Mexico used to be a vacation
destination for lounging on the beach,
sipping tequila and dancing the night
away to salsa music. Today, ecotourism is
the name of the game, with the Riviera
Maya region leading the charge.
By Keith W. Strandberg
Kayaking in clear, clean water
Climbing an ancient Mayan pyramid
Keith W. Strandberg
exico has a wealth of centuries-old
culture that used to go largely undiscovered by tourists. But today’s tourists
don’t necessarily just sit on the beach burning; they want to have fun and learn about
the culture of Mexico. And today’s
ecotourism outfits are more than happy to
help them realize their vacation goals.
Instead of lying on the beach, these tourists are swimming in sacred pools, climbing
ancient Mayan pyramids, jungle kayaking
and flying through the jungle on a zip line
(a cable with a hand-held pulley). All the
while, they are learning about Mayan culture, the history of Mexico and the future of
the Mayan communities that still dot the
jungle on the Riviera Maya.
The ecotourism company Alltournative
was founded in 1999. Its mission statement
is “to provide tourists with unforgettable and
wonderful experiences through adventure,
cultural and natural expeditions, providing
sustainable development.”
“Ecotourism” means having fun and
seeing sights without negatively impacting
the natural environment. For example,
Alltournative uses biodegradable materials
and “dry” (non-flush) toilets, and recycles
everything. All of their services and staff,
including guides, are from local Mayan communities.
The Experiences
Ecotourism is a great way to see Mexico.
The groups are small. You visit sites that are
off the beaten track and get to see the Mayan
people as they really live—not just through
the window of a tour bus or in a staged environment.
My Mayan adventure started with a trek
through the jungle to the ancient Mayan city
of Coba. Then we rode rental bicycles to the
highest pyramid in the Yucatan. We climbed
to the top, for a great view of the area. After
that it was back on our bicycles for another
trek. This time we walked through a tropical rainstorm to a cavelike sinkhole, called
a cenote, where we swam in total darkness
in a sacred underground river.
Cleansed and refreshed, we visited a
Mayan village where the entire community
had prepared a feast of traditional delicacies.
After lunch, we took a zip line across a jungle
valley, then rappelled down to the Cenote
de la Vida (Cenote of Life), where people
take refuge during hurricanes.
The Communities
Alltournative is committed to keeping
Mayan communities intact. Too often, villages die out as young people leave traditional communities to work in resorts.
Mayans in a tribal village
Providing work for villagers—cooking,
renting out kayaks, running the zip line and
rappelling stations and taking photos—keeps
them in their communities and maintains
their way of life.
The people are fantastically friendly and
good at what they do. Alltournative and other
ecotourism companies are exposing tourists
to the Mayan culture while safeguarding that
culture and helping it flourish.
I can state from firsthand experience that
trekking through the jungle, zip-lining across
valleys and rappelling down cliffs into cenotes sure beats lounging on the beach and
worrying about getting sunburned.
Ecotourism is the
wave of the future in
Mexico, and it’s
worth making the
effort to experience
For more information, please visit
Meals in the jungle just taste better
The Riviera Maya—
It’s a Jungle Out There
Exercise 1
Choose a), b), c) or d) to complete the sentences below.
1. On vacation, not everyone wants to (
a) lounge
b) stretch
2. Today, many tourism (
a) corporate
3. You can (
a) steamship
) on a beach.
c) lazy
) are offering unusual trips.
b) busy
c) outfits
d) individuals
) on a river in the middle of a jungle.
b) kayak
c) floats
4. The writer ate some traditional Mayan (
a) charms
d) relaxing
b) delicately
d) canoeing
) on his trip.
c) snacks
d) delicacies
5. Alltournative wants to ensure that Mayan communities stay (
a) intact
b) completely
c) full
d) total
Exercise 2
Are the following statements true (T) or false (F)?
1. T F
Mayan people show tourists how to “fly” in a traditional way.
2. T F
Ecotourism is meant to have no negative impact on the
3. T F
Many tourists never go off the beaten track.
4. T F
A cenote is a tropical rainstorm in Mexico.
5. T F
The writer thinks that getting sunburned is better than rappelling.
Exercise 3
Choose the correct answer to each question below.
1. What does Alltournative use?
a) Biodegradable materials and dry toilets
b) Natural materials taken from the beach
c) The latest hiking equipment and clothing
d) Ancient Mayan materials found in the pyramids
2. How did the writer get to the top of the highest pyramid?
a) He trekked there, then took a zip line to the top.
b) He took a tour bus there, then was carried to the top.
c) He rode a bicycle there, then climbed to the top.
d) He swam down a river, then rappelled to the top.
3. Why do many Mayan villages die out?
a) Not enough tourists come to visit them.
b) Many young people leave home to work in resorts.
c) They have forgotten how to live in a traditional way.
d) The government gives them money to leave their homes.
Exercise 4
Listen and fill in the missing words.
My boyfriend and I didn’t take a (
) holiday last year. We went on
an ecotour to Laos. It wasn’t at all (
). But we wanted to learn
about the local people living in the (
). In fact, it was an amazing
way to learn about other (
). We visited communities that are
not (
) out, where the people still live in a traditional way without (
) the environment. We did have some fun, too.
Travel 57