Ecotourism has become a popular alternative to traditional tours in Mexico. With diverse terrain and an abundance of natural resources, Mexico is an ideal destination for experiencing nature firsthand. Until recently, only traditional camping and hiking tours were available. Now, however, integrated tours encompassing not only nature but the cultures of Mexico's many indigenous peoples make it possible for you to experience unique adventures.
In Mazatlán, Puerto Vallarta, Manzanillo, and San Jose del Cabo, you can feel the thrill of excitement as you ride side by side on horseback through the surf, horses' manes flying in the wind. For $15 to $20 an hour, you can go on one-to two-hour guided trail rides. Or perhaps you'd like to ride through an unspoiled ecological reserve, learning about the trees and animals along the way. Other treks can take you to old mining towns in the foothills of the Sierra Madre.
If you like to hike, you'll find plenty of do-it-yourself trails in the national parks of Mexico's central highlands. Hiking through cool pine forests with dramatic vistas will almost make you think you're in the American Rockies. For a real challenge, try hiking the lower trails, or to the summit of two of Mexico's largest volcanoes — Ixtaccíhihuatl (17,159 feet) and Pico de Orizaba (the highest at 18,700 feet). These hikes aren't for the inexperienced, and you'll need to book a guided trip with a local outfitter at least two weeks ahead.
You can get information and instruction about rock climbing from Asociación de Montañismo y Exploración (UNAM) by writing to Insurgentes Sur, Ciudad Universitaria, Mexico City, D.F.04511 or emailing email@example.com.
Two other popular hiking destinations are the Barranca del Cobre (Copper Canyon) and the desert and mountain trails of Baja California. If you plan on hiking deep into the canyons, be sure you hire an experienced guide. Local tour operators out of Creel, the largest town at the eastern edge of the canyons, lead week-long treks into the canyons to explore caves and visit remote Tarahumara Indian settlements.
The trails of Baja may be more suited to you if you want to take shorter hikes through untamed wilderness. Trails lead from the desert where cacti reach for the sky to the cool pine forests of nearby mountains. You'll find plenty of established trails in the northern Sierras. However, the further south you travel, the more scarce the trails become.
You'd best bring along your own hiking equipment. Though you can take short hikes with a good pair of casual walking shoes, you'll find the Mexican terrain to be quite rough in most places, so a pair of sturdy hiking boots may be preferable. You'll definitely need them on longer hikes. If you're an inexperienced hiker, stick to older established trails in national parks. If you're planning an overnight hike, be sure to take along all the usual hiking gear — first aid kit, snakebite kit, flashlight with extra batteries, pocket knife, folding rain poncho, compass, and waterproof matches.
If hiking in the desert, be sure to wear a long-sleeved cotton shirt, long pants, and a light wide-brimmed hat. Sunblock is mandatory. And be sure to carry at least four quarts of water with you for an all-day hike.
Rafting and Kayaking
For white-water rafting, you should head to the state of Veracruz. Rivers like the Rio Pesados offer challenging rides through roaring rapids. If you prefer a quieter ride, then paddling down the Rio Filobobos past Mayan ruins may be more to your liking. The best pleasure rafting is on the Usumacinta River in the state of Chiapas.
You'll discover the best sea kayaking along the Baja coast of the Sea of Cortés, where the waters remain calm. Numerous inlets and coves offer plenty of places to explore, and campsites are readily available.
One of Mexico's best kayaking destinations — and a great place to learn to kayak — is Bahía Concepción, south of the fishing village of Mulegé, Baja California Norte, along the Sea of Cortés.
If you're visiting Puerto Vallarta, you may want to try kayaking the offshore islands. However, with strong lateral currents and rough surf, you'll need to be an experienced kayaker to do so.
Mountain biking is a relatively new sport in Mexico. You can explore the jungles surrounding Puerto Vallarta, visiting small villages and stopping to have lunch and bathe under secluded waterfalls. Or you can bike along remote beaches north of town. The numerous hills and valleys around Mazatlán also provide great terrain for mountain biking. Outfitters provide everything you need — front-suspension mountain bikes, helmets, gloves, and water bottles. From Los Cabos, you can mountain bike to the nearby Sierra Laguna Mountains to look for dinosaur bones in dried-up riverbeds, ancient Indian rock paintings, and unusual plants and wildlife. Along the way, you can stop for a swim in a stream or to relax in a hot spring.
For mountain-biking adventures, contact Bike Mex Adventures at Calle Guerrero #361 Puerto Vallarta, Mexico; 322-323-1680.
Perhaps you'd like the exhilarating feeling of parasailing. Nothing beats being towed high in a parachute behind a powerful motorboat. At the beaches in Acapulco, Cancún, Mazatlán, Puerto Vallarta, Cabo San Lucas, all you need do is wait your turn. A ten-minute ride costs about $30, and you'll also need lots of nerve.