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Coasting along the Costalegre: Costa Careyes January 2, 2014

Posted by Tracy in : Adventure, Mexico, Nature tourism, Uncategorized , add a comment

Copa 1
Part 5 of a series

From the land, the cryptic entrance sign says it all: a question mark, followed by an exclamation point.

From the sea, the first thing I noticed was a strange inverted dome perched atop a narrow tongue of land, a crystal-studded cup opening skyward upon a bridge of wave-pounded cliffs. La Copa del Sol, it’s called, and it’s the brainchild of the same visionary who created the lavish dwellings tucked along this 22-kilometer stretch of coast known as Costa Careyes.
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Coasting along the Costalegre: Cuastecomates to Boca de Iguanas December 18, 2013

Posted by Tracy in : Uncategorized , 1 comment so far

Cuastecomates

Part 2 of a series

A tunnel of green arched overhead as we made our way along the wild and winding stretch of road leading toward the coast from the main highway. The tiny town finally emerged into view; it was the same precious village we’d seen from the sea when we went snorkeling. Like many of the towns along the Costalegre, there’s not a lot here, aside from a lineup of palapa-covered restaurants, a single hotel and a spectacular beach, enclosed by two imposing, granite outcroppings. But what more could a vacationer want?

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Coasting along the Costalegre: Barra/Melaque December 17, 2013

Posted by Tracy in : Adventure, ecotourism, Mexico, Nature tourism , add a comment
Sunset from the deck of Lydia's on Isla de Navidad

Sunset from the deck of Lydia's on Isla de Navidad

Part 1 of a series

CUIXMALA, Costalegre, Mexico – A precious undeveloped remnant of coastline along the Pacific Ocean revealed a few of her secrets to me over a few days this autumn, secrets I will never forget.

The sight of a protective mother brown booby protecting her downy white baby from raiding iguanas on an island off the coast; a sea turtle laying her glistening round eggs on the beach by the light of the moon; the soft feel of a baby in my hand as I place it on the sand and watch it make its way toward the waves; the crashing sound of a crocodile in the darkness of the mangrove, and the lurking form of another alongside our small boat; the forms of two white sharks far below me as I peer out from an airplane soaring over the coastline.
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El Hatico cattle ranch: The problem is the solution October 30, 2010

Posted by Tracy in : Colombia, ecotourism, Latin America, Nature tourism , add a comment

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VALLE DE CAUCA, Colombia – When Alicia Calle, an environmental scientist with Yale’s Environmental Leadership and Training Initiative, first told me of El Hatico Nature Reserve, her face lit up for the first time since I’d met her an hour ago. We’d been talking about the state of the environment in Colombia, a subject with much to lament, given the spread of mining operations, cattle ranching, vast monocultures of sugarcane and African palm and coca, deforestation, water contamination, the same story throughout the Americas.

What is it that gives you hope, I asked her, as I do in every interview. It was then that she pulled out a booklet and started showing me photos of El Hatico.

“Let me be clear: I don’t like cattle farming; I think it’s created terrible environmental problems and social inequalities throughout its development in Latin America. But this is a place I’d really like you to see, a place that’s turned a major problem into a part of the solution.”
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Santa Ana, El Salvador: Volcanos at sunset and a bittersweet sorbet July 8, 2010

Posted by Tracy in : ecotourism, El Salvador, Latin America , 2comments

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COATEPEQUE LAKE, El Salvador – The palms are swaying restlessly in the electric darkness, waiting for the storm to arrive. Lightning flashes over Santa Ana Volcano on the far side of the lake; just a few minutes ago I was walking along the shore with Elmer, catching the last bits of sunset over the lake.

He sensed the storm coming before I did. “Ya viene el agua,” he said. Literally, “Now the water is coming.” The timing couldn’t have been more perfect; rainy season notwithstanding, El Salvador gifted me with a blue sky my first full day in the country, perfect for visiting the pyramids of Tazumal and Casa Blanca, then catching a bus to this sparkling expanse of blue amid the volcanoes.
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Calling my bluff on Los Cabos November 17, 2009

Posted by Tracy in : ecotourism, Latin America, Mexico, Nature tourism, voluntourism , add a comment

Baja SEE Turtles 050
(Melissa Gaskill photo)
Eco-travel writer Melissa Gaskill called my bluff on my Los Cabos story last month. “Los Cabos is, unfortunately, an example of the worst kind of development and tourism,” she wrote. “No sense of place, no sensitivity to the landscape, destruction of natural resources, excessive use of water, ultra-luxury developments staffed by underpaid locals… And I’m afraid too many people think that swimming with dolphins is an eco-tourism activity (a misconception we’d do well not to encourage).
Sorry, I love your newsletter, but just had to vent on this one. Baja California is one of my favorite places in the world and my worst nightmare is that the entire peninsula will end up one great big Cabo.”

Truth be told, I have never been to Los Cabos, so I’m not in a position to judge. I wrote that story as part of a series for The Buzz Magazines, in which I interview local travelers about their experiences. I do, however, trust Melissa’s judgment; she’s an excellent Texas author and journalist (here’s her blog and profile), and one whose environmental sensibilities match my own. So I did the only sensible thing: I invited her to write her own piece about Baja California as a guest post, and she kindly obliged.

Here’s Melissa’s story about a voluntourism expedition into the wilds of Baja California, a program aimed at saving the endangered sea turtles there, and the spectacular slide show that accompanies it. Enjoy!

Turtle Rescue on the Eco Side of Baja November 17, 2009

Posted by Tracy in : ecotourism, Latin America, Mexico, Nature tourism, Sustainability, voluntourism , 4comments

by Melissa Gaskill

A tent on the sand with a solar-powered light, solar shower hanging nearby, composting toilet behind a gnarled palo blanco tree. Travel doesn’t get much more eco than this.


Created with Admarket’s flickrSLiDR.

Organized by Baja Expeditions, one of the oldest outfitters on the Mexican peninsula, and SEE Turtles, a non-profit promoting conservation tourism, this trip includes three days in the Gulf of California and three on Baja’s Pacific coast with a night in La Paz in between. We also take part in a local sea turtle monitoring project that, once a month, puts out nets to catch sea turtles, measuring, tagging and then releasing them. The data helps determine the success of efforts to help these endangered animals.

The first day, the group gathers in the hotel lobby for a quick van ride to Baja Expedition’s office for breakfast, wetsuits, masks and snorkels. Then we load onto a panga, one of the blue-and-white fiberglass boats common along both coasts of Baja. Our route crosses La Paz Bay to Isla Espiritu Santo, an uninhabited mountainous island. A line of white tents along a fingernail of matching sand overlook a gem-blue bay where pelicans, cormorants, and brown and blue-footed boobies crash into the water on a dawn-to-dusk pursuit of fish. Two cooks prepare our meals on a gas stove inside the kitchen tent, using fish straight from the nearby waters, peppers grown north of La Paz, hand-made tortillas, and other fresh, local ingredients.

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A leap of faith in Guadalajara October 24, 2009

Posted by Tracy in : ecotourism, Esperanza Project, Latin America, Mexico, Nature tourism , 5comments

Luis Medina, founder of Eco-Tours Guadalajara: "This is my office."

Luis Medina must be one of the happiest men alive.

“This is my office,” he says with a broad smile and a sweep of his arm toward the mirror-like pool in front of him, the basalt formations all around and the forest beyond. We’re in a place he’s dubbed “Naturaleza Mistica” or “Mystical Nature,” where water has carved these crystalline pools into the rocks all around.

"Naturaleza Mística"It’s a place that invites contemplation, inspiration and renewal. Birdsong ricochets from tree to tree in the stillness of the afternoon; the water drips from pool to pool, and a cricket chirps from a nearby crevice. I can’t imagine a better place for an office. Luis is the founder of Eco-Tours Guadalajara, the area’s first tour company dedicated to outdoor adventure. Now he and his 10-member crew lead adventures in rockclimbing, rappelling, ziplining, mountain biking, scuba diving and canyoneering.  Today he leads a group of travel writers, in Guadalajara for the SATW convention, through various degrees of terror and exhilaration on the first three, beginning with a rappel down a 50-foot sheer wall and a clamber up another one, followed by a leap from a cliff on a zipline.

On a recent El Diente tour, travel and outdoor writer Bob Sehlinger makes the first descent.
On a recent El Diente tour, travel and outdoor writer Bob Sehlinger makes the first descent.

Now we’re following him through a grassy field to a rocky forest as he interprets the geological and biological wonders of this place.

A lava flow over basalt bedrock yields clues of El Diente's origins, Medin explains.

It was a leap of faith that brought Luis to this place in his life. He was an excellent secondary school teacher – so good that he was promoted to school principal. He enjoyed education, and his wife Lucinda taught there, too. But something in Luis kept calling him to the great outdoors, to the wilds of the mountains that encircle Guadalajara.

“Finally I couldn’t take it anymore,” he said. “I needed to be outside, in nature.”

So after 11 years in public education, he and Lucinda left their jobs and founded Eco-Tours, taking their teaching skills to a new audience. Now their pupils learn to overcome their fears and bond with the natural world around them.

El Diente (The Tooth)It wasn’t easy in the beginning. Luis approached local tourism officials for support, but they were skeptical.

“Ecotourism in Jalisco? There’s no demand for it,” he was told. But he persevered, and now business is booming. His is one of four ecotourism companies in the Guadalajara area.

“We have one of the most spectacular sites in the country for ecotourism – excellent walls for climbing, beautiful landscapes, amazing canyons, and all just 45 minutes from Guadalajara,” he says. “This place is a natural for ecotourism.”

Click here to take the photo tour

Contact Luis and his crew at promociones@eco-toursguadalajara.com or call (011) (52-33) 13 68 93 11. The Spanish-only website is at www.eco-toursguadalajara.com but Luis is conversant in English.

Mexico City Ecological Park: A wilderness restored October 22, 2009

Posted by Tracy in : ecotourism, Esperanza Project, Latin America, Mexico, Nature tourism, Sustainability , 3comments
Dahlias were first cultivated here by the Aztecs.
Dahlias were first cultivated here by the Aztecs.

This could be any other forest on the outskirts of any other city, I think to myself as the path curves through a grassy field, past a burst of orange sunflowers and into the shade of a mossy oak grove. Then Guadalupe stops and gestures for us to take a seat on the cool boulders in the clearing.

“Close your eyes,” she says. “Breathe deeply. Feel the peace that is in this place.”

Far in the distance, the murmur of traffic dissolves into the timeless rustle of the wind in the trees.

I do feel the peace; but my mind is straying back to what Guadalupe has just told me about this place, and it defies imagining.

Just two decades ago, this ferny hillside was virtually indistinguishable from the city below. And had it not been for Ajusco’s position as one of the most important aquifer recharge zones in Central Mexico, and a political drama that is still playing out to this day, it would have remained that way.

Nature is a classroom for Guadalupe Nuñez at Mexico City Ecological Park.
Nature is a classroom for Guadalupe Nuñez.

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Bite of El Diente, and Tips for Climbers October 7, 2009

Posted by Tracy in : Adventure, ecotourism, Latin America, Mexico, Nature tourism , add a comment

Most climbers tackle their art with a passion that could only be called contagious. I exposed myself to that particular virus this spring, carried by veteran rock climber/writer/attorney Jamie McNally, and I suppose that’s why, as I prepare for a week in Guadalajara, I’m packing my climbing gear.

One of the menu of outings offered by the Society of American Travel Writers in its pre-conference lineup was “Eco-Adventure in El Diente,” and with a name like that, how could I resist? Especially with the excellent training provided by Jamie, who nearly killed me in my first exposure to rock climbing this spring. It wasn’t until I went online today and googled it that I realized that where he failed in May, he may have succeeded in October.

El Diente (The Tooth) is about to bite me...

El Diente (The Tooth) is about to bite me…

My account of my May adventure will appear in the Dallas Morning News this fall (posthumously, perhaps) so I asked Jamie to provide a few tips for beginners as I prepare to punish myself on the cliffs of El Diente. (El Diente pic compliments of Marc and Kristi, who climbed there a year ago and made it sound like a piece of cake in their excellent blog… Thanks, guys!)

OK, so after reading Marc and Kristi, and after going through Jamie’s tips (below, for the very brave), I’m feeling better about the climb. Honestly, it’s the mountain biking that I’m kind of freaked out about. I’ll keep you posted – if I’m not in traction.

Read on for Jamie’s excellent tips. And if the climbing bug bites you, don’t say I didn’t warn you.

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