Updated: 18th April 2022
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Visit in partnership with the Tourism Recovery Programme
During my recent week-long visit to Mexico City, I was privileged with the opportunity to visit six of the businesses receiving support and mentorship from a recently launched Tourism Recovery Programme.
From organic-only wine bars to agricultural experiences and tours with an indigenous twist, it quickly became apparent this was a programme loyal to its word – where small, sustainable and impactful local businesses were genuinely feeling the benefits.
As I met more and more passionate business owners, each with their own unique stories to tell, I was reminded of just how precious travel can be – as well as being a catalyst for change.
From Mayra, the founder of NGO Manos a la Tierra, who was now embarking on turning her conservation work into authentic tourism experiences, to Alfonso, a member of a Nopal (cactus) farming cooperative, who wanted to open the doors to travellers wishing to see behind-the-scenes of this culinary staple, each of these businesses was genuinely focused on sustainability, community and responsible tourism.
While some of them only offer day trips in Mexico City, others, such as Trueke, have a wealth of knowledge from all corners of Mexico and can create tailor-made itineraries which include the top attractions alongside authentic, traditional experiences.
If you plan a trip to Mexico City and seek sustainable tourism activities, I hope one of these companies becomes a part of your trip and brings you as much happiness as they did me.
Introducing the Tourism Recovery Programme
The aforementioned Tourism Recovery Programme, which has been supporting businesses in Mexico amongst other countries, is a perfect collaboration between tourism experts TUI Care Foundation, a separate entity to well-known TUI Holidays, and enpact, a Berlin-based organisation specialised in supporting entrepreneurs and their ecosystems in building capacity and growing their impact.
Providing networking, mentorships, and training, the programme’s reach and skills development side have been helping these local operators face the challenges of a ‘post-pandemic’ world.
As well as the training and support, an initial funds boost amounting to €9000 was supplied to nominated businesses by GIZ, a German development agency, under a commission by the German Federal Ministry for International Cooperation and Development. This allocation aimed to help the tourism companies survive the immediate impact of the pandemic in the short term, while the programme’s overall aim was to grow long term abilities and new markets for the businesses through mentorship, training, and networking.
You can learn more about the Tourism Recovery Programme here, but for now, let me introduce you to some of these incredible businesses waiting for your visit to Mexico City.
Cacti cuisine, touring the Nopal Route with Ruta Páak’am
While many of the businesses I visited during my time in Mexico were already somewhat established in the tourism, or at least volunteer space, the Ruta Páak’am team has historically worked in product production, with the Nopal (Prickly Pear Cactus) cooperative producing various delicious and healthy products in their nearby factory.
Now, through the leadership of Alfonso, they want to invite travellers to Mexico City to step outside the inner neighbourhoods and discover the Ruta Páak’am on a full-day itinerary of gastronomy and culture.
The tours begin at a newly constructed facility, where an expert in cacti delves into the details and facts about this plant species, of course, focusing on the edible Nopals. There are no worries about not understanding any part of the day with a translator supplied.
After learning about all the different plants, you’ll have a chance to cut and prepare them yourself, with all the hard work accumulating in a delicious family-style cooked meal of Nopal based dishes.
Other highlights of the tour include a visit to a nearby Mole factory in one of the most famed towns for its production and a spiritual ceremony inside the crater of an extinct volcano.
Trueke, tours with a community twist
For Karen Steiner, the founder of Trueke Tours, she always wants to find the balance between the top attractions and local, community-focused experiences on her tours.
With a background working at an NGO supporting communities that natural disasters have affected, Karen has built extensive connections in all corners of the country, allowing her to piece together multi-day itineraries for travellers wishing to delve a little deeper on their travels.
While I only had a day trip from Mexico City arranged by Trueke, they still managed to stay true to their word.
Following a breathtaking morning balloon flight over the ancient Teotihuacan pyramids, my driver whisked me into a tiny village. Entering a small grey door, I was greeted by Ericka and her husband Rafaela, who sat me down in their living room to enjoy a proper home-cooked meal.
While this was only a snippet of the type of local experiences Trueke offers, it gave me an idea of how personal and intimate a full tour would be. After lunch, I should have headed for a Temazcal – a sort of sweating ceremony in an igloo-shaped lodge with spiritual roots – however, this still wasn’t possible due to Covid at the time of travel.
Seeking another side of the city with Manos a la Tierra
Mayra Jiménez, the founder of Manos a la Tierra, is another inspiring leader with an impactful history working in NGOs. In fact, Manos started as and still operates as an NGO, and recently they have decided to expand into tourism offerings.
Mayra sees this as a double win; for travellers, they get to connect with the nature and communities of the country, while the funds raised from the tours will allow her conservation and ecological projects to expand at a quicker pace.
With connections and tour opportunities across the country in the pipeline, Manos a la Tierra can provide custom itineraries to travellers. For my day trip from Mexico City, I was privileged to see another side of Xochimilco. While nowadays it’s more famed for colourful trajineras boats often serenaded by Mariachi bands, historically, this UNESCO listed site’s importance started as agricultural land.
Still, to this day, the incredible Chinampa technique of using floating gardens as farmland survives. During a day inside the Protected Natural Area of San Gregorio Atlapulco, I witnessed this first-hand.
Unbelievably, I was the only tourist inside the protected area that day. Accompanied by David, a Chinampa farmer, I learnt all about this historic farming method which dates back to the Aztecs, floated down serene canals, and watched migratory birds flying high above the lakes. Needless to say, I quickly forgot I was in a metropolis like Mexico City!
Neighbourhood flavours with Sabores Mexico Food Tours & Loup Bar
I’m sure you don’t need me to tell you that the gastronomy of Mexico is some of the best in the world. However, it’s also some of the most diverse – and local, regional flavours can be hard to find in the capital city.
Enter Sabores Mexico Food Tours, who offer three different half-day tours in Mexico City; all focused on savouring the very best dishes it has to offer.
During my five hours with Grace, my fantastic guide, we traversed the Colonia Roma neighbourhood – famed for its grand buildings and fascinating history – while eating multiple dishes that each amazed me.
With a focus on small, inventive cafes and restaurants, many of which focus on lesser-known, remote regional cuisine, I took my taste buds on a journey around the country without having to walk more than a few blocks.
Learning about the neighbourhood and the city as we strolled between each restaurant was a fantastic way to prepare my stomach for more food and understand the suburb more in-depth. If you spend any time in Mexico City, you quickly realise that not only is it incredibly vast, but each neighbourhood has its own quirks, stories and style.
Another business supported by the Tourism Recovery Programme, Loup Bar, is also situated in Roma and is well worth a visit if you are in the area.
In a small and quaint wood-heavy room, a couple of steps down from the street, you’ll find an organic wine menu ranging from local Mexican reds to sparkling Italian wines and even imports from the country of Georgia.
The food menu complements the wine, focusing on organic and eco-friendly ingredients, with dishes ranging from the usual Mexican staples to French-inspired fare.
Casa Jacinta, the guest house with a creative soul
Creativity is ubiquitous with Coyoacán, a favourite neighbourhood for many beloved artists in Mexico City. Here, piano melodies seep out of windows while galleries, workshops and artisanal craft markets line the streets. Around the leafy squares, mime entertainers and buskers perform, flanked by grand architecture and cathedrals.
During my time in the city, I stayed in Casa Jacinta, a boutique guest house just moments from the main square that embodies the artistic spirit of Coyoacán inhabits every room.
Run by a family of artists, painters, writers and sculptors, this wonderful business also invests some of its profits back into fellow local artisans, allowing them to work on their own projects with financial support.
Quiet, safe, and homely, Casa Jacinta quickly became my home away from home. From the modern, light rooms decorated with the family’s artwork to the verdant, flower-framed garden perfect for reading a book, it was indeed a peaceful retreat to return to after a day exploring the city.
My visit to Mexico was in partnership with the Tourism Recovery Programme – you can learn more about how this fund and mentorship is supporting local businesses on the link, and find more information about the partners powering the programme on their websites: TUI Care Foundation and enpact.