In the Footsteps of the Mayans

This group of culture tour operators combines ecotourism and education

By: Maxine Cass

CANCUN, Mexico The Mayan Culture Product Club is not a band or discount store, but a coalition of four Cancun-area tour operators specializing in local indigenous Mayan history, natural history, ecotourism and daily life.

In July 2002, the club was one of 11 niche clubs mandated by the Cancun Conventions and Visitors Bureau to promote Cancun as a resort that offers a complete range of products, not just hotels and beaches, said Humberto Carpio, Cancun All Tours general manager.

The current group, down from eight original members, combines the specialties of Cancun All Tours (Mayan archeological sites in the Yucatan Peninsula and mainland Mexico, as well as ecoparks); Magic Tours (allied with Cancun All Tours, as a group travel destination management company); Iguana Boat (mixes archeological sites and ecological tours); and Caribe Mexicano (archeological sites and Mayan regional tours).

All club members pay travel agent commissions, averaging 15 percent, said Carpio, the club spokesperson. The foursome works with Cancun visitors bureau-member hotels, and the bureau promotes the Mayan Culture product at trade shows and in media advertising.

Club members offer a wide variety of tour products, said Carpio, with 30 percent of those tours combining ecology and Mayan culture.

Alltournative Expediciones, which won Mexico’s 2002 ecotourism award, offers a $92 combination “Coba Archeological Site Pac Chen Village Tour.” Clients eat lunch prepared by local women, walk through the jungle with a guide, make a zip-line crossing over a cenote (sinkhole), rappel down to swim in another cenote and canoe and swim in a lagoon.

The company pays a 15 percent commission and has worked with Pac Chen’s 25 families for 30 years, developing a product that permits village guides to work alternative weeks with sustainable income.

“We start each trip with an explanation of pre-Hispanic culture going back to the origins of life,” explained Kenneth Johnson, president of EcoColors, whose company offers adult and youth tour products involved with sustainable tourism.

Johnson is the southern area vice president of the Asociacion Mexicana de Turismo de Aventura y Ecoturismo (AMTAVE), Mexico’s private association of ecotourism operators and supporters.

EcoColors’ seven-day $1,050 “Mayan Color Tour” covers Yucatan Peninsula highlights like the Chichen Itza and Uxmal archeological sites, Merida and the Rio Legartos flamingo preserve. They also make multiple visits to Mayan communities’ schools, said Johnson, who pays a 20 percent commission on a wide range of nature-centered tours.

EcoColors operates tours into Si’an Ka’an Biosphere Preserve, initially providing boats for men of the Chun Yax Che community who act as guides, and then paying a per-visitor fee.

“Mayans have a hierarchical society, the man is the boss in the house,” Johnson noted. “So we also go to the ladies, go outside to their gardens and have them explain medicinal plant uses.”