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Destination Dispatch: Chiapas

Destination Dispatch: Chiapas

MexicoPremiere contributor Greg Custer, a Mexico expert in his own right, sent us his thoughts on his latest visit to this magical country: a trip through Chiapas, one of the country’s many hidden gems. ¡Gracias for sharing, Greg!

A recent visit to Mexico’s southernmost State reinforces why Chiapas is one of this hemisphere’s grandest nature + culture experiences. Bordered by Veracruz, Tabasco, Oaxaca and Guatemala and spanning Mexico’s narrow southern waist, Chiapas combines pine forest highlands, steamy jungle lowlands, wild rivers, alpine lakes, deep canyons, and a slice of little-explored Pacific Coast. It’s also the heartland of Mexico’s Mayan patrimony.

Historically, Chiapas has attracted only veteran Mexico travelers, Europeans, and backpackers on their way to Central America. Today it’s an easier-than-ever open-jaw itinerary using Houston non-stops into Villahermosa and returning from Tuxtla-Gutierrez.

Destination Dispatch: Chiapas

A typical SIX DAY jaunt begins by landing in Villahermosa (VSA; United has non-stop service from HOU; otherwise connect via MEX). It’s an easy, flat 90 minutes to the town of Palenque, and another 5 short kms to the Palenque archaeological site. There’s non-stop bus service from the airport to Palenque city (fare is around $17US). Stay in the ‘La Cañada’ area, home to a jungle-shaded, gentrified collection of good eats, coffee shops and small inns. (Palenque city has limited attractions beyond its leafy parks.) We stayed comfortably at Maya Tulipanes.

DAY ONE: Take a full day to immerse your soul in Palenque, the apogee of western Mayan architectural refinement. The jungle hillside setting is breathtaking. An English-speaking guide can divide your visit between the unexcavated jungle ruins, the regal central courtyard of palaces and temples, followed by a downhill, suspension bridge, waterfall path to the site’s excellent museum. Palenque’s importance to Mayan scholars cannot be overstated. It is here they found not only towering structures and Egyptian-like tombs, but a nearly uninterrupted record of the site’s powerful dynastic rulers. Studies will continue for decades-to-come and a day visit leaves you wanting more.

DAY TWO: Within reach from Palenque city are a host of nature and cultural attractions. Most opt for the waterfalls at Misol-há and the turquoise waters of stunning Agua Azul. When visiting from November to May, witness the 15 km-long river’s transformation from rainy season cappuccino hues to dry season’s brilliant blues, greens and frothy white cascades, which are the result of bicarbonate minerals that alter refracted sunlight. You can wander upstream to the river’s source, past vendors, restaurants and quiet alcoves. There are other daytrip options (and overnight journeys) exploring lowland ruins, villages and nature reserves.

Destination Dispatch: Chiapas

Destination Dispatch: Chiapas

DAY THREE: After travelling the sinuous two-lane highway south from Palenque to Ocosingo, you’ll swear there was a Mayan God of the Speed Bump (‘topes’ in Spanish). The road (regardless of whether you use private driver or deluxe bus) is tortuous. ‘Topes’ (the tall ones, not the smaller ‘vibrador’ variety) appear with a maddening frequency like no other route in the Americas. Take Dramamine (and your sense of humor) to compensate. You’re rewarded handsomely some upon reaching Ocosingo and a short jaunt east to Toniná.

Destination Dispatch: Chiapas

This little-visited site belongs in anyone’s TOP FIVE Mesoamerican experiences. Spanning a towering series of Machu Picchu-like terraces are temples, stela, carved stone walls, residences and pyramids, all climber accessible. A mere 30-40 people tour the site each day! The structure towers 75 meters (246 feet) and is now crowned as the tallest in all of Mexico. It had been thought the Toniná acropolis was built atop an existing hill. In 2015 scientists announced the massive structure was in fact entirely build by ancient inhabitants. “It’s a big surprise to see that the pyramid was done almost entirely by the architects and therefore is more artificial than natural” said Emiliano Gallaga, director of the site.

Destination Dispatch: Chiapas

Destination Dispatch: Chiapas

Destination Dispatch: Chiapas

After another two jarring hours of ‘topes’ your journey from jungle to highlands ends at magical 7,000-foot San Cristobal de las Casas. Rest at your hotel, then rally for an evening stroll along the city’s 16th century flagstone pedestrian arcades and marimba serenaded squares. (We enjoyed our stay at Las Escaleras, ten suites climbing a hillside a short walk to the main square. The lovely Parador San Juan de Dios is also highly recommended).

DAYS FOUR AND FIVE:

A walker’s delight, San Cristobal sits in a valley surrounded by pine forested mountains. Highland communities have occupied the region for millennia. Spanish San Cristobal dates to 1528, evident in the city’s handsome squares, Catholic temples, mansions, and red tiled roofs. It was a bastion of Indian conversion to European ways, a work-in-progress that yields both splendor and tragedy.

Across the Highlands, an ancient yet ‘contem­porary’ Mayan culture has survived, amidst a patchwork of independent, culturally distinct villages. Of the state’s 5.2 million inhabitants, nearly one million are Native Americans, descendants of the Maya and other ethnic groups. Much of the state’s history is centered on the subjugation of these people. Satellite communities west of San Cristobal are home to resettled and refuge-seeking Maya families, the sad reality of political, land rights, religious and international migration conflict across highland Chiapas.

Destination Dispatch: Chiapas

With a population now approaching 200,000, San Cristobal still feels like a village. A ‘Pueblo Mágico’ designation has brought gentrification and hip international dining. Take time to visit Casa Na Bolom, a step back in time homage to the Lancandon Forest and its ancestral inhabitants. Blocks away is the 12-rooom Parador San Juan de Díos, a series of lovely bungalows, an excellent gourmet restaurant and former home to the Harvard University’s Chiapas Project, a ground-breaking ethnographic field study. It ran from 1957 to 1980 and investigated social change across Mayan culture.

The region’s signature textiles are seen as daily garb and purchased at shops or mercados. The weaver cooperative Sna Jolobil is adjacent to the city’s fine Textile Museum, part of the Templo de Santo Domingo. Built between 1547-60, Santo Domingo’s baroque façade is of soft pink stone is resplendent, while the interior is exuberantly deco­rated with gilt retablos. Sna Jolobil supports some 800 weavers from twenty Tzotzil and Tzeltal-speaking communities.

Destination Dispatch: Chiapas

Destination Dispatch: Chiapas

Destination Dispatch: Chiapas

Day trips from San Cristobal highlight archaeological sites, traditional villages and nature’s splendor. Take in at least one of these opportunities when not shopping for ambar or sipping Mexico’s best coffee, relaxing in the city’s several plazas.

Have a few extra days? Chiapas is home to several of Mexico’s premier outdoor experiences. The Pacific coast (some 3.5 hours from San Cristobal to Puerto Arista) has largely unvisited stretches of beach, inter­rupted by an occasional fishing village. Highland attractions include North America’s only trop­ical rainforest, some of its deepest canyons and several wild, scenic rivers and lakes. Six of Mexico’s finest national parks and nature pre­serves are here, including Sumidero Canyon, El Triunfo, Agua Azul, and Lagunas de Mon­tebello.

DAY SIX

It’s a one-hour taxi to state capital Tuxtla-Gutierrez and its international airport (TGZ; United to Houston or connection via MEX). Descending over 5,000 feet from the Highlands via a modern autopista, contemplate one of this hemisphere’s most complex cultural corridors, and start planning your next visit.

Learn more at www.magicofmexico.com

(Text and photos: Greg Custer)

Good News For Acapulco’s Hotels and Beaches

The destination of Acapulco recently announced the recognition of two local hotels for their quality, safety and service. Representing the destination’s continued evolution as a leading touristic destination, the latest honors were awarded to Mundo Imperial Resort, a AAA Four Diamond property. Two of Acapulco’s beaches were also recognized for their appeal and cleanliness with the prestigious Blue Flag eco-award.

“We are thrilled that premiere hotels and distinct beaches have been recognized by prestigious international groups,” said Pedro Haces, president of the Acapulco Destination Marketing Office. “These accolades are a testament to Acapulco’s position as an ideal destination for travelers from all walks of life, including families and couples, seeking an unmatched beach holiday in an attractive, friendly and safe world-class destination.”

Acapulco’s Mundo Imperial Resort is less than two years old, but it has already made its mark as a top destination for travelers seeking the finest facilities and service. The latest award came in Spring 2016 from the American Automobile Association (AAA). The group gave the resort the esteemed Four Diamond ranking after onsite inspections demonstrated that the property had met the organization’s superior standards.

Mundo Imperial Resort in Acapulco joins an exclusive club of 152 hotels in Mexico that share the Four Diamond rating and is the third property in Acapulco to achieve the coveted certification. The destination is also home to two additional Four Diamond hotels, Las Brisas Acapulco and The Grand Mayan Acapulco, and one Five Diamond resort, the Banyan Tree Cabo Marques. Likewise, The American Academy of Hospitality Sciences bestowed the Five Star Diamond Award to Hotel Encanto thanks to its iconic architecture and the warmth and quality of its service.

The AAA organization ranks approximately 28,000 hotels annually in Canada, the United States and Mexico. A Four Diamond rating is given to refined, stylish hotels with extensive amenities, excellent hospitality and superb attention to detail, which places Mundo Imperial Resort in distinguished company.

Beyond Acapulco’s hotels, the Foundation for Environmental Education (FEE) has added two of Acapulco’s beaches, Revolcadero II and Icacos II, to its well-known eco-rating system, the Blue Flag program. Revolcadero II is popular among surfers searching for big Pacific swells. Icacos II is a family-friendly beach among locals and international travelers alike.

26 beaches in Mexico meet the FEE’s strict standards. Beaches in the Blue Flag program must meet more than 30 separate requirements. The standards include water quality, environmental care, teaching and security. Blue Flag has operated since 1985 and is now active in 48 countries.

Attractions in Acapulco

Acapulco is a quintessential destination that provides fun and unmatchable weather for the entire family. The beaches are ideal for lazing in the sun or getting out on the water. The city is also filled with history and legendary glamour. The colonial-era Fort of San Diego, now the most renowned museum filled with thousands of years of history in Acapulco, is an essential part of the destination’s architecture and a must-visit landmark.


La Quebrada, home to Acapulco’s world-famous cliff divers has become a symbol of the city that is as popular today as it was half a century ago. And you’ll never go hungry. Acapulco has a busy restaurant scene that blends five hundred years of Mexican culinary traditions and a global array of flavors. All of this and more make Acapulco the must-visit beach destination in Mexico.

 For more information about events, news and reservations visit www.visitacapulco.travel.

Stats Say Americans Find More Danger at Home than in Mexico

Today’s Travel News

Americans are less likely to face violence on average in Mexico than at home. According to a recent article by Lonely Planet travel writer, Robert Reid,  US statistical evidence shows that Americans are less likely to face violence on average in Mexico than at home, particularly when you zero in on Mexico’s most popular travel destinations.  Read more at MexicoToday.org.

 

 

WestJet Welcomes Expanded Canada-Mexico Air Agreement

Airline currently serves six beautiful sun destinations in Mexico
CALGARY /PRNewswire/ – WestJet today welcomed the announcement of an expanded air transport agreement between Canada and Mexico. WestJet is scheduled to fly non-stop 95 times per week to Mexico from 19 Canadian cities as part of its 2011-2012 winter schedule.

“Given that Mexico is a key part of our international air and vacation package strategy, we commend the Canadian and Mexican governments for their initiative and look forward to a completely open framework for non-stop flights between the two countries,” said Hugh Dunleavy, WestJet Executive Vice-President, Strategy and Planning. “With convenient, non-stop service to Cancun, Cozumel, Cabo San Lucas, Ixtapa/Zihuatanejo, Mazatlan and Puerto Vallarta, Mexico remains one of the most popular destinations for WestJet guests. This expanded air transport agreement lays the framework for future growth in both leisure and business travel, and we look forward to exploring new opportunities in this important international market.”

About WestJet
WestJet is Canada’s favourite airline, offering scheduled service throughout its 71-city North American and Caribbean network. Inducted into Canada’s Most Admired Corporate Cultures Hall of Fame and named one of Canada’s best employers, WestJet pioneered low-cost flying in Canada. WestJet offers increased legroom, leather seats and live seatback television provided by Bell TV on its modern fleet of 96 Boeing Next-Generation 737 aircraft. With future confirmed deliveries for an additional 39 aircraft through 2018, WestJet strives to be one of the five most successful international airlines in the world.

Mexican Tourism Positioned to Break Records in 2011

International arrival numbers in Mexico continue to soar

MEXICO CITY, July 18, 2011 /PRNewswire/ — From January to May 2011, the number of international visitors to Mexico grew 2.1 percent compared to the same period in 2010. In total, more than 9.5 million tourists have visited Mexico in the first five months of the year. These numbers clearly indicate that Mexico continues to be a destination of choice for millions of people around the world.

Of particular interest is that there was substantial growth emanating from Russia (58.1 percent), Brazil (40.9 percent), and China (32.8 percent) over the period.

At this rate, Mexico is expected to receive a record number of international foreign visitors, trumping its previous high of 22.4 million achieved in 2010.

The Mexico Tourism Board has been working with industry and the private sector to attract overseas attention and to build the necessary infrastructure to accommodate such numbers. These numbers are a testament to the great things that can be achieved when the public and private sectors collaborate.

 

Mexico Launches Mayan Tourism Campaign Through 2012

Cultural tourism predicted to increase to about 35 percent of Mexico’s total tourism revenue over the next eight years.

MEXICO CITY, July 1, 2011 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ — Mexican President Felipe Calderon announced the launch of “Mundo Maya 2012” (Mayan World 2012), a program to increase tourism and promote the Mayan Culture Legacy in Mexico through 2012.

“Today we are the 10th power for tourism in the world, and we are working hard to be in the top five,” Calderon said at the announcement of the campaign. “We want the world to know the splendors of the Mayan civilization, with the end goal of positioning Mexico as a privileged and unique touristic destination.”

Between now and Dec. 21, 2012, when the Mayan calendar officially ends, the Mexican government will promote a variety of events in southeastern Mexico’s “Mayan World,” made up of the states Campeche, Chiapas, Tabasco, Quintana Roo and Yucatan. This region is home to six of Mexico’s 27 UNESCO World Heritage sites, the most found in any one country.
“This effort looks to give an unprecedented boost to touristic activity in the country’s southeastern states, where this incredible civilization was established,” said Calderon. “We want tourists from Mexico and the world to know Mexico. We want them to explore the unrivaled riches that this magical region has to offer.”

An aggressive infrastructure investment in roads and facilities will improve access to the various archeological sites within Mexico’s Mayan World, as well as develop projects to better showcase the Mayan Culture Legacy. Among the many enhancement projects being developed throughout the country as part of this campaign, Mexico is building “Palace of Maya Civilization” and Museo del Mundo Maya. It is expected that “Palace of Maya Civilization” will capture 20 percent of the 4,000 tourists who visit the site of Chichen Itza daily, while the museum of Mundo Maya is expected to receive 300,000 visitors per year, according to projections of Cultur (Board Of Units Of Cultural And Tourist Services Of The State Of Yucatan). Similar infrastructure projects are expected to be developed in Chiapas, Campeche and Quintana Roo.
“The celebration of the end of the Mayan calendar’s cycle is an extraordinary opportunity to promote the great cultural, historical and human heritage that we posses,” said Mexico’s Secretary of Tourism Gloria Guevara Manzo. “We are so excited to share the unique Mayan culture with the world.”

Through hosting international expositions, conferences, and meetings with leading researchers and specialists, the government hopes to increase tourism to the region, which currently receives an average of 250,000 visitors a month. To improve the region’s cultural offerings, they will restore old archeological sites and open new ones, as well as promote dance festivals, concerts, theatrical performances and the region’s traditional gastronomy. The hope is that the increased tourism will create jobs and stimulate the region both economically and socially. 
This focused campaign supports Mexico’s ambitious goal of becoming one of the top-five most visited countries in the world. It is estimated that 52 million tourists will visit southeastern Mexico through 2012, spending approximately $23 million.