Focus on Responsible Tourism

Three cruise lines, new air connections, 12,000 rooms in 180 hotels… We greet hundreds of thousands of national and international visitors each year in Mazatlán. Any chance I’ve gotten over the past eight years I’ve tried to encourage travelers to get beyond the stereotypical but wonderful beer and beaches to experience a bit of the “real Mexico,” be it a visit to a small town, witnessing the shrimp or mango harvest, or admiring the Mayo-Yoreme traditions.

Recently, however, I’ve been working with a colleague in Milan, Maura di Mauro, on a project, and she cautioned me about how the culture of Mursi villagers in Ethiopia was changing due to tourism. Thanks to an influx of camera-toting tourists willing to pay for photos, the villagers increasingly exaggerate their traditional practices and even falsely embellish them, to make them more attractive to visitors. Lord knows I’ve witnessed this sort of thing happening in and around Mazatlán. She also told me about Chinese tourists descending en masse on a small village in The Netherlands. Many of the Dutch residents welcome the added economic boost such international tourism provides, but they have also experienced downsides to such tourism and, again, changes to their culture. We in Mazatlán sure experience the ups and the downs of tourism, and know how important it is to our economy.

Maura said there were documentaries about both of these topics, made by the same Dutch cinematographer. She got me excited and I can not WAIT to view the two films!

The first documentary Maura told me about is called Framing the Other” by Ilja Kok and Willem Timmers  (25 min, English and Mursi with English subtitles).

The Mursi tribe lives in the basin of the Omo River in the south of the east African state of Ethiopia. The women are known for placing large plates in their lower lips and wearing enormous, richly decorated earrings. Every year hundreds of Western tourists come to see the unusually adorned natives; posing for camera-toting visitors has become the main source of income for the Mursi. To make more money, they embellish their “costumes” and finery in such a manner that less of their original authentic culture remains. The film contrasts the views of Mursi women and those of Dutch tourists preparing for a meeting. This humorous and at the same time chilling film shows the destructive impact tourism has on traditional communities. A preview is below:


The second film is called Ni Hao Holland: The Chinese are coming” by Willem Timmers (25 min, Mandarin and Dutch with English subtitles).


It is a documentary about Chinese tourists and their quest for the authentic Dutch experience. Cherry, the main character, has long dreamt of swapping her home city Beijing for the Dutch village Giethoorn. She has heard and read a lot about this mythical place. The day arrives that she and her friend hop on the plane in search of adventure. In the meantime, entrepreneurs from Giethoorn work hard behind the scenes to cater to this “Holland experience.” They want to make the most of the fast-growing flow of Chinese tourists to their village. How is this authenticity created by some and experienced by others? A preview follows:


While I’ve yet to watch either of these movies, it sure sounds like there’s a lot to think about for tourism in Mazatlán and Sinaloa. I look forward to hearing your thoughts!

Reenactments of the Crucifixion On Good Friday


Photo from Fernando Barraza

Religious tourism is such a powerful way to experience a culture, its history, people, and places. We’ve so enjoyed traveling throughout Mexico, including Oaxaca, Barrancas del Cobre, ZacatecasGuanajuato, and Michoacán to participate in sacred events. Easter is the holiest of holidays in the Roman Catholic calendar, and Mazatlán and its nearby small towns do a lot to commemorate Easter.

Celebrations normally begin on Holy Thursday (March 24, 2016) with foot washing in the evening, and continue on Good Friday (March 25, 2016) with a reenacting of the crucifixion of Jesus Christ. Here in Mazatlán most parishes participate in these events; just contact your local parish to confirm time and place.

One of the biggest reenactments here in town has traditionally been PAJUMA (Pascua Juveníl de Mazatlán), a three-day diocesan event that takes place in the baseball stadium. On Good Friday the kids reenact the crucifixion of Christ in the stadium and then, still fully costumed, process silently from the stadium at about 5:00 pm, to the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception downtown, passing by the Aquarium, along the malecón, the Fisherman’s Monument, and the pangas in Playa Norte. The procession then turns left and goes down through Plaza Zaragoza to the cathedral. There are not many places in the world you can see a Way of the Cross enacted along the oceanfront! I’ve called them and messaged them, but am unable to confirm if it will be the same schedule this year.

Since Mazatlán’s beaches get so very crowded, and the traffic doesn’t permit us to get around easily, Semana Santa is also a wonderful time to get out of town. This year, we’ll be spending Holy Week up around Los Mochis, to celebrate with the friends we made during the Konti celebrations a couple of years ago. But you do not have to go far to participate in some really incredible religious tourism celebrations. Why not spend a few days, and really get to know one of our region’s small towns and their traditions?

Reenactments of the crucifixion traditionally start at 11:00 am and continue until Jesus’ death, liturgically at 3:52 pm. Crucifixions (they don’t actually nail anyone here, just hang them up with ropes, which is still a difficult feat for those crucified) are held in:

  • Chametla (Rosario; 100 km from MZT)
  • Malpica (Concordia; 38 km from MZT)
  • Matatán (Rosario; 82 km from MZT)
  • San Ignacio (111 km from MZT)
  • Teacapán (Escuinapa; 130 km from MZT)

San Ignacio also conducts a Procession of Silence on Friday night at 7:00 pm. Cosála has one, too. I highly recommend that you avoid driving in the mountains at night; better to spend the night.

Of particular interest to me this year will be the reenactment in Chametla, as my friend who is a favorite teacher to so many, Fernando Barraza, is directing the event. It is also the opposite direction from some of the troubles that have sadly been happening again lately in the mountains.

The celebration in Chametla this year is entitled “Calvario.” The play will involve over 60 actors who will walk over two kilometers, beginning on the main street, just down from the cathedral in front of the tostada stand called “Mangazo” or “El Chombi.” From there the procession will wind though town—it takes a different route each year—ending with the crucifixion this year on the hill in front of the cemetery.

If you go, I urge you to spend the night there or in nearby Pueblo Mágico, El Rosario. There is terrific hiking around the area, and lots to see; make a nice weekend of it.

Happy Easter!

San Ignacio: Lovely mountain town one hour from Mazatlán

One of the reasons we came to live in Mazatlán is our compadres, the Valverde family. Daniel has been Greg’s best friend since they both were sixteen, working up in the SF Bay area. Daniel and his family are originally from San Ignacio, and many of his family members and dear friends have worked for Greg up north over the decades. Greg began to travel down to Mazatlán with Daniel on holidays, staying in the house Daniel built for his mother. They would often travel out to San Ignacio, to the rancho, to visit family and friends. Over the years they have become family to us. Danny dearly loves his tíos and cousins, and not so long ago we went to San Ignacio with Mariana and Rubén, Daniel’s sister and brother-in-law, to visit the dentista loco and his wife, Irma, also good friends.

San Ignacio (de Loyola) is a lovely small town about 60 miles north of Mazatlán, entered through the typical scenic gate, and with a walled church on the central square, as is so normal in the small towns of México. It was founded in 1633 by the Jesuit priest, Diego González de Cueto, and is currently home to about 4500 people. San Ignacio was originally called Piaxtla, after the indigenous people who lived there. It is a colonial mission town, with the Jesuit Misión de Santa Apolonia established there in 1748.

Like most of the small mountain towns near Mazatlán, San Ignacio was a mining town, rich in silver, gold and copper. Today, life on Constitution Square and in the streets of San Ignacio is laid-back yet vibrant. Many of the colonial French and Spanish style buildings are still standing, and the landscape is lush. The main church is called, of course, San Ignacio de Loyola, and a second church in town is Our Lady of the Nativity. There are hot springs, though our friends have never taken us to them.

What stands out during a visit to San Ignacio is the huge statue of Jesus Christ up on the hill, hands outstretched in a similar manner to the famous statue in Rio. You can easily view this landmark from the main square, and the views out from the statue on top of the hill are truly breathtaking.

I’ve always wanted to go to San Ignacio for Good Friday. They do a remarkable, community-wide reenactment of the crucifixion. The event attracts hundreds of people, so hotel reservations need to be made far in advance. The one hotel I know of in town is the Anjolin, which is fairly new with modern amenities.


What we have done quite often is to go down to the river. It’s very pleasant, the views are open and the water is crystal clear. In summer the riverfront is one big party: trucks, horses, food carts and stalls, and of course, lots of beer.

As you drive into San Ignacio, there’s a great little restaurant on the left side of the road, Cuata’s. I’ve written about this place previously, and we highly recommend it (very rustic, as you can see). We highly recommend a trip to San Ignacio for a change of pace and some beautiful scenery. Next time we are definitely checking out the hot springs!

Driving Directions
Head northwest towards Culiacan on highway 15 — the free (libre) road — for 43 miles to Coyotitán, where there is an exit for San Ignacio. You’ll turn right and proceed about 20 miles up into the lush Sierra Madre foothills to reach San Ignacio.