and dragonflies who migrate through here.

Interestingly, the ritual ceremony of the Voladores, acknowledged by UNESCO as part of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity, originated in this area. The ceremony consists of five men (called "fliers" or "bird men") who climb a very tall pole. Four of them each wind a rope around one of their legs and then launch themselves off the pole. Suspended upside-down, they circle around and down, as the flier who remains above plays a tune on a flute. The circling of the pole mimics the circular flying pattern of the great raptors, who fly in a spiral in solar-heated thermal currents which lift them to higher altitudes, so they can soar farther while expending less energy. 

Clearly this migration was considered important in ancient times. Nowadays, keeping track of the numbers of birds that pass through here annually allows conservationists to monitor their well being, and prioritize conservation efforts on critical habitats. 

A few days after our visit to the observatory in Chichicaxtle, we were driving back south through the area. When we made a pit stop at a convenience store beside the highway, I happened to look up and see a multitude of raptors flying in a vortex. Our whole group stopped to gaze up at the sky for several minutes. The sheer abundance of wildlife in motion is an amazing phenomenon to witness. 

The ProNatura Bird Observatory in Chichicaxtle, Veracruz is open from 10 am to 7 pm every day between August 20th and November 20th. The migration reaches its peak during the last week of September and the first week of October. More information from their website:


Clean renewable energy benefits the economy of Mexico

In September, Mexico’s Federal Electricity Commission (CFE) reached an agreement with Japan’s Mitsubishi Heavy Industries Ltd. to build another 50 MW geothermal power plant. The power plant will be constructed in the region of Michoacán, and will be completed by the end of 2014. This power plant is the fifth part of the Los Azufres III project. When completed, it will be the twelfth geothermal plant constructed by Mitsubishi for Mexico. 

Mexico is the fourth largest provider in geothermal power. Ranking behind the United States, the Philippines and Indonesia, Mexico has a geothermal energy capacity of over 900 MW. In 1959, it installed the first geothermal power plant in the Western hemisphere. 

Renewable clean energy development benefits local economies. Geothermal energy, simply put, is the heat from the earth. It comes from either the center of the earth, or from the sun. It lowers the need to pay for imported fossil fuels, and also helps generate even more economic development opportunities. This reliable electricity is produced at a stable price, and also generates electricity in a way that keeps environmental impacts and emissions to a minimum. An advantage it has over other renewable energy sources such as solar and wind powers is that geothermal energy is not intermittent. 

Because of economic growth, the demand for electricity has also risen. The new plant will allow the CFE to meet this need in a way that is economically and environmentally conscious


Flamingos taking flight from the ocean in Mexico

My Mexican husband's family comes from the tiny fishing village of Chabihau on the northern coast of Mexico's Yucatan Peninsula. Several times a year, we drive out from Cancun to visit tíos, tías and primos that still reside in this quiet hideaway, with their houses set by what they refer to as the salina, a beautiful and shallow lagoon. As we sit outside eating fresh ceviche, we often spot large flocks with hundreds of flamingos standing on in the middle of the salina, the occasional small group flying overhead. Experiences like this can be found in the wetlands set all along Yucatan's coastline, dotted with small towns, mangrove forests, crystal-clear cenotes and lush palm tree groves: a paradise for eco travel.

Locals living on the Yucatan Peninsula can experience these private flamingo viewings on a regular basis, but where can a traveler easily go to see these brightly-colored creatures? A few small eco travel destinations are ideal for viewing Yucatan flamingos, and they also offer an unforgettable escape from the hustle and bustle of larger beach destinations like Cancun or Playa del Carmen.

Río Lagartos 

Travelers staying in Merida, Cancun and the Riviera Maya will find themselves just three or four hours from Rio Lagartos, situated on the northeastern coast of Yucatan State. Buses, taxis, tours and vans are available, although renting a car and driving is also a safe, easy and affordable option.

The Rio Lagartos Bio Reserve covers nearly 150,000 acres, boasting Mexico's largest flamingo population. Incredible Yucatan wildlife abounds throughout the reserve, with hundreds of bird species and turtles nesting along the coasts. The town of Rio Lagartos offers a few small restaurants and hotels run by locals, as well as a landmark lighthouse. Just make sure to bring lots of cash: Rio Lagartos does not have an ATM.

Three-hour boat tours will take you through a beautiful river running along the coast (known locally as a ría) lined with dense mangrove and home to hundreds of animal species. Guides take passengers out to the flamingos' feeding grounds, and you just might see crocodiles and all kinds of native birds along the way! The flamingo population in Río Lagartos swells during nesting season in spring and summer, although flamingos can be seen throughout the year. Viewing the flamingos is a truly unforgettable experience, especially if you're lucky enough to see them take flight.

Many Río Lagartos tours also include additional activities such as mud baths, kayaking, biking and swimming in freshwater pools, as well as a stop at the breathtaking Ek Balam Mayan ruins, located further inland on the Yucatan Peninsula.


Experience the Yucatan's incredible ecosystem with a visit to Celestún, another flamingo-watching destination about 50 miles west of Merida by highway. Buses are available and day trips from the city are easy to do, although the town offers several small hotels for overnight stays or a weekend getaway. This quiet fishing village features beautiful beaches, shops, a harbor and a few laid-back seafood restaurants for a casual meal.

Set on an immense 150,000 acres right on the coast of the Gulf of Mexico, Celestún Biosphere Reserve is filled with mangrove and wetlands that are home to flamingos, pelicans and hundreds of other bird species, as well as endangered sea turtles.

Boats are available for hire at the entrance to Celestún, taking you on two hour tours through mangrove jungle filled with bird species. The flamingo population in Celestún rises during the fall and winter months as it's a popular area for courting before heading back to Río Lagarto for nesting in the spring and summer.

About Yucatan's Flamingos

Favoring the coastal wetlands of northern Yucatan, local flamingos have a beautiful salmon pink color that makes for unbelievable photo opportunities. They feed on shrimp, algae and minerals found in the shallow waters, giving them their unique tone. These social birds typically reside in colonies that can range from dozens to thousands of flamingos.

Because of the flamingos' natural beauty and vibrant color, it's tempting to try and get close to the animal for a better view or the perfect photo. However, flamingos can become stressed when approached by humans. It's recommended that boats maintain at least 100 yards distance when their motors are running, or 50 yards if they are "poling" through the water gondola-style. Bringing a lot a set of binoculars and preferably a camera with a zoom lens is recommended for the best possible flamingo watching experience when traveling through the Yucatan Peninsula.