Fifty tourist destinations in Mexico’s interior have been declared “Magic Villages” by the federal government in its drive to enrich what the country has to offer tourists besides its main attractions of sun, sea and sand.
Ten years after Real de Catorce in the north-central state of San Luis Potosi and Huasca de Ocampo in the central state of Hidalgo became the first towns in the program, these Magic Villages welcomed 2.3 million tourists in 2011, 6.2 percent more than the previous year, officials at the Tourism Secretariat told Efe.
The coordinator of Colonial Activities for the secretariat, Heriberto Hermosillo, said that Mexico’s Magic Villages program began in 2001 and year by year has added new destinations so that it now has 50.
By definition a Magic Village is a place that reflects “the culture of Mexico” through attributes like architecture, traditions, customs, music, gastronomy, festivities and handicrafts.
The program has a basically simple plan - find a singular attraction in a town in Mexico’s interior and identify in it “a nucleus area” for developing as “a magical icon.”
At that point federal, state and muncipal authorities start working to create a new tourist destination under certain rules - and always with the support and participation of the community.
The official said that investments in these Mexican villages are aimed at “giving the tourist a more enjoyable experience.”
“Between 2007 and 2011 we invested close to 784 millon pesos ($61 million) and with the explosion of participation by states and municipalities we have reached close to 1,792 millon pesos ($140 million),” Hermosillo said.
Today these villages include such destinations as Izamal on the Yucatan Peninsula with its magnificent Franciscan convent, the silver mines and silversmiths of Taxco in Guerrero state, Cuetzalan in Puebla with its artisanal coffee growers and the beauty of its glorious natural surroundings, Creel in the mountains of Chihuahua state where the Tarahumara Indians live, and Jalpan de la Sierra in San Luis Potosi where tourists can explore the route of old colonial missions.
And the list doesn’t stop growing. Last month two more destinations were added - Sombrerete in Zacatecas state, and the Mineral del Pozo commmunity in the central state of Guanajuato.
The mayor of the latter village, Javier Becerra, considers tourism to be one of the best alternatives available today for a community founded by Jesuits in the 15th century.
At its peak it had some 60,000 inhabitants, but dwindled to less than a thousand when its 300-plus mines were shut down and its ever more impoverished people sought a better life elsewhere.
Now the town is trying to polish up its attractions “and exploit cultural, adventure, religious and family tourism.”
Other sites soon to be added include the Indian village of Mision de Chichimecas and the Paso de Vaqueros Dam, and, a little farther down the road, integrate these attractions into the touristic corridor of Guanajuato, Dolores Hidalgo and San Miguel Allende.
Making local inhabitants part of the program is essential, so they’re not left “watching other people make money” but rather join in the different projects regardless of any political differences they might have.
The Magic Villages plan is to incorporate 52 destinations and then evaluate the results of a program unlikely to overshadow the top tourist draws like Cancun, Acapulco and Los Cabos, but will offer something “different and complementary.”