Ecotourism in Mexico is a growing in popularity. There are eco chic areas like Tulum where people stay in hotels without electricity. Then there are eco tours to cenotes, diving and natural places here in the Rivera Maya. But even as ecotourism gains in the travel sector there is a lot that needs to be done. In this article we mention some practical things we all can do on vacation that makes us more eco friendly.
Being green, carbon footprint, yada yada yada, we hear this all the time now and we may tune out this. We may think we know everything about it and in the end many of us just like the comforts of vacation and don’t want to think about being eco conscience. There is no way that we can have NO impact on the local environment while on vacation. There are however many levels that each of us can do to help keep a place healthy and beautiful for years to come.
Ecotourism in Mexico
On a recent trip to a very remote jungle area it stuck us just how pristine everything was and how everything in nature works in harmony. Many of us find it hard to believe that streams can be clean enough to drink from and you can eat things off a tree. We have gotten so used to the idea of water coming from a bottling plant and food being wrapped in plastic.
When we contaminate an area it may take hundreds of years to be clean again, and that is if everything stops from polluting it. Once an environment is changed, some animals are extinct or missing from it, the area and the eco system of harmony goes in decline. Sure many areas look nice and can seem perfectly clean, but what we don’t realize is how it looked before and how even more spectacular it was.
Most of us come from industrialized countries and the natural landscape where we live has been changed hundreds of years ago by the human touch. In Mexico there are areas that have not been touched or changed too much and are in a delicate balance. It is up to all of us to decide if we want to support ecotourism in Mexico by keeping them beautiful or mindlessly turn attention away from how we are possibly hurting and destroying the very thing that we find attractive now.
Cultural tourism and travel
Not only can we be destroying the natural environment, we can also can be attributing to the cultural destruction of a local area. The peoples of the world have developed cultures and individual ways of living in a certain area over thousands of years. There is much wisdom in the use of local plants, ways of doing things and diet that we all can learn from. Most of us like to go to a different place on vacation because it is different.
The world is loosing its identity and a homogenous culture is emerging. People shop in supermarkets with products made in other parts of the world, eat the same types of food that is processed in a factory somewhere, and expect all the same comforts of home in every place they go. In the end some of us look around and wonder how we got to where we are now. We are so far removed from nature and small as it might seem sometimes, we have changed the environment around us.
For the most part, we humans have killed off much of the natural cycles of the world and the way we live kills off local culture and large corporations feed and cloth us. We have to appreciate and learn about the intricacies of nature and local culture before it is destroyed and we never get a chance to see it, let alone learn about it. There is so much to discover that it would take more than a lifetime to understand.
So it comes down to each of us to learn to leave as little of a footprint on the world as we travel and support local cultures because unbeknownst we can be destroying it. We all can vote with our money and decisions we take and can be actively supporting the preservation of beautiful natural areas and cultures. We discuss below how we can support the local culture and the environment.
How can we support local culture when we travel?
When you visit the Rivera Maya you may feel like you are in a different country but it is very sanitized in culture from what it used to be. We have access to many of the same products, movies, foods and for the most part, many all inclusive hotels could be in any sunny beach area of the world. You would not know what country you are in many times.
Of course we like ease of travel when we go away and we want to feel comfortable, but we also go to a different place to experience it because it is different from home. There is a world of new taste, sounds and smells that await all of us. Many of them we find pleasant and interesting. By exploring and keeping cultures alive, we help others experience it as well and help keep diversity in the world.
Here are some ways we can support local culture to help preserve it
Buy local arts and crafts from artisans.
Usually smaller stores or visiting smaller villages will enable you to buy more directly from the artist. This promotes the financial possibilities to keep traditions alive and people can afford to spend time making traditional crafts rather then looking for other work. This also means respecting the time it takes to make items some items and be willing to pay for the time and artistry that went into it. One store in Playa Del Carmen that is good to check out is El Jaguar Dorado.
Visit on your own or take a tour that highlights the local Mayan culture.
One ecotourism tour companies we like is Bikers Zaci. Bikers Zaci does bike tours around the colonial city of Valladolid and to Mayan villages. They help clean trails and promote eco tourism in Mexico.
Have an appreciation for local food and seek it out.
You may have cravings for some of your favorite foods but perhaps taking the time to have a meal or two that is more local can be good. For example looking for a place that serves handmade tortillas will not only taste better but you are increasing the demand and appreciation for the local art of tortilla making.
Don’t forget Mezcal and Tequila are artisanal Mexican beverages!
See, being culturally sensitive can be fun! You get to try new things and who knows, you just might love it!
Visiting cultural events and festivals helps show that there is an appreciation for them and people keep the culture alive.
For example around Halloween there is the Mayan celebration of Hanal Pixan. Each year the tour company allTOURnative sets up an event to visit a local community and experience this ancient festival.
How to support the local environment when visiting the Riviera Maya?
Like we said above it is impossible not to impact the environment but it is up to us to lessen that impact. There are all levels to which we help out. Here is a long list of things that we can do to help preserve the local environment. This is what we all can do to support ecotourism in Mexico and in particular the Riviera Maya.
Visit cenotes, beach parks, dive and snorkeling tours and natural preserves.
By paying to see nature you help people see the need to conserve natural areas and show that it is a sustainable source of income for people. Locals will have more an appreciation for keeping clean and preserving areas. Some of the great areas to visit are Sian Ka’an, Punta Laguna, Isla Contoy, Calakmul Biosphere Reserve, and the Rio Lagartos area to name a few.
Try staying at a smaller hotel and a non all inclusive hotel.
By doing this you will be eating out at local restaurants. It is not guaranteed this will be better for the environment but in general the food that is served at all inclusive hotels is bought in bulk and even though they have “local food” or “Mexican” it is dumbed down for tourist. Much of the food is institutionalized and you are getting food made in a factory or large scale farm.
Use biodegradable bug spray and sun lotion.
This is a big one because most people don’t realize all those chemicals and oils ruin small enclosed places like cenotes. No one likes to see a film of oil on the water. The chemicals damage the environment in cenotes and this is the same water that people use from wells in the Yucatan Peninsula. All cenotes and eco parks have signs requesting people to use biodegradable things and some even request the use of no sun creams, regular or biodegradable. It is also good policy in the ocean as well. So for your vacation here just plan ahead and bring it or plan on buying it here on 5th Avenue or in a super market. They are readily available.
Don’t support seeing animals out of their natural habitats.
Try to visit animals in their natural areas and support conservation of those habitats.
Try to reduce making trash.
You can do this by eating in restaurants and not having carryout, not using plastic straws, reuse plastic water bottles a few times and refill them. Many smaller hotels will have a water station for filling up water bottles.
Do not buy souvenirs of shells, starfish, endangered animals, cultural artifacts, or non sustainable products.
Instead look for local made products that are made and sold directly by the artisans. This may be hard but they can usually be found in smaller shops and in more remote smaller towns. Where ever possible we recommend these types of stores. We mention interesting stores for you to check out where you can find locally made products. You can find some of these stores in our shopping guide.
In your hotel you can reduce your impact on the environment by using less energy.
Moderate your use of air conditioning and turn it off when not in the room. Use towels more than once and only request housekeeping services when necessary.
One the beach don’t use glass containers that can break and take all your trash with you!
If you smoke, take your butts with you. Not only is it disgusting to see on the beach but also the chemicals in the cigarettes is bad for the environment.
Plan on taking a plastic bag with you to the beach or to a natural spot.
Not only for your own trash but for picking up a little trash and leaving the area cleaner than you found it. This is a great idea when you visit some of the remote beaches because plastics wash up from floating around the ocean and land here. There are no hotels providing cleaning for beaches and lending little help will make it a better place.
Eating food that is from the region supports local farmers and reduces the impact of importing food from far away places. Enjoy the regional cuisine and create demand for it. The more people that ask for local things, the more it will be offered. You will also get to learn about new foods like chaya and achiote by asking for local cuisine. See our article about Mayan and Yucatecan food.
We can all do our part for ecotourism in Mexico
We all can have a positive impact on the local culture and environment. Small steps to lessen our impact and help preserve the magnificent culture and surroundings in Mexico.
Do you have some tips you would like to add to this list? Feel free to comment below. We would love to hear from you.
If you like supporting local businesses and traveling to local areas, you might like to read our article on Via Neshima Guesthouse. It is a good place to base yourself for exploration in the Southern Yucatan.
See also our article on overtourism and how we can prevent tourism from becoming a bad thing in the Riviera Maya.