I’ve seen several ancient ruins during my years living in Mexico: Chichen Itza, Tulum, Yobain, Ek Balam, Palenque and Lamanai (ok, that last one is in Belize). When people ask me which one was my favorite, I always think hard about it and come up with the same answer: “They’re all… so beautiful in their own way!” Chichen Itza is amazing in its importance and scientific details. Tulum has the best location on a cliff overlooking the Caribbean. Yobain is so tiny and unknown that it feels as if it belongs to a select few of us. Ek Balam is secluded and has the best buildings to climb. Palenque has a striking contrast of dark gray stone and lush green, and you can explore inside the temples. Lamanai has incredible views and is fun to get to. During my recent trip to Oaxaca with Mexico Today, I jumped at the chance to see the Zapotec ruins of Monte Alban. I’d heard of it before and seen a few pictures, but nothing could have prepared me for how beautiful it really was. Set atop a carved-out mountain, the site stunned me with its… immenseness. I’m not sure if it’s bigger than Chichen Itza or Palenque, but it sure LOOKS bigger. From several vantage points you can see the entire site, with towering mountains in the background. Definitely one of the most surreal and awe-inspiring things I’ve seen. Our guides throughout the trip were from El Convento Tours. I highly recommend them if you’re ever in Oaxaca! The company belongs to the Martinez family… who will forever live on in my heart as some of the best storytellers I’ve ever met. (If you get the chance to meet them, ask to hear about the “rebozo”. Trust me.) We took a van up into the mountains, less than half an hour from our hotel. Once there, it was a steep but surprisingly easy walk up to the museum, where our guide Ulises gave us a fascinating tour, talking about Zapotec customs (sacrifices, pottery, writing and friezes) and beauty secrets (flat foreheads, crossed eyes and pointy teeth embedded with jewels, sexy!). Then we made our way up to the ruins. Filled with temples, stairs, plazas, a ball court, an area for human sacrifice and breathaking views, Monte Alban is truly an unforgettable site. So where does Monte Alban stand on my list of favorite ruins? I’d say it’s tied for first with all the rest. Disclosure: I am being compensated for my work in creating and managing content as a Community Manager for the Mexico Today Program. I was also invited on an all-expenses paid trip to Oaxaca as part of my role. All stories, opinions and passion for all things Mexico shared here are completely my own.
I remember my first taste of agua de horchata. I was living in Acapulco and I stopped by a little neighborhood cafe with a girlfriend. She told me it was a refreshing drink made with rice, vanilla, cinnamon and sugar. This piqued my curiosity because I had a hard time understanding how rice… could be refreshing. The waitress set a glass down in front of me filled with what looked like milk with a slight beige tint. I took a sip, and my love affair with aguas frescas was born.
Aguas frescas roughly translates to “refreshing waters” in Spanish. They’re delicious drinks with a water and sugar base, infused with fruits, cereals (like rice or wheat), or even flowers. You can find them at any food establishment throughout Mexico, whether it’s a taco stand or a five-star restaurant, and they provide an incredible alternative to water or soda.
My friend Leslie Limon is also a huge fan of aguas frescas. She’s a beautiful American woman raising a family in the state of Jalisco, Mexico. (Oh, who am I kidding? She’s practically Mexican!) On her blog, La Cocina de Leslie, she posts mouthwatering Mexican recipes, including aguas frescas.
Since she is so much more talented than I am in the kitchen (ahem), I’ll share some of my favorite recipes from her blog…
Agua de Jamaica (Hibiscus Water) Leslie refers to this drink as part of the “aguas frescas trinity” (Jamaica, Horchata and Tamarindo, the three flavors you’re sure to find everywhere in Mexico). It’s a personal favorite… very refreshing and made from dried hibiscus flowers. Talk about exotic!
Agua de Sandia (Watermelon Water) No explanation needed for this one! Just as refreshing as it sounds.
(Leslie, you’re missing my favorite! I’d love to see your recipe for agua de melon.)
During my trip to Oaxaca, a few of us also got to experience an aguas frescastasting with the city’s famous Aguas Casilda. They set up a table offering clay pots of refreshing drinks, then combined them to make unique flavors.
They offered us different combinations of tuna (aka pitaya), horchata, lime, and even pumpkin. The pumkin water didn’t look too appetizing, but trust me, it was delicious!
It was an incredible experience to taste these incredibly fresh aguas frescas. If you want to learn more about different flavors, you can check out Aguas Casilda’s website by clicking on the button (Make sure to click on the “Sabores” tab to see everything they offer… pretty impressive!)
Next time you’re in a restaurant in Mexico, make sure to ask, “Qué aguas tienes?“
Have you ever tried any aguas frescas? What’s your favorite flavor?(Mine is agua de melon… canteloupe water!)
Disclosure: I am being compensated for my work in creating and managing content as a Community Manager for the Mexico Today Program. I was also invited on an all-expenses paid trip to Oaxaca as part of my role. All stories, opinions and passion for all things Mexico shared here are completely my own.
We’re really pleased about where some Mexican government agencies are heading with their regulatory improvements. Since time immemorial, industry associations and analysts have intoned about the cost to the economy of excessive regulatory red tape. This can be particularly vexing… for inexperienced exporters to Mexico.
We’re really pleased about where some Mexican government agencies are heading with their regulatory improvements. Since time immemorial, industry associations and analysts have intoned about the cost to the economy of excessive regulatory red tape. This can be particularly vexing for inexperienced exporters to Mexico who may be unfamiliar with some of the more arcane requirements for the importation and sale of their products in the country. We touched on one such confusing regulatory situation recently here. In any case, on July 13, 2011 authorities announced welcome modifications to import requirements for certain medical and health care products.
Currently, a wide range of products are classified by the Mexican government as “medical devices,” and as such they are required to be registered with the Federal Commission for Protection against Sanitary Risk (Cofepris) before they may be imported for resale. This has meant that a gauze sponge was subject to the same detailed requirements as, for example, a remote controlled radionuclide applicator system. Under the new system, 1,700 products will no longer be classified as “medical devices” and therefore will no longer require the registro sanitario or sanitary registration with Cofepris.
But wait, as they say, there’s more:
Products still classified as medical devices but designated as “low-risk” will now be subject to a simplified sanitary registration. The low-risk designation will include products such as diagnostic agents, hygiene products, bandages and some dental materials, according to Cofepris.
So we were about to put our remote controlled radionuclide applicator system in a box and ship it to Mexico, when we realized we still had two big questions: 1) When do the new rules go into effect, and 2) what products are in each of the new classifications? And the answer is, it’s hard to tell. Cofepris said the definitive list of products that will no longer require sanitary registration will be published on their web site “in August,” so hopefully when the list is posted it will indicate the date on which the regulatory change goes (or went) into effect. For the moment, several helpful pieces of information are provided here, such as the current requirements and guidelines for obtaining a sanitary registration, classification of products by degree of sanitary risk, and a list of products that do not require sanitary registration. For an overview of the sanitary registration process in English prepared by the U.S. commercial service, go here.
Cofepris estimates that the revised regs will save consumers approximately 240 million dollars. We’re not sure how they came up with that number, but if they save consumers 240 million pesos we’ll consider ourselves well served, and especially relieved for the importers and exporters who can benefit from the new rules. Cofepris also announced it has signed an agreement with the Federal Regulatory Improvement Commission (Cofemer) to collaborate and exchange information in order for Cofemer to evaluate Cofepris’s regulations and procedures with an eye toward recommending further improvements. We promise we’ll respect federal agencies more if they keep making changes that help those of us in trade get our business done faster and more cheaply. Well played, sirs!
Much wringing of hands is done in Mexico over the country’s excessive dependence on the United States as the primary market for its exports. With good reason: For years now, the United States has accounted for over 80% of Mexico’s goods exports. In boom times, Mexico makes… hay while the sun shines.
Much wringing of hands is done in Mexico over the country’s excessive dependence on the United States as the primary market for its exports. With good reason: For years now, the United States has accounted for over 80% of Mexico’s goods exports. In boom times, Mexico makes hay while the sun shines. But when the U.S. economy tanks, like it did in a big way in 2009, Mexico suffers severely. The Mexican government has aggressively pursued trade pacts elsewhere around the world in the hope that local exporters would follow through with enthusiasm in exploring new markets. It seems to us, though, that Mexican exporters overall have shown little thirst for adventure in foreign lands. But maybe, with the U.S. economy still slow to gain strength after the long recession, new opportunities are beginning to capture the attention of more Mexican companies.
A look at export figures provided by the Economy Ministry (SE) reveals some interesting details. First, while the United States was the destination for just about 80% of Mexican exports in 2010, this percentage actually has been declining slowly since a high of 88% in 2002. A closer look suggests that Mexico has been taking advantage of strong demand from the BRIC economies: exports to Brazil grew by an incandescent 325% from 2005 to 2010, while exports to China increased by a merely torrid but nonetheless impressive 270% over the same period. China has come from a long way off to become Mexico’s third largest export market as of 2010. Mexico has also taken advantage of partial bans on Brazilian beef by Russia, developing an important new market in the process. The value of Mexican exports of frozen beef cuts to Russia through May 2011 had surpassed US$41 million, higher than at least the four previous years combined.
Perhaps the most intriguing growth market for Mexico right now is Japan. Mexico’s exports to Japan did rise following a trade liberalization agreement that entered into effect in 2005, but the pace of growth has been uneven. Through May 2011, Mexican exports to Japan are on a record pace, led by the automotive industry and food products. The current strong performance may be receiving an unusual push due to distortions in the Japanese market following the earthquakes and tsunami early this year. Nonetheless, the increased presence of Mexican meats and fruits in Japan should help pave the way for the introduction of more variety and greater volumes of Mexican products in the future.
Could Mexico be setting its sights on the Middle East next? An Agriculture Ministry (Sagarpa) representative recently cited growing numbers of Mexican food producers seeking kosher and halal certification. The results may yet be a ways off, but we like where this is heading.
By Lisa Coleman For many, many years the big chain hotels defined tourism in Mexico. Over time, however, the boutique hotel experience has… carved out quite a niche for itself. It seems more and more travelers are looking for an intimate and authentic look at Mexico. They are stepping away from the one price fits all “wrist band” vacation and opting for time in something with some cultural bite. In 1999, I was working in Mexico full time and started to hear a buzz about a new hotel group. Back then, Mexico Boutique Hotels (MBH) was just getting a foot hold in the market. Today MBH is one of Mexico’s most prominent and respected hotel associations and has raised the bar high for small luxury properties. The lovely and brilliant Sylvie Laitre is the Director of Mexico Boutique Hotels (MBH). Originally from Canada, Sylvie graduated with dual (bilingual: English and French) degrees in Communications and Leisure Studies (specializing in tourism development) from the University of Ottawa. She worked in Canada in museums, at festivals, and even as a private fashion consultant (while in college). She moved to Mexico to learn Spanish and never looked back. She moved up through the ranks of the hotel world wearing a number of hats ranging from guest services, sales, and reservations to accounting, reception, and public relations. I recently talked to Sylvie about MBH and learned more about the “boutique” experience in Mexico. Tell me about MBH and how it came to be, how long it has been around and a bit of the history? MBH was created at a time when hotels didn’t have websites (and if they did, they were unilingual or very poor), when large travel sites didn’t see the point of promoting small boutique hotels and when it was still difficult to find someone that spoke proper English when calling hotels. The founder—John Youden—met boutique hotel owners through his travels in Mexico and realized they all had similar challenges; promoting on a very, very small budget, being taken seriously as far as quality, and understanding the hotel business (as most were not hoteliers). These small properties needed economies of scale and a brand of quality that would help put them into a group and give travelers, agents and writers the confidence that these were quality hotels. They needed a bridge and MBH became that bridge. These hotels also needed eyes and ears outside their property… Someone who was watching trends, keeping up with technology, monitoring the industry, etc… And I do that for them. How many properties in how many states? And what are the requirements are to be a member? MBH was founded in 1999. Today, we have 35 hotels in 26 destinations throughout Mexico. The criteria are part tangible (quality linens, elegant decor, original artwork, great amenities, etc) and part intangible (how does this hotel make you FEEL? Are you inspired to take a photo everywhere you look? Does the property tell a story? Is it part of the local heritage? Does the hotel a clear voice and personality?) In translating this concept into hotels, potential member properties must be intimate in size (our requirement is under 50, but most have less than 30 rooms), be meticulously and tastefully decorated, have perfectly choreographed, impeccable service and, most importantly, be willing to go to great lengths (and think outside the box) to provide guests with a faultlessly tailored, exceptional experience. What do you feel the appeal is of the smaller properties in Mexico for the boutique traveler? This is a great question as I just posted something in Spanish on our blog (inspired by a recent study I read about the appeal of B&Bs and Inns): My title was Hoteles Boutique de Mexico; calidad, calidez y conocimiento (quality, warmth and knowledge). Basically, the appeal of a small hotel is just that: Quality of experience, decor and services. Warmth in service and details. Knowledge of local culture and the ability to help guests connect with this. As a society, we are over-informed, over-digitalized, and over-programmed nowadays. The small, boutique hotel takes you back to simpler times where you matter, and where the experience is truly personal. Travelers want unique, meaningful experiences and MBH is one of the channels. Small boutique hotels are also affordable, competitive, good to their loyal visitors and focused on ‘celebrating’ your visit. Boutique traveling is a completely different experience than the all-inclusive route, what’s the single most important thing you want travelers to know about that experience? All-inclusive experiences (aside from their economical pluses) are tailored to please groups of people and therefore must be standardized and somewhat generalized in terms of what they offer. They are molded to please the majority of guests who do not want to venture out of their comfort zone too much. A boutique experience throws you out of the zone…in a good way. It allows you to connect, to experience something different and to immerse yourself in a local culture. I know some of the properties are located in “off-the-beaten-path” locations; can you address the fears that travelers may have? True, many are off-the-beaten-path. But, the very nature of the boutique hotel (taking care of you even before you arrive) makes sure someone is expecting you, in many cases picking you up directly at the airport, sending a driver, etc. My personal philosophy is that an unbeaten path presents much less traffic and thus, less interest for potential trouble makers. Like anything, and anywhere in the world, preparedness, knowledge and common sense are important. How are the hotels working together to thrive in this tourism climate? I’ve seen more cooperation in terms of recommending each other. Group promoting is important and necessary. Shared co-op ads have been placed in key national magazines, and we have a good repeat guest program where our hotels pamper past MBH guests (even if the person did not stay in their own hotel). The hotels are working together to make the MBH traveler feel special and hopefully encourage more repeat business between properties. There are other hotel groups in Mexico, what makes you unique? Our niche. Our bi-cultural position (knowing and living in Mexico yet still understanding what a foreigner expects and needs). Our size (in terms of operation): we’re not corporate. We’re not government run. We’re just a very tiny group of people that love Mexico, love hotels and curate them in order to help others have the best experience possible. We don’t accept hotels that want to buy membership and we must know each of our properties. I recently made an important decision that I believe truly sets us apart. We no longer commission bookings. We can still help with reservations BUT not through commissioning. I am allowing the hotel to present its best rate and allowing the traveler to get the best deal on my site. I want to be a channel and a voice for small hotels. I want to be a friend for travelers that want a good recommendation. What are the goals of MBH and what are your plans for the future to build your brand? I want to give great, small hotels a platform to promote, a network to communicate with each other and share tips and strategies. I want to help fantastic hotels continue to get the word out and help them see what is so great about themselves. It’s also very important for me to be their eyes/ears on the Web. They don’t have the time or the resources to monitor activity and reputation. I enjoy doing this and keeping them aware. For the traveler, I want to be a friend. I want to be the girl who lives in Mexico, who visits hotels; the one who will tell you the truth. The one who puts together a list of places she thinks are pretty fantastic. For the media and travel agents: a one-stop shop. A place for advice, for recommendations, for the latest news on boutique hotels in Mexico, for current deals, etc. I’m updating our site to be more of a portal with great links to others sites. I don’t need to know everything; I just need to know where to find it and how it all fits in. We’ll be posting relevant blog posts on our hotel pages for example now. Great articles on other sites, maps, destination reviews; anything I think can help a traveler make a more informed decision. And of course, if they need me, I’m always an email away. Sylvie and Mexico Boutique Hotels are a dynamic combination. They are a small group with a huge impact. This attention to culture and detail is fantastic trend for all travelers and could change the face of how we see travel in Mexico. For more information visit http://www.mexicoboutiquehotels.com/ and for Sylvie’s blog go tohttp://www.mexicoboutiquehotels.com/wordpress/. MBH is launching a new website in the next few weeks so stay tuned. Disclosure: I am being compensated for my work in creating and managing content as a Community Manager for the México Today Program. All stories, opinions and passion for all things México shared here are completely my own. Mexico Today is a joint public and private sector initiative designed to help promote Mexico as a global business partner and an unrivaled tourist destination.
By Lisa Coleman
There was time (not so long ago) when you still needed a paper ticket to fly and there was no such thing as airport security. Back then, using an agent was THE only option when considering international travel. But technology and online booking engines stepped in and suddenly everyone spent hours surfing the web and travel became somewhat of a do-it-yourself business. Now I enjoy looking at hotels and destinations just as much as the next person, but when it comes down to the nuts and bolts of a trip, especially an international trip, the travel agent is still the way to go.
I attended the ASTA (American Society of Travel Agents – the world’s largest association of travel professionalswww.asta.org) annual Fiesta in the Desert show last weekend. It was great to see over 150 agents in one room still thriving and going strong. According to the Airlines Reporting Corporation (ARC) there are 9,386 travel agency firms operating 15,671 retail locations across the United States. (Not to mention a stout number of very successful agents operating from their homes.)Today’s agent is a completely different breed from those our parents used. Today’s agent simply has to be knowledgeable and savvy to succeed.
Mexico has always been one step ahead of the game in terms of building travel agent relationships. Perhaps it’s the country’s traditional nature, but Mexico has a very long history of partnering with travel agents, and has always taken tremendous steps to keep those agents educated and motivated to sell south of the border.
Leading the way for travel agent education is the extremely popular and successful Magic of Mexico program. Run by Greg and Jane Custer of Destination Ventures in Bend, Oregon, this educational series was launched in 1991 and caught the eye of Mexico’s Secretary of Tourism in 1992. Since then, the Magic of Mexico seminars have become the standard in the industry for learning about Mexico. They have kept pace and evolved the program into a comprehensive online sensation with accredited courses, interactive “campuses” and webinars to ensure travel agents have the most complete Mexico education possible. Thousands of agents have successfully completed the Magic of Mexico courses so there is a good chance you can find one in your neck of the woods.
So next time you Google “vacation in Mexico” and 1.7 million results pop up, ask yourself if it’s worth the time to book the trip yourself. Chances are pretty good it’s not. After all, saving money isn’t just about price, it’s about value. What’s your time really worth? What’s peace of mind worth if something goes wrong with the flight, the hotel or the tour? Think about it, and after you’ve burned hours surfing that trip, maybe take another look at your local travel agent.
Disclosure: I am being compensated for my work in creating and managing content as a Community Manager for the México Today Program. All stories, opinions and passion for all things México shared here are completely my own. Mexico Today is a joint public and private sector initiative designed to help promote Mexico as a global business partner and an unrivaled tourist destination.
Let’s take a look at why lots of baby boomers think it might be a good idea to retire to Mexico. You might be surprised by what people are saying and experiencing.
“I was just so tired of living in extremes of weather in my home state in the USA! Terrible heat and humidity in the summer combined with freezing cold and snowstorms in the winter—I needed a break and the climate I found in Mexico is almost perfect! My partner says if she dies and goes to Heaven, the weather there will be like it is in this part of Mexico.”
“My wife and I found out that we could live in some parts of Mexico without heat or air conditioning bills, and that there were plenty of cities and towns where we could do without a car. Our cost of living would be reduced by a lot."
“The Mexican peso goes a lot farther than the US dollar. We discovered that we could do more of the things we really enjoy in Mexico: we eat out more often, take in more movies, and actually get to go to the symphony without breaking the bank.”
“We moved to Mexico and got healthy! Because we can walk almost everywhere, we get way more exercise than we did in our home city. Because fresh, ripe fruits and vegetables are available and inexpensive all year round, we eat better at home. Because we are almost free of stress, my blood pressure is normal for the first time in years and my wife could finally give up her tranquilizers.”
“I thought I would have to speak only Spanish, and it’s been a long, long time since I studied it for two years in high school. But imagine my surprise when we found out that where our investigations led us in Mexico there was a huge English-speaking community! My partner and I can get by with limited Spanish and still live in this fabulous country!”
“We met a ton of new friends in the town where we retired. People are actually out walking, talking to one another, and enjoying 365-days-a-year of a new and exciting social life. Where we used to live, folks just drove from home to work and drove from home to the store, then stuck the car in the garage and never had time for a little neighborly chat. We didn’t have many friends, it wasn’t part of the lifestyle. Now we feel like Cinderella at the ball! We socialize with new pals several times a week.”
Huatulco has been one of my favorite beach destinations since my first visit in 1997. Since then, several of the large resorts have changed name and ownership, there are new paved roads, hotels, shops, and tourist amenities, but the area maintains a laid-back feel, the beaches are as clean and… beautiful as before, and the natural areas surrounding the resort development are just as lush and verdant as ever. Since my first visit to Huatulco I have returned many times, staying in budget hotels or enjoying the modern amenities of an all-inclusive resort, and most recently enjoying the convenience of a vacation rental. I've always enjoyed the lovely beaches and striking landscape, but in recent years my appreciation for Huatulco has grown even deeper, particularly because of the efforts that are being made to protect the beautiful natural areas that surround it. Located on the Pacific coast of the Mexican state of Oaxaca, Las Bahías de Huatulco (the Bays of Huatulco) is made up of nine protected bays that stretch over 22 miles of rugged coastline with 36 unspoiled beaches, as well as a national park. Established in the mid-1980s, Huatulco was the fifth resort development to be initiated by FONATUR (Mexico's National Trust for Tourism Development) after Cancun, Ixtapa, Loreto and Los Cabos. Huatulco was designed from the outset to be ecologically sustainable, and the community has maintained its commitment to protecting the environment. As one of FONATUR's “Integrally Planned Centers” there is a plan for the long-term development of the area that ensures proper management of natural resources, so that development and economic growth do not adversely impact the marine and terrestrial ecosystems. The Huatulco resort development is surrounded by the Sierra Madre del Sur mountain range, where you can find coffee plantations set amid semitropical forests. In 1998, the Huatulco National Park was founded, protecting 5516 hectares of marine territory and 6375 hectares of land which are officially set aside to be left undeveloped. In 2006 this area was listed as a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve. Over 700 species of animals make their home in the park, as well as a wide variety of fish and shellfish. The park is open for scuba diving, bird-watching and hiking. Huatulco is the only destination in the Americas to have received EarthCheck Gold certification, evidence of the commitment of the Mexican government, business owners, and residents to protecting the natural environment. EarthCheck (previously Green Globe) is an independent organization which offers environmental benchmarking for the hotel and tourism industry. In order to achieve certification, a property or community must show evidence of superior levels of practice in several different areas, including water and waste management, renewable energy, biodiversity, and conservation of natural species. Some of the measures which have been taken to reduce the environmental impact of the tourist development in Huatulco include a water management infrastructure including 17 km of storm protection channels, 23 re-lift stations for sewage treatment and management, and harvesting structures which collect storm water runoff. A recycling center has been built, and a training program for hotel staff, area residents, and local schoolchildren has been instituted. My most recent visit to Huatulco was this past January. I went with my family and the family of a longtime friend who was visiting from Canada. Since we both have small children, we decided the most comfortable accommodation option would be a vacation rental. My internet research led me to Villa Valencia (http://www.villapaita.com/valencia.html), a villa with two separate guest houses and a private pool, located by the Tangolunda golf course, and a short drive to the beach. We enjoyed shopping in the local market and preparing food (and cocktails!) in the well-equipped kitchen. The best part about staying in a vacation rental was being free to have our meals and activities at whatever time was convenient for us, with no worries that we or our children might bother other guests. Since my husband is an avid birder he would rise at dawn and venture out to roam the area around the golf course with his binoculars, while the rest of us slept in or got up for an early morning dip in the pool before breakfast and then heading out to the beach. We enjoyed visiting different beaches each day, particularly La Entrega and El Arrocito, beaches which have gentle waves and were perfect for our little ones to play in the sand by the water with no fear that a large wave might come and knock them over. We would have lunch at a beachside palapa, and in the late afternoon head back to our villa to rest and enjoy quiet evenings. On the final day of our stay, the men took the children to the beach and my friend and I enjoyed a ladies' day of pedicures and shopping in La Crucecita. A most satisfying vacation! Huatulco is a wonderful beach destination, offering a variety of conditions within its various bays. Parents of small children will be pleased with the beaches that have gentle waves and safe swimming and snorkeling conditions, others looking for more excitement may prefer beaches with stronger waves. Nature lovers will be thrilled with the diversity of birds, animals and plants in the area. But one thing that should please all visitors to Huatulco is knowing that they've chosen a destination that's committed to being environmentally sustainable.
Mexico is an excellent destination for a vacation or extended stay for families with children of all ages. A visit to Mexico can expand children's horizons: they'll be introduced to a different culture, language, and beautiful landscapes, and they'll have a great time as well. Mexican culture is… extremely child-friendly, and people are very welcoming of families with children, and will go out of their way to be helpful to them. It's a very large country and there are sites and activities to interest all ages. There's plenty for children and their parents to see, do and learn in Mexico.
Mexico is a family-friendly destination. People are very welcoming and accepting of children. You may even find that having your children along helps people to relate with you more easily, and provides a common ground when meeting Mexican families. While in the United States and Canada it often seems that children are segregated into their own special sphere, in Mexico, children are accepted virtually everywhere. Even fancy restaurants usually have a highchair on hand, though you may be more comfortable taking your children to more casual establishments.
There are plenty of activities that are fun and interesting for children. Some obvious ones come to mind immediately, like beach and water activities, or kids' clubs at all-inclusive resorts, but there are many more activities that your children can enjoy. Museums, nature reserves, archaeological sites, town plazas and markets can all make for fun visits for children. Timing your vacation to coincide with a holiday or local celebration can allow you to witness and participate in the festivities.
Educational opportunities abound in Mexico. Kids can learn about wildlife, history, and archaeology, as well as local culture. They can also practice their Spanish language skills. Learning to communicate in another language can be fun. Older kids and teens may enjoy ordering their own meals in restaurants or bargaining with vendors in the market for souvenirs. Younger kids may enjoy reading signs or learning to count in Spanish, and even the smallest ones can practice greetings and saying gracias.
Besides being fun and offering a change of pace from everyday life, the best vacations also provide opportunities to learn and grow. Traveling with your family to Mexico can give your children some learning experiences and wonderful memories that will stay with them forever. Traveling allows us to see the world from a different perspective, to see how alike and different people really are, and that's a great gift to give our children.
Some tips for traveling to Mexico with children:
Las Bahias de Huatulco (the Huatulco Bays), most often referred to simply as Huatulco (pronounced "wah-tool-ko"), is a beach area made up of nine bays with 36 beaches. Located on the Pacific coast of the state of Oaxaca, 165 miles from the state capital of Oaxaca City, and 470 miles from Mexico City,… this area was chosen in the 1980s by FONATUR (Mexico's National Tourism Fund) for development as a tourist resort area. Huatulco stretches out over 22 miles of coastline between the Coyula and Copalito rivers. It is set within a beautiful natural area with the Sierra Madre mountain chain forming a beautiful backdrop to the tourist development. The lush lowland jungle vegetation is particularly verdant in the rainy season, from June to October. Its biodiversity and pristine landscapes make Huatulco a favorite destination of nature lovers.
The Holy Cross of Huatulco: According to legend, in Prehispanic times a bearded white man placed a wooden cross on the beach, which the local population then venerated. In the 1500s the pirate Thomas Cavendish arrived in the area and after looting, tried by various means to remove or destroy the cross, but was unable to do so. The name Huatulco comes from the Nahuatl language "Coahatolco" and means "place where the wood is revered." You can see a fragment of the cross from the legend in the church in Santa Maria Huatulco, and another in the cathedral in Oaxaca City. History of Huatulco: The area of Oaxaca's coast has been inhabited since ancient times by groups of Zapotecs and Mixtecs. When FONATUR set its sights on Huatulco, it was a series of huts along the beach, whose inhabitants practiced fishing on a small scale. When construction on the tourist complex began in the mid 1980s the people who lived along the coast were relocated to Santa Maria Huatulco and La Crucecita. The Huatulco National Park was declared in 1998. Later listed as a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve, the park protects a large area of the bays from development. In 2003 the Santa Cruz cruise ship port began operations, and currently receives some 80 cruise ships each year. The Huatulco Bays: Since there are nine different bays in Huatulco, the area offers a variety of beach experiences. Most have blue-green water and the sand ranges from golden to white. Some of the beaches, notably Santa Cruz, la Entrega and El Arrocito have very gentle waves. Most of the development is centered around a few of the bays. Tangolunda is the largest of Huatulco's bays, and is where most of Huatulco's large resorts are located. Santa Cruz has a cruise ship port, marina and shops and restaurants. Some of the beaches are completely pristine and only accessible by boat. Huatulco and Sustainability: Huatulco's development is proceeding under a plan to protect the surrounding environment. Some of the efforts made to make Huatulco a sustainable destination include reducing emissions of greenhouse gases, reducing waste, improving energy efficiency and management of natural resources. A large part of the area of the Huatulco Bays is set aside as ecological reserves, and will remain free from development. In 2005, Huatulco was awarded the Green Globe International Certification as a sustainable tourist area, and in 2010 Huatulco received EarthCheck Gold Certification; it is the only destination in the Americas to achieve this distinction. La Crucecita: La Crucecita is a small town located just a few minutes drive inland from Santa Cruz bay. La Crucecita was built as a support community to the tourist area, and many of the tourism workers have their homes here. Although it is a new town, it has the feel of an authentic small Mexican town. There is an abundance of shops and restaurants in La Crucecita, and it's a good place to do some shopping, have a meal, or an evening stroll. The church in La Crucecita, La Parroquia de Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe, has a 65 foot tall image of the Virgin of Guadalupe painted in its dome. Dining in Huatulco: A visit to Huatulco will offer an excellent opportunity to sample Oaxacan cuisine, as well as Mexican seafood specialties. There are numerous beachfront palapas where you can enjoy fresh seafood. Some favorite restaurants include El Sabor de Oaxaca and TerraCotta in La Crucecita, and L'Echalote in Bahia Chahue. What To Do in Huatulco:
Where to Stay in Huatulco: Huatulco has a good selection of luxury hotels and resorts, most of which are situated on Tangolunda Bay. In la Crucecita you will find many budget hotels; some favorites includeMision de los Arcos and Maria Mixteca. Huatulco also has many options for vacation rentals. Compare rates for Huatulco hotels. Getting There: By air: Huatulco has an international airport, airport code HUX. It is a 50 minute flight from Mexico City. The Mexican airline Interjet offers daily flights between Mexico City and Huatulco. From Oaxaca City, regional airline AeroTucan offers daily flights in small planes.Find flights to Huatulco. By land: At present driving time from Oaxaca City is 6 hours on route 175 (stock up on Dramamine ahead of time). A new highway presently under construction should cut driving time in half. By sea: Huatulco has two marinas which offer docking services, in Santa Cruz and Chahue (see boating in Huatulco). Since 2003 Huatulco is a port of call for cruises of the Mexican Riviera and receives an average of 80 cruise ships each year. More about Huatulco
By Jim Johnston
The perks are already flowing in from my new job (see previous post)--at least for my readers.By Jim Johnston
The perks are already flowing in from my new job (see previous post)--at least for my readers. (As one of the writers for Mexico Today I'm not eligible.) So click the link below, cross your fingers, and light a candle to the Virgin of Guadalupe--you may win a free trip to Mexico! http://www.facebook.com/MexicoToday?sk=app_180588498662106 Several people have asked if I am continuing with this blog--the answer is YES. Everything I write for Mexico Today will appear here, in addition to posts that will only appear on this blog.
By Jim Johnston
One of the great opportunities of being an expatriate is the chance to view life from distinct vantage points. A poster I saw here in Mexico City the other day got me thinking. It was an ad for “Lucha Libre--La Experiencia” which I thought had an elegant sound to it, like the title of some romantic foreign movie. But as you may know, lucha libre is that curious form of Mexican wrestling in which men –and occasionally women - dressed in flashy Las Vegas style costumes and horror movie masks stomp, throw, bend, crush, squeeze and mangle one another violently around a ring, while the crowd roars its approval.
I confess I’ve never quite understood the allure of it all. But I recognize that the sport- if that’s the right word- is extremely popular here and is definitely an international symbol of Mexican culture.(Check out Julie Carmann’s blog for a true fan’s point of view).
My strongest memory of lucha libre is of the crowd. It was very much a family event; people of all ages, even babies were there. Everyone seemed to be in motion, gesturing toward the ring, screaming at the wrestlers, hopping up and down the aisles.
The lady in front of me looked like somebody’s sweet old grandmother - the woman who sells tortillas at my local market. That is, until she stood up and started screaming at the top of her lungs “Mátalo!, mátalo!” (“Kill him, kill him”). Something about the wrestling match seemed to unleash a base animal instinct, although I never worried that it would pass beyond the verbal.
A few weeks ago, in New York City, my old home town, I was riding the subway when I witnessed an altercation between two women. It appeared that one of them bumped the other with her elbow. Anger flared, words darted. The scene reached its grand finale as one woman sneered, “You’re a worthless piece of shit!” Turning up the volume, her adversary spit out the last line: “YOU’RE a worthless piece of shit!”
No one else in the subway car seemed to notice—just another day underground. I watched in disbelief as these two people, having met only 90 seconds ago before, descended the ladder of civilized behavior to its lowest rung—in public no less!
I could not imagine such a thing happening in Mexico City. I find Mexicans to be generally polite, kind and courteous. In fact, in the 12 years I’ve lived here I can only recall two incidents in which I saw people raising their voices in anger to one another. Both cases involved damaged cars, so at least there seemed to be a good reason for it.
Perhaps this means that Mexicans are calmer by nature than New Yorkers. Or do they just save their screaming until they get home or attend a lucha libre match? Should the mayor of New York build alucha libre arena in Central Park?
What do you think?
For more information on this upcoming event, which takes place in Mexico City on July 23 and 24, see the website:http://www.luchalibrelaexperiencia.com/
By Silvia Martinez
Como la mayoría de ustedes bien lo saben, yo nací y me crié en el bellísimo México, llegué a los Estados Unidos hace diez años y aunque he hecho de California mi casa y amo a mi país adoptivo, México todavía tiene mi alma.
Año con año vuelvo con gusto, principalmente para visitar a mi familia (sobre todo desde que tengo hijos, ya que ellos necesitan convivir y conocer a toda su familia mexicana), amigos y conocidos, pero también para recargarme las pilas con su comida, su cutura, sus colores. Cada que voy es como sentirme “en casa”, los recuerdos me envuelven, y me recuerdan mi esencia.
A mis hijos les encanta ir, y ¡a mi me encanta que les encante! ellos son sumamente felices corriendo en el jardín, alrededor del kiosko, comiendo nieves y fruta con chile en la calle y teniendo pan dulce para sopear en su chocolate caliente todas las noches, eso sin contar las piñatas, balnearios y fiestas familiares. Me ablanda el corazón verlos convivir con la familia y abrazar con alegría todas nuestras tradiciones.
Extraño mucho a mi México…
Sin embargo, la vida, que siempre está llena de sorpresas, me ha regalado algo que nunca pensé recibir, la oportunidad de compartir el amor por mi tierra y todo lo fantástico que ella puede ofrecer, con todos ustedes. Hace un par de semanas recibí una llamada que iluminó mi vida. Fui invitada a ser parte de México Today.
México Today es un programa apoyado por la iniciativa privada y el gobierno de México, mediante el cual 24 personas, todas compartiendo su pasión por México, y mediante sus artículos, serán una ventana que mostrará al mundo lo hermoso y mágico que mi país es. Este programa fué lanzado oficialmente hace cinco días desde la encantadora ciudad de Oaxaca, donde todos los embajadores estuvimos reunidos para conocernos en persona.
Yo siempre me he sentido sumamente orgullosa de mi México lindo y querido, y siempre que puedo lo presumo con amigos y conocidos, y ahora me siento muy honrada de poder hacerlo con una voz aún mas poderosa, en línea con México Today.
Te invito a que conozcas más sobre esta hermosa iniciativa y cada una de las 24 personas (mi otra familia mexicana) que participan en ella, escritores Canadienses, Americanos, algunos viviendo en México, algunos fuera de él. Por favor visitanos en de Facebook, Twitter y www.mexicotoday.org (en inglés, pero pronto en español y alemán también).
México Today, un programa para México… ¡con amor!
Disclosure: Mi participación como contribuidora al programa es remunerada. También fui invitada a un viaje todo pagado a Oaxaca para el lanzamiento del programa. Mis comentarios, opiniones e ilimitado amor por México, son sólo míos.
By Alvin Starkman
Oaxacan wood carvings, the colorful fanciful figures popularly known as alebrijes, have been collectible folk art since the 1980s, their origins dating to as early as the 1960s. Today in the workshop of Jacobo Ángeles and María Mendoza in the town of San Martín Tilcajete, Ocotlán, they represent a sustainable industry for OaxacaBy Alvin Starkman
Oaxacan wood carvings, the colorful fanciful figures popularly known as alebrijes, have been collectible folk art since the 1980s, their origins dating to as early as the 1960s. Today in the workshop of Jacobo Ángeles and María Mendoza in the town of San Martín Tilcajete, Ocotlán, they represent a sustainable industry for Oaxaca.
The Ángeles – Mendoza taller arguably produces the highest quality alebrijes in the entire state. Jacobo recounts stories of the predecessor to alebrijes; rudimentary carvings dating to pre – Hispanic times, which were placed in a revered part of each Zapotec home, or small amulets which were worn around the neck. Each individual had his own animal protector, depending on date of birth in the 20 day Zapotec calendar.
The wood most often used to carve images of these mammals, fish, fowl and reptiles was, and continues to be, copal. Its bark was traditionally used to produce many of the pigments used for painting friezes on ruins such asMitla. Since time immemorial its hardened sap or resin has been burned as incense for rituals, including religious rites. And so copal has been dubbed a sacred tree. But in modern Oaxaca it symbolizes sustainability.
Copal and Alebrije Carving in Oaxaca, Mexico
The word copal comes from the Nahuatl term copalli, applied to any resin producing plant which gives off an aroma when burned. The copal tree belongs to the genus Bursera. There are about 100 species ranging from Mexico down through the Americas. The copal used to carve alebrijes and produce resin is a softwood, medium sized tree reaching a height of about 12 meters.
Alebrijes are carved when the wood is still green and therefore more easily worked. Copal grows with significant bends and contortions, lending itself to the creation of the most whimsical of figures simply by using one’s imagination to determine what branch will be used to carve what creature. Some alebrijes are carved from one solid piece of wood, while others are assembled.
Sustainability and the Use of Copal
Once the figure has been carved and sanded, the artist is left with small wood chips and sawdust. But nothing goes to waste in the workshop of Jacobo and María. The alebrijes must be completely dry before the painting begins. During the drying process, cracks appear – a good thing. The small pieces of wood from the carving process, discarded in the course of the wood being cut with first a machete, then a series of chisels, and finally small finishing knives, are used to fill the cracks. The sawdust is mixed with commercial glue, and the paste is then used to ensure the wooden shims remain in place. Thereafter the paste is used as a coating over the areas which have had remedial work. Any remaining wood chips are used as fuel – kindling and firewood to make tortillas and other prepared foods on the grill or comal.
One is hard-pressed to encounter another workshop in any of the three main alebrije villages in Oaxaca which decorates its figures using paints made from fruit, vegetable, insect and mineral material. While María’s painting group also works with acrylics, its use of naturally produced colors is the specialty: pomegranate for yellows, pinks and greens; cochineal for reds and oranges; añil or indigo for blues; huitlacoche (corn smut) for ochre and zinc for lightening. Other natural substances are also combined, yielding a rainbow of colors.
The copal tree itself can be used to produce a vast range of colors. The inside of the bark of the “male” species, when dried, toasted and ground, yields a deep brown / maroon powder which when mixed with lime juice, baking soda (in pre – Hispanic times sea salt) and other natural substances, creates yet further colors and tones.
In order to ensure that these natural colors do not fade with exposure to the sun or absorb into the wood, before application they are combined with a mixture of 50% honey and 50% liquefied (with the application of fire) copal resin – the same resin which continues to be used ritually in Oaxaca at funeral gatherings and prayer services, church masses, and at other times of the year marking important dates, such as Día de los Muertos (Day of the Dead).
In some Mexican cultures, pursuant to local tradition inhalation of the resin or drinking it in a tea is believed to relieve respiratory problems. The smoke is also used to purify the individual, the home, and even as custom at the inauguration of a new business. The humo is also employed as aromatherapy by curanderos (native healers), and in ritual associated with the temazcal, a pre – Hispanic cleansing and curative steam bath akin to the Iroquois sweat lodge.
The same liquid resin is also utilized as lacquer. And in Ocotlán, a short drive from San Martín Tilcajete, it is employed by acclaimed knife maker Apolinar Águilar. Apolinar hand – forges knives, swords and cutlery using only recycled metals, with the aid of only a mallet and heat produced by his stone and mud hearth – a technique imported from 16th century Toledo, Spain. To engrave his work with a name, verse or drawing, he uses an ink he makes by liquefying the copal resin with other compounds.
Production of copal resin constitutes a distinct industry providing many with work. The trees are tapped by cutting a well from which the sap can easily be collected. Similar to tapping a maple, the copal tree continues to grow once tapped.
The copal matures and is ready to be cut for use as wood at about 30 years of growth, a relatively short period of time. But the tree is not simply cut down. Those involved in cutting and selling copal branches to the artisans ensure that the tree trunk remains sufficiently large and viable so that it continues to grow, for future cutting.
But since copal remains the wood of choice for carving alebrijes, and alebrijes continue to be popular tourist purchases, copal runs the danger of become a scarce natural resource.
Since 1994, the Rodolfo Morales foundation has donated saplings to the cause of ensuring a continuous supply of copal. Every year the townspeople and friends of San Martín Tilcajete participate in a reforestation project which centers upon the planting of 5,000 copal saplings and a further 5,000 mixedwood. The planting occurs during the summer rainy season, to take advantage of the natural irrigation at this time of year. Of course some trees do not survive extremely heavy and sustained rains, and others die during the dry season if watering is insufficient. But most saplings do take, so that eventually irrigating is not required to maintain healthy, fast growth.
The cycle of cultivating copal from sapling to cutting is remarkably similar to that of agave, used in the production ofmezcal, another sustainable Oaxacan industry. For generations to come, alebrijes and copal, mezcal, as well as other local industries including production of rugs and hand blown glass, will continue to enhance Oaxaca’s reputation as a world ambassador of sustainability.
Alvin Starkman (M.A., LL.B.) is a paid contributing writer for Mexico Today (http://www.mexicotoday.org). Alvin has written over 200 articles about life and cultural traditions in Oaxaca. He is a regular contributor to print publications such as Ventana Magazine and The Upper Canadian Antique Showcase. Alvin also consults to documentary film companies working in Oaxaca and is central valleys, works with Chef Pilar Cabrera and tour companies arranging Oaxaca Culinary Tours (http://www.oaxacaculinarytours.com) and assists his wife Arlene operating Casa Machaya Oaxaca Bed & Breakfast (http://www.oaxacadream.com).