Travel Weekly senior editor Mark Chesnut paid a visit to
Monterrey. His report follows:
MONTERREY -- As I stood inside the gigantic cavern admiring
dramatically illuminated stalagmites, I almost forgot that just a
few miles away was one of the most powerful business hubs in all of
Indeed, the contrast between the modern economic powerhouse that
is Monterrey and the ruggedly beautiful countryside that surrounds
it is proof that this city of 3.9 million residents is more than
just a business destination.
Granted, Monterrey is already a success story when it comes to
big business, thanks to its leading role in banking as well as the
production of glass, beer, cement, steel and automobile parts. But
officials also are promoting it as a leisure destination.
"Monterrey is very well positioned for business travel," said
Elda Laura Cerda, executive director of the Monterrey Convention
and Visitors Bureau. "But there are many other things to do, too.
We want to complement [corporate travel] with [leisure]
Cerda said there already has been an increase in the number of
options for adventure tourism, ecotourism and family travel in the
"Ten years ago, friends would visit and you would ask yourself,
'What am I going to do with them?' " she said. "In the last 10
years, however, we've seen a lot of new options. We are
A history of success
Called the "City of the Mountains" due to the high peaks that
surround it, Monterrey was founded more than 400 years ago. The
third-largest city in Mexico, it is located in the northeastern
state of Nuevo Leon, less than three hours by land from the Texas
Within the city limits, tourist attractions include a variety of
museums and a lively historic district, while ecotourism and
adventure travel are a big draw in the surrounding region.
Downtown Monterrey is home to the Gran Plaza, sometimes called
the Macro Plaza, a sprawling corridor that is said to be the
world's third-largest public square.
The Gran Plaza is marked with fountains, statues and trees. Its
most visible landmark is a soaring tower that shoots laser lights
into the sky when the sun goes down.
Surrounding the Gran Plaza is a variety of attractions,
including the Nuestra Senora de Monterrey cathedral, built between
1603 and 1753; the Palacio de Gobierno, built in 1908, and the
Museo de Historia Mexicana (Mexican History Museum).
Also on the edge of the Gran Plaza is the Museo Marco (the
Museum of Contemporary Art), which features more than 53,000 square
feet and 14 exhibition halls for both domestic and international
One block away is the Barrio Antiguo, or Old Quarter, which is
filled with 18th and 19th century buildings. This neighborhood,
which abounds with shops, restaurants and nightlife, is a pleasure
to wander through during the day or evening.
The Barrio Antiguo also hosts the annual Festival Cultural
Barrio Antiguo. This year's festival, which features live music,
theater and other entertainment, is scheduled for Nov. 15 to
One of Monterrey's most ambitious leisure developments is Parque
Fundidora, a park built among the remains of a giant foundry where,
in 1903, steel was produced for the first time in Latin
Some of the found- ry's original structures have been restored
and house art and photography exhibits, museums, workshops and
The Centro de las Artes, housed in a building constructed in
1901, is home to Cineteca, a cinema showing independent and art
Young children probably will be most attracted to Plaza Sesamo
-- the only Sesame Place amusement park in Mexico -- also located
in the park.
In addition to its leisure attractions, Parque Fundidora is a
business destination, thanks to Cintermex, a convention center with
98,000 square feet of space and a 3,000-seat theater.
Plans call for Cintermex to expand by 2003, doubling the size of
its exposition area and increasing convention and meeting
In the coming months, more attractions will be added at Parque
Fundidora, including restaurants and bars as well as Arena
Monterrey, a 17,000-person facility for sporting and performing
In under an hour, visitors to Monterrey can be transported to
the natural beauty of the many mountains that surround the
One of the most impressive attractions is Garcia Grotto, or
Grutas de Garcia. These massive caverns, similar to those in
Carlsbad, N.M., are deep inside the mountains about 16 miles from
Part of the fun is the ride up to the caverns aboard a funicular
railway that scales the sheer mountainside, offering a spectacular
Inside the caverns is an array of dramatically lighted
stalactites and stalagmites. A tour guide points out some of the
more interesting features, including a small cavern known as "the
chapel," because it is shaped like -- and now decorated like -- the
inside of a church.
Because the tour is usually in Spanish only, it's recommended
that English-speaking visitors be accompanied by a bilingual tour
guide, which can be arranged by hotels through local tour
Admission costs 60 pesos (about $6.50) per person, including
roundtrip transportation on the funicular and entrance to the
Additional attractions outside of Monterrey include Cola de
Caballo, or Horse Tail Falls, a 75-foot waterfall less than 15
miles from the city.
Here, visitors can take a leisurely walk through a heavily
wooded park area. Visitors looking for a more leisurely ride can
board a horse-drawn carriage for most of the trek.
The mountain ravine known as Huasteca Canyon is the place to go
for rock climbing, with its high walls offering a formidable
challenge. There also are picnic areas, swimming pools and areas
for hiking and camping.
Chipinque Park, which overlooks the city, offers great views as
well as mountain biking, rock climbing, camping and hiking. It also
is home to a nature reserve containing 120 species of birds and 22
species of mammals.
Local tour operators report an increased interest in these
"I've been working in adventure tourism for four years, and
compared with just two years ago, there is a lot more interest,"
said Luis Valenzuela, a guide with Geo Ecoaventura, a company that
offers guided excursions for hiking, mountain biking, rappeling and
spelunking, among other activities.
"Little by little, people have found out what Monterrey has to