Mexico and the Pueblos Mágicos

Travelling on a rather low budget allow you to visit quite a few low cost hostels. And as it usually is at hostels you meet a lot of people from different countries that seem to be on more or less the same mission as you: to visit several destinations within the country that you have just landed in. Our intention of travelling might differ from each other, but for the local population we are more or less one homogenous mass.

Maybe we are the boring couple from Europe, but already after one breakfast at our first hostel we were tired about talking where we were going, where others have been and the places that you MUST visit, how to get the cheapest tours, what is overrated and how you can save half a peso etc, etc. But more about this in another post. Along our first conversation like this we came across the term “Pueblo Magico”. “You have to go to Tlatlauquitepec and Cholula, they are Pueblos Magicos”.

  1. Isn’t Cholula a hot sauce?
  2. What is so magic about them?

During our first four days in Mexico I heard about this concept several time, and slowly I realised that our next destination was actually one of these magic towns; Mazunte, a town that turned out to be a bit magical, but it was not because of the fact that is was named Pueblo Mágico one year ago. It was because of the lack of mass tourism, the kind people and the untouched nature it was magical, the development project was just in the initial phase.

Translated to English, “Pueblo Magico” means Magic Town, and if one makes a quick search on google it becomes clear that this is a brand, or concept created by the Mexican Ministry of Tourism (PueblosMexico). Tourism and tourism development are in many cases seen as a way for socioeconomic development (Ramírez et al, 2010; Pérez-Ramírez et al 2016) in many parts of the world, and Mexico is not an exception from this tendency.

The program “Pueblos Mágicos de Mexico” was introduced by the Ministry of Tourism (SECTUR) in 2001(Valdez et al 2009) as a strategic action taken under the National Tourism Program 2001-2006 (Pérez-Ramírez et al 2016) as an intent to  in order to spread the tourism industry to less travelled areas that have a story to tell and are located within a distance of 200km from a bigger tourism metropolis (PueblosMexico). The project aim to create and structure diversified and holistic tourism offers throughout the parts of the country (Ramírez et al, 2010) that have not yet benefit from the tourism boom but still have a touristic potential (López 2009).

In short local govermnents are given foundings in order implement the strategies and reach the requierments that the SECTUR have greated for destinations that want to become a part of the program. Of course this will affect the local dynamics at the destination and places that before was open for the public will change into a tourist space with a new meaning for the locals. (Hernández 2014; López 2009). The central areas of the towns or the specific areas that are of touristic interest are often remodified, the streets are rebuilt, street lightning are installed and other factors that also might benefit the local community are usually one of the priorities in order to make the destination more fit for receiving tourists (López 2009; Pérez-Ramírez et al 2016).

However, scholars’ witness that it often ends there and the parts where the population actually lives are left behind (Lopez 2009; Pérez-Ramírez et al 2016) and the discourse and stories regarding locals patrimony is changes in order to create new interesting and exotic stories that will make the places more enchanting for visitors (López 2009; Ramírez et al, 2010, Hernández 2014; Pérez-Ramírez et al 2016). As with many development projects that come from governmental level, the actual interest of the local community is not always taken in consideration (Hernández 2014).

We have during our month in Mexico visited only three of the 111 Pueblos Mágicos, so of course this is just a very subjective and general reflection of our personal experiences. We have loved our time in Mexico, the people have been fantastic and so has the towns and natural areas that we have came across. Except of the two locations where we spend our last four days, located along Riviera Maya, the most (over) developed region regarding tourism in Mexico, Bacalar and Cancún.

Bacalar, a town that was given the title Pueblo Mágico five years ago is located in the south of the state Quintana Roo and is a popular place to visit because of the lagoon of seven colours and its clear waters. The lagoon itself is a rather “magical” place, but the rest leave a bit more to wish for. In the small town centre (the two streets surrounding the main square) had, and were undergoing some reconstructing to make the place more attractive and “walkable”. Everywhere the logo of the Pueblo Mágico was seen,and as soon you stepped one metre outside the town centre the re-modification project were no were to be seen.

In general all the people that worked within the service sector (that we came across) had a terrible attitude. I have myself worked within several sectors of the service industry the last 10 years so maybe I have other expectations of what good service is. But on the other hand, I know that you also have days  you do not feel for interact with the guests visiting your workplace, and therefore I think that I might be a bit more forgiving in certain situations. But in the end, it is your job, and even if you might not be able to give the best service every day, at least you do not need to be rude, over and over again. It was like the whole town was raditating their non-interest in becoming a more visited tourist destination. And there is nothing wrong with that, nothing at all. But since the town have been established as a magic town, the inhabitants do not have any choice, the tourism development have partly been forced upon them and they have to work with it even if they want it or not.

With this said we came across two nice places during our stay in Bacalar; the boy selling quesadillas at the main square, and the staff working at Taqueria Alhambre 13 located along the main road. And of course, the lagoon was nice and we had a good stay in general. But it was just such a big contrast to everyplace we had visited in Mexico, it really felt like we had been placed in a practical joke, so much ambitons and experiences to offer, but no real spirit or will for doing it. For further readings on Mexicos Pueblos Magicos, check out the following links:

Programa pueblos mágicos y desarrollo local: actores, dimensiones y perspectivas en El Oro, México

Divided over Tourism: Zapotec Responses to Mexico’s ’Magical Villages Program’

Cholula, de Pueblo Mágico a Disney Crazy

¿Cuál es la situación real de los ‘Pueblos Mágicos’?

The tourism product in Magic Towns of Mexi-co. A critical analysis of its components

Tourism Policy Review of Mexico

With this said, we continued up to Cancún to spend our last night there before we boarded our flight to Costa Rica were we arrived two days ago. The last 2 hours of our bus drive  between Bacalar and Cancún did consist in huge holiday resorts cutting of the whole coastline. And it just accumulated until we got off the bus.  And I think that this is one of the main reasons why I want to write about this topic during our travel this and next year.

I love to travel. I love to see new places and get to know new people. But as long we are escaping our normal lives and feel that we have to take resort in one of these destinations where things are more or less like home, where we expect to get the same food, behaviour and comfort as back in Europe or the US we will see a development of tourism destinations that is mainly benefiting the growing market and cutting us of even more from the reality. Because, do we really want to visit places where the locals only see us as commodities? We have commodified their culture and homeland in our minds, and now they have to sell us what they think we want, and what we think we need. Travelling is for widening your perspective and mind, not for confirming in the same old routines as you always have done.



Ramírez et al, 2010     Rafael Covarrubias Ramírez; Astrid Vargas Vvázquez; Ismael Manuel Rodríguez Herrera; Satisfaccíon de residentes com el desarrollo de la actividad turística en los Pueblos Mágicos de México: Un indicador de Copetividad. Casos de Comala en Colima y de Real de Asientos en Aguascalientes, Gest.tur (Valdivia) n.14, 33-54, dic.2010

Hernández 2014           Julio Boca Hernández, Cholula, de Pueblo Mágico a Disney Crazy,, 2014

López 2009                     José de Jesús Hernández López; Tequila: Centro Mágico, Pueblo Tradicional. ¿Patrimonialización o privatización?, Andamios Volume 6, no 12, 2009 pp 41-67,

Valdez et al 2009           Velarde Valdez; Mónica Maldonado Alcudia; Ana Virginia del Carmen; Maldonado Alcudia; Minerva Candelaria: Pueblos Mágicos, Estrategia para el desarrollo turístico sustentable: caso Sinaloa. Teoría y Praxis, no 6, 2009, pp 79-93

Pérez-Ramírez et al 2016              Pérez-Ramírez, Carlos Alberto; Antolín-Espinosa, Diana Itzel Programa pueblos mágicos y desarrollo local: actores, dimensiones y perspectivas en El Oro, México Estudios Sociales, vol. 25, núm. 47, enero-junio, 2016, pp. 219-243

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