Yucatan tourism tries to cash in on Chichen Itza designation

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Chichen Itza is part of a rather exclusive club now, and Mexican tourism officials and travel suppliers are doing their part to take advantage of that.

The stunningly preserved remains of a sophisticated Mayan civilization, Chichen Itza, in Mexico's Yucatan state, was named one of the New Seven Wonders of the World this summer, after more than 100 million people submitted their votes via Internet and telephone.

The contest was launched in January by New Open World Corp., a nonprofit Swiss foundation.

Chichen Itza joins the Great Wall of China, the Colosseum in Rome, the Taj Mahal in India, the Christ the Redeemer statue in Rio de Janeiro, the Petra archaeological site in Jordan and Machu Picchu in Peru.

So what does that mean for tourism?

For one thing, it means a bit more crowing about Mexico's archaeological treasures. "The selection of Chichen Itza as one of the Seven Wonders reinforces the Yucatan as one of the pre-eminent options for cultural tourism in the world," said Francisco Lopez Mena, CEO of the Mexico Tourism Board.

Nearly all of the nearby tourist destinations have touted their proximity to the ruins in recent weeks.

"Cancun is the ideal gateway to Mayan culture," said Arturo Escaip Manzur, CEO of the Cancun Convention and Visitors Bureau.

Cancun is about a three-hour drive from Chichen Itza.

"Visitors can arrange day trips to nearby Mayan wonders from virtually any of our hotels or tour operators," Escaip said. "We encourage visitors to celebrate Mexico's culture and heritage by exploring these marvelous sites, and through our success in revitalizing the destination, we provide an exclusive opportunity to experience the old and new of Mexico."

Preservation of archaeological sites throughout Mexico is increasingly a focus of tourism officials and private interests.

The secretary of tourism for Mexico, the Mexico Tourism Board and the World Heritage Alliance (which was founded by Expedia and the United Nations Foundation) have extended their partnership to jointly promote and preserve World Heritage sites in Mexico through 2012.

Mexico has 27 natural and cultural World Heritage sites that are protected under the 1972 UNESCO World Heritage Convention.

"We're pleased that the secretary of tourism and the Mexico Tourism Board are strengthening their commitment to the World Heritage Alliance," said Timothy Wirth, president of the United Nations Foundation.

"This partnership is crucial to protecting and preserving key natural, cultural sites throughout Mexico. It is also a leading example of how countries can provide economic opportunities for local communities through sustainable tourism."

Chichen Itza repackaged

It's always been relatively simple for travelers visiting any major tourist destination on the Yucatan Peninsula to take a guided trip to the ruins of Chichen Itza.

Now, with the site's recent designation as one of the New Seven Wonders of the World, some hotels have introduced packages that make the site an integral part of the vacation experience.

" Esencia Resort, a Small Luxury Hotels of the World member on the Riviera Maya, has introduced a 7th World Wonder package, which reduces the roundtrip travel time between the hotel and Chichen Itza from seven hours to three -- the morning departure is by car, but visitors return to the hotel by private plane.  The five-night package includes a private tour and picnic lunch for two people at Chichen Itza.  Also included are accommodations in a garden suite, daily breakfast and roundtrip transfers to and from the Cancun airport.  Prices start at $3,455. Call (877) 528-3490 or visit www.hotelesencia.com.

" Hacienda Xcanatun, a boutique hotel just outside the city of Merida, is offering a Wonder Package, available through April 31 (blackout dates run from Dec. 15 to Jan. 7).  The three-night, double occupancy package includes a private excursion to Chichen Itza as well as daily breakfast and roundtrip Merida airport transfers.  Prices start at $780 for two. Call (888) 883-3633 or visit www.xcanatun.com.

" The Hotel Riviera Caribe Maya in Playa del Carmen offers a budget-priced Chichen Itza hotel package that includes a three-night stay and a group tour of the site.  Prices start at $339, per person. Call (011) 52-984-87-31193 or visit www.hotelrivieramaya.com.

To contact reporter Mark Chesnut, send e-mail [email protected].

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