CancunLisa Rafaelle

By Charmaine Pang

This month in Sun Destinations, Canadian Traveller presents Mexico, a country that offers sun, adventure and historical treasures.

Mexico, a long-time favourite of vacationers, offers a diverse bounty of natural wonders that will delight any client. Turquoise seas, a stunning variety of breathtaking panoramas, beaches that spread into the horizon, gastronomy, unique biodiversity, and archaeological sites of mysterious civilizations still leave visitors puzzled by their secrets. This assortment draws more than 22 million tourists each year, making Mexico the eighth most visited country on the planet.

Cristina Alvaradejo.Lisa RafaelleCanadian Tourism Update
Canadian Traveller spoke to Cristina Alvaradejo, public relations account executive for the Mexico Tourist Board and according to the Board’s recent travel statistics our country is the second-largest inbound tourism market for Mexico. In the first nine months of 2007, a total of 688,791 Canadians visited Mexico, an increase of 26 per cent compared to the same period in 2006, and a 30 per cent increase compared to 2005.

More recently, the Canadian Commission of Tourism in Mexico (CCTM) reported that 952,000 Canadians visited Mexico last year. In 2009, the CCTM projects a 17 per cent increase, which will bring $400 million to the Mexican economy.

Toronto, Montreal and Vancouver make up 76 per cent of Mexico's Canadian travel market share, with Toronto being the largest market at 32 per cent.

The most popular destinations vary seasonally. In the coldest winter months, 30 per cent of visiting Canadians go to Cancun and other beach areas, but this number drops to 11 per cent during the summer, when Mexico City is more popular.

Tourism Update For 2008
Mexico will see several luxury and boutique properties added to its hotel landscape, including Secrets Maroma (July 2008) in the Riviera Maya, the Riviera Maya Azul View Hotel by Karisma (October 2008), and the Azul Fives Hotel by Karisma (December 2008) in Playa del Carmen.

This year, H10 Hotels is marketing its five Caribbean hotels (three in Mexico, two in the Dominican Republic) under the brand 'Ocean by H10 Hotels'. The chain's newest hotels, Ocean Coral and Ocean Turquesa opened in December 2007 in the Riviera Maya; there is also the Ocean Maya.

 On the attractions side, Mexico has 27 UNESCO World Heritage sites, more than any other country in the Americas. Two sites were added last year, including the islands and protected areas of the Gulf of California; and the Central University City Campus of the Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México (UNAM) in Mexico City.

Unsurprisingly, the main draws in Mexico are the sun and the surf. Sixty per cent of tourists come to soak in the rays and take advantage of life by the sea, as shown by the sheer amount of beachfront resorts.

Here is an overview of Mexico's many regions and unique destinations.

Mexico City.Charmaine Pang

Mexico City – Rich In Culture

Mexico City is the country's financial, intellectual and artistic centre. The city itself is built on the site of the ancient Aztec capital of Tenochtitlán. The area is a dried-up lake bed. Around the city, a swamp zone remains, as do volcanoes such as Popocatepetl and Ixtaccíhuatl. Mexico City fascinates its visitors with its many historic and cultural treasures like El Zócalo, Palacio Nacional and Xochimilco with its floating gardens.

Baja coastline.Mexico Tourist Board

Baja California – Wet & Wild

Baja California has nature and wildlife as its major attractions, boasting a small population, isolated beaches, crystalline waters, and good fishing and diving. The region can experience extreme variations in temperature, which is one of the reasons why there haven't been as many large resort developments there. Thousands of visitors come in the spring to watch grey whales in coastal lagoons; it's the only known location where they reproduce.

Mexican desert.Mexico Tourist BoardNorthern Mexico – Deserts & Canyons
The least-populated area in the country, this vast and arid region consists of deserts, plains and wild mountains. Those who do visit are struck by the timelessness of the landscape. On the Pacific side, one finds the seaside resort of Mazatlan. One of the best carnivals in the world is held here – a tradition dating from 1898. Other lesser-known seaside resorts like Sayulita or Bahia Kino attract tourists drawn to the immaculate beaches and pleasant, calm climate.

Puerto Vallarta.Mexico Tourist BoardPuerto Vallarta – From 'Not' To 'Hot'
This once sleepy fishing village was transformed overnight in the 1960s into a Hollywood glamour spot when director John Huston shot Night of the Iguana with Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton, here. Still a major destination for holidaymakers, Puerto Vallarta's charms draw upwards of 50,000 visitors a day, and up to three million visitors each year. Going northward, the Riviera Narayit region offers a unique mix of smaller cities and destinations with their own unique style; many luxury resorts are open, such as the Four Seasons in Punta Mita, with more to come over the next few years.

Acapulco.Mexico Tourist Board

Acapulco – Pearl Of The Pacific
Known as "La Perla del Pacifico", Acapulco resides on a narrow strip of low ground between the shore and the mountains encircling the Bay of Banderas. A passage through the mountains, called 'Abra de San Nicolas', was constructed to allow cooling sea breezes to reach the city. Hundreds of nightclubs and happening entertainment are all to be had in Acapulco, but there are also eco-tourism activities to do in the daytime. A famous attraction is the cliff divers at the Quebrada, who leap headfirst off 35-metre cliffs.

Blue agave.Charmaine Pang

Tequila – The Town, The Liquor
One of Mexico's famous exports, tequila, is made in the town of the same name, just next to Puerto Vallarta. The alcohol is made from the blue agave, which grows in nearby fields. Native to Mexico, the heart of the plant is cultivated over a 10-year period before it's processed into alcohol. There are five types of tequila on the market, categorized by type of distillation and duration of aging.

Mayan architecture.Charmaine Pang

Yucatán – An Archaeological Paradise
The coast of this territory stretches between the Gulf of Mexico and the Caribbean Sea. This region has many archaeological sites, including Chichen Itza, a UNESCO World Heritage site and voted one of the "New 7 Wonders" of the world, a must-see. Mérida is the capital of the Yucatán with one million residents, making it the biggest city of this peninsula.

Cancun – A Tourism Transformation
Cancun is another major tourism centre that has a humble history. Before the Mexican government transformed it into a tourism hub, the area was inhabited by a few Maya descendents who made their living by fishing or picking chili peppers. Today, more than 1.7 million visitors come for 240 days of sun a year, an average temperature of 28°C, a clear turquoise sea and fine sand beaches. The city of Cancun generates about 53 per cent of the Quintana Roo state's economic livelihood.
Located in the northeastern area of Yucatán province, Cozumel, known as the "island of the swallows", is just as popular as Cancun and is renowned for its scuba diving. The scuba diving can be pricey, but the spectacular underwater scenery is worth it.

Mexico TurtleMexico Tourist Board

The Riviera Maya
Beaches in this southeastern tourism region go on as far as the eye can see. The Riviera Maya lies between southern Cancun and Punta Allen, and features a vast number of luxury resorts. About an hour south of Cancun, one finds the popular Playa del Carmen which offers a mix of ecotourism and all-inclusive resorts. With close proximity to the sea and the lush tropical jungle, the Riviera Maya has managed to keep its own local flavour without becoming over-developed.

Akumal, which means "place of the turtles" in the Mayan language, offers up an unforgettable experience in the late summer months, when visitors can see the breeding and hatching grounds of sea turtles. Amazing dive sites include the cenotes – underground sinkholes adorned with bright stalagmites and stalactites, featuring clear water with visibility of up to 100 metres.

Tulum is another gem of the Riviera Maya, a place where civilization appears to be frozen in time. The ruins of Maya temples can be seen here, contrasted with the serenity of the beach and the ocean. Accommodations include affordable cabana-type lodgings.