Mexico is in North America, bordering the Caribbean Sea and the Gulf of Mexico to the east, and the North Pacific Ocean to the west. It consists of high, rugged mountains to low coastal plains, and high plateaus to desert. The highest point is Volcan Pico de Orizaba at 5,700 meters (18,491 feet). (See Wikipedia List of volcanoes in Mexico.) Environmental issues include scarcity of hazardous waste disposal facilities, natural freshwater resources scarce and polluted in north, inaccessible and poor quality in center and extreme southeast, raw sewage and industrial effluents polluting rivers in urban areas, deforestation, widespread erosion, desertification, deteriorating agricultural lands, serious air and water pollution in the national capital and urban centers, as well as land subsidence in Valley of Mexico caused by groundwater depletion.These issues are being addressed by Mexican Greens of the Partido Verde Ecologista de México. Since air pollution in Mexico City can be such an issue, local government operates an online monitoring system, SIMAT (Sistema de Monitorea Atmosferico), also conveniently available on Twitter @AireMexicoDF.

Sian Ka’an is a biosphere reserve established in Tulum, Quintana Roo in 1986, and was made a World Heritage site the next year. The El Vizcaíno Biosphere Reserve in the center of the Baja California Peninsula, between the Pacific Ocean and Sea of Cortez (aka Gulf of California), was created in 1988, and inscribed to World Heritage in 1993, both as the Whale Sanctuary of El Vizcaino and the Rock Paintings of the Sierra de San Fransisco, one natural and the other cultural. The Sierra Gorda biosphere reserve in northern Querétaro established in 1997 is also home to the Franciscan Missions in the Sierra Gorda, inscribed as World Heritage in 2003. In the state of Campeche, the Calakmul Maya archaeological site is both the center of a Biosphere Reserve, as well as a World Heritage site. As of 2013, Mexico has 67 federally recognized national parks, administered by the national commission of protected natural areas, CONANP (Comisión Nacional de Áreas Naturales Protegidas). (See Wikipedia List of national parks of Mexico.) CONANP currently administers a total of 158 protect “natural areas”, accounting for 11 percent of Mexico’s surface area. (See the CONANP Programa de Turismo en Áreas Protegidas 2006-2012.) Naturalia is an NGO that serves as the ParksWatch partner in Mexico, monitoring threats to protected areas. The Mesoamerican Reef Tourism Initiative (MARTI) is a collaboration between Conservation International, Asociación de Hoteles de la Riviera Maya, Asociación Amigos de Sian Ka’an, the Rainforest Alliance, and the Coral Reef Alliance and the Grupo Intersectorial Isla Cozumel, to help protect the Mesoamerican Barrier Reef System, specifically from tourism.

The Monarch Butterfly Biosphere Reserve is a conservation area and World Heritage site within the wintering grounds of monarch butterflies. Five of the eight colonies are located in Michoacán but only two are open to the public: Sierra Chincua in Angangueo and El Rosario in Ocampo. Both receive visitors starting from November until March. Angangueo celebrates its Monarch butterfly festival, Festival de la Mariposa Monarca, in February. In the State of Mexico, La Mesa and El Capulin are open to the public. Both the Monarch Butterfly Fund and Forests For Monarchs support Monarch habitat reforestation projects in Mexico.

In Mexico, the various lagoons of Baja California Sur become breeding habitat for whales in February and March, and a number of towns celebrate the whale’s arrival with festivals. Puerto Vallarta based NGO ECOBAC (Ecología y Conservación de Ballenas) is devoted to protecting Humpback Whales in Banderas Bay, including the training of specialized ecotourism guides. Founding member of ECOBAC, Ecotours de México offers whale watching tours and turtle camps from their base in Puerto Vallarta. Wildlife Connection of Puerto Vallarta offers whale watching and dolphin tours along the Riviera_Nayarit. Koala Bungalows is an expatriate owned small hotel and campground located next to the lagoon of Santa Maria del Oro, Nayarit. Cabo Expeditions runs whale watching tours out of Cabo San Lucas, at the southern tip of the Baja California peninsula. While the World Society for the Protection of Animals and the Humane Society are critical of captive swim with the dolphins (SWTD) programs, Lonely Planet for instance continues to list numerous Swim With Dolphin activities in Mexico. Scuba diving hotspots in Mexico include Playa del Carmen, the island of Cozumel, cave diving cenotes in Quintana Roo, and the Maya Riviera. Off Cancun, MUSA, El Museo subaquàtico de Arte offers the largest collection of underwater contemporary sculpture in the world.

Rio Secreto is the longest partially flooded cave in the Yucatan, and now a protected nature reserve beneath the Riviera Maya. Proyecto Espeleológico Purificación is dedicated to the study and exploration of Sistema Purificación, not only the longest cave in México, but also the deepest cave in the Western Hemisphere, located under the border region of Nuevo Leon and Tamaulipas. Tolantongo is a box canyon and resort, called Grutas Tolantongo, in the state of Hidalgo, with two main grottos, the larger grotto classified as a Karst cave. Expediciones Huaxteca offers whitewater rafting on the Rio Tampaon in San Luis Potosí.

The Mexican architect Hector Ceballos-Lascurain is generally credited with having originally coined the term “ecotourism” in 1993; he was also founding president of the influential Mexican NGO Pronatura, which successfully fought for conservation of wetlands in northern Yucatán, habitat of the American Flamingo. The Parque Natural del Flamenco Mexicano (aka “Celestun Biosphere Reserve”) is now the wetland reserve that is the winter home to vast flocks of flamingos. Hotel Eco Paraiso Xixim is an upscale ecolodge in the Swiss tradition, locate in the Celestun Biosphere Reserve. Bird watching tourism is popular in Mexico, epitomized by the annual Yucatan Bird Festival and bird count. On the west coast in the Banderas Bay region, the Puerto Vallarta International Birding Festival hosted by the Vallarta Bird Conservancy. The Centro Ecológico Akumal has a volunteer program for those wanting to donate time and expertise to help with sea turtle protection, largely in response to the dramatic increase in snorkel tourism off Akumal, on the Riviera Maya. The island of Cozumel, off the Yucatan Peninsula, was included in the Association of Caribbean States (ACS) Sustainable Tourism Zone of The Caribbean (STZC) pilot phase. Based in Merida, Ecoturismo Yucatán is an agency that promotes environmentally responsible tourism to the Yucatán. Yucatan Wildlife is a web portal for information about wildlife and ecotourism in the Yucatan.

The Mexican ministry of environment and natural resources, SEMARNAT (Secretaría de Medio Ambiente y Recursos Naturales), operates its own ecotourism certification program, Ecoturismo Certificado, essentially a government ecolabel. In fact, the requirements and regulations of sustainability in ecoturism are written into law, NMX-AA-133-SCFI-2006 (Requisitos y Especificaciones de Sustentabilidad del Ecoturismo). Mexico’s environmental police, PROFEPA (Procuraduria Federal de Proteccion al Ambiente), include the impact of tourism development (Impacto de Desarrollos Turísticos) on their website. The Mexican national institute of ecology and climate change, INECC (Instituto Nacional de Ecología y Cambio Climático), also covers community ecotourism (Introducción al ecoturismo comunitario). SECTUR (Secretaría de Turismo), basically the Mexican ministry of tourism, has a number of programs concerning adventure tourism and ecotourism as well as alternative nature tourism, such as Programa De Turismo Sustentable En México (Agenda 21 Para El Turismo Mexicano) and Evaluación en materia de Diseño del Programa de Ecoturismo y Turismo Rural.

WWF Mexico defines turismo alternativo as tourism that can be divided into ecotourism, adventure tourism and rural tourism, and recommends a number of their projects in Oaxaca. Santa Catarina Ixtepeji is not only a cultural destination, but surrounded by outdoor recreation options coordinated by “Ecoturismo Comunal Santa Catarina Ixtepeji”. Also in Oaxaca, the community of Ixtlán de Juárez offers guided tours through cloud forests, prehispanic roads, waterfalls, trout farm, bicycle rentals and camping gear through Ecoturismo Ixtlan de Juarez (@ecoturixtlan). Santa María Xadani is another town in Oaxaca, with the traditional coffee plantation Finca Monte Carlo, offering ecotours, accommodations, and meals. The ecotourism project of Santiago Comaltepec has seven routes or trails where you can experience scenic beauty, wild flora, and with luck some wildlife.

Sustenta is one Mexican company which helps coordinate beach cleanups along the Costa Maya. Both Oasis Design and EcoWaters have long been active in Mexico developing sustainable wastewater management systems and practices in grassroots communities and ecotourism projects. The pivotal Lacandon Jungle research stations (estaciones de campo) at Chajul and Tzendales were originally created by the Mexican NGO ENDESU (Espacios Naturales y Desarrollo Sustentable), but are now managed by Natura Mexicana. Local NGO Nuestra Tierra coordinates camps and volunteer opportunities to help protect sea turtles around the west coast beach resort of Puerto Vallarta. Based in San Ignacio, Baja California Sur, Ecoturismo Kuyimá offers ecotours in the seas and deserts of Baja California.

Interestingly, Mexico is classified as North America, and the ancient native peoples referred to North America as “Turtle Island“, so not surprisingly turtles, sea turtles play an important role on both the west and eastern coasts of Mexico. Apparently, Araceli Dominguez is not only ‘dona’ of Eco Hotel El Rey del Caribe (El Hotel verde de Cancun), but also the representative of GEMA, Grupo Ecologista del Mayab (aka Circulo Gema), the spiritual guardians of X’cacel and X’cacelito Sea Turtle Reserve (Santuario de la Tortuga Marina Xcacel-Xcacelito), one of the world’s most important nesting areas for sea turtles. Xcacel-Xcacelito is close to the commercial aquatic theme park Xel-Ha Park (Parque Xel-Há), a self-described ecotourism development on the Riviera Maya. Similarly, the nearby Xcaret Park (El Parque Xcaret), a privately owned and operated theme park, resort and self-described ecotourism development, is built in the same area as the archaeological site of the same name, Xcaret. The annual Festival Tortuga Marina celebrates the sea turtles of Tulum, Akumal, and Xcacel.

There are quite a few ecolodges, nature lodges, and green resorts available all over Mexico. Balamku inn on the beach is an ecological hotel on the Costa Maya. Also on the Costa Maya, Maya Luna is an ecological hotel and restaurant. Explorean Kohunlich is an ecolodge near the Mayan ruins of Kohunlich in Quintana Roo. Mawimbi is a small, tropical style hotel on the beach of Holbox Island, part of the Yum-Balam Biosphere Reserve in the Yucatan. Genesis Retreat is a community based ecolodge next to the Maya ruins of Ek Balam. Rancho Encantado is an eco-resort and Spa on Laguna Bacalar, in the southernmost part of the Yucatan. On Mexico’s west coast, there is MarSelva an eco-resort at Los Chonchos beach, on Banderas Bay. Also on Banderas Bay, El Jardin is an eco-retreat in the village of Yelapa. Majahuitas is an eco-friendly resort in a protected cove on the Bay of Banderas. Hotelito Desconocido is a spa resort in the bird sanctuary at Playón de Mismaloya, in the Selva El Tuito on the Jalisco coast south of Banderas Bay. Prana del Mar is beachfront retreat and wellness center at the southern tip of Baja. Yiimtii is an eco-retreat on the coast of Oaxaca, near San Pedro Pochutla. Lachatao Expediciones offers community based ecotourism in adobe cabins in Santa Catarina Lachatao, Oaxaca. Renacer de la Sierra is a rustic retreat in the Sierra de la Marta, the highest point in the state of Nuevo León.

Montañismo y Exploración is a Mexican online publication covering mountaineering, climbing, caving and exploration. Aventura Vertical is a Mexican magazine promoting nature tourism, as well as providing consulting and training. ATMEX (Adventure Travel Mexico) is the major adventure travel fair for professionals in Mexico. The Mexican association of adventure travel and ecotourism, AMTAVE (Asociación Méxicana de Turismo de Aventura y Ecoturismo), and its members have shown a lasting influence on the development of sustainable tourism in Mexico. AMTAVE member, Rio y Montana is a pioneer of adventure tourism in Veracruz state, and now operates two ecolodges, Picocanoa outside Xalapa and the Okavango tent camp in Jalcomulco. The community ecotourism network of Los Tuxtlas, RECT (Red de Ecoturismo Comunitario de los Tuxtlas) promotes itself as “peasant ecotourism” (ecoturismo campesino), in other words community based ecotourism in the region of Los Tuxtlas Biosphere Reserve. The Mexican NGO Kanche was involved in the alternative tourism development project Puerta Verde (Green Door) in the region of Isla Holbox and the Maya ruins at Coba in Quintana Roo.

Alltournative is a company offering ecoarcheological adventures out of Playa del Carmen. Turismo Alternativo is a tour operator based in Tequisquiapan, Querétaro. EcoColors is a sustainable tour operator located in Cancun. Lonely Planet lists quite a few Horse Riding activities in Mexico. Cabalgatas La Sierra offers riding holidays, horse vacations in the Valle de Bravo. La Ruta Chichimeca is an ambitious project by bicycle groups from round Mexico to design cross-country bicycle routes. Mexico Bike Tour offers a number of interesting Mexico City bicycle tours. !El Tour organizes expatiate lead budget bicycle tours of Mexico.

There are several classic guidebooks to nature travel in Mexico, and well worth a look if only online: The People’s Guide to Mexico (2012) by Carl Franz, Travellers’ Wildlife Guides Southern Mexico (2006) by Les Beletsky, Mexico: Adventures in Nature (1998) by Ron Mader, and Mexico: A Hiker’s Guide to Mexico’s Natural History (1995) by Jim Conrad.

Biosphere reserves:

IUCN members:


The site of advanced Amerindian civilizations, Mexico came under Spanish rule for three centuries before achieving independence early in the 19th century. Ongoing economic and social concerns include low real wages, underemployment for a large segment of the population, inequitable income distribution, and few advancement opportunities for the largely Amerindian population in the impoverished southern states. The history of marginalization of indigenous peoples and subsistence farmers in the Chiapas conflict came to a head with the 1994 Zapatista (Ejército Zapatista de Liberación Nacional – EZLN) uprising and its aftermath. Crime in Mexico is among the most urgent concerns, as the Mexican Drug War plays a major role.

The Mesoamerican archeological sites of Mexico are significant tourist attractions , including the ruins at Palenque. (See Wikipedia List of Maya sites.) “Mundo Maya” means the Maya world, and there have been a number of tourism projects around that theme backed by Mexico and several other Central American nations since 1988; however, in the lead up to 2012 there was a particular push including the “Celebremos El Renacer” campaign, and the “Mundo Maya 2012” portal. SECTUR has also created the Programa Pueblos Mágicos or magical towns program to recognize places that have special features that make them unique and historically significant, such as Mazamitla in Jalisco. The national institute of anthropology and history, INAH (Instituto Nacional de Antropología e Historia) is responsible for the Mexican portion of the World Heritage trail, El Camino Real de Tierra Adentro, which is an extension of U.S. El Camino Real de Tierra Adentro National Historic Trail, maintained by CARTA (Camino Real de Tierra Adentro Trail Association).

The three of the most popular regions for visiting the living indigenous peoples of Mexico are the lands of the Tarahumara people in Chihuahua , the Huichol people in San Luis Potosí and the Mazatec people in Oaxaca. After the arrival of the Spanish conquistadors, the Tarahumara retreated into a part of the Sierra Madre Occidental commonly referred to as the “Sierra Tarahumara”, which today has become the popular tourist attraction of Copper Canyon. Called the most scenic railroad trip on the continent, the Chihuahua-Pacific Railway (Ferrocarril Chihuahua al Pacífico), a major rail line linking the city of Chihuahua with the port of Topolobampo, now delivers a steady stream of tourists into the Sierra Tarahumara. The once thriving silver mining town of Real de Catorce has long been a pilgrimage site for both local Catholics and Huichol shamans, and now has been discovered by international tourists drawn by the desert ambiance and spiritual energy. In the Sierra Mazateca, part of the Sierra Madre de Oaxaca, the famous Mazatec curandera María Sabina lived her entire life outside of Huautla de Jimenez. The Mexican indigenous tourism network, RITA (Red Indigena de Turismo de Mexico), was created by 32 organizations from the indigenous movement to strengthen the sustainability of indigenous tourism in Mexico. The national commission for the development of indigenous peoples, CDI (Comisión Nacional para el Desarrollo de los Pueblos Indígenas), is also active in alternative tourism to indigenous areas.

There a good number of Mexican consultancies now involved in the development of community based and sustainable tourism, mostly based in Mexico City. SECTUR operates a network of researchers and research centers in tourism, RICIT (Red de Investigadores y Centros de Investigación en Turismo). Balam is a consultancy group promoting recreation in natural areas. Marlene Ehrenberg, co-founder of AMTAVE, is a prominent consultant for the development of ecotourism and responsible tourism. Ecoturismo Genuino is the consultancy of Allan R. Rhodes Espinoza. Ecoturismo TAP is the sustainable tourism consultancy of Jorge Chavez de la Peña. Based in Jalisco, Salud Total provides consultancy services in several topics from rural tourism to recreational parks. Todo Turismo is a tourism development consultancy based in Oaxaca. Lirio Azahalia González Luna is a notable journalist, writing critically about tourism related issues for La Jornada de Oriente. The Mexico Network is an expatriate association formed to promote Mexico’s journalism, education and travel, including prominent travel journalist Ron Mader. The CafeCancun website is something of a cultural oasis, by “Cancun User’s Guide” author and expatriate journalist Jules Siegel.

Community Tours Sian Ka’an is a community based ecotourism project of the international NGO, RARE, involving living Mayans from the region around the Muyil ruins, near the Sian Ka’an Biosphere Reserve. Witness for Peace organizes annual “reality tours” to Mexico, to get up close and personal with social issues. The Mexican ecovillage network, Red de Ecoaldeas de México, lists a number of ecovillages throughout Mexico, including the established Tepoztlan alternative community, Ecoaldea Huehuecoyotl. WWOOF Mexico is a network linking travelers with organic farms in Mexico. Hostelling International Mexico currently has 25 affiliated hostels in 17 destinations around Mexico. Spanish Schools in Mexico is an extensive online guide to language schools in Mexico.

World heritage:

ICCROM members:


  • An empowerment approach of indigenous ecotourism in a Mayan community in Mexico by A Mendoza-Ramos & B Prideaux, 2012
  • Approach To Corporate Social Responsibility Of Micro Indigenous Ecotourism In Mexico by C Villavicencio & A Pardo, 2012
  • Indigenous Ecotourism In Quintana Roo Mexico. Case Study Of Kantemo. by C Villavicencio & A Pardo, 2012
  • Migration and ecotourism in the Biosphere Reserve of Los Tuxtlas (Mexico) by Á Piñar Álvarez & ME Nava Tablada, 2012
  • Potentialities and challenges of the tourism and ecotourism in the state of San Luis Potosí, Mexico: challenges and expectations to reach the regional development by JG Rivera González & V Vázquez Solís, 2012
  • Social enterprises and ecotourism in Huatulco, Mexico: diagnosis of business management by MJ Fernández Aldecua & B Castillejos López, 2012
  • Is management of ecotourism a proposal to achieve the sustainable development of rural and indigenous communities? Case: Chiapas, Mexico by L Cynthia, 2011
  • Community ecotourism and gender in the Biosphere Reserve of Los Tuxtlas (Mexico) by IA Díaz Carrión, 2010
  • Contentious hotspots: Ecotourism and the restructuring of place at the Biosphere Reserve Ria Celestun (Yucatan, Mexico) by MC Azcárate, 2010
  • Sustainability and balanced ecotourism management: Lessons from the whale watching in Laguna San Ignacio, Baja California Sur, Mexico by S Chong, 2010
  • Ecotourism as an Alternative to Fishing in Yucatan, Mexico by AE Bennett, 2009
  • Establishing a Socio-economic Baseline of Sea Turtle Ecotourism in Baja California Sur, Mexico by EM Finkbeiner, 2009
  • Indigenous ecotourism in preserving and empowering Mayan natural and cultural values at Palenque, Mexico by A Mendoza-Ramos & H Zeppel, 2009
  • Biodiversity conservation, traditional agriculture and ecotourism: Land cover/land use change projections for a natural protected area in the northeastern Yucatan Peninsula, Mexico by E García-Frapolli & B Ayala-Orozco, 2007
  • Community-based Management Of Gray Whale Ecotourism In Baja California Sur, Mexico by D Knowler & P Williams, 2007
  • Community-based management through ecotourism in Bahia de los Angeles, Mexico by N Cardenas-Torres & R Enríquez-Andrade, 2007
  • Property rights-based management: whale shark ecotourism in Bahia de los Angeles, Mexico by N Rodríguez-Dowdell & R Enríquez-Andrade, 2007
  • Actor-Management of Protected Areas and Ecotourism in Mexico by L Brenner & H Job, 2006
  • Ecotourism as a strategy for conservation and sustainable development in Mexico by AV Jiménez, 2006
  • Evaluating ecotourism in Mexico’s biosphere reserves – whale watching activities in the World Heritage Site of Laguna San Ignacio, Baja California Sur, Mexico, 1994-2002 by P Rossing, 2006
  • Las Islas de los Changos (the Monkey Islands): the economic impact of ecotourism in the region of Los Tuxtlas, Veracruz, Mexico by JC Serio‐Silva, 2006
  • Promoting community ecotourism enterprises in common property regimes: A stakeholder analysis and geographic information systems application in Ejido X-Maben in central Quintana Roo, Mexico by M Cornejo, J Gebelein, W Vickers, D Bray & DRB Dunlap, 2004
  • Alleviating poverty through ecotourism: Promises and reality in the Monarch Butterfly Reserve of Mexico by D Barkin, 2003
  • Ecotourism and sustainable development in Mazunte, Oaxaca, Mexico by G Baumhackl, 2003
  • Linkages Between Tourism and Agriculture in Quintana Roo, Mexico by RM Torres, 2003
  • Evaluating ecotourism in natural protected areas of La Paz Bay, Baja California Sur, Mexico: Ecotourism or nature-based tourism? by R López-Espinosa de los Monteros, 2002
  • Exporting paradise: Tourism and development in Mexico by M Clancy, 2001
  • Tourism and Development: Evidence from Mexico by MJ Clancy, 1999
  • Uprising in Chiapas, Mexico: Zapata Lives – Tourism Falters by WJ Pitts, 1996
  • A Political Violence and Tourism: A Case Analysis of Chiapas, Mexico by W Pitts, 1995
  • Local people and gray whale tourism in Baja California Sur, Mexico by S Dedina & E Young, 1995
  • Marketing Mayas: Ethnic Tourism Promotion in Mexico by PL van den Berghe, 1995
  • The Quest for the Other: Ethnic Tourism in San Cristobal, Mexico by PL van den Berghe, 1994
  • Whose culture is it anyway? Tourism in Greater Mexico and the Indigena by G Evans, 1994
  • Techniques for Socially Sustainable Tourism Development: Lessons from Mexico by V Long, 1993
  • American travel deaths in Mexico. Causes and prevention strategies by K Guptill, SW Hargarten & T Baker, 1991
  • Government-industry-community interaction in tourism development in Mexico by VH Long, 1991
  • Tourism Development in Quintana Roo, Mexico by M Daltabuit & O Pi-Sunyer, 1990
  • Tourism and crime in Mexico by GD Jud, 1975
  • Tourism and Economic Growth in Mexico since 1950 by GD Jud, 1974

Mexico Data