Exploring the heart of Chiapas with La Mano Del Mono

Travel and destinations

Author : Amélie Jetté-Masse 

Reading Time  : 8 minutes

On January 8, 2023, I flew to Mexico to carry out a two-month project developed by Village Monde in collaboration with Vaolo and La Mano del Mono.

Village Monde supports sustainable tourism off the beaten track, so that tourism truly benefits local communities. Village Monde also encourages travelers to choose experiences that respect local communities and their environment. The Vaolo platform comes into play to network and promote these village-based tourism initiatives, connecting them to travelers looking for meaningful travel experiences. La Mano del Mono, for its part, creates partnerships to promote the well-being of local communities and the conservation of natural areas through tourism. So this first collaboration made perfect sense!

The aim of this project was to showcase a lesser-known destination in Mexico, Chiapas, which is just as, if not more, rich in magnificent natural sites and authentic encounters…

Thanks to this project, I had the chance to meet some wonderful people and visit some incredible, little-known places.

A case in point is the magnificent Laguna Miramar, a hard-to-reach spot reached after a journey of several hours in a colectivo, then a hike along a wild country trail past free-roaming cows, finally ending up in the middle of the humid jungle. All these efforts were rewarded when I arrived in the middle of nowhere, with a veritable treasure trove of rainforest in front of me. The lagoon lies in the middle of untouched mountains and its waters are wildly pure. On site, we rowed around the small islands and caves, and were surprised by the sight of turtles and the deep cries of howler monkeys. But it’s not just the beauty of the place that will surprise you here… Rock paintings and various Mayan sculptures can be found everywhere. It is even said that divers ventured to the bottom of the lagoon and discovered ancient Mayan remains.

My journey continued to the rural village of Tzimol, where I met friendly people and was able to relax and enjoy the tranquility of the place, lulled by the sound of the bright blue river. Tzimol is also the ideal place for those wishing to take part in outdoor activities or meet local artisans.

Finally, I was able to learn more about chocolate production by getting hands-on with a real Bean to bar experience, i.e. from the cocoa bean to the pallet of chocolate ready to be enjoyed! I accompanied the owner of the Jangala – Cacao y selva chocolate factory to the community of Agua Perla, in the heart of the tropical jungle, to visit the cocoa plantation and observe the process of growing, fermenting and drying the beans, which are then transported to the chocolate factory in town, where they are transformed into various cocoa by-products, deliciously ready for consumption. At Agua Perla, we exchanged delicious and simple meals based on products from their land, and discussed our very different life experiences. Indeed, this is a place where there is still very little exchange with the outside world, which has enabled the community to preserve a wealth of unique knowledge and valuable ways of doing things from their past.

One of the highlights of my two-month stay was certainly my field trip to Las Nubes, where I went with Carlos and Eric, two of the leaders of Mano del Mono.

Carlos and Eric had been working with three of the village’s ecotourism centers for some time. In the past, they had carried out various training courses and capacity-building workshops in tourism with the members of these centers. With their newly acquired skills, each center then had to create new activities that would appeal to visitors, and put together packages that included accommodation, food and activities. Together, we went on site to meet the three centers and experience their packages, give them feedback and build their capacity in sustainable tourism.

Our first stop was the Gallo Giro center. In the morning, the Gallo Giro family took us to the riverside, where they prepared lunch directly on site, outdoors, in a totally artisanal way. The hosts even offered to help me prepare the tortillas! Once our bellies were full, we boarded the kayaks for a guided trip down the river, with swimming, legends and rapids on the agenda. On the way back, we were treated to a delicious pozol de cacao, a typical and nourishing beverage of Mayan origin.

We then headed for the Las Brisas center. All the partners had come together to take us through several activities they had devised, such as a cocoa workshop, a tasting of local meals and a guided hike. We also took part in an artisanal fishing workshop, from making our own fishing line from natural materials to finding the best place to cast our line, standing right on the waterfall.

Finally, we headed to the Causas Verdes center for a late-night campfire activity, where Carlos and Eric chatted with members. Throughout the stay, Eric and Carlos offered fair feedback with suggestions for improvement that the members would be able to implement. I really appreciated Carlos and Eric’s work with the three centers they visited. I was also able to contribute my own experience from previous explorations. I noticed their professionalism and the sound advice they offered to the members of each center, and I believe that the solutions they proposed were very well received and then applied. I particularly noticed the respect and appreciation expressed by the members of the Las Brisas ecotourism center. Receiving support from La Mano del Mono had greatly helped them to better understand what travelers were looking for in terms of experience, to better set prices so that they were attractive to visitors but also beneficial to their community, and to rally around a common vision for the center. In Las Nubes, the reality is that the locals have several livelihood activities, and tourism is only a complementary activity, so a little outside help was really welcome and motivated them to improve and come together around the same goal.

After this field trip, which enabled the three centers to improve their tourism offering, the project ended with a presentation of each center’s packages to commercial allies such as various travel agencies, to promote them and thus introduce tourists to the Las Nubes destination.

For my part, I added the three centers to the Vaolo platform to increase their visibility. As a result, travelers from all over the world now have the opportunity to book an authentic, experiential stay in Las Nubes, as well as other places in Chiapas, from the perspective of someone who has been there and lived the experience. Unlike other popular platforms, all revenues from bookings go directly to the centers, to ensure that communities benefit fully from every traveler’s stay.

I’d like to thank Mano del Mono, and especially Carlos and Eric, for including me in their field trip, which gave me a better understanding of the important work they do with the communities of the Selva lacandona. Through projects like these, tourism becomes a source of well-being for local communities and a source of conservation for the natural areas on which they depend. I’m also very grateful to Village Monde for opening this door for me by proposing this project, which was truly a gratifying and meaningful personal experience. Finally, I’d also like to thank LOJIQ, whose financial support made this project possible.

photo credit : Amélie Jetté-Masse

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