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Ecotourism in tropical forest of Campeche: the example of El Hormiguero cooperative

March 12, 2019
Following our tour through communities in the Yucatan Peninsula it is time to visit a new state: Campeche, in the south of the peninsula.

To reach the fourth community in our itinerary with Totonal, we travel by bus from Tulum to Chetumal and from there to Xpujil, head of the municipality of Calakmul. In this municipality is located Calakmul Biosphere Reserve, the largest Mexican reserve of tropical forest, with 723 185 hectares of extension and UNESCO World Heritage site since 2002.
Here we visited Eugenio Echeverria Castellot II, a small district of 250 inhabitants who have come from different Mexican states such as Chiapas and Tabasco and belong mostly to the Chol ethnic group, related to the Maya. The community is strategically located within the buffer zone of the reserve and only 7 km from El Hormiguero archaeological site.

In 2004 a group of inhabitants decided to form the Cooperative El Hormiguero, with the aim of providing tourist activities that generate extra income and, at the same time, protect environment and encourage its appreciation. With the support of entities such as the National Commission for the Development of Indigenous People (CDI), they built the restaurant first, then 3 double cabins followed by 3 quadruple cabins to complete the ecotourism centre.

The cabins are spacious and comfortable, built with local woods and with an outside gallery that allows you to enjoy the views. The restaurant offers a first class service, thanks to training held with a hotel in the area, coordinated by Foundation Haciendas del Mundo Maya. This training allowed women from the cooperative to gain experience in presentation of dishes and customer service. Little by little they added activities and tours, always based on respect for the natural heritage.

Today its offer includes cycling and walking tours through its own trails to observe typical flora and fauna of the area, as well as visits to organic gardens from the families of the community, which in turn supply fresh products to the restaurant. During the jalapeño pepper harvest season, visitors have the unique opportunity to learn more about its production process that begins in November with the harvest and continues in December and January with drying and smoking using ancestral techniques. Finally, in February the famous Chipotle sauce is prepared and then distributed to other parts of the country.

Visit to El Hormiguero archaeological site

One of the must-see activities is the visit to El Hormiguero archaeological site, which takes its name from a gum camp that existed in the area in the 1930s. The tour starts with a 7 km bike ride from the cabins through an almost empty road. On the way there is a stop to watch birds and crocodiles in the lagoon El Milagro and then continue to the camp, where a succulent breakfast awaits to replenish energy and start the interpretive walk to the ruins of El Hormiguero.

The architectural style of this place is known as Rio Bec and is characterized by the rounded finish of its corners and by an abundant decoration with geometric designs and masks. This same style can be observed in other nearby sites, such as Xpujil, Becan and Chicaná. El Hormiguero is a little explored site and you can have it almost for yourself! For more adventurous, there is the possibility of spending the night in the camp nearby the site.

Ecotourism“, as Aureliano Gómez Gómez tells us, nature guide and member of the cooperative, “is an excellent opportunity to generate employment and income for young people, preventing them from leaving the community“. In addition, “the exchange of ideas and experiences between locals and visitors is very enriching, expanding the knowledge of both parties,” adds Aureliano. Many students and scientists come to explore the area for long periods of time, to learn about its flora and fauna, and the information they generate can be very valuable to be shared with guides like Aureliano.

The conservation of the environment is a priority in this community.  For this reason, 1005 hectares of the land (ejido) are protected while maintenance and reforestation tasks are shared among all “ejidatarios” or land owners. To this end, they have received support from the National Forestry Commission (CONAFOR) through a payment for ecosystem services scheme and part of this protected area can be seen in the tours on foot or by bicycle offered by the cooperative. In turn, each ejidatario allocates part of its land to conservation, planting trees of native species.

El Hormiguero is part of Visit Calakmul, an initiative of Pronatura Peninsula de Yucatán, which seeks to promote tourism offer of five communities in the municipality of Calakmul through joint promotion and marketing. In addition to Eugenio Echeverría Castellot II, the communities of La Mancolona, ​​Valentín Gómez Farias, Cristobal Colón and 20 de Noviembre are part of the brand. Visit Calakmul promotes these initiatives through a tourist office in Xpujil, its website and social networks, which is of great help since the lack of online visibility is usually the main challenge of community-based rural tourism projects.

Cooperative El Hormiguero is an excellent option for those looking to discover the less explored side of the Yucatan Peninsula. One of the smallest communities we have visited, with its unique biodiversity, rich archaeological offer and wonderful dining experience, awaits visitors to share their culture and heritage.

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