Off the Map: Alternative Tourism on the Rise

The Museo Maya de Cancún and its adjoining San Miguelito archaeological site serve as reminders of Cancún's important past and its legacy in present-day culture. Unfortunately, it's a past that often gets lost among the modern trappings of the Zona Hotelera. Nevertheless, a growing number of alternative tourism outfits are reconnecting people with Yucatecan culture. And hooking up a community-based tour not only allows you to tap into that culture but it also provides much-needed support for local tourism economies – keep in mind that the money you spend in Cancún doesn't always stay in Cancún. Many Maya communities, for instance, are beginning to welcome tourism – it may be the only way to maintain their language and culture as mass migration to boom towns like Cancún draws away the best and brightest, and children ask to study English rather than Maya. Maya Ka'an (www.mayakaan.travel) supports ecotourism in numerous communities throughout the state, including lagoon tours in Muyil, just south of Tulum, which could easily be visited on a day trip from Cancún. Other Maya Ka'an tours teach ancient Maya medicine and healing practices. Another good source of information for sustainable tourism is website www.caminossagrados.org. North of Cancún, on the road to Isla Holbox, an ecotourism center called El Corchal runs interesting tours in the seldom-visited town of Solferino. Nature enthusiasts will enjoy the center's kayaking and jungle camping trips. Even if you have no time for the tour, you should definitely make it a point to stop in Solferino and check out the town's magnificent orchid garden and its famous 700-year-old scared Ceiba tree. Soferino lies about 125km northwest of Cancún and just 15km south of Chiquila, which you can catch ferry boats to Holbox Island.