6 Sustainable Travel Destinations in Mexico
One of the most incredible natural heritages one can discover on their sustainable travel is the endemic species of magical marine and terrestrial animals found at UNESCO sites. Whale sanctuaries, monarch butterfly migration phenomena, and coastlines that ancient Mayans named “Origin of the Sky” are just some of the amazing gifts that Mexico has to offer the most open minded of transformation seekers. The country’s rich variety of ecosystems – riviera, the gulf, the desert, the jungles, and hidden coastlines – make this one of the most abundant and eco-friendly destinations in the world. Paired with incredible culture, history, and a felicity that is felt the moment you step off the plane, Mexico could very well be the best your life has yet to experience.
Archipiélago de Revillagigedo
The Archipiélago de Revillagigedo is located in the eastern Pacific Ocean, 386 km southwest of the southern tip of the Baja California Peninsula, and 720 to 970 km west of the Mexican mainland. The Archipiélago de Revillagigedo is a serial nomination made up of four remote islands and their surrounding waters: Isla San Benedicto, Isla Socorro, Isla Roca Partida and Isla Clarión. The property covers 636,685 ha and includes a marine protected area extending 12 nautical miles around each of the islands. A very large buffer zone of 14,186,420 ha surrounds all four islands. Ocean depths within the buffer zone of the property reach 3.7 km, particularly to the west of Isla Roca Partida, and to the west and south of Isla Clarión. Due to their volcanic origin, depths around the islands increase abruptly at distances of between 10-12 km from the island shorelines. The Archipiélago de Revillagigedo is part of a submarine mountain range with the four islands representing the peaks of volcanoes emerging above sea level. Apart from two small naval bases, the islands are uninhabited.
The Archipiélago de Revillagigedo represents an exceptional convergence of two marine biogeographic regions: the Northeastern Pacific and Eastern Pacific. More particularly, the property lies along the junction where the California and Equatorial current mix generating a complex and highly productive transition zone. The islands and surrounding waters of the Archipiélago de Revillagigedo are rich in marine life and recognised as important stepping-stones and stop overs for wide ranging species. The property harbours abundant populations of sharks, rays, large pelagic fish, Humpback Whales, turtles and manta rays; a concentration of wildlife that attracts recreational divers from around the world.
Each of the islands displays characteristic terrestrial flora and fauna and their relative isolation has resulted in high levels of species endemism and micro-endemism, particularly among fish and bird species, many of which are globally threatened. The islands provide critical habitat for a range of terrestrial and marine creatures and are of particular importance to seabirds with Masked, Blue-footed, Red-footed and Brown Boobies, Red-billed Tropicbirds, Magnificent Frigatebirds and many other species dependent on the island and sea habitats. The Archipiélago de Revillagigedo is the only place in the world where the critically endangered Townsend’s Shearwater breeds.
El Pinacate and Gran Desierto de Altar Biosphere Reserve
El Pinacate and Gran Desierto de Altar Biosphere Reserve (EPGDABR) is located in the Sonoran Desert. The Sonoran Desert is one of four great North American deserts along with the Chihuahuan Desert, the Great Basin Desert and the Mojave Desert. EPGDABR has a surface of 714,566 hectares with 354,871 hectares of buffer zone. It is a large and relatively undisturbed protected area which comprises two very distinct broad landscape types. To the East, there is a dormant volcanic area of around 200,000 ha, comprised of the Pinacate Shield with extensive black and red lava flows and desert pavement. The volcanic shield boasts a wide array of volcanic phenomena and geological formations, including a small shield-type volcano. The most visually striking feature is the concentration of a total of 10 enormous, deep and almost perfectly circular Maar (steam blast) craters.
In the West towards the Colorado River Delta and South towards the Gulf of California, is the Gran Altar Desert, North America’s largest field of active sand dunes and only active Erg dunes. The dunes can reach 200 meters in height and contain a variety of dunes types. The dunes originate from sediments from the nearby Colorado Delta and local sources. In addition, there are several arid granite massifs emerging like islands from the sandy desert flats, ranging between 300 and 650 m.a.s.l., which represent another remarkable landscape feature harbouring distinct plant and wildlife communities.
The variety of landscapes results in extraordinary habitat diversity. The diversity of life forms across many different taxa is notable with many species endemic to the Sonoran Desert or more locally restricted to parts of the property. All feature sophisticated physiological and behavioural adaptations to the extreme environmental conditions. The subtropical desert ecosystem reportedly hosts more than 540 species of vascular plants, 44 mammals, more than 200 birds, over 40 reptiles, as well as several amphibians and even two endemic species of freshwater fish.
Islands and Protected Areas of the Gulf of California
The Gulf of California in Northwestern Mexico, once famously dubbed the “Aquarium of the World”, is recognized as an area of global marine conservation significance. Less known but equally spectacular are the terrestrial conservation values of the islands and coastal areas most of which are part of the Sonoran Desert. As a serial property, Islands and Protected Areas of the Gulf of California includes representative components of all major oceanographic zones of the biogeographically diverse Gulf, thereby capturing a broad spectrum of landscapes and conservation values. Extending from the Colorado River Delta in the north to 270 kilometres southeast of the tip of the Baja California Peninsula, the property includes 244 islands and islets clustered in eight major groups and another nine protected areas with coastal and marine zones. The total area is 1,837,194 hectares, of which about one quarter are terrestrial and the remainder marine.
The rugged islands and coastal desert contrasting with the surrounding turquoise waters are of striking natural beauty. Speciation both on land in the many islands and in the Gulf has resulted in a notable diversity of life forms with a high degree of endemism. The productivity of the Gulf also leads an extraordinary natural abundance of many marine species. There are some 900 species of fish, around 90 of them endemic, and roughly one third of the World’s marine mammals occur within the property. The islands and islets are mostly of volcanic origin. There are numerous species of succulents, including some of the World’s tallest cacti, exceeding 25 meters in height. Overall, some 700 species of vascular plants have been recorded. There are many species and impressive numbers of resident and migratory birds with some small islands hosting major proportions of the global population of Heermann’s Gulls, Blue-footed Booby and Black Storm Petrel.
Monarc Butterfly Biosphere Reserve
The Monarch Butterfly Biosphere Reserve World Heritage property protects key overwintering sites for the monarch butterfly. The overwintering concentration of butterflies in the property is a superlative natural phenomenon. The millions of monarch butterflies that return to the property every year bend tree branches by their weight, fill the sky when they take flight, and make a sound like light rain with the beating of their wings. Witnessing this unique phenomenon is an exceptional experience of nature.
Thousands of years ago the original Maya inhabitants appreciated the exceptional natural beauty of this stretch of coastline, naming it Sian Ka´an, or “Origin of the Sky”. Located on the Eastern coast of the Yucatan Peninsula in the State of Quintana Roo, Sian Ka´an is one of Mexico’s largest protected areas, established to manage 528,148 hectares of intricately linked marine, coastal and terrestrial ecosystems. Along its roughly 120 kilometres of coastline, the property covers over 400,000 hectares of land ranging from sea level to only ten m.a.s.l. The property boasts diverse tropical forests, palm savannah, one of the most pristine wetlands in the region, lagoons, extensive mangrove stands, as well as sandy beaches and dunes. The 120,000 hectares of marine area protect a valuable part of the Mesoamerican Barrier Reef and seagrass beds in the shallow bays. The lush green of the forests and the many shades of blue of the lagoons and the Caribbean Sea under a wide sky offer fascinating visual impressions.
The diversity of life in Sian Ka’an is exceptional. The tropical forests are home to charismatic mammals such as Jaguar, Puma, Ocelot and Central American Tapir. The property also provides habitat for a large number of resident and migratory bird species. There is a great diversity of marine life, including the West Indian Manatee, four species of nesting marine turtles and hundreds of fish species. About a third of the property is comprised of highly diverse and productive mangrove communities, of vital importance to fisheries in the broader region. Hundreds of forested islands, locally known as “Petenes”, emerge from the flooded marshes, some reaching over a kilometre in diameter. A geological, biological and cultural particularity are the “Cenotes”, deep natural sinkholes harbouring fascinating life forms, many of them endemic. This karst phenomenon results from collapsing limestone exposing groundwater.
Whale Sanctuary of El Vizcaino
The Whale Sanctuary of El Vizcaino is a serial property on the Pacific Coast of the central part of Mexico’s Baja California Peninsula. It comprises two coastal lagoons, Laguna Ojo de Liebre and Laguna San Ignacio, and their surroundings, a complex mosaic of wetlands, marshes, halophytes, dunes and desert habitats, as well as mangroves in the transition areas. The total extent of the two components of the property is of 370,950 hectares, embedded in the much larger El Vizcaino Biosphere Reserve, Mexico’s largest protected area, which in turn is contiguous with another large conservation area to the North. The lagoons are recognized as the World’s most important place for the reproduction of the once endangered Eastern subpopulation of the North Pacific Grey Whale. The protection of these winter breeding grounds has been paramount in the remarkable recovery of this species after near-extinction as a result of commercial whaling, including in these very lagoons. Most of the subpopulation migrates between the lagoons and the summer feeding grounds in the Chukchi, Beaufort and Northwestern Bering Seas.
The lagoons are home to numerous other marine mammals, such as Bottlenose Dolphin, California Sea Lion and Harbor Seal. Four marine turtle species occur in the shallow waters which are also an important habitat and nursery for a large number of fish, crustaceans, and others forms of life. Countless breeding and migratory bird species, including for example a major resident osprey population and more than half of Mexico´s wintering population of Brant Goose depend on the lagoons and adjacent habitats. This exceptional sanctuary conserves both marine and terrestrial ecosystems and their delicate interface. The surrounding desert, biogeographically part of the Sonoran Desert, boasts highly diverse flora and fauna.
Despite the protection status, the property is susceptible to the potential impacts of economic activities taking place in the immediate vicinity of the lagoons, in particular benthic and pelagic fisheries, large-scale salt extraction and tourism.