•YEAR-LONG TRAVEL: Mexico is a top global destination making the most of the current economic and health crises. The country consistently ranks among the top 10 destinations by the number of international arrivals (7th in 2019, according to the World Tourism Organization, UNWTO). Despite the pandemic, its pace of recovery seems faster than that of its peers, a noteworthy feat, considering that the tourism industry worldwide is expected to lose US $2 trillion this year. Mexico offers a vast array of experiences for foreign and local travelers. Still, some holiday spots dominated the market this year, and recent news about the Covid-19 Omicron variant may affect the trend.
•NUMBERS: Q3 2021 international arrival numbers are in and they look promising. Data from the Ministry of Tourism shows that from January to October 2021, 10.6 million international tourists arrived in Mexico via airplane. This number represents a 70 percent increase from the same period last year. However, international arrivals to Mexico remain below pre-pandemic levels (15.5 million between Q1 2019 and Q3 2019). Like previous years, the majority of visitors to Mexico in 2021 came from the U.S. (8 million). Meanwhile, Colombian (0.33 million) and Brazilian (0.26 million) displaced Canadian nationals (0.19 million) in the rank of tourists by places of origin. This critical shift happened because the Canadian government imposed stricter travel requirements, including monitoring and possible quarantines for those entering the country. Back in 2019, the total number of Canadians arriving in Mexico between January and October were 1.7 million.
•CANCÚN AND THE MAYAN RIVIERA: For many, the Mexican Caribbean is one of the first things that comes to mind when traveling to the country. Cancún has become the main port of entry for foreigners arriving via airplane. From January to October 2021, Cancún International Airport served for the arrival of approximately 4.9 million foreign travelers, a number that has grown 92.5 percent in comparison with 2020. This number is double that of Mexico City (2 million arrivals) and Los Cabos (1.3 million). Traffic at Cancún International was gaining speed before the pandemic: between January and October 2019 it was the country’s airport where most foreigners landed, with 6.5 million international visitors. An appetite for beachside tourism, popular neighboring hot spots like Tulum, the significant Ancient Mayan remains that dot the landscape, its ready connection to Europe, and bookings from those that have missed traveling by cruise ship, could explain its accelerated recovery. However, the recent episodes of violence in the region (partly explained due to criminal organizations vying for drug routes and local distribution points) could deter some from visiting. Although international tourists are for the most part not the target of criminal acts, caution is recommended. Year-end celebrations are grand events in Cancún, and criminal groups expect a high demand for illicit drugs from partygoers, leading to tension between the organizations. Plan activities in advance and favor activities in or near your resort during the daytime.
•PUERTO VALLARTA: A wonder of the Mexican Pacific Coast, tourism in Puerto Vallarta is also making a comeback to pre-pandemic levels. The town’s attractiveness is boosted by two other factors: its place on the Riviera Nayarit, a stretch of beaches almost 200 miles long, and the cultural offerings of the state of Jalisco, home of mariachis, tequila, and traditional Mexican fanfare. Destinations like Nuevo Vallarta, Punta Mita, San Blas, and Sayulita quickly became household names. Puerto Vallarta already surpassed the number of 2020 international air travelers, with 762 thousand from January to October 2021, or nearly 28 percent more. Between Q1 and Q3 2019, Puerto Vallarta International airport received 1.2 million international visitors. Aware of the upcoming demand, the local airport expands with a second terminal about to begin construction. Aeroméxico, Alaska, American, Delta, Southwest, United, and Viva serve most flights to Puerto Vallarta. The area is safe for travel along the coast during the daytime but be careful if driving to other parts of Jalisco. Recent busts and sting operations by the federal government against the local drug syndicate cartel Jalisco Nueva Generación could lead to abrupt violence in some areas.
•SAN MIGUEL DE ALLENDE: The colonial center packs a punch against other beachside destinations. San Miguel’s cultural and natural attractions, coupled with an expanded offer from cities like Guanajuato and León, make it a must on any traveler’s itinerary. In 2021, Condé Nast Traveler Magazine recognized it as the Best Small City in the World. According to data from Guanajuato’s Tourism Observatory, from January to September 2021, the small town (69 thousand inhabitants) saw the influx of 396,000 overnight visitors (for the same period of 2019, the number of overnight stays was 553,830). The city is known for its architecture, cuisine, and lively atmosphere suitable for weddings. For the last couple of decades, San Miguel has been a luxury destination; for example, 69 five-star establishments offer a total of over one thousand rooms in town. Because of the pandemic, however, San Miguel has successfully reshaped its tourism portfolio, focusing on new markets, like appealing to young travelers, the LGBTQ+ community, and nature lovers, while being strict with pandemic controls. Visitors arrive in town via the León-Bajío International Airport and travel by car or bus into San Miguel. The route is safe for travelers. A day expedition to Guanajuato or Querétaro is recommended if going with someone who knows the way or if booked with a travel agency.
•LOS CABOS: The brightest spot in the Baja Península still shines. Los Cabos is world renown for its pristine beaches, whale-watching, and party atmosphere. It competes with Cancún in attracting international tourists and occupancy rates. For the first week of December, hotel occupancy in Los Cabos reached 76.2 percent, just shy of Cancún’s 77.7 percent. Los Cabos has chosen quality over quantity when serving international visitors. Its strategy is now, more than before, focused on affluent spenders. San José International and Cabo San Lucas International are the two airports serving the region, the former focusing mainly on private travel. The local hotel association estimates that for 2021, 3 million visitors could have arrived in Los Cabos, with an expanded offer of 500 weekly flights into town, mainly from American cities. Previously, from January and October 2019, Los Cabos received 1.4 million visitors via airplane, slightly higher than the 1.3 million for the same period of this year.
•OMICRON: COVID-19 is still on the rise in Mexico, with a 10 percent weekly increase. According to official data, as of December 5, there are over 21 thousand active cases in the country. In the four-tier system, only five states (Baja California, Baja California Sur, Sonora, Chihuahua, and Coahuila) are in yellow levels, with the rest of Mexico in green. Vaccination efforts are still on the way, with 84 percent of Mexicans complying with full coverage. The effects of the new Omicron variant are still unknown, but the federal government has not enforced new travel restrictions. For now, travelers in Mexico must fill out an online form before entering the country, and no vaccination or quarantine requirements exist for nationals or foreigners when arriving. Local rules are similar around the country, with masks still required in planes, buses, taxis. No proof of vaccination is needed for restaurants, hotels, or other places of entertainment. Authorities, however, do restrict the number of people inside establishments. Comply with local health guidelines imposed by authorities or the management of the places of your patronage.
•Does Your Accordion Need a Fix? Some Mexican music, especially the Norteño and Tejano genres, rely on its sound. Jordan Salama prepared a profile for The New York Times about Francisco Luis Ramírez. For over fifty years, this man has worked repairing accordions in Mexico City. Mythical artists like Los Tigres del Norte and Los Ángeles Azules are part of his clientele.
•Integration and Travel on the Tijuana-San Diego Border. Thomas Pallini, writing for Business Insider, attempted traveling the fastest travel route from New York City to San Diego. His tactic: using Tijuana as a stop, and narrates the trip interestingly and with humor. He details the Cross Border Xpress (CBX) that links Tijuana International Airport and a terminal in San Diego, just over the border wall that separates both countries. Consider its use for your travel adventures.
•Cochinita Pibil. Several traditions make up Mexican cuisine. Because of historical and geographic considerations, the gastronomy of the Yucatán Península could stand on its own. The most famous of its dishes is the cochinita pibil, which is a near-magical blend of Mayan and Spanish ingredients and techniques. The recipe uses a suckling pig marinated in the juice of bitter oranges, vinegar, and achiote paste (made from annatto seeds). The meat is wrapped in banana leaves and set to roast inside the low heat of a píib. The píib consists of a pit dug for lined with firewood and then covered with stones and soil, effectively becoming an oven. After hours, the juicy meat is shredded and served in tacos or tortas, alongside black beans and rice. The finishing touch comes from spicy habanero sauce and red pickled onions, whose sharp, briny taste contrasts with the richness of the cochinita. Because of the time it takes to prepare, it was reserved for special occasions, but can now be found throughout the year in Mérida and other cities in the Yucatán Península. Try it on your next visit paired with a refreshing blonde beer. ¡Salud!