Grand Velas Riviera Maya Earns 2011 AAA Five Diamond Award

The Latest and Most Sophisticated in an Ultra-Luxury, All-Inclusive Resort Experience
 
Playa del Carmen, Mexico (September 30, 2010) – Less than two years after opening, Grand Velas Riviera Maya (http://www.rivieramaya.grandvelas.com/) has been awarded the acclaimed American Automobile Association’s (AAA) Five-Diamond Award for lodging.  Grand Velas Riviera Maya, located five minutes from Playa del Carmen, represents the latest and most sophisticated iteration of the ultra-luxury, all-inclusive resort experience and the only family-friendly all-inclusive resort on Mexico’s Caribbean coast to merit the award.
 
“Being one of the newest recipients of the AAA Five Diamond is a true testament to Grand Velas Riviera Maya’s commitment to excellence.” said Tony Perrone, Manager of AAA National. “The resort caters to all travelers at the utmost highest level of service and amenities.”
 
With 491 suites, Grand Velas Riviera Maya is the largest hotel in Mexico to receive the 5 Diamond Award, one of numerous accolades in its short history.
 
“We are especially honored and pleased to receive this prestigious award, coming on the heels of another major distinction: our spa’s being named the best in the world by Virtuoso,” said Fernando Garcia Rossette, Managing Director of Grand Velas Riviera Maya.
 
Every year more than 60 AAA/CAA tourism editors visit over 60,000 lodgings, campgrounds, restaurants and attractions throughout the United States, Canada, Mexico and the Caribbean.  Tourism editors conduct unannounced evaluations, scrutinizing such areas as cleanliness, ambiance, amenities and service.  Only an estimated 0.25 percent of the estimated 60,000 properties will receive the Five Diamond Award each year.
 
About Grand Velas Riviera Maya:
Grand Velas Riviera Maya, a Leading Hotels of the World designated resort, is the preeminent one of its class boasting 491 suites, each more than 1,000 square-feet, in three separate ambiances– adult-only ocean-front and ocean-view Ambassador Grand Class Suites, family-friendly Ambassador Suites and Master Suites embraced by the flora and fauna of the Yucatan Peninsula’s jungle.  The resort presents a gastronomic tour of the Yucatan, Europe and Asia offering seven restaurants with world-class chefs from France, Spain and Mexico; the region’s largest spa sanctuary at more-than 89,000 square-feet specializing in signature treatments inspired by ancient cultures from around the world; dedicated butler service for each guest and a 91,457 square-foot convention center ideal for business and social gatherings of all sizes, including weddings.  The resort was designed by lauded Mexican architecture firm Elias and Elias and features the sleek and modish interiors that fuse the serenity of the Caribbean with the vibrancy of Yucatan cultures.

Chicago Children’s Museum Newest Exhibit Focuses On Mexico’s Toys

logo_toys2

Now through March 13, 2011

Celebrate play at Mexico: Festival of Toys! Chicago Children’s Museum’s vibrant new exhibit showcases a collection of more than 600 one-of-a-kind toys, on loan from Papalote Children’s Museum in Mexico City. Spanning nearly a century, these toys offer a window into Mexico’s rich history and come to life through a playful array of hands-on experiences designed for the whole family.

Image of ToysHandmade dolls of every shape and size, colorful puppets, traditional puzzles, marionettes, musical instruments, and wood-carved and papier-mâché animals inspire creativity that finds an outlet in activity stations throughout the museum, including:

  • The DIY Toy Workshop, where visitors become toymakers and build their own vehicles, dolls, or puppets.
  • A Wheel Track to test the speed of toys that go!
  • Small Worlds, a dynamic landscape for creating and decorating miniature dwellings.
  • A Puppet Theater, where kids can design their own puppets and put on a show.
  • Rattle-Rama, a sensory-rich space dedicated to the youngest visitors.
  • A Seek-and-Find activity that encourages families to explore the Papalote collection together.

Bring your family to view these unique treasures from Mexico and experience the joys of Toys!


Papalote Museo del Nino is the originator of the Mexico: Festival of Toys exhibit, with support from Maseca and Distroller. Interactive exhibit experiences were designed and developed by Chicago Children’s Museum.

Guadalupe Island – Diving With Great White Sharks 2010

Shark 1

David Simmonds

Our friends at http://www@sharkdiver.com  have  given us permission to reprint this shark tale from their web site. “Fins to the left, fins to the right”

When Drew Grgich called us many months ago to book a shark diving adventure we knew we had a budding Shark Diver on the line.

His enthusiasm for sharks you could “feel” all the way from Arizona.

He was also a non certified diver, one of the many we “train” to become Shark Divers each and every season.

Today Drew can call himself an Official Shark Diver having encountered the top shark species at the best site for them on the entire planet.

This is his 2010 trip report with image by Christy Fisher:

Day One (and a half)

We came from all over – – Michigan, New Jersey, Nebraska, the Bay Area, Vancouver, Maryland, and Arizona – – and all of us had one goal in mind … swimming with Great Whites. Mind you, none of us had death wishes so our goal was to do this swimming carefully ensconced in a steel cage. Nonetheless, we would be in the water with them and thus, they would be in the water with us! Our journey began in San Diego out of H&M Landing. Our vessel was the MW Horizon, an 88-ft. dive boat.

We boarded at about 10:30pm and were underway just after midnight. The first night was spent in fitful sleep while trying to detect whether or not the queasy feeling in our stomachs was the beginning of seasickness or just nerves. We arrived in Ensenada the next morning at around 9am. A quick check with Mexican customs officials sent us on our way to Isla Guadalupe, the fall home of some 100+ Great White sharks. The trip was uneventful if long – – 18 hours long to be exact. We were told that the ride was among the smoothest our captain had experienced. A few of us succumbed to seasickness but for the most part, all was well. We saw some remarkable sights – a blue whale, a thin whale, pods of fast moving and high jumping dolphins.

What I remember most about that day is how excited I was.

Few people in life are blessed with the sure knowledge of knowing exactly what they want most in life and even fewer get to experience that desire. For me, my most fervent wish was going to happen in a matter of hours. That’s pretty heady stuff!

Day Two

At around 3am, the engine shut off when we arrived at our destination. I went up top a couple of hours later and was not surprised to see other early risers. We attempted to wrestle our cameras into taking decent photos – – not an easy feat at 5am before the sun had even made a token appearance – – and imagined that the murky waters surrounding us were teeming with sharks, each hungry for the first shift of divers.

The shift happened to include me!

Our divemaster, Martin Graf, took me into the cage and had me try a regulator for the first time. I did okay with the regulator but before Martin would declare me dive-worthy, I had to flood my mask and clear it through my nose. I gave it a good effort but sadly, I panicked when my first attempt resulted in a nose full of salt water. I shot to the surface and for a brief moment, wondered if I was going to be able to succeed. Martin was extremely patient and knew exactly how much space to give me in to get over my fears. My second attempt was successful. The secret was to get a steady rhythm breathing through my mouth to gain confidence, close my eyes, and exhale through my nose while tipping the mask.

We didn’t have to wait long. The first Great White appeared within a few minutes, circling the cage a few feet below us in its graceful way. That shark was followed by another shortly behind. Both sharks hovered below and made lazy trips around the cages and all too soon, our first hour’s rotation was over. All of us were fortunate on this trip. Two people had to cancel so this meant we had 10 divers instead of 12. The cages fit four people each. This meant that we could effectively have as much dive time as we wanted.

I took an extra shift that first day so I had five hours in the cages. We saw seven different sharks the first day. Most kept a respectable distance from the cage but some ventured close enough to touch if we were really inclined to do so. No one was. :) We knew that they were different sharks as the patterns of markings around their gills and fins serve as a sort of fingerprint. These sharks are in turn named by the people who first see them. Scientists do this so that they can identify populations and measure data points such as the number of years that they have been coming to the island, how much the sharks are growing, and how many sharks are seasonal residents.

Some come every year while some visit more irregularly. For the record, the sharks we saw on Day One were Jacques, Bite Face, the Russian, Johnny, Cris Cross, and a new unnamed male. We don’t know who gets to name that shark . . . the suspense is delicious. :) The highlight of Day One — aside from the fact that I was diving with Great Whites! — was a rotation where Jacques circled the cage for the entire hour. I was able to shoot forty minutes of video going from one side of the cage to the other. Some passes were within inches of my video camera – – I got some great shots!

Day Three

The next morning, I took the first rotation of the day along with two other brave souls. We saw some sharks but they were far below. We tried a variety of tricks to attract the shark’s attention – – stomping our feet, hitting the cage ladder with some of our lead weights, singing show tunes – – but nothing enticed the sharks closer that first shift.

Following shifts were much more productive. I spent the first three hours of the day in the cages and shot more video. I grabbed another three shifts after lunch for a total of six hours in the cages. There were two highlights on day two. The first was that I happened to be looking in the exact direction necessary to witness a full breach. This is when the shark completely propels itself out of the water while in pursuit of prey. The prey happened to be a seagull and it got out of the way just in time to escape the leaping shark. I was one of two people onboard who saw the breach and it was truly a magnificent sight.

It was a smaller shark – – maybe 6-8 feet – – but it was a full breach!! The second highlight was more ignominious. We saw a new shark — Gunther — who was kind enough to – – – well, poop – – – directly in front of the cage next to us. It was amusing to see and pleased the 10-year old children inside my cage mate and I . . . until the current pulled us directly into it. I can thus say that I was blessed enough to be pooped on by a Great White.

Day Four

I only took half of the sharkwatch shift. It was okay – – nothing really when compared to the first couple of days. I took two more shifts for the day before we had to leave. We did get a great couple of close passes by Bite Face and Jacques. This was especially memorable for me as Bite Face was a featured shark on Expedition Great White, a show about scientists tagging Great Whites at Isla Guadalupe. It was fun to see the satellite tags that they had attached to Bite Face to track him. It is also cool to know that if they show his progress in a future show, one of the lines will cross where I saw him. :)

We left for home following the morning drives and have a rough patch of choppy water to look forward to. I’m writing this as we make our slow way north across the Pacific. I can honestly say that there are four events in my life that top my list. The first would be my wedding with really, a tied two and three being the births of my kids. Close behind would be this trip. I was a little worried that I’d be petrified of going into the water with the sharks but I didn’t have even a lick of fear. The sharks are obviously curious about we monkey folks in the cage – why would they stick around if they weren’t?

They certainly did not make any attempts to harm us and I didn’t hesitate to hang my arms out of the cage to hold my camera for a better picture. That said, I wasn’t stupid – – – no dangling legs over the side of the cage, for example.

Final Tally on how many hours I dove – – 15.5 hours!

My favorite Martin Graf quote – Sharks are like babies. There are only two types of items to a shark — things that fit in their mouth and things that might.

Guest Blogger Kristine MacKain: Cool Oaxaca Blog (Part 3 – Final)

This is the final installment of our friend Kristine’s Cool Oaxaca Blog—¡qué sonido tan triste cuando se acaba! She’s given us a wonderful glimpse into life in Mexico; we hope to see more of her soon. ¡Muchas gracias, Kristine!

Saludos a todos,

Lola

Rescuing A Oaxacan Native

Oaxaca from rear copy
Oaxaca, skin and bones...

Interesting developments here. We have been helping Rebecca (our property owner and wife of Tony) rescue a dog (Rebecca rescues animals and has a full blown operation going here at the farm where we’re staying). Over the last three weeks now, we’ve been searching for the dog in our car. When we find her, we coax her to eat (we carry cans of dog food in our trunk). The dog is a female, very gentle and shy, easily dominated by other dogs, and was literally starving before Rebecca and her “team” (us and our neighbor, Mary) went to work to save her. We’ve been able to get medicine for worms and fleas into her food and wiped some disinfectant on her for the flies that had taken up residence on her back. We’ve watched her go from too afraid to approach us at all, to approaching and quickly wolfing down the food and then running away, to eating while we touch her a little bit, to taking food out of my hand ever so gently.

Three days ago she ran up to us with confidence and wolfed down the food. Two days ago when Rebecca left in her car after feeding her, the dog ran after her car! Later that morning, after three weeks of gaining her trust, Rebecca and the Vet were able to put a leash on her and carry her to their car. The Vet examined her carefully and said she was about 1.5 years old and has had at least one litter of puppies. She has lost her front teeth, probably, the Vet said, from trying to eat rocks for sustenance. They were her permanent teeth so they will not grow back.  But otherwise her health is fine, and he has already had her vaccinated and spayed!

I’m besotted with the dog now — we already have a name for her….Oaxaca. I think that may be a cheesy name if she stayed here in the state of Oaxaca, but in Guanajuato, it will be a cool name.

Well, at this moment I am waiting for our new dog, Oaxaca, to be delivered by the Vet. Our mutual adjustment period is about to begin….

Megan House and a Dog Named Oaxaca

O's first morning at the casita
Oaxaca's first morning at the casita.

Oaxaca, the dog we recently rescued from the streets, easily adapted to being in our casita but spent most of her first days in her bed. One morning, while I was working at my desk in the living room, I heard growling and hissing coming from the kitchen, then a scramble—I looked up to see two cats dashing toward the bedroom followed (too closely) by a big white blur nipping at their heels. The dog and cats are now at a standoff.  No more feeding the cats in the kitchen. Even when her bowl is empty, Oaxaca patrols that kitchen entry like a sentry. Having said that, Oaxaca is not a neurotic dog and her transition to civilized life has been very fast, indeed. The first two days with us she inhaled her food (I didn’t hear ANY chewing!) but once the food began to appear on a regular schedule, she started to eat normally.

She was a bit slow to respond to affection, though. We petted her but she just looked at us rather blankly, her tail tucked between her legs. I imagined she’d learned not to trust the behavior of humans, even acts of kindness.

Rebecca who, with her husband, Tony, own 40 acres of property in the countryside just outside the city of Oaxaca, has been running an animal rescue operation on her property for several years. She has rescued large and small animals– horses and burros, cats and dogs. To date, she has two kittens and four puppies waiting to be adopted and has kept for herself eight adult dogs (because adult dogs are almost impossible to place in homes). She calls her business “Megan House” in memory of her first and most beloved dog, Megan, a German Shepard with a great personality that she rescued from the streets of her pueblo.

Washing a rescued dog.
Washing a rescued dog.

Rebecca and Tony live on the outskirts of San Pablo Etla and, like many pueblos in Mexico, the village is filled with stray dogs roaming the streets in search of food. Some of the dogs are in bad shape, like Oaxaca, and when Rebecca identifies one of those dogs, she and her local Mexican Vet, Luciano, go into high gear. They begin by feeding the dog and gaining its trust, often mixing medicine into the dog’s food. Eventually, they transport the dog to the Vet’s office where it is spayed and further treated, as needed. Sometimes the dog is released back onto the streets but if a dog is too ill, Rebecca takes it to her kennel at home. Occasionally, it becomes part of her family. As a result of their efforts, this team of two has transformed the pueblo—improving the lives of many dogs and preventing overpopulation through spaying.

To call Rebecca’s dog rescue operation a business is a bit of a stretch; in fact, it is a charity, financed by Rebecca and Tony. The word has gotten out about Rebecca’s efforts and now people regularly bring her animals they find discarded on the streets, such as puppies and kittens too young to survive without their mothers. The GOOD news is folks also regularly appear at Megan House looking to adopt animals.

I think you have to be a bit crazy, as well as a saint, to do the work Rebecca does. She is totally focused and will not retreat from any dog who needs her help. Mexicans generally care for their pets but in one instance, Rebecca found a sick dog, owned by a local family, who was being terribly neglected. Instead of turning her attention elsewhere, she engaged Luciano (the Vet) as cultural mediator and translator and approached the family about their dog’s poor condition. She offered to pay for the medical treatment the dog needed and later, when the dog was on the mend, she and Luciano educated the family in how to care properly for it. Now that takes chutzpah!

On our third day with our new dog, we took Oaxaca for a walk. As we made our way up a hill, I walked ahead of Cedric and Oaxaca, who was on a leash. Oaxaca began to whine, clearly not

Oaxaca's first walk.
Oaxaca's first walk.

wanting to be separated. Other than growling at the cats, that was the first time I’d heard her voice.

Later that afternoon, I was working at my desk and Oaxaca was, as usual, lying in her bed. After awhile, I felt a nose pushing its way under my right arm. I looked down. It was Oaxaca. She was wagging her tail.  I got down on the floor and folded my entire body over hers, giving her a big bear hug. She groaned, wagging her tail faster, then let out a big sigh. I think that was the moment we fell in love. When I rescued Oaxaca, I was so focused on what I was doing for the dog that I did not realize what the dog was doing for me.

Now our vacation is over and Oaxaca is back home with us in San Miguel de Allende. On our vacation, we visited an archeological site and explored some artisan villages but we didn’t go birding and we never made it to the coast. We were too busy spending time with wonderful people and learning about their lives in Oaxaca—Rebecca and Tony, Mary and Bill, and Penny and Victor (who are in the process of buying a house near Casa Raab). We learned all about homemade mezcal distilling and hiked through Tony’s maguey fields. And then there were those gigs, singing and playing the bass with the Bodega Boys.  You can use a guidebook to help shape your trip, but you won’t find any of these adventures in a guidebook.

Most important, there was the business of rescuing our new dog, Oaxaca. We always knew we would be bringing home crafts and things from our travels—you know, rugs and pottery and stuff.  But we never imagined we’d be bringing home a dog!

Pantera, a rescued cat.
Pantera, a rescued cat.
Waiting for a home.
Waiting for a home.
Dickens, another rescued cat.
Dickens, another rescued cat.

Guest Blogger Kristine MacKain: Cool Oaxaca Blog (Part 2)

Please enjoy Part 2 of Kristine’s take on life in Mexico—we’re sure you’ll enjoy it as much as we did! Stay tuned for Part 3 tomorrow!

Lola

Could We Live Here?

We’ve seen amazing places, met artisans who do excellent work, even bonded with our taxi driver, Lupe, who sometimes takes us to the city.

The road from Bill and Mary's to our casita.
The road from Bill and Mary’s to our casita.

We’ve also met a number of people we REALLY like who are living here. In fact, we think WE want to live here! The owner of this property has land for sale and the views are stunning. We’d have to sell our house and we’re not sure we want to do that yet but we’re looking into it. We could buy land, build the house just to our specs, and live off the grid. I love Oaxaca; there is something mystical about this place:  the valleys circled by high mountains here, the way the mountains shift colors during the day, shifting from shades of green to dark blue by evening, the gray mist that settles over the meadows in early morning—it is truly stunning. The city of Oaxaca is messier and not nearly as charming as a place like San Miguel de Allende and it’s generally a poorer, dirtier place in the suburbs and villages (pueblos) surrounding the city. Also, there is poorer communication (as in no local papers and little formal gringo organization). But the setting is to die for. Also, the birding is fantastic–a testament to the great natural habitats here. Our neighbors, Bill and Mary, have counted 250 different bird species in their back garden!!

We had such an amazing time yesterday at a mercado about 25 miles from here –it was the best mercado I’ve visited outside Morocco — a Zapotec pueblo (in the rug weaving region) called Tlacolula (get your tongue round that!).

Zapotec Indian women in native dress dominated the scene along with live turkeys, oxen harnesses, baby chicks, goats, handmade pottery, and mezcal demonstrations, as well as a cornucopia of fruits and vegetables. You had to buy everything by the kilo and it was always the same price–20 pesos. We figured we got over $60 worth of fruit and veggies for about $12. The groceries were so heavy that Cedric had to make two trips to the car! We’ll never eat it all. We asked for one mango but were told it was five mangoes or nothing!

There was an incredibly beautiful church adjacent to the mercado that was filled with people wandering in and out. Walking out of the church we almost ran into a middle-class woman carrying a live turkey in a bag, its head bobbing back and forth in consternation. Mexican folk songs were being played and some guys were singing along. The experience was SO foreign– a mix of Mexican and Zapotec and not one sighting of gringos (except us) to corrupt the authenticity of the scene.

Thinking later about the chaotic, vibrant, messy, startling experiences in the mercado, and how strangely excited and satisfied I was having wandered through all that, I wondered what it was about Target and Home Depot that was so mind numbing, so excruciatingly BORING.

Church shrine in Tlacolula.
Church shrine in Tlacolula.
Tlacolula pueblo church.
Tlacolula pueblo church.
Woman buying tortillas at the mercado.
Woman buying tortillas at the mercado.
Waiting to be lunch...
Main dish waiting for pick-up…
"Turkey to go"
"Turkey to go"
Corn on the cob, mercado style.
Corn on the cob, mercado style.
"Moto taxi" in San Pablo Etla, "our" pueblo.
“Moto taxi” in San Pablo Etla, “our” pueblo.

New Guest Blogger + Cool Oaxaca Blog (Part 1): Welcome, Kristine!

¡Buenas tardes a todos! I want to introduce a new guest blogger, Kristine MacKain, who has some great—and fun—stuff to share with us about life in Mexico. We’re always happy to hear positive things about this country we love so much, and hope it inspires more of you to come visit.

Here’s a little bit about her:

Kristine MacKain, Ph.D. is a former research scientist and speech pathologist, now retired and living in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico. She and her husband, Cedric Johnson, are happiest when they are traveling, seeking adventure, and learning about world cultures and how other people live. Cedric says that each time Kris visits a beautiful and interesting place, she wants to live there. Consequently, he’s learned never to attach himself too firmly to their home base!

And here’s the start of her contribution (it’s a long story, so we’ve decided to blog it up over the next few days, so stay tuned for more adventures—and pics—from Kristine!)

Oaxaca, Mezcal, and the Local Gringo Band

Less than a month ago, my husband, Cedric, and I rolled into Casa Raab, our Oaxaca farm destination just outside Oaxaca City. We drove down from our home in San Miguel de Allende (SMA) on the Arco Norte, a new expressway that avoids Mexico City, passing through the city of Puebla, then dropping south through slate blue mountains into the state of Oaxaca.

We are renting out our SMA home right now, and we were planning on a quiet month in the country, following the suggestions in our guidebook: doing some birding and taking some trips to the coast, touring archeological sites and artisan villages. Venturing into unknown territory, however, we could not have imagined the adventures that awaited us.

ccCasa Raab guest bottling mezcalThe road into the property was dirt, rutted and bumpy. Close to the main house, four gringos crowded together outside behind a tall, narrow rustic bar-height table bent intently over a collection of tall glass bottles as one of them poured clear liquid through a plastic funnel.

“Hey, glad ya made it,” said the guy doing the pouring. “I’m Tony,” (our host and property owner)

“What are you guys doing?” I asked.

“Oh, we’re in the process of bottling some homemade mezcal.”

bbTony at his homemade mezcal distillery
Photo by Jeff Charles

We followed Tony to the casita with our luggage, and he got right down to business: “Why don’t you two unpack later and join us right now for some mezcal tastings?” We were tired after the 7-hour drive, but we had just read a very interesting article in the New York Times pronouncing mezcal as “the next big thing” and describing it as “complex, gorgeous and endlessly intriguing, distinguished like great wines by a strong sense of place.” The place to which the author was referring, of course, was Oaxaca. How could we refuse?

Mezcal is crafted by hand almost exclusively by small, homegrown distilaamaguey crop for mezcalleries, and Oaxaca has more mezcal distilleries than anywhere else in Mexico. The drink is made from various species of the agave plant, called “maguey” in Spanish. It has a smoky flavor and tastes vaguely like single-malt scotch. We were anxious to try it.

Relaxing at the mezcal bar with Tony and his guests, we learned that the guests were from Washington D.C., and had been to Casa Raab several times, seeking adventure in the machinations of a homegrown mezcal operation. They hoped to become mezcal connoisseurs and introduce several types of mezcal to their friends back in D.C.

We found we could quickly discriminate between mezcals that had been aged for several years and those more recently produced; mezcals also differ in color from clear (recent) to caramel (aged, in oak barrels).

Tony has a band called The Bodega Boys, a revolving group of guys and gals who live part of the year in Oaxaca, and  play each week at the mezcal bottling site. Would we like to join them in their next jamming session? Well, we didn’t sing or play an instrument but Tony said that didn’t matter, just show up!

Tony's top drawer mezcalAfter four samplings of mezcal (we really can’t remember), we were making our way back to our casita when Cedric said: “Now THAT wasn’t in the brochure!”

A week later Cedric had to go back to the states for a few days and Tony asked me to come watch his band. There was no audience but me so they talked me into singing with them!  (This was much easier once I’d had a few mezcals). I even played the tambourine. We sang for THREE hours. They asked how long it had been since I’ve sung with a group and I said, “About 45 years….” (I think that was the madrigal group in high school). Two weeks later, the band had Cedric playing the bass.

The most fun aspect of travel, I think, is the unexpected. As I planned this vacation, could I have possibly imagined that Cedric and I would be drinking homemade mezcal, singing and playing the bass with a bunch of guys in a local band??

ADVENTURE AND EXCITEMENT ABOUND IN MEXICO

kayak

MEXICO CITY, September 21, 2010 – While relaxing by the beach will always remain a popular vacation activity, tourists in Mexico are increasingly seeking hands-on vacations involving the search for adventure. And why wouldn’t they? Mexico is one of the world’s best places for rock climbing, rappelling, rafting, snorkeling and bungee jumping, among other high-energy activities. Whether the activities are land-based, sea-based or in the air, Mexico’s unspoiled natural surroundings, diverse geography and breathtaking scenery offer endless possibilities.

From cycling in Baja California 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. However, a must-visit locale for thrill seekers is Xplor, a unique underground world located in Riviera Maya. Xplor features 13 zip lines, which whisk riders through Mexico’s lively natural surroundings or splash them down in a refreshing water landing. Adventure enthusiasts can also enjoy Xplor’s amphibious vehicles, its stalactite rivers or its underground raft excursions.

If a traveler is feeling particularly plucky, they can take a trip to Guadalupe Island, one of USA Today’s “10 great places to swim with sharks.” In fact, due to its crystal-clear blue waters, Guadalupe Island is among the best locations in the world to photograph and film the enormous great whites.

Other locations that get the heart pumping are Acapulco’s Zona Dorada where one can enjoy the Skycoaster, a thrilling ride that swings you back and forth like a human pendulum; Aguascalientes’ Tunel de Potrerillo, whose dirt roads, trails and downhill runs are perfect to experience the thrill of mountain biking; and Guadalajara’s Lago de Chapala where extreme sports such as hang gliding and kite surfing are the norm. To unwind, Pachuca’s Ex-Hacienda of Acapulco offers amazing hot air balloon rides — an exciting way to end the day.

Can’t get enough adventure? Mexico has more than plenty of activities for every traveler:

Mountain Climbing and Rappelling

Ain’t no mountain high enough you say? Then you haven’t seen the volcanoes in Puebla. Not for the faint of heart, the Peak of Orizaba (also known as Citlaltepetl) is the highest mountain in Mexico and the third-highest in North America, soaring 18,490 feet above the colonial city of Puebla. Puebla also houses the Jamapa Glacier and Espolon de Oro, where only the most advanced hikers make it. Other popular volcanoes for climbing in Mexico are the Iztaccihuatl in Puebla, also known as the “sleeping maiden” as it resembles a reclining figure with curves, as well as the Nevado de Toluca, a snow-capped volcano near Mexico City.

Apart from shimmying up volcanoes, other popular climbing destinations are Sierra La Giganta in Loreto, the Sierra Norte in Oaxaca State, La Peña and Peñon del Diablo in Valle de Bravo and the Sierra Madre Oriental in Nuevo Leon State near Monterrey.

Ain’t No Canyon Low Enough

Canyoneering (also known as “canyoning”) involves traveling down narrow waterways in canyons by rappelling, jumping, swimming and scaling slippery surfaces. The sport has quickly gained momentum all over the world, with Mexico being one of the best places to take the plunge. Some great canyoneering locations include Copper Canyon in the Sierra Madre Occidental mountain range in Chihuahua and the Matacanes Canyon and Potrero Chico Canyon in the Sierra Madre Oriental Mountains in Monterrey, Nuevo Leon.

Hiking and Backpacking

The mild climate and rocky mountains of the central Mexican state of Guanajuato make it a popular destination for hiking and backpacking. Just 15 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 tour guides employed by the preserve offer their expertise in the areas of botany, bird migration and the area’s flora and fauna. Furthermore, Las Palomas’ mountainous terrain is the perfect setting for mountain biking and camping.

Cycling

Cycling is a wonderful way to get to know Mexico! The country offers everything from short bike hikes through archaeological sites to grueling mountain biking and backcountry camping combinations. The beautiful bay, awe-inspiring landscapes and rainforests surrounding the Pacific resort city of Puerto Vallarta, provide the ideal setting for the ultimate mountain biking experience.

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 on Sept. 25 this year and on May 11, 2011. The “Rosarito Ensenada Bike Ride” is one of the largest and longest-running cycling events in the world, whose 50-mile course offers spectacular views of the Pacific coastline.

Ride ‘Em Cowboy!

Mexico boasts countless parks, wildlife reserves and beaches where horses are available for organized tours or rent. Longer organized cavalcades are common in the states of Sonora, Jalisco, Chihuahua and Veracruz, just to name a few.

Up, Up and Away

What better way to see Mexico than with a bird’s eye view? Paragliding has become tremendously popular in Mexico, with Mexicans and foreigners alike flocking to places like Valle de Bravo in Mexico State and Lake Chapala to enjoy the country’s lush scenery from above.

Getting Your Feet Wet

Veracruz State, which borders the Gulf of Mexico, is the ideal destination for whitewater rafting. With more than 40 rivers, including the popular Rio Actopan and Tio Antigua, Veracruz offers Class II and Class IV rapids. Most tour operators combine rafting with camping, hiking, visits to quaint towns and dips in nearby hot springs.

A great way to experience Mexico’s exotic marine life is through sea kayaking. Kayaking and camping adventures are available out of Loreto and La Paz on the Sea of Cortes (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. Other wonderful places to kayak include the Mayan canals in the Sian Ka’an Biosphere Reserve in Riviera Maya, the mangroves of Lake Sontecomapan, the Balsas River in Michoacan and the Isla de Monos (Monkey Island) and Laguna Escondida (Hidden Lagoon) in Veracruz.

Puerto 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. Isla Mujeres, another spot in Mexico to make the list of USA Today’s “10 great places to swim with sharks,” is the perfect destination to swim with the largest fish in the sea, the gentle whale shark.

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. Referred to by French oceanographer Jacques Cousteau as “The World’s Aquarium,” the waters that make up the Sea of Cortes 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, whose cenotes (sinkholes) are increasingly favored by divers and Cozumel, Mexico’s largest island renowned for its underwater clarity and beautiful coral reefs.

Don’t Break a Sweat

Strenuous activities aren’t for everyone. For those who like adventure without the physical challenges, Mexico offers an interesting variety of activities. El Chepe is a 400-mile train ride between Chihuahua City and Los Mochis in Sinaloa State, where travelers can marvel at Mexico’s gorgeous landscapes. The train climbs as high as 8,000 feet above sea level and passes over 37 bridges throughout 86 tunnels, stopping in tiny towns on the rims of majestic canyons.

About the Mexico Tourism Board

The Mexico Tourism Board (MTB) brings together the resources of federal and state governments, municipalities and private companies to promote Mexico’s tourism attractions and destinations internationally. Created in 1999, the MTB functions as an executive agency of Mexico’s Tourism Secretariat, with autonomous management and the broad participation of the private sector. The MTB has offices throughout North America, Europe, Asia and Latin America.