Report: Mexico City a rising tourism star

The newest list of North and Latin America travel hotspots is in — and it seems Mexico City tops the charts.

According to the folks over at, Mexico City experienced a 58 percent increase in tourists in 2009 over 2008– making it the fastest-growing travel destination. Other up-and-coming Latin American destinations include
Mariachi capital Guadalajara, Mexico (really?); cheap travel destination San Jose, Costa Rica; and Guatemala City, Guatemala, which filled out the remaining top four spots.

Los Angeles, CA; San Jose, CA; and Syracuse, NY experienced a zero increase in tourist visits, while around 80 cities, including Philadelphia, PA; Atlanta, GA and Washington, D.C., all saw a decrease in visits. The increase in foreign travel and decrease in domestic U.S. vacation getaways could speak to an increase in overall travel spending.

One surprise on the list? Despite a ubiquitous marketing campaign, Las Vegas saw a whopping -19 percent downturn in visitors in 2009. Perhaps what happens in Vegas … has lost its thrill for travelers.

[Photo by Flickr user gripso_banana_prune ]

Man arrested in Mexico smuggling 18 monkeys in his pants

Are those monkeys in your pocket, or are you just happy to see me?

A Mexican man was arrested upon arrival in Mexico City after flying from Lima, Peru with 18 titi monkeys strapped around his waist. While the monkeys traveled in his luggage, Roberto Sol Cabrera placed the endangered monkeys into socks that fit into a waist girdle “to protect them from X-rays,” though two of the monkeys did not survive the journey, sadly.

Police said Mr. Sol Cabrera behaved “nervously” when questioned at customs, not surprising given the amount of squirming primates near his privates. He reportedly paid around $30 per monkey in Peru that could fetch up to $1,550 each as exotic pets on the Mexican market. He is being investigated on charges of trafficking an endangered species. After similar arrests of smuggling via hat and shirt, I look forward to a monkey-smuggling episode of Locked Up Abroad.

[Via BBC News.]

[Photo credit: Brian Gratwicke]

Mexico City offers free honeymoon to first gay couple married in Argentina

This week Argentina legalized gay marriage, the first Latin American country do so. Civil unions are legal in Uruguay, but Argentina’s move puts same-sex marriages on the same footing with straight ones, with same-sex couples being allowed to adopt.

Mexico City, where gay marriages are also legal, has marked the occasion by offering a free honeymoon to the first gay couple married in Argentina. Both Mexico City and Buenos Aires are considered gay-friendly tourist destinations.

Mexico City’s tourism secretary Alejandro Rojas said in a recent interview that he hopes gay couples will see his city as a destination for getting married and spending their honeymoon. His office is encouraging tour operators to create package tours especially tailored to same-sex couples. The city is also putting its money where its mouth is by investing in gay-friendly hotels and other businesses.

Photo courtesy user zackly76 via Gadling’s flickr pool.

Travel writer and publisher Q&A: Julie Schwietert

Julie Schwietert, known for her work with MatadorNetwork and Collazo Projects, is a writer, editor, and translator whose work bridges the worlds of service travel writing, culture, and politics. Though travel writing is a big piece of her métier, it’s not its sum. This profile of Julie is the first in a Gadling series on writers and publishers who have found a way to turn their enthusiasms for travel into a profession.

Q: How do you fit into the travel writing and publishing world?

A: I’m a freelancer, though I work primarily for MatadorNetwork as writer, managing editor, and the lead educator of their travel writing program. I also write for print magazines. I contributed to the latest edition of Fodor’s Puerto Rico, and I am waiting excitedly for August when it will hit bookstore shelves.

Q: How long has Collazo Projects been up and running, and what is it that you do?

A: I collaborate on Collazo Projects with my husband Francisco Collazo, who is a photographer, chef and translator. Collazo Projects is the online home for our writing and photography and other projects that haven’t found a home elsewhere. It’s in the process of evolving, though. We’re considering turning it into a proper website that functions more as a portfolio with a blog rather than a straight-up photo/writing blog.

Q: Is travel writing a means to an end for you, or is it the animating focus of your work? Or is it something else entirely?

A: I’m slightly uncomfortable with the term “travel writing” or the label of “travel writer” because both feel really limiting. When I say it, sitting next to someone on a plane in response to the question “What do you do?” I always get squirmy because their first association with the term tends to be Travel + Leisure. That association isn’t bad, but glossy magazine writing is just a portion of what I do. I’d like to think that my writing is less about the things anyone “should” or “must” do in a destination and more about what that destination is like when you stop viewing it as, well, a destination.

A diversified income stream is how I survive economically. In addition to my writing work, I’m a freelance academic editor and a translator.

Q: What are your favorite regions?

A: I’d happily go almost anywhere, but I really love to return again and again to places I’ve visited previously and get to know them more deeply. The focus of my work is on ferreting out the untold stories about a place, looking for alternative narratives, and giving a voice to people without a voice. And because I’m fluent in Spanish, most of my work focuses on Latin America and the Spanish-speaking Caribbean.

Q: Any absolutely favorite destination?

A: Mexico, Mexico City in particular. I know what everyone says about Mexico City. They’re wrong. It’s a dynamic, fascinating, complicated city where the traditional and the contemporary are in constant interface. I lived there for two years and loved it. I wish I still lived there.

Q: Have you ever had to travel to a place to follow an obsession?

A: Cuba. I had to meet the family that produced my husband. Once I got to Havana, I had to go on to the town of Mariel, which is the port from which my husband left Cuba in 1980. I went there and was completely underwhelmed. Plus no one wanted to talk about 1980.

Q: What sort of advice would you give to people who want to enter the travel writing and editing world?

A: Do it, and diversify your income. Having a diverse income stream not only ensures you’ll stay stable economically but it also helps you tap into multiple interests.

Q: And finally, what’s in your carry-on?

A: Always books, at least two, and magazines. A journal and a couple pens. A sarong, for which there are at least 96 uses. You can place a sarong on a changing table to change a baby’s diaper and drape it over your head to block out obnoxious passengers, among other things!

Travel + Leisure names the world’s best hotels

You deserve the very best. You’ve worked hard, probably played a little hard, and you’re ready to reward yourself by splurging on a much-needed gateway. So, where do the best of the best go when they want to escape?

With the help of their readers, Travel + Leisure editors released the 2010 World’s Best awards. The lists include everything from airlines to islands, and hotels to cruise ships. Here’s a look at the number one hotel rated in each region. For the entire list, click here.

Resort: San Ysidro Ranch, A Rosewood Resort, Santa Barbara, California
Large city hotel: Trump International Hotel & Tower, Chicago (pictured right)
Small city hotel: Hotel Bel-Air (reopening in 2011), Los Angeles
Inns: Triple Creek Ranch, Darby, Montana

Resort: Nisbet Plantation Beach Club, Nevis

Resort: Four Seasons Resort Hualalai, Hawaii Europe
Resort: Palazzo Sasso
Large city hotel: Olissippo Lapa Palance, Lisbon
Small city hotel: The Lanesborough, London
Inns & Small Country hotel: Domaine des Hauts de Loire, Onzain, France

Resort: Oberoi Vanyavilas, Rajasthan, India
City hotel: The Peninsula, Bangkok

Africa/Middle East
Lodges/Resort: Fairmont Mara Safari Club, Masai Mara, Kenya (pictured below)
City hotel: Four Seasons Hotel, Cairo at the First Residence

Resort: Esperanza, an Auberge Resort, Los Cabos
City hotel: Four Seasons Hotel, México D.F., Mexico City

Latin America
Resort: Blancaneaux Lodge, San Ignacio, Belize
City hotels: Alvear Palace Hotel, Buenos Aires

Australia/New Zealand/South Pacific
Lodges/resort: Huka Lodge, Taupo, New Zealand City: The Langham, Melbourne