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Born and raised in Costa Rica, Carlos Monge recalls being fascinated with travel from a young age. As a child and teenager, Monge spent hours watching planes take off and land at an international airport not far from his home. Daydreaming of the exotic destinations the passengers were bound for came with the territory.
Monge eventually found himself working in L.A.’s corporate world, but his interest in travel was reignited when a friend asked him to assist with booking a vacation. He changed careers soon after, eager to work in a field that would allow him to dig into his passion for exploration.
Monge has been helping clients realize their own travel dreams for 12 years now. He currently works for New Act Travel in Los Angeles and sells high-end leisure trips to destinations around the world.
Monge spoke with TravelAge West about travel trends in Mexico, one of his regional specialties.
What destinations in Mexico are currently popular?
Places like Cancun, Puerto Vallarta, Acapulco and Zihuatanejo continue to draw large numbers of visitors from the U.S. and around the world. I think the existence of direct flights to these areas puts them into the “quick getaway” category, which is popular for Americans especially because of the limited amount of vacation time that we have.
What about up-and-coming destinations in Mexico?
The trend nowadays is to see Mexico as more than just a beach and party destination, to explore the richness of its culture and history. There are several up-and-coming destinations perfect for this including La Paz, Loreto, Huatulco, Poza Rica, Riviera Nayarit and Puerto Penasco.
In terms of new cultural destinations, more and more people are visiting Mazatlan, Merida, Puebla, Morelia, Durango, Veracruz and Campeche. The tourism industries in these areas have grown tremendously as well.
Do you see any new patterns in what your clients want to experience in Mexico?
Many of my clients are discovering a new side of Mexico. They still visit the beaches and the fun bars, but they are not limited to these things anymore. They are combining relaxation and adventure with historic and cultural activities.
Are any of your clients asking about environment or philanthropic initiatives they can experience in Mexico?
Yes! Some clients are now interested in joining ecotourism activities — learning about the environment and regional animals, or helping with international volunteer programs.
What destinations would you recommend to clients who want to experience Mexico’s natural environment?
There are some destinations in Mexico that are still very untouched, and there is a great effort from the local government (provinces) to keep it that way. Tourism is allowed but it is geared towards a more responsible ecological experience. Perhaps one of the best-hidden gems is the Lacandon Jungle in the state of Chiapas. The biodiversity in this park consists of a great variety of species, lakes, lagoons and waterfalls.
What about resorts that have sustainable programs in place?
There are a number of hotels, such as the Rosewood Makayoba, that are green and do their part to leave a minimal footprint on the environment. Mexican ecotourism programs are not as well developed or advanced as those of Costa Rica or Belize, but more and more suppliers are heading that direction.
I understand you create individualized travel experiences for every client, but based on the trends you described, can you share some sample itineraries with our readers?
The following are combinations I think appeal to most people regardless of the type of vacation they are taking. Each is a mix of popular destinations and cultural and historic elements.
Itinerary Option 1: Merida, Puerto Progreso, Chichen Itza and Ek Balam.
This trip will offer travelers a variety of experiences. You can enjoy the beautiful city center in Merida, the museums, the historic part of the city and the famous haciendas, then head over to Puerto Progreso where you will be delighted by the beautiful beaches. Here you can relax or go jet skiing, parasailing and even banana boating.
Only 1.5 hours away you will find Chichen Itza, one of Mexico’s most renowned historic and cultural gems. From here you can continue the Mayan history tour with a visit to Ek Balam, only 53 minutes away from Chichen Itza.
Itinerary Option 2: Cabo San Lucas and San Jose del Cabo
Cabo San Lucas is a great destination for a fun-filled and relaxing getaway. Here you can have a great time either relaxing at the resort beaches or spas, or just hit the town and partake in the exciting nightlife. Hotels are available for all budgets. All-inclusive properties are also available for an economical yet fun-filled family vacation, a bachelor or bachelorette party, or spring break.
My favorite accommodations in this destination are the high-end hotels. I call them the “Four Big Resorts:” Las Ventanas al Paraiso, Palmilla, Esperanza and Capella Pedregal. These are the four names associated with high-end luxury and comfort.
From Cabo San Lucas, visit the city of San Jose del Cabo, a charming and much smaller city. I would also say that it is a much better representation of what the region’s architecture, history and values are all about. If you feel more adventurous you can drive north on the Baja California Coast and visit the towns of La Paz and Loreto, though these are options for overnight stays and not day tours.
Thank you for those itineraries. This is not specifically about Mexico, but given your great love of travel please share with us how you feel about the work you do.
To travel is to enrich your life through everyday experience, to find beauty in the things that surround you and to interact with people who will reshape ideas you have about the world. There is an unspoken education that happens when we are exposed to other cultures and realities, when we get out of our comfort zones.
For example, it is nearly impossible to visit the poorer nations of the world and not feel compelled to find a way to help. Similarly, when clients visit wealthier nations with higher rates of education or better industry, it’s still my responsibility to see to it that they learn from their experiences. To travel is to grow, and it’s my job to put the world in front of my clients’ eyes. What they do with their new knowledge will hopefully be the right thing.