BBC producer and director Victoria Bromley tells Stephanie Holmes Mexico is a must-visit for an adventurous holiday.
WHY IS MEXICO A GREAT DESTINATION FOR WILDLIFE LOVERS?
Most people would be surprised to learn that Mexico is one of the world's most biodiverse countries. Roughly seven times the size of New Zealand, it has an astounding range of distinct habitats, many of them protected in Mexico's 40 Unesco Biosphere Reserves. This is a great country for wildlife lovers looking to get off the wellbeaten Latin American track.
IF YOU COULD PUT TOGETHER A WILDLIFE 'BUCKET LIST' OF THINGS VISITORS SHOULDN'T MISS, WHAT WOULD BE ON IT?
1. Monarch butterflies
When to go: January to March In our first episode, 'Mountain Worlds', we celebrate one of Mexico's most famous wildlife spectacles; the annual visit of the Monarch butterflies to Michoacan's Oyamel fir forests. After a journey of more than 4800km from the USA, hundreds of millions of large, orange butterflies cling to the tall trees, suspended inaghostly torpor for the winter. It's little surprise that for thousands of years the sudden arrival of these delicate creatures has been associated with the arrival of the spirits of the dead and Dia de los Muertos. As spring approaches and temperatures rise the butterflies become more active and cloud the skies, to mate before beginning their journey north. Sadly, this ancient migration is now under threat due to climate change, so a visit to the butterfly sanctuaries should be high on any wildlife lover's 'bucket list'.
2. The cloud forests of Chiapas
El Triunfo Biosphere Reserve
When to go: February to April To capture one of Mexico's most enchanting mountain worlds we travelled to the Sierra Madre de Chiapas, which has the most diverse and largest evergreen cloud forest in Mesoamerica. The highly protected El Triunfo reserve can only be accessed on foot so we loaded our filming equipment and supplies onto a team of donkeys and followed them on a threehour hike up the mountain.
Journeying into this misty, virgin forest was like stepping back in time, and the abundance and visibility of wildlife was astounding. Our cameraman had the rare treat of spotting a puma, right in the middle of a trail, and one nightatapir joined us at camp to lick salt from outside the kitchen. For bird lovers, these forests are a paradise; the humming of the rare and bizzare male Horned quan resonates through the trees in February. In the heart of the forest you can also spy the 'most beautiful bird in the Americas', the aptly named Resplendent quetzal. The male's vibrant green tail feathers, more than half a metre long, were valued by the Aztecs more than gold. The reserve admits onlyalimited number of visitors each year and you must travel as part of a tour.
The guides here are generous and knowledgeable and many were born in the reserve.
3. Monkeys, jaguars and more
When to go: December to April Calakmul was once a thriving Mayan city but has now returned to nature and is the largest tropical forest reserve in Mexico. In our second episode, 'Forests of the Maya', we show how the holistic agriculture of this ancient civilisation still provides a bounty for wildlife. The Mayans planted trees throughout the city to have fruit year-round and this is a lifeline for monkeys in the dry months. Visitors can spot spider and howler monkeys enjoying a meal while exploring the ruins and taking in spectacular views across the jungle from the top of the pyramids. The reserve is also home to five of the six species of wildcat found in Mexico, including the revered jaguar.
4. Whale watching
Baja Peninsula and the Sea of Cortez
When: February to April In our final episode, 'Burning North' we see a glimpse of the Sea of Cortez. While the shores are barren desert the Sea is one of the richest in the world, earning the title the "Galapagos of Mexico". It's frequented by the big hitters — blue, sperm, humpback, fin and killer whales, among others. One of my most memorable wildlife encounters in Mexico was filming the 'friendly' grey whales with their new calves in San Ignacio lagoon. Mother whales will approach boats and even lift their young up to be scratched and petted. It is a deeply moving experience to be up close with these giants. There are plenty of eco-friendly tour options on both sides of the peninsula.
WHAT DIFFERENT LANDSCAPES CAN YOU FIND AND WHAT MAKES THEM SO SPECIAL?
The sheer range of the landscapes in Mexico makes it stand apart. From the majesty of Chihuahua's Copper Canyon (larger and deeper than the Grand Canyon), to the drama of active volcanoes like Colima and Popocatepetl and atmospheric alpine fir forests in the Sierra Gorda, it can feel like you are crossing a continent rather than a single country.
WHAT ARE SOME OF YOUR FAVOURITE MAN-MADE ATTRACTIONS THERE?
Mexico has a rich pre-Hispanic heritage. Mexico City is actually built upon the ruins of the Aztec city of Tenochtitlan and you can find outstanding architecture and temples right in the heart of the modern metropolis. A short trip out of Mexico City is Teotihuacan, at one time one of the largest cities in the world. The Aztecs discovered this ancient complex abandoned and called it the "birthplace of the Gods" and it's easy to see why it inspired the name. The mystery of who actually built these impressive pyramids remains to this day.
IS IT AN EASY COUNTRY TO GET AROUND?
Mexico is a large country so plan your trip wisely. There are many wildlife and eco-friendly tour options available. You can hireacar and drive in Mexico with an NZ license, though rentals are quite expensive. Mexico City is the world's No 1 city for traffic congestion, soIrecommend using the metro system when exploring the capital.
WHEN IS A GOOD TIME OF YEAR TO GO?
The driest months are from December to April and this also happens to beagreat time to enjoy Mexico's wildlife. Hurricane season impacts the Caribbean coast from June to November.
IS THERE ANYTHING TRAVELLERS NEED TO WATCH OUT FOR IN TERMS OF DANGERS OR SAFETY CONCERNS?
Mexico is well set up for tourists and if you are travelling as part of a tour group your safety and security is assured. As with any country, tourists can be the victims of petty crime in major cities and independent travellers should do their research, to be aware of any specific security issues impacting individual states.
WHAT ARE THE MEXICAN PEOPLE LIKE? ARE THEY WELCOMING OF TOURISTS AND TRAVELLERS?
Friendly and family oriented, withastrong sense of hospitality. You will find a warm welcome, delicious food and plenty of offers of mezcal. Our aim with this series was to get past the stereotypes of sombreros and tequila and surprise audiences with the diversity of Mexico's wildlife, landscapes and human cultures, and to celebrate its little known natural wonders.
• Victoria Bromely is the producer and director of Wild Mexico,a three-part series premiering on BBC Knowledge, Saturday March 17 at 8.30pm.
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