This year, the AP reported that Mexico was in danger of dropping out of the top ten travel destinations in the world, a slip that is being chalked up to border violence, a decline in cruise ship stopovers, and the economy in general. Let me add another reason to that list that's infecting Mexico from Cancun to Cabo: A lack of authenticity in its main tourist towns.
I don't want to pick on Puerto Vallarta because it is certainly not the only guilty destination, but I also don't want to get carried away with how far I expand this out, so for the sake of this discussion I'll stay focused on the city I've spent the past two weeks exploring. Puerto Vallarta is beautiful and has a lot to offer, but the souvenir vendors are pretty much unbearable in many parts of the city and certain beaches.
Bracelets with sports teams on them. Two-hour old shrimp on a stick. Temporary Tattoos. Chips and fried pork skin. Cigars. Wooden objects. More Cigars. You can't relax on the beach for ten minutes without having your conversation interrupted. You can't walk through town and window shop without being called into stores across the street. My friends and I have started a joke about it. We call these areas "No Gracias Zones," because you spend all your time telling people you don't want to buy what they're selling. It's funny at first, but then it gets frustrating.
My simple request to Puerto Vallarta, Mismaloya, Boca, and others with organized vendor services is to chill out a little bit. I know people are only trying to make money, but if the intensity could be turned down, that would be great. Focus on creating good products at good prices and travelers will be interested and it will be better for the community as well. You have to understand how it feels to have to constantly navigate endless requests for your attention when you have no interest in shopping. For those of us who are looking to actually connect with the local atmosphere and scenery, it is extremely distracting. I think the aggressive approach and lack of authenticity scares off just as many travelers as it ropes in.
I guess the answer is for me to go to a different beach, one outside of town where no vendors can find me (maybe to Veracruz??). But you don't want me to do that, right? So, please, chill! And I might even buy a pair of sunglasses when I inevitably lose my own.
[Photo: LA Times]