Visitors can rock climb and rappel with Nuevo Leon Adventures. // © 2016 Nuevo Leon Adventures
Feature image (above): Swimming with whale sharks off the coast of La Paz is an unforgettable experience. // © 2016 Esperanza, an Auberge Resort
There are lots of ways to have fun outdoors while on vacation in Mexico. Many visitors are perfectly happy with a slow-paced day on the beach or a relaxing afternoon stroll along historic colonial streets. Some might go for an active sport such as waterskiing or snorkeling. But for those who crave true excitement, Mexico serves up a variety of unforgettable options that decidedly aren’t for everyone.
The Mexican state of Veracruz, on the coast of the Gulf of Mexico, is home to the nation’s widest number of hot spots for whitewater rafting. Among the more than 40 rafting-friendly rivers here are Rio Actopan, which offers Class I and II rafting through a narrow limestone gorge, and Rio Antigua, which offers Class II, III and IV rafting and the opportunity to view one of the largest spring and fall hawk migrations in the world. Excitement also awaits at Rio Filo-Bobos, where Class III and IV conditions propel visitors past natural springs and waterfalls, and tropical birds provide rewarding wildlife spotting.
Among the tour operators that offer whitewater rafting expeditions in Veracruz is Mexico Verde, which offers “safari” style, multinight trips along multiple rivers, with tented accommodations and the service of local guides (spa treatments are available for those who need to recuperate). Adventure tour operator SelvAzul, meanwhile, runs a 20-room ecotourism lodge near the city of Xalapa, with rafting tours that range from one to four days; some packages include additional activities such as ziplines and rappelling.
Further north, the state of Nuevo Leon is ideal for extreme adventure, with a rugged desert landscape punctuated by soaring mountains. Nuevo Leon Adventures uses the city of Monterrey as a base for single- and multiday excursions that take in some of the region’s most dramatic landscapes. Visitors can go rock climbing and rappelling at Portrero Chico canyon, which is bounded by limestone cliffs that rise up to 2,900 feet. Canyon de la Huasteca is preferred for beginner rock-climbing classes; the 45-foot Pared de los Gatos (Wall of the Cats) here offers five routes skyward, and participants are assigned partners as they learn the art of making knots and using climbing gear. Mountain biking and spelunking are also popular adventure activities in the countryside outside of Monterrey.
For water-based thrills, consider a west-coast sail with Nautilus Explorer, a luxury safari boat that offers scuba trips to Guadalupe Island for face-to-face encounters with great white sharks. Located off the coast of the Baja California peninsula, the island is surrounded by clear waters that provide optimum viewing conditions — from the safety of a double-decker submersible cage — of these fierce creatures.
Those who prefer meeting less threatening — yet equally exciting — marine life can head farther south, where hotels such as Esperanza, an Auberge Resort, offer upscale adventures. Working with tour affiliates, the property arranges whale shark swimming excursions, during which participants join expert guides for a journey by spotter plane and boat to the prime waters off the coast of La Paz, where feeding grounds attract whale sharks that measure up to 40 feet long. The eight-hour trip includes round-trip transportation between Los Cabos and La Paz; breakfast, lunch and snacks; and the use of a wet suit and snorkel equipment.