Mexico’s rapidly eroding security situation has attracted more negative press and fewer international visitors over the last few years.
Millions of foreigners certainly still travel to the country each year, although they mostly confine themselves to the self-contained beach resorts, which provide little opportunity for exploring or exposure to Mexican culture.
For the more independent-minded and adventurous traveler, the choice is not limited to venturing into narco-cartel dominated regions and lawless border towns or succumbing to the gringo ghettos of resorts such as Cabo San Lucas and Cancun. After all, Mexico is a huge country. And just as wildfires in California wouldn’t keep you from visiting Vermont, nor should horrific headlines from Juarez keep you from exploring the jungles and ruins of Chiapas. Thus, I present below four unique and off-the-tourist-trail destinations where personal safety should not be a concern.
• Sian Ka’an: About 150 miles south of Cancun, lies this biosphere reserve dedicated to preserving the jungles and marshes which have largely disappeared from the region due to four decades of overdevelopment. With over one million acres of forest hugging the Caribbean coast, opportunities for wildlife spotting, snorkeling, and fishing are ample. But perhaps the most compelling reason to visit is the chance to enjoy the Yucatan Peninsula’s last great swath of protected habitat in almost complete solitude.
• Yaxchilan: Mexico may be flush with stunning Mayan sites, but when your first encounter is of a giant parking lot filled with cruise ship- and resort-operated tour buses, a bit of the romance is certainly lost. No such worries with the ancient city of Yaxchilan. As impressive as these ruins and their lush jungle setting are, it is almost as equally impressive how refreshingly crowd-free the site is. This is because the only way in is via an hour-long motorized canoe trip up the Usmacinta River (which serves as the border between Mexico and Guatemala). And as is so often the case, the journey can be as rewarding as the destination.
• Hierve el Agua: Looming over the Oaxacan hillside, Hierve el Agua appears from the distance to be a frozen waterfall or an enormous melted candle. In fact, this formation was created by thousands of years’ worth of minerals, fed from springs above, encrusting the cliff-face. A short hike will take you up to these mineral-rich springs, where you can bathe at the edge of the cliff, taking in the countryside below.
• Mexcaltitan: Sometimes referred to as the Venice of Mexico, Mexcaltitan is a man-made island located in a lagoon in the western state of Nayarit. Like Venice, the town is car-free and the streets are prone to flooding; unlike Venice it is virtually free of any tourist infrastructure, or tourists for that matter. According to legend, and some archeologists, this is the birthplace of the Aztecs, and thus the Mexican people. So, although short on any true sightseeing spots, the point of visiting the island is to soak up its atmosphere and languid pace while feeling connected to the country’s rich history.
Flickr photo by Fredo in (((Stereo)))