As vaccination rates rose and air travel returned with a vengeance, the first foreign trip for more than two million Americans was to Mexico. Of those who traveled south at the start of 2021, nearly 1.8 million landed in just four airports – Cancún, Mexico City, Puerto Vallarta and Los Cabos – and the vast majority of them stayed in or near of these tourist centers.
On your trip to Mexico this year, go beyond the typical playground and see a part of the country few know about. Whether paddling through an aqua blue lagoon in the shadow of a dormant volcano or riding bareback through the sea to a small island, skip the crowded beach scenes for local experiences and new discoveries.
Diving: Cabo Pulmo Marine National Park
In the 1990s, Cabo Pulmo, a three-by-nine-mile reef off Baja California’s East Cape, was so damaged by overfishing that the local community petitioned the federal government to protect it. In 1995, the Cabo Pulmo National Marine Park was established, relying on a patrol of dedicated locals to enforce the strict no-fishing policy. This partnership marked the start of the most successful reef regeneration project in the world. By 1999, fish biomass on the reef had increased by 463% and all once threatened species, such as the Gulf grouper, had rebounded. Today the reef is a breathtaking spectacle of hard corals and gorgonians. The park’s public use program requires everyone working there to pass a test and follow best practices. The result is a unified goal of maintaining the health of the marine reserve while allowing guests to visit colonies of sea lions, swim with whale sharks, mobula rays and humpback whales, and snorkel. snorkel among giant damselfish, groupers, turtles and schools of Africans. pompano. Luxury homes and hotels like the new Amanvari, slated for completion in 2024, are popping up along the region’s shores. But travelers to the area don’t need a champagne budget to enjoy the park. In the village of Cabo Pulmo, the Cabo Pulmo Beach Resort offers a two-night Eat, Sleep, Dive package for two people starting at $549. The resort’s bungalows are a three-minute walk from the beach. —Stephanie Pearson
The Hike: Sierra de la Laguna
While the Baja Peninsula is mostly desert, the southernmost tip is subtropical dry forest that contains most of the region’s endemic species, from the Xantus hummingbird to the Cape pygmy owl. There’s no better way to experience the density of wildlife and the variety of landscapes than via Cañon San Dionísio, a 22km hike through the Sierra de la Laguna Biosphere Reserve. From the city of Santiago, travel 22 km along a sandy road to Rancho San Dionísio, where you will begin your hike, passing between deep canyon walls and over giant boulders before coming across waterfalls and freshwater pools. After gaining 6,600 feet in elevation, you will reach your end point, which overlooks the confluence of the Pacific Ocean and the Gulf of California. While it’s possible to venture out on your own, do yourself a favor and sign up with guide Edgardo Cortes Nares of Baja Sierra Adventures for a day trip (from $60) or camping trip from five days (from $460), meals included. —Kristen Gill
Local Expert: Kayaker Sofia Reinoso on the Best River to Run
The small town of Tlapacoyan in the Veracruz region of the Gulf of Mexico is one of the best places in the world to paddle. Nearly 40 miles of the Alseseca River, meandering at 8,530 feet, is lined with aquamarine waterfalls of all sizes. Some stretches are very technical, others more relaxed. That’s why it’s such a good place to progress. I grew up paddling the beginner friendly Filobobos section of the river. When I’m not travelling, I still work as an instructor at Aventurec, the main hub where all the kayakers hang out. They have rentals, guides, cabins, a pool, great food, and shuttles that drop you off at different sections of the river (from $30 a night). These days Big Banana is my favorite section of the Alseseca to run. It contains more waterfalls per mile than any river in the region. After a day on the water, I like to head into town for fresh seafood and tacos from Asadero los Compadres. For something more off the beaten path, head to Rio Micos, north of San Luis Potosí in central Mexico. Instead of jungle, you are surrounded by travertine rock and warm, crystal clear waters. There are a few tricky sections, but it’s mostly class III and IV water. Local eco-operator Huaxteca organizes rafting and paddleboarding trips from Hotel Salto del Meco (from $193), which has rustic cabins along the banks of the El Salto River. The food is very good – try the region’s unique style of enchiladas, which are folded, not rolled. —As said to Jen Murphy