Ecotourism is becoming increasingly more popular as travelers everywhere begin to embrace responsible travel. Practicing ecotourism today has never been easier, with numerous eco-tours and experiences available. One of the best places to visit for ecotourism is Mexico. Below, I’ll cover ecotourism in Mexico, including what it is, where to go, and what to do.
What is Ecotourism?
If you don’t know what ecotourism is, you’ve come to the right place! Ecotourism is defined as responsible travel, typically to natural areas, and includes the following three pillars:
- Conserves or protects the natural environment,
- Supports or benefits the local people,
- Involves hands-on education and increased awareness.
Ecotourism is similar to sustainable travel, but it isn’t the same thing. Ecotourism is often more hands-on, and educational with a greater focus on supporting the natural environment.
For example, ecotourism could look like spending a weekend at a local organic farm and learning how they cultivate their crops. You may even participate. At the end of your weekend, you’ll have spent your money supporting a local initiative that helps conserve and protect the natural environment. Plus, you’ll have learned about organic farming and possibly a new skill.
What to Look For From Ecotourism Providers:
If you’re trying to figure out if a tour or activity fits under the umbrella of ecotourism, there are a few things you should ask before booking:
- Is your guide truly qualified to be leading this tour? For example, if you want to learn about Indigenous weaving, you’d want to make sure the organization or guide you’re learning from is Indigenous. If you’re going to spend a weekend at an organic farm, are they locally owned or do they primarily employ and support local people? Do they distribute their food locally?
- Does the tour or activity fit the three pillars of ecotourism above?
- Who owns the company? Who works there? Where does the money go? Most ecotours will be locally owned and/or employ primarily local people. They’ll also give back to the community in some way.
- Can you verify that what you’re doing on the tour doesn’t harm the natural or local environment? For example, you can take numerous tours to protected areas, like cenotes, biospheres, and mountains, but that doesn’t mean your tour guide is operating in a sustainable way or knowledgeable about the environment. Always do your research to check that your activity isn’t causing more harm than good. Don’t be afraid to ask your guide either – if they are truly qualified, they should know!
What Does Ecotourism in Mexico Look Like?
Mexico is one of the most wonderful places to go as an ecotourist. Mexico is an incredibly diverse country, with every type of natural environment you could think of. Mexico is also home to diverse cultures and Indigenous communities.
There are endless possibilities for ecotourism activities in Mexico, whether it’s through established organizations or done independently.
Ecotourism in Mexico may look like visiting an Indigenous women’s weaving collective, spending a day at a local mezcal distillery, or visiting a protected biosphere with a sustainable guide to learn about the natural environment.
The 4 Best Places for Ecotourism in Mexico
While you can find plenty of ecotourism activities in Mexico, some places have more options than others. What eco-activities you do will depend on what’s available in the region you visit.
Below are four of the best places for ecotourism in Mexico and some awesome eco-activities to add to your bucket list.
Ecotourism in Mexico City
What to Do:
Mexico City may not be the first place to come to mind when you hear the term ecotourism, but it should be! Mexico City is rich in culture, surrounded by archaeological wonders and diverse natural landscapes to explore. One popular ecotourism activity is to take a boat ride through Xochimilco, an ancient Aztec waterway and protected area.
You’ll also have plenty of opportunities to take tours or experiences led by local guides and learn about different Mexican cultures, communities, and history. Immerse yourself in local markets, sustainable shops, and locally-led workshops.
Our Pick for Eco Tours in Mexico City: Eat Like a Local Food Tour
If you know anyone who’s been to Mexico City, the first thing you’ve probably heard is that the food is amazing. This massive metropolis is known for its cuisine, so it’s not unreasonable to plan an entire trip around the food alone. As such, a perfect ecotourism activity in Mexico City is to do a locally-led food tour.
I highly recommend booking one with Eat Like a Local, a sustainable, local women-owned and run company. They offer fantastic experiences, like street food and mezcal tours. They truly give you the local, foodie experience paired and offer important history about Mexico City.
Eat Like a Local also gives back to support local women from disadvantaged neighborhoods and chooses all local vendors to promote. Booking a tour with them supports the community on several levels.
Ecotourism in Oaxaca
What to Do:
There are several ecotourism activities available in Oaxaca. This region is known for its biodiversity and is the primary grower of essential native crops like corn, chocolate, and mezcal.
Oaxaca also has the highest Indigenous population in Mexico, so supporting and learning from the Indigenous community should be at the heart of any activity you choose. Some ecotourism activities in Oaxaca could be taking a locally-led hike, visiting a locally-run Mezcal distillery, learning how corn is grown, or taking a traditional Oaxacan cooking class from Indigenous communities.
Our Pick for Eco Tours in Oaxaca: Vida Nueva Women’s Cooperative
One of the highlights of my time in Oaxaca was visiting Vida Nueva, a Zapotec women’s weaving collective outside Oaxaca City in Teotitlan del Valle. Vida Nueva was founded in 1996 by several local women to provide economic opportunities for fellow single Zapotec women.
Traditionally, the men here are the breadwinners which left single women few opportunities for survival. They were met with a lot of prejudice and resistance when they started the weaving collective, but they persisted.
You can book a workshop with them to hear their story and learn about their heritage and traditional Zapotec weaving techniques. Everything they make is handmade using natural dyes. They also support their local community through various projects.
Ecotourism in Puerto Vallarta
What to Do:
This beautiful beachside metropolis is home to some of the most diverse marine life in the country. Puerto Vallarta, and neighboring Nuevo Vallarta, have great ecotourism activities for outdoor enthusiasts and water lovers.
You can go snorkeling, diving, whale watching, hiking, or visit a variety of biodiverse beaches, islands, and estuaries. Check out El Salado Estuary, Vallarta Botanical Gardens, or other protected areas like Los Arcos Marine Park.
Our Pick for Eco Tours in Vallarta: Snorkeling at Isla Marietas
If you’re looking for unique eco-tours in Vallarta, a great choice is this snorkeling tour that takes you to Isla Marietas and a hidden beach. You’ll get to spend the day swimming and snorkeling with your guide, a biologist, as they educate you on the rich natural habitat, marine life, and coral reef.
This tour only takes small groups and implements eco-friendly measures such as no sunscreen or oils and no plastic bottles. It’s a great way to responsibly explore this remote national park while supporting a local company. It’s led by Eco Tours Vallarta, a local and recognized ecotourism organization, that gives back to various conservation projects and groups.
Ecotourism in the Yucatan Peninsula
What to Do:
The Yucatan Peninsula is one of my favorite places in Mexico. This peninsula is a dream for ecotourists due to the gorgeous natural environment. Here you can explore family-run cenotes, snorkel with turtles, and learn from and about Indigenous Mayan communities. I would also recommend visiting the protected Sian Ka’an Biosphere Reserve with a local guide.
One important thing to note is that due to the region’s extreme popularity with tourists, many of these natural wonders are not being respected, negatively impacting the environment.
Additionally, large corporations have taken over the profitable tourism industry here, which doesn’t help the local people. Please make sure you’re booking tours with local guides and that you’re taking the necessary precautions to respect the precious environment.
Our Pick for Eco Tours in Yucatan: Locally Led Cenote Tour
Tulum is one of the best places in the Yucatan Peninsula for ecotourism, due to its proximity to many of the most beautiful sights in the region. However, ecotourism in Tulum often involves greenwashing, with numerous eco-resorts not doing what they advertise and chain tour operators not taking environmental precautions. As such, it’s important to book experiences with local, expert guides.
One of the best ecotourism activities in Tulum is to visit different cenotes. There are thousands in the region, and many are owned by local families. I’ve found some of my favorite locally-led experiences on Airbnb.
One tour I loved was with Kaeru Private Tours. This small, local company focuses on sustainable tourism. During this experience, you’ll see off-the-beaten-path cenotes, learn about the environment and Mayan culture, and enjoy traditional Mayan food. Plus, you’ll be supporting female guides and the local people.
What to Keep in Mind for Ecotourism in Mexico
Ecotourism is much easier to participate in than you think. If you’re learning from and supporting locally-led activities that respect or even benefit the natural environment, you’re practicing ecotourism.
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About The Author:
Alicia Briggs is a writer & editor specializing in slow travel & sustainable living. She’s worked in journalism since 2016 and currently writes for a variety of publications such as Sustainably Chic and Hidden Lemur. She has been a full-time traveler since 2018 and runs her own blog, Learning the Local Way, where she covers responsible travel & living tips.