Cuernavaca eco-tours let clients explore culture

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CUERNAVACA, Mexico -- Everything is available a la carte at Hosteria Las Quintas here, but a good way to experience the property's spa and the region's unique attractions is to book an Eco-Fitness program.

The four- and seven-night options operate on a personalized point system, giving clients the opportunity to redeem points for desired eco-tours and spa services. The eco-tours take in the best of the natural, cultural and historic attractions of the region, incorporate activities such as walking, hiking, mountain climbing, horseback riding and swimming.

"We give clients a chance to experience the country, meet the people and explore the culture," said spa director Orlando Hidalgo. "We think people would rather hike up to a pyramid that is 2,000 years old than do an aerobics class."

I participated in tours to Cuernavaca and Tepotzlan. Many of the quaint colonial courtyards and gardens of Cuernavaca are hidden behind walled-in estates of the wealthy, but a leisurely tour around the lively city center turns up some interesting historic attractions.

Included are the palace of Hernan Cortes, which was built in the 1520s and now houses a museum and a beautiful mural by Diego Rivera. At the city's cathedral compound are two small churches and an interesting fortress-like cathedral from the 16th century that has frescoes discovered earlier this century.

A visit to the colonial courtyard, gardens and house of Cuernavaca's Jardin Borda, built in 1783, presents a glimpse into the life of the Mexican aristocracy in the 18th century.

The spiritual hamlet of Tepotzlan sits in a dramatic valley at the foot of towering jagged cliffs. It is the legendary birthplace of Quetzalcoatl, serpent god of the Aztecs. The town is filled with a curious assortment of attractions: shops and a market offering everything from herbal remedies to curative crystals to candles fashioned to attract love and good health; a 16th-century Dominican church and monastery, currently being restored, and the clifftop Pyramid of Tepozteco, accessible by a steep, one-hour hike.

In addition to the Eco-Fitness packages, Hosteria Las Quintas introduced spa programs incorporating golf, which has been quite successful, according to Hidalgo.

"Because we have tapped a new market, the spa clientele is now 25% male," Hidalgo said. By year's end, the property expects that number to increase to 40%. "Men are more willing to go to spas if there is another activity involved," he added.

The property's other packages are themed to focus on beauty, anti-stress, health and fitness and supreme relaxation. Sample package rates through Dec. 15 are $1,096 per person, double, for the four-night Eco-Fitness program, which includes a medical evaluation and fitness and body composition analysis, and a choice of spa services and eco-tours, and $1,810 for the seven-night Winner's Circle Week, which features five greens fees for 18-hole play and seven spa treatments. All packages include transfers between the Mexico City airport and the property, accommodations, all meals, and fitness, yoga, Spanish and crafts classes.

Hosteria Las Quintas, Phone: (888) SPAS-MEX.

The property also works with major U.S. tour operators, including Apple, Friendly, Gogo, Spa Finders and Spa Traveler.

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