Opening Doors

Community-based tours highlight Cancun’s culture and nature

By: By Mark Chesnut

The Details

Puerta Verde
Commission: About 17 percent

For now, both Web sites are only available in Spanish, but bilingual information is available via Kanche by phone or by e-mailing

Tour operator Puerta Verde, along with community-based organization Kanche, gives travelers a local experience in Cancun. // (c) Mark Chesnut
Tour operator Puerta Verde, along with community-based organization Kanche, gives travelers a local experience in Cancun.

Cancun may be known more for its high-rise hotels and sparkling waters than its ecological and cultural richness. But a new, community-based alternative tourism network called Puerta Verde is providing visitors with more direct access to the region’s natural beauty, while helping local, indigenous communities.

"Puerta Verde and Kanche [a community-based organization involved with the program] have managed to establish a plan that, based on its efficiency and positive results, is unique in the nation," said Jesus Mesa, a spokesperson for Kanche. "The strength of Puerta Verde lies in the diversity of its tourist attractions, since it offers activities related to culture, nature and adventure, which can take place in both jungle and sea settings."

The Puerta Verde network offers more than 20 different guided activities and tours, which range in duration from one-day excursions to a complete four-day circuit. Activities include cave exploring, kayaking, camping, gastronomical sampling and swimming with whale sharks.

The Puerta Verde network is operated by 14 cooperative groups from seven different Maya communities, with revenue going directly to the Maya groups. These communities reinvest a percentage of the profits in environmental and cultural projects.

"The Kanche Civil Association helps the Puerta Verde network in the promotion of its activities and the operation of its trips," said Mesa. "In this way, we create an interesting and versatile tourism product with good promotions and operations, as well as high-quality service for tourists and a strengthening of the local economies that are in need of development."

Puerta Verde’s range of tourism offerings will have a positive effect on Cancun as a destination, according to Emilio Reyner, public relations director for the Cancun Convention & Visitors Bureau.

"It was about time that we change our point of view that everything [in Cancun] was just beach and sun," Reyner said. "There is so much more to offer. Culture and heritage are very important here, and the Maya community has been here for a very long time. Puerta Verde is one of the best examples that we are actually taking [these aspects] into consideration."

Reyner said that the launch of Puerta Verde is "the first time so many communities have gotten together and worked together. It’s the first time they’re doing something so business-oriented."

According to Mesa, "Puerta Verde involves more than 150 individuals, all of which are members of the local communities. It’s an integrated collective of 14 community businesses that are operated directly by their individual owners.

The network’s tours will be of interest to anyone attracted to nature, culture and community-based initiatives," Mesa said.

Among its current offerings are three getaways. The Getaway of the Encounter day trip includes a visit to an insect museum, a spider monkey sanctuary, a Maya music concert and a "traditional" lunch prepared by locals in Nuevo Durango. The Getaway of the Senses involves mountain biking through the jungle, kayaking in a lagoon, a boat trip to Isla Pajaros, lunch and demonstrations on embroidering and medicine. The Getaway of the Adventure day trip includes a canopy tour, kayaking, a visit to an orchid garden, butterfly sanctuary and local art gallery and lunch.

"On the level of tourism, we’re seeing more and more responsible people who, in addition to looking for authentic, deep experiences, are very aware of the importance of their acts and their ability to have an influence," said Mesa. "Tourists want … to help improve the environmental and social situation of the places they visit."

As a collective network, of course, Puerta Verde operates differently from a large commercial tour operator, but Mesa said that doesn’t mean they can’t compete.

"We like to think, although it may sound daring, that we don’t have competition, and that we aren’t the competition of anyone," he said. "There are various, obvious differences that give Puerta Verde a very important added value. Authentic experiences are the most enriching. Smart travelers already know this, and it’s with them that we’d like to share Puerta Verde."

Mesa said that Puerta Verde hopes to work directly with international suppliers and travel agencies to grow its product offerings.

"Kanche and Puerta Verde are looking to work with any supplier or individual with whom it’s possible to reach fair commercial agreements," Mesa said, "from independent travelers to tour operators and travel agents who are interested in the product."