As an anthropologist I like to seek out unique cultural experiences both for my clients and for myself when I travel. I also have a strong desire to make sure that local communities benefit from tourism. So on a recent trip to Mexico, I decided to try a tour with Community Tours Sian Ka’an. They are an indigenous-run community tourism enterprise run by and for the local Mayan communities. Tour guides are all trilingual (Mayan, Spanish, and English) and professionally-trained. Their tours are centered around the Sian Ka’an Biospehere Reserve just south of Tulum and the Riveria Maya. Because all of the guides are local to the area they can teach their guests not just about the culture and history of the locations they visit, but they also have extensive knowledge about the natural world. We did a great tour visiting a small Mayan village where we were able to visit a Mayan school and let our child play with the local kids. We visited local soapmakers and beekeepers to see these small sustainable village enterprises. I also spent a lot of time discussing with them the impacts of tourism on the region and how they are working to make sure the local indigenous population gets to reap the benefits as well.
One of the most popular tours that they run visits the Biosphere Reserve and begins with a visit to the archaeological site of Muyil, where the guide explains about ancient and present-day Mayan culture. From their the tour makes their way to the boat where guests regularly see all types of wildlife, including manatees, as they crisscross pristine lakes and rivers. Once they reach an ancient Mayan canal everyone jumps out of the boat and floats with the gentle current through crystal clear waters. An awesome experience. Back at Community Tours Sian Ka’an’s headquarters they have a small museum dedicated to the Mayan people, a gift shop of local handmade crafts, a restaurant serving Mayan specialties, and a butterfly garden where they are trying to protect endangered butterfly species. Overall, they are a model for successful, sustainable eco-tourism. I am happy I was able to support their initiatives, and I look forward to sending my clients there to have their own amazing experiences.