First of all, what exactly is ecotourism?
Ecotourism is low-impact, sustainable tourism to natural destinations, often with the goal of supporting small local economies and conservation projects as an alternative to commercial mass tourism.
It’s no wonder, then, that Mexico is a popular spot for ecotourism: the country is home to almost 200 diverse national parks, nearly 500 pristine beaches, 48 active volcanoes, and is one of the most biodiverse places on the planet! It also has over 120 “Magic Towns” – small, rural, and often indigenous towns that have been designated special conservational status to promote alternative tourism. If that wasn’t enough, there are 35 beautiful UNESCO World Heritage sites in Mexico!
Now that we have definitions out of the way, let’s look at the country’s best ecotourism destinations!
1 – Tulum, Quintana Roo
Located on Mexico’s Caribbean coast, Tulum is what most people would consider heaven on earth, and its various sustainable restaurants, hotels, and tourist activities make it one of the best ecotourism spots on the continent! Tulum has become world-famous for its zero emissions eco-hotels, which support the local economy, serve up tasty locally sourced food, and rely on renewable energy sources only. Don’t worry, they might be super eco-friendly but they have all the luxury and comfort of an up-scale urban hotel!
If you for some reason get tired of eating organic mangos and drinking craft beer on a paper-white sandy beach with crystal-clear seawater surrounded by colorful singing birds, try a guided tour into the Biosfera Sian Ka’an nature reserve. Guides are from the local Mayan community and offer incredibly insightful tours, with fascinating explanations of the local flora and fauna found in this UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Other nearby activities include a very dramatic looking cliffside pyramid site, and “cenotes” (water-filled sinkholes perfect for swimming!) in the middle of the jungle.
2 – Cabo Pulmo, Baja California
Cabo Pulmo National Park is one of Mexico’s most impressive ecotourism destinations, boasting a 30,000 year-old coral reef and 200+ species of marine animals. It has 18 diving sites and you can even swim with hammerhead sharks here! If you’re a sane person who doesn’t like swimming with sharks, the park also stretches inland with great hiking trails and guided ATV tours through coastal desert landscapes.
Accommodation is abundant in Cabo Pulmo, with locally owned campsites, sustainable beach cabins, and eco-friendly hotels dotted around the park. You’re wondering about food, aren’t you? Choose anything from fish tacos, to Italian food, to vegetarian food, to some good old reliable Mexican national dishes to keep you going during your action-packed vacation.
All this under 2 hours away from Los Cabos International Airport, why wouldn’t you visit?
3 – Cuetzalan, Puebla
If you really want to get to know Mexico, a trip to Cuetzalan in the misty mountains of Puebla State is a must. The 4-hour drive to the east of Mexico City is pretty breathtaking itself, but Cuetzalan will introduce you to a side of Mexican culture that few tourists ever experience. Secluded waterfalls, long mountain walks, indigenous artisanal markets, organic local coffee, live music, cultural festivals, and traditional dishes are just a few of the town’s charms. Cuetzalan is so perfect for ecotourism it even has locally produced herb-infused liquor, so you can really kick back without worrying about what impact your vacation is having!
Eco-friendly accommodation is available on practically every street, but the Tosepan Kali tourism co-operative is our top recommendation. Their staff are all from nearby indigenous villages and their bamboo lodges were build with sustainability in mind. They also offer tours to some of the area’s best natural wonders and their guides are so friendly you will never want to leave.
Local food, local drinks, local accommodation, local guides…. Did we mention that everything is local?
4 – Puerto Escondido, Oaxaca
Get in touch with your inner hippy-surfer at one of Mexico’s most laid-back beach towns! Puerto Escondido has been a favorite for surfers from all over the globe for years, but the area’s ecotourism scene is just as good a reason to visit.
Cliffside eco lodges and healthy meals are available all over town, but the best way to really connect with Puerto Escondido’s green side is by hiring a local fisherman to take you to the Lagunas de Chacahua National Park. The park is filled with tropical birds, alien-like insects, freaky looking fish, and if you’re lucky you might get to see bioluminescent plankton light up the lagoons at night.
Other activities include sipping on fresh coconut water under a palm tree, learning to surf on Carrizalillo beach, or helping release baby turtles into the sea. Yes, there are baby turtles, and yes, they are very cute.