A Wonderful Trip in Mexico’s Yucatan

We appreciate it when our guests share their stories with us and allow us to post them on our blog. Last month, Olga Muratova and her family members from New York and Los Angeles traveled with us to Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula and reported this:

My family took a California Native vacation in Yucatan between June 15 and 21, 2013. First of all, I want to thank your company for a wonderful trip that it organized for us. Secondly, I would like to take this opportunity to express my family’s admiration with Mr. Javier Sosa, our tour guide and care-taker in Mexico. Mr. Sosa’s high professionalism, vast knowledge of Mayan culture, engaging narrator’s qualities, impeccable manners, affable and personable attitude, and exceptionally agreeable nature made our trip very pleasant and memorable.


Olga Muratova

Chichén Itzá width=
Dramatic clouds frame the Mayan ruins of Chichén Itzá, a huge archaeological zone, and one of many visited on The California Native’s Yucatan Adventures.

Incredible Scenery and Excellent Arrangements

We appreciate it when our guests share their stories with us and allow us to post them on our blog. Last month Tessa Godfrey, from Hoddesdon, Hertfordshire, England, traveled with us on our Copper Canyon 10-day Independent Tour to the Bottom.

The journey down from Creel to Batopilas was both hair-raising and amazing. Lovely day exploring Batopilas and walking up and down-stream from the village. Glorious drive back up to Creel. The rock formations of the “Valley of the Monks” were a wonderful surprise. I also very much enjoyed the trip to Urique with Doug Rhodes, a very interesting man. The view of the canyon from the hotel [at Divisadero], including the bedrooms, was magnificent.

I liked the balance between your organization and our freedom. The scenery [on the trip] was incredible and your arrangements were excellent.

Many thanks,

Tessa Godfrey

Copper Canyon Cave Dwellings
If you look carefully you can see many cave dwellings in the cliffs throughout Mexico's Copper Canyon. Many indigenous Tarahumara Indians still make their homes in these traditional lodgings.

Join Us and Celebrate the Holidays in Copper Canyon

A little holiday snow in the high country of Mexico's Copper Canyon creates a perfect Christmas Card.
A little holiday snow in the high country of Mexico's Copper Canyon creates a perfect Christmas Card.

Please join us and celebrate this year’s holidays in Mexico’s Copper Canyon. We still have some spaces left on our Christmas/New Years Ultimate Copper Canyon tour where we will celebrate a special Christmas with the Tarahumara Indians at the Paraiso del Oso Lodge.

On December 23rd, our small group departs from Los Angeles and Phoenix airports for an exciting tour into Mexico’s Sierra Madre. The 11-day Ultimate tour spends nights in El Fuerte, Cerocahui, Divisadero, Creel, Batopilas, and Chihuahua. As with all of our Copper Canyon tours, we ride the Chihuahua al Pacifico Railroad for one of the most spectacular train rides in the Western Hemisphere.

A Tarahumara church deep in Copper Canyon.
A Tarahumara church deep in Copper Canyon.

Participants will have the opportunity to enjoy a special Christmas Eve known as Noche-bueno (the Good Night), a delicious dinner at the Paraiso del Oso, and Ana Maria’s famous Christmas punch. Those wishing to join the Tarahumara Indians and mestizo community may attend the midnight mass, also known as La Misa del Gallo (Rooster’s Mass). Traditional Tarahumara dancing usually starts an hour or two before the mass, then recommences afterwards to make it an all-night celebration. As an old Spanish saying goes, “Esta noche es Noche-Buena, y no es noche de dormir” (Tonight is the Good Night, and it is not meant for sleeping).

A light snow paints Mexico's Copper Canyon in holiday colors.
A light snow paints Mexico's Copper Canyon in holiday colors.

As Christmas morning arrives, the celebration moves back to the Oso Lodge where local Tarahumara, who live in isolated ranchitos in the rugged mountains surrounding the lodge, join the hotel guests for the piñata party. The children take turns swinging at the Christmas piñata until it explodes, showering candy and small toys. The hotel is filled with laughter and glee as the children scramble to collect their treasures. Then gifts from under the Christmas tree are handed out. As the locals return to their mountain ranchitos, The California Native guests prepare for a beautiful day trip to the bottom of Urique Canyon. In the evening after the excursion, guests enjoy a special holiday dinner.

In a few days, it will be time to welcome in the year 2013, and we’ll join the New Year’s Eve celebrations in the city of Chihuahua.

Some other highlights of this tour are the Cusarare and Basaseachic waterfalls, a day trip to the village of Urique, the “Lost Cathedral of Satevo,” a trip back in time to the village of Batopilas, and magnificent vista points which overlook a whole series of intertwined “barrancas” (canyons).

Want to celebrate Christmas in Copper Canyon but can’t take the full 11-days for your winter vacation? We also have an 8-day trip which departs on December 21.

To be a part of this year’s celebration and enjoy this truly unique experience, call us at 1-800-926-1140 (or 1-310-642-1140) to make your reservations now as time is running out. Happy holiday season to all of our fellow travelers.

Young Tarahumara girls play at school in Mexico's Copper Canyon.
Young Tarahumara girls play at school in Mexico's Copper Canyon.

Visiting the “Magical Pueblos”

Last week we returned from Morelia, Mexico where we attended the third annual Feria Mundial de Turismo Cultural, the World Cultural Tourism Fair and trade show. There, we met with Mexican tour operators and representatives from all of the states of Mexico as well as representatives of the federal government.

Looking for more unique destinations to offer our California Native guests, we visited several colonial cities which have been designated Pueblos Magicos, magic towns. These towns have been chosen for their natural beauty, cultural riches, and historical relevance and are said to offer visitors a “magical experience.” Among those we visited were Guanajuato, San Miguel de Allende, Pátzcuaro, Cuitzeo and Santa Clara del Cobre.

California Native's Ellen Klein strolls along the street in Guanajuato, Mexico.
California Native's Ellen Klein strolls along the street in Guanajuato, Mexico.

Don Quixote greets visitors at the Cervantes Museum in Guanajuato, Mexico.
Don Quixote greets visitors at the Cervantes Museum in Guanajuato, Mexico.

Mexico's president, Felipe Calderon, addresses attendees at World Travel Fair.
Mexico's president, Felipe Calderon, addresses attendees at World Travel Fair.

California Native president, Lee Klein, discusses travel with Mexico's Minister of Tourism, Gloria Guevara.
California Native president, Lee Klein, discusses travel with Mexico's Minister of Tourism Gloria Guevara at World Travel Fair in Morelia, Mexico.

Backpackers Recall 1993 California Native Copper Canyon Trek

Last Christmas we attended a candelaria and bell-ringing event at the Centinella Adobe, an historical Spanish adobe located a few miles from The California Native. When we met the docent, Betty Keel, an attractive woman in her 80’s, she recalled having traveled on a back-packing trip with The California Native down to the bottom of Copper Canyon back in 1993. A few months later she came over to our office with her sister-in-law and hiking companion on the trip, Bee Jay Keel. They brought us a scrapbook with photos, made by the third guest on the trek, Barbara Boone.

We really enjoyed visiting with these delightful adventurous women and reminiscing about the many years we’ve been conducting tours in this wonderfully remote part of Mexico’s Sierra Madre mountains.

The "three caballeras" in the small town of Urique in the bottom of Copper Canyon.
The "three caballeras" in the small town of Urique in the bottom of Copper Canyon.

Loading up the burro for the day's journey.
Loading up the burro for the days journey.

Everything tastes better in camp.
Everything tastes better in camp.

Utopia at the Gateway to Copper Canyon

Topolobampo Bay
Commander George Dewey sailed a U.S. sloop-of-war into Mexico’s Topolobampo Bay (shown today) on a surveying mission in 1874.

In 1874, Commander George Dewey sailed the United States sloop-of-war Narragansett into Mexico’s Topolobampo Bay. This was the same George Dewey who, twenty-five years later, defeated the Spanish Navy at Manila Bay after giving his famous command, “You may fire when you are ready, Gridley.”

The mission into Topolobampo was a peaceful one; its goal was to survey the Pacific Coast of Mexico and Baja California. The survey was ordered by President Grant at the behest of Albert Kimsey Owen, a former railroad surveyor and city planner, who had grandiose plans to develop a great harbor at Topolobampo.

View of Topolobampo Bay.
Topolobampo, 15 miles west of Los Mochis, was the site of a 19th century utopian colony.

The harbor was only part of his plans. A railroad would be built from Topolobampo through Mexico and the United States to the Atlantic Ocean, facilitating trade between Europe, the United States, and the Far East. In addition, the area around Topolobampo would be populated with a utopian American colony.

Owen entered into an agreement to purchase 111,000 acres from a local hacienda owner and, with the help of Mexican president Porfirio Diaz, obtained concessions for the railroad and the colony. He then chartered a corporation, Credit Foncier, in New Jersey.

Albert Owen (far left) at Topolobampo.
Albert Kimsey Owen (far left) had grandiose plans to develop a great harbor and a utopian colony at Topolobampo.

People buying stock in Credit Foncier received the right to join the colony, which was to be run communally and without the use of money. Work was to be assigned according to each person’s ability, with credits awarded for labor. Individual accumulation of wealth was prohibited. Eight hours of work, eight hours of sleep and eight hours of culture or entertainment were to make up the daily routine. Colonists would build, own, and operate the railroad, telegraphs, banks, and water supply. Capital gained would be reinvested in the colony’s infrastructure.

Credit Foncier clubs sprang up in the United States and Europe. In late 1886 the first 27 colonists arrived from California, and within a short time the population grew to 2,000.

Activities were directed by Owen. A team made daily trips to the Rio Fuerte to gather fresh water. Several towns were founded, connected by paved roads which permitted bicycle travel. Irrigation ditches were dug. A school was opened. Community theater grew, and an Academy of Sciences, with ties to the Smithsonian Institute, was founded.

Governed by the principles of order, industry and courtesy, the colonists attained modest economic success from fishing, farming and hunting. But the colony was growing much faster than Owen had envisioned. It became top heavy—too many planners and not enough workers.

Benjamin Johnson, only 25 years old when he arrived at the colony, challenged Owen’s leadership and focused the colonies efforts toward developing a single cash crop—sugar. He received a concession to build a canal from the Rio Fuerte to what became Los Mochis, then convinced the Mexican government to evict most of the Owen colonists.

Owen left, but continued to work on building the railroad, convincing Arthur E. Stilwell, an American railroad owner, to join with him. In 1900 the Kansas City, Mexico and Orient Railroad, precursor to the Chihuahua al Pacifico line, was chartered. The same year the colony was abandoned, having lasted fourteen years.

Today, travelers flying into Los Mochis to begin their tour of Copper Canyon look down on the huge bay and the endless agricultural land, laid out in neat rectangular plots. Little remains of the Owen Utopia, but the area’s rich farmlands, and the Copper Canyon railroad are the results of his vision.

The Yucatan, Yes You Can!

Beach at Cancun, Mexico
The beaches at Cancun give the traveler a chance to unwind at the beginning of a trip exploring Mexico

When you travel with us on our Yucatan Explorer Trips, you now have the option of beginning and ending your vacation in either city, Cancun or Merida.

With the large number of airlines flying into Cancun daily, starting your Yucatan adventure in Cancun allows you to take advantage of the competitive airfares and direct flights from the U.S. and Canada.

Cancun is renowned for its beaches, restaurants and nightlife, with all the glitter of an upscale beach resort. Merida, on the other hand, is a cosmopolitan but at the same time tranquil and charming colonial city.

Pyramid of the Magician at the ruins of the Mayan city of Uxmal
Abandoned for more than ten centuries, the Pyramid of the Magician is the tallest structure at the Mayan ruins of Uxmal.

The Yucatan Peninsula is the homeland of the Mayan people, whose mighty empire lasted over a thousand years. Throughout the peninsula are the amazing archaeological ruins of their great cities. In addition, the Yucatan has lovely colonial cities and beautiful Caribbean beaches.

All of our Yucatan tours visit the Mayan ruins of Chichén Itzá, Uxmal, El Balam and Edzna, as well as the city of Campeche—its fort was built by the Spaniards as defense against the Caribbean pirates.

The tours which begin in Cancun also visit the ruins of the Mayan port city of Tulum, built alongside a beautiful Caribbean beach. and the archaeological site of Coba.

If you are looking for more an even more extensive trip, you can include Chiapas and/or Copper Canyon in your Mexico vacation.

Mexico Celebrates Two Hundred Years of Independence: A Story of the Revolution

This year in Mexico is a year for celebration. It is the bicentennial of Mexico’s War of Independence as well as the centennial of the Mexican Revolution. Two hundred years ago the first of these events set our neighbor on the path to becoming the 14th largest independent nation on Earth, as well as the world’s largest Hispanic country. It was the inspiration and leadership of one man which led to Mexico’s throwing off the shackles of Spain after almost three centuries.

Father Miguel Hidalgo is considered to be the "Father of Mexico."
Father Miguel Hidalgo's speech, known as the Grito de Dolores, the “Cry of Dolores,” set off the Mexican War of Independence.

That man was a 57-year-old priest whose parish was in the city of Dolores, Guanajuato. The date was September 16, 1810. Early that morning Father Miguel Hidalgo y Costilla had the church bells rung to summon the townspeople to the church, where he told his followers that the time had come to expel the Spaniards who had misgoverned Mexico for so long. His speech, known as the Grito de Dolores, the “Cry of Dolores,” set off the Mexican War of Independence, which resulted in Mexico’s becoming an independent country.

Hidalgo was born in 1753 on the hacienda where his father was administrator. At twenty years of age he received his Bachelor of Theology degree and lectured in philosophy and theology at San Nicolás Obispo and, after being ordained as a priest, became rector of the school. His ideas and conduct were extremely liberal, which led to his being dismissed from that post, and twice being investigated by the Inquisition, who accused him of reading prohibited books, advocating doctrines of the French Revolution, doubting the virgin birth of Mary, gambling, and keeping a mistress. His last clerical position was that of parish priest in the little town of Dolores.

Hidalgo worked hard to improve the lives of his parishioners, mastering their Indian language and teaching them crafts and skills to improve their economic condition. He also introduced winemaking and silk culture, two industries which the government declared illegal in the colonies, and one day government officials came to the village and destroyed the vines and mulberry trees.

Late in the eighteenth century it became fashionable among cultured criollos, persons of Spanish descent who were born in Mexico, to form literary societies, which met for tea and cakes and discussed the classics. They also smuggled into the country books which were banned by the Church, such as the works of Rousseau, Voltaire, and Descartes. The literary societies gradually became political societies. Father Hidalgo belonged to one of these societies whose members were plotting a revolution to separate Mexico from Spain.

The group selected Hidalgo to lead the movement, and thus on the morning of September 16th, 1810, Hidalgo, with his “Cry of Dolores” launched the revolution, and the rebel army set forth, armed with machetes, swords, knives, clubs, axes, and a few muskets. As they passed through each town they opened the local jails and recruited the prisoners for their cause. Eventually their numbers grew to sixty thousand.

After six months of fighting, Hidalgo fell into a royalist trap and was captured. Because he was a priest, he was subjected to a lengthy hearing by the Inquisition, after which he was found guilty of heresy and treason, defrocked, and, on July 30, 1811, executed by a firing squad in the city of Chihuahua. His head, along with those of three other revolutionary leaders, was cut off and sent to Guanajuato, where it was put on a pole and displayed for a decade.

After Hidalgo’s death, the revolutionary movement continued until September 28,1821, when Mexico finally became an independent nation.

In Mexico, Hidalgo is credited with arousing the spirit of rebellion against the Spanish oppression. Because of his patriotism, his championing of human rights and his personal courage, he is considered by Mexicans to be the father of their nation and the symbol of Mexican independence.

Each year on September 15, Independence Day is celebrated throughout Mexico, with parades, fireworks, and the cry of “Mexicanos, Viva Mexico!

In Sumidero Canyon, It’s More Than Just a Croc!

There is a local legend revolving around Chiapas, Mexico’s, Canyon del Sumidero. Legend states that the local tribes were fanatic about remaining out of bondage. So in order to escape slavery by the Spaniards, they committed mass suicide by diving into the canyon, believing that they would be free in the afterlife if they did so.

Sumidero Canyon, Chiapas, Mexico
In Mexico's Sumidoro Canyon, local Indians thew themselves over the cliffs rather than be enslaved by the Spaniards.

There is some historical fact associated with this legend. When the Spanish first came to Mexico, they conquered the Aztec empire, which was located to the north and west of Chiapas for the most part. Later, when Cortes sent tax collectors to Chiapas, they were met with fierce resistance. Eventually, in a fierce battle between indigenous forces and Spanish conqueror Diego de Mazariegos, many Indian warriors threw themselves into the Canyon del Sumidero, preferring death to slavery.

This canyon is located in extreme southeastern Mexico, in the central state of Chiapas. It was formed by a fault that still runs through the canyon, through which the Grijalva river still runs. The river and canyon are the primary feature of what is now known as Cañón del Sumidero National Park. The Mexican government named the site a National Park in 1980, in order to protect the area around it, as well as the flora and fauna. The canyon is one of Mexico’s most beautiful features, though it is not well known outside the country. It is the central tourist attraction for the state of Chiapas; important enough that it features on the state’s coat of arms.

Crocodile awaits prey in Mexico's Sumidero Canyon
A crocodile blends in with his surroundings as he waits for his unwary dinner in Mexico's Sumidero Canyon.

The park is formed by two features; the Canyon del Sumidero itself, and the plains that the canyon-forming Grijalva river runs through. A series of tremendous earthquakes thrust the plains in some places more than a kilometer above sea level millions of years ago. Some time after, the Grijalva river cut down through the basalt and granite, creating the canyon seen today.

A speed boat tour down the canyon and the Grijalva river leads to many beautiful sights. Lucky boaters might see some of the native American Crocodiles. One particular sight that any visitor would be lucky to see is what happens to the canyon during the rainy season. Nearby streams and trickles of water all lead down into the canyon and the sides of the canyon cascade with beautiful waterfalls.

California Natives enjoy boat trip through Mexico's Sumidero Canyon.
California Natives enjoy the tropical scenery and wildlife as they tour Mexico's Sumidero Canyon by speed boat.

The indigenous group modern Chiapans are descended from is the Maya. It is only a small part of the Maya empire that once was, but thanks to the state’s powerful cultural identity and independence, they have never felt really bound to the rest of Mexico.

The California Native’s tours of Chiapas include a speed boat tour through this beautiful canyon.

California Natives Lunch With Mexico’s President Calderón

Mexico's President, Felipe Calderon, and California Native's President, Lee Klein, at luncheon in Mexico's Presidential Residence, Los Pinos.On May 21, 2010, California Native owners Lee and Ellen Klein were guests of Mexico’s President Felipe Calderón at a luncheon he held in Mexico City at Los Pinos, Mexico’s official presidential residence.

Guests at the luncheon were specially selected international tour operators, and members of the international press corps.

The event was the kick-off of an initiative to spur tourism in Mexico’s many beautiful and fascinating “non-beach-resort” destinations.

This year marks Mexico’s Bicentennial, as well as the Centennial of the Mexican Revolution. In recognition of these events, The Mexican Tourism Board has created “Rutas de Mexico,”—ten tourism routes covering the 31 States of Mexico.

We enjoyed a delicious lunch and listened to speeches from Gloria Guevara, Mexico’s new tourism minister, as well as the President himself, who spoke of each of the routes. He spent quite a bit of time on the Copper Canyon Route, and talked about the town of Batopilas, which is visited on most California Native Copper Canyon tours.
The California Native's Lee and Ellen Klein at luncheon in Mexico's Presidential Residence, Los Pinos.

As guests of the Tourism Board and President Calderón, we spent the next four days touring on the “Revolution Route,” which included many charming Colonial Cities, including Querétaro, San Miguel de Allende, Guanajuato, Zacatecas, San Luis Potosi and others.

Watch our blog for more on these cities, along with our other Mexican destinations of Copper Canyon, Chiapas and Yucatan.