Ecotourism is basically traveling with mindfulness and a keen eye for the natural world around you and, by the look of it, the Celestun Biosphere Reserve in Yucatan, Mexico is where the term was invented.
The Quiet Village of Celustun
The Celestun Biosphere Reserve is located in the fairly pastoral town of Celestun, a fishing village 60 miles southwest of the capital of the state of Yucatan, Merida. The town itself is fairly quiet.
Tourism is not its main concern, and as such it is wonderfully rustic -- with only a few shops, hotels and restuarants en route to a beautiful stretch of beach on the Gulf of Mexico. The surf is calm, shallow, and warm, and therefore ideal for toddlers.
While the village itself may not be entirely impressive, the appeal of this town lies with the natural beauty of the surrounding areas. And their famous inhabitants, flamingos.
Flamingos Flock to Bird Island in the Celestun Biosphere
The Celestun Biosphere Reserve is famed for the flamingos which flock to the nearby Bird Island to nest.
Unlike most birds, the unusual flamingo has a special gland that enables their bodies to excrete any salt excess, allowing them to wallow and forage in salt or brackish water along the coast, in lagoons or even at high altitude. This type of water hosts the pink crustaceans and algae that flamingos feed on to get their stunning orange - rose colors.
There are said to be about 18,000 in residence on Bird Island, drawn to the biosphere by the brackish water of Rio Celestun which hosts their favorite food, a local, bright pink shrimp. Visitors can rent boats in order to venture out and take a closer look at these iridescent wildfowl. The cost is minimal and the guides do not speak much English, but through experience they know what you want to see.
If you do decide to come to Celestun, try to schedule your trip between March and August - this period sees the most flamingos flocking to the area.
If you're averse to birds, don't worry - the reserve also boasts a Petrified Forest, a group of dead trees in the water which have slowly calcified over time. The hardened spears of wood are strangely quite poignant. If you prefer living nature, the area is surrounded by dense forests of live mangrove trees, some pockets of which are only accessible by boat.
Trip Planning Details for a Celestun Family Adventure
If you're not a fan of water, there's plenty to do on dry land, too. Families can rent bicycles and pedal out for a peaceful ride along the beach, perhaps stopping at one of the many seaside restaurants that dot the coastline. For the teens in the group, a disco night is often held on Saturdays at the beachside La Pineta Restaurant.
Many visitors stay for a few days at the nearby Playa Maya Condos. These contemporary condominiums are clustered around a large pool adjacent to a quiet beach, and on any given night, some will be available for rent by their owners.
For more information on finding accommodation in Celestun and adventures in the surrounding state of Yucatan, visit the Mexico Tourism office site.