Mexico Beyond the Beach Chairs

Beyond the beach chairs
Whether you like it or not, it’s not all about underage debauchery and Spring Break in Cancun. Mexico provides the perfect natural  surroundings to appease thrill seekingtourists

While relaxing by the beach with a frosty drink will always remain a popular vacation activity, tourists are increasingly seeking hands-on vacations involving adventure seeking. According to Mexico’s Tourism Secretariat, Sectur, adventure tourism and ecotourism in Mexico generate US$52 million annually. Whether the activities are landbased, sea-based or in the air, Mexico’s unspoiled natural surroundings, diverse geography and breathtaking scenery offers endless possibilities.

From exploring the Copper Canyon in Chihuahua to water rafting in Veracruz, adventure tourism in Mexico takes many forms to suit every taste and budget.Most tour operators offer a variety of options, from half-day trips to longer packages featuring a combination of activities. There are also activities to meet the needs of people of all physical and mental conditions: from the somewhat fearful and sedentary traveller to the physically-fit tourist seeking an experience that is truly extreme in nature.



Mounta
in Climbing and Rappelling
Ain’t no mountain high enough, you say? Then you haven’t tried the volcanoes in Puebla. Not for the weak, the Peak of Orizaba (also known as Citlaltepetl) is North America’s third-highest, soaring 5,745 meters high above the colonial city of Puebla. Only the most advanced hikers make it to the Jamapa Glacier and Espolon de Oro. Three-day hikes starting out at Piedra Grande Refuge are the most common. Other popular volcanoes for climbing are the Iztaccíhuatl, also known as the “sleeping maiden” as it resembles a reclining figure with curves and the Nevado de Toluca, a snow-capped volcano near Mexico City. Visit: www.amtave.org.

Apart from shimmying up volcanoes, other popular climbing destinations are Copper Canyon in Chihuahua, the Sierra Norte in Oaxaca State and the Sierra Madre Oriental in Nuevo León State near Monterrey.

Ain’t no Canyon low enough
Canyoneering (also known as “canyoning”) involves t ravelling down narrow waterways incanyons by rappelling, jumping, scaling slippery surfaces, swimming… and praying. The sport, which started approximately nine years ago in Europe, has quickly gained momentum over the world and Mexico features several ideal spots to practice it. These include Copper Canyon in the Sierra Madre Occidental mountain range in Chihuahua and Matacanes Canyon and Potrero Chico Canyon in the Sierra Madre Oriental Mountains in Monterrey, Nuevo Leon. Excursions vary from day-trips to week-long adventures. For the competitive, Chihuahua State hosts the Transglobal Adventure Competition and an annual Adventure Tourism Festival where athletes compete for cash prizes in several sports including sand-boarding, marathons and mountainbiking. If the competition doesn’t take your breath away, the lush scenery will.

Hiking and Backpacking
The mild climate and rocky mountains of the central Mexican state of Guanajuato makes it a popular destination for hiking and backpacking. Just fifteen minutes from the capital city of Guanajuato is the Las Palomas recreational zone and wildlife preserve, an important area of biodiversity and an ideal place for naturalists and birdwatchers.

Trained guides employed by the preserve and who are experts in the areas of botany, bird migration and the area’s flora and fauna provide a variety of tours, while there are also facilities for mountain-biking and camping.

Cycling
Cycling is a wonderful way to get to know Mexico and Mexico offers everything from short visits to archaeological sites to hard-core mountain biking/camping combinations. COUPLE SCUBA DIVING IN THE CARIBBEAN Photo By NADINE MARKOVA Tourist fisherman with catch Photo by Bruce Herman
The beautiful bay, lush scenery and rain forests around the Pacific resort city of Puerto Vallarta, for example, provide the ideal setting for the ultimate mountain biking experience. Bike Mex offers biking tours at all levels of the surrounding countryside, with visits to water falls, ranches, hot springs and quaint towns. They even offer tours to out-of-the-way-villages such as Yelapa, located in the Bay of Bandera’s southernmost cove, accessible only by boat or bike. For cyclists who prefer paved roads, Rosarito and Ensenada on the Baja California Peninsula host an annual bike ride every spring and fall, taking place April 17 and September 25 this year. The “Rosarito Ensenada Bike Ride” is one of the largest and longest-running cycling events in the wor l d, whose 50-mile course offers breathtaking views of the Pacific coastline. Nearly a half-million people of all ages and abilities have completed the course’s cycling competition.

On Horseback
Mexico boasts countless parks, wildlife reserves and beaches where horses are available for organised tours or for rent. Longer organised calvagades are common in the states of Sonora, Jalisco and Veracruz, just to name a few. Chihuahua State also hosts an annual week-long scenic cavalgade for the entire family (IX Villista Cavalgade) from the city of Chihuahua to Hidalgo del Parral, covering more than 136 miles.

Taking Flight
What better way to see Mexico than with a bird’s eye view? Paragliding has become overwhelmingly popular in A great way to experience Mexico’s exotic marine life is through sea kayaking. Kayaking out fittter soffer kayaking/camping adventures out of Loreto and La Paz on the Sea of Cor tez (located on the eastern side of the Baja Peninsula) where tourists can get up close and personal with finback and blue whales, dolphins, sea lions and exotic fish. Apart from paddling among islands, additional activities include snorkelling and hiking up scenic canyons offering breathtaking panoramas. Visit www.bajawild.com and www.kuyima.com. Other great places to kayak include the Mayan canals in the Sian Mexico, with Mexicans and foreigners alike flocking to places like Valle de Bravo in Mexico State and Lake Chapala, Mexico’s largest lake and just an hour’s drive south of Guadalajara in Jalisco State, to enjoy the country’s lush scenery from above.

For heights without the risk, peaceful air travel is still possible through hot air balloon tours such as those offered by Globo Aventura in Tenancingo, in Mexico State. The 3-hour tour includes breathtaking views of the Tenancingo Valley and an in-air champagne toast followed by an invigorating mountain bike tour.

Get Your Feet Wet
Veracruz State, which borders the Gulf of Mexico, is the ideal destination for white-water rafting. With more than 40 rivers, including the popular Rio Actopan and Rio Antigua, Veracruz offers Class II and Class IV rapids with ominous names like “Doors to Hell”. Most tour operators combine rafting with camping, hiking, visits to quaint towns and dips in nearby hot springs. Sunset in the mountains Photo by Carlos Sanchez Surfer in Puerto Escondido Photo by Guillermo Aldan Mexico also boasts countless destinations for diving. Top spots include Los Cabos on the southern tip of the Baja Peninsula, as well as Loreto and La Paz, located on Sea of Cortez and famous all over the world for its biodiversity. Referred to by French oceanographer Jacques Cousteau as “The World’s Aquarium,” the waters that make up the Sea of Cortez are teeming with blue, black and striped marlin, sailfish, dorado, sea lions, blue fin whales, hammerhead sharks, moray eels and tropical fish. Other top diving spots include the Yucatan Peninsula, surrounded by the Gulf of Mexico and Caribbean Sea; Cozumel, Mexico’s largest island just off the coast of the Yucatán Peninsula, renowned for its underwater clarity and home to the second longest reef in the world; Isla Mujeres, a smaller island to the north of the Isla de Cancun; and the Yucatan Peninsula, whose cenotes (sinkholes) are increasingly favoured by divers.

Adventure, Without Breaking a Sweat
Strenuous activities aren’t for everyone. For those who like adventure without the physical stuff, Mexico offers an interesting variety of activities. El Chepe is a 400-mile train ride between Chihuahua City and Los Mochis in Sinaloa State on the Sea of Cortez, offering breathtaking scenery past rivers and lakes from the coast into the deep chasms of Copper Canyon in Chihuahua State. The train climbs as high as 8,000 feet above sea level and passes over 37 bridges and through 86 tunnels, stopping in tiny towns on the rims of majestic canyons. Trips include overnight stays in the towns and walking tours. Ka’an Biosphere Reserve, a 1.3 million-acre wildlife paradise in the Riviera Maya; the mangroves of Lake Sontecomapan, the Isla de Monos (Monkey Island) and Laguna Escondida (Hidden Lagoon) in Veracruz; and the Balsas River in Michoacan. Visit www.alltournative.com.

Puerta Vallarta, with its ocean and jungle, is a paradise for kayakers and trekkers. Packs of humpback whales can also be spotted just outside Puerto Vallarta’s Bahia de las Banderas. Visit www.vallar tawhales.com and www.ecotoursvallarta.com.

Written by Peter Guy