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Pueblos Mancomunados: An example of rural tourism in Oaxaca, Mexico

Responsible Tourism

Mexico

In the heights of the Sierra Norte in the state of Oaxaca, ‘the people of the clouds’ have succeeded in aligning tourism with their indigenous traditions. Today, tourism is a key tool for development in the so-called ‘Pueblos Mancomunados’. This is not the name of an organisation or a single town, but of eight communities united by the their use of the land, their traditions and a shared destiny.

At just 60 kilometres from the city of Oaxaca, around 4,000 mountain dwellers continue to nourish their roots: together, they take care of their ancestral cultural legacy and sacred natural heritage. They welcome people from all over the world to come and experience this unique form of rural tourism in Oaxaca.

Community ownership and empowerment

The history of Pueblos Mancomunados began with the first Zapotec families to settle in these small mountain communities many years ago. When tourism arrived in the area in 1994, the pioneer community was Benito Juárez. Today, however, there are a total of 6 communities that welcome visitors: Benito Juarez, Cuajimoloyes, Llano Grande, Amatlán, Latuvi and Nevería.

In the Pueblos Macomunados, it is the communities themselves who own the tourism companies that operate in the area. Indeed, each village has its own tourism company and enjoys full autonomy over its management. These small enterprises are all integrated into ‘Sierra Norte Expeditions’, the agency that commercialises the communities’ rural tours in Oaxaca. In turn, this agency belongs jointly to the 6 communities.

Breathtaking forest trails, nature and culture

Over the years, the Pueblos Mancomunados have developed an exciting range of ecotourism activities. Some of these have been designed to connect the villages, allowing visitors to fully explore the area. For example, the communities have created over 100 kilometres of forest trails designed for trekking, mountain biking and horse riding. These trails join one community to the next, through varied ecosystems and awe-inspiring landscapes, and offer an adrenalin-infused approach to rural tourism.

In addition to all the outdoor activities on offer, the communities have developed many cultural activities, and a longer stay allows travellers to immerse themselves into authentic Zapotec mountain culture. By joining in with daily tasks, such as making bread and seasonal jam, guests can’t fail but to feel part of the community.

Ancestral traditions and sustainability

At the Pueblos Mancomunados, visitors can rest assured that their hosts and guides will be local. With just a few exceptions, all community members who have finished secondary school are asked to assume positions in the community tourism initiatives. Moreover, all decisions are put to the general assembly, and if the majority vote in favour, their will is implemented.

This is a basic part of a complex ancestral tradition. Here, community work is an obligation, not seen as a punishment, but as the embodiment of unity and solidarity between all the members of the community. It is rare and inspiring to see such a large inter and intra community commitment.

Indeed, the legacy of the first Zapotec families still reverberates in the Sierra Norte de Oaxaca. At over 3,000 meters above sea level (over 10,000 feet), personal pronouns are plural and the key adjectives are cooperative, sustainable, collective and autonomous. In these Pueblos Mancomunados, a collective worldview flows like water, linking the mountain summits and the homes of these ‘people of the clouds’.

This article is a contribution by Rubén Salinas. It is part of his research project on community-based tourism in Latin America, called Turismo Despierto.

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