AdventureWeek lands in Baja Sur

ATTA AdventureWeek participants enjoy the sand dunes at Magdalena Bay on the Pacific coast of Baja California Sur.
ATTA AdventureWeek participants enjoy the sand dunes at Magdalena Bay on the Pacific coast of Baja California Sur.

A group of outbound tour operators from the U.S. and Canada ventured to locations in Baja California Sur in March to take part in the kind of activities they usually book for their clients.

Some were interested in learning more about other adventure products and local tour operators for their customers; others who had not yet sold the destination wanted to see it before they sell it.

The goal of the Adventure Travel Trade Association (ATTA) and the tourism board of Baja California Sur was to showcase the region, offer a mix of sustainable adventure products, support local economic development with local suppliers and put the entire region on the adventure map during Mexico's first AdventureWeek.

"Baja California Sur as a destination has been a member of the ATTA since 2012," said Luis Palacios, executive director of the tourism board. "As a state, it has a large number of ATTA member operators and hotels that understand the importance of adventure travel and have joined the association searching for new ways to understand and better approach the market."

From Baja Sur's point of view, the main objective was to convey a message to the North American adventure industry and market that Baja Sur is much more than Cabo San Lucas.

"The adventure can start in Cabo, but the journey can continue in search of hidden oases, rugged deserts, virgin beaches, colonial towns and wildlife sanctuaries, all framed by outdoor sports and rich cultural exchanges or unexpected culinary experiences," Palacios said.

He pointed out that with three Unesco World Heritage sites, Baja Sur has become a major player in the global adventure tourism sector.

"We will continue to look for new alternatives and synergies to keep building this segment of the market that now plays such an important role in the tourism industry," he said.

Kayaking in the calm waters off Espiritu Santo Island.
Kayaking in the calm waters off Espiritu Santo Island.

The tourism board prepared a whirlwind itinerary for the participants in the hosted tour. Sites included untapped locations and activities throughout Baja Sur, including a sunset at Land's End in San Jose del Cabo; swimming with whale sharks in the waters off Espiritu Santo Island, a Unesco World Heritage Site; and surfing the waves at Los Cerritos, 45 minutes north of Cabo San Lucas.

The group explored Todos Santos, a small coastal town in the foothills of the Sierra de la Laguna mountains, an hour's drive north of Cabo on the Pacific side of the Baja peninsula, and then biked on a trail between the mountains and the Baja coastline.

While the group did stay in several hotels during the weeklong Baja experience, including the Costa Baja Resort in La Paz, Loreto Bay Golf Resort & Spa in Loreto and the Hotel Desert Inn and Hotel la Huerta, both in San Ignacio, no adventure trip would be complete without a couple of camping overnights, and this was no exception.

One location was the Red Sustainable Travel EcoCamp in Magdalena Bay, tucked along the Pacific coast north of Cabo in an 870-square mile area that provides a haven for whales, dolphins, sea birds and five species of sea turtles.

The camp is part of Red Travel Mexico, an inbound tour company that works closely with ATTA members in offering programs that Chris Pesenti, founder and director, described as "conservation adventures and nature-based travel."

The word red in Spanish means net, like a fisherman's net, or network, and the name Red is inspired by the network of fishing communities where the company was born in 2009, according to Pesenti.

The company donates a portion of its revenues to the local Community Conservation Fund.

Red participated in AdventureWeek as an opportunity to get to know Baja California better and to show off its conservation activities at its sea turtle research camp.

"Our challenge was to fit four days of activities into one 24-hour experience," Pesenti said.

"Our team pulled out all the stops and everyone managed to get out and paddle through the mangrove canals, climb the monstrous sand dunes overlooking the Pacific, participate in the Grupo Tortuguero sea turtle monitoring project and feast on sustainably caught local fish," he said.

After the sun set over Magdalena Bay, the group relaxed by sipping hot chocolate, stargazing and singing songs by the fireside.

Up close with a sea lion at Espiritu Santo Island.
Up close with a sea lion at Espiritu Santo Island.

On another day, the adventure activity included a search for blue whales in Loreto Bay Marine National Park in the Sea of Cortes.

The park, created by a presidential decree and approved by the Mexico Federal Congress on July 19, 1996, was listed as a protected Unesco World Heritage Site in 2005.

The group also visited the 16-mile-long San Ignacio Lagoon, one of the sanctuaries of the eastern Pacific gray whales where the females give birth in the winter before heading back to their summer feeding grounds in the Arctic.

On another day, the group viewed cave paintings more than 7,500 years old in El Rosario Valley on the peninsula's Pacific coast at the edge of the central desert of the Baja.

Hundreds of giant columnar cacti bordered a volcanic cobblestone road that wound through the valley.

The AdventureWeek itinerary included not only treks and touring but also focused on business.

Two sessions offered opportunities for one-on-one meetings between buyers and local suppliers.

Pesenti credited his participation in AdventureWeek with strengthening his company's relationship with the local tourism board.

"Receiving feedback from international buyers also was invaluable," he said.

Each participant in the weeklong exploration of Baja California Sur indicated in a post-journey survey that they had found three or more possible partners in the region.

Each also planned to follow up with at least one local supplier and explore cooperative marketing opportunities with Baja Sur.

"The most valuable experience was being escorted through Baja Sur and realizing the many and varied offerings, from prehistoric cave paintings and missions to wildlife and vacation sports," said Melanie Tucker of Rare Winds Travel Design in Lambertville, N.J.

"I really knew next to nothing about Baja Sur and yet came away convinced that it would be a great destination for an adventure tour," said Deborah Lewis of Bredeson Outdoor Adventures in Norwalk, Conn.

"I met a supplier that I believe I can partner with, and I came away with a sizable list of activities, experiences, places and landscapes that will translate into a great guest experience," Lewis said.

There is discussion about doing another ATTA AdventureWeek in Mexico. "It's not confirmed, but it is likely," an ATTA spokesman said.

Other AdventureWeek locales have included Ecuador, Chile and the western Balkans. The 2016 venue has not yet been announced. The ATTA's annual Adventure Travel World Summit takes place in Puerto Varas, Chile, Oct. 5 through 9. Adventure Travel Mexico (Atmex), a brand owned by the Mexico Tourism Board, and the ATTA have partnered to invite international buyers and media to the fourth annual Atmex event taking place in Chiapas Aug. 26 through 29.


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