Alternative tours draw travelers to Mexico

Fri Jul 15, 2011 7:34pm EDT
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By Lorena Segura

MEXICO CITY (Reuters) - While most travelers flock to Mexico to sip margaritas on white-sand beaches, a hardy few choose lesser-known tourist sites where they are chased down by immigration agents or risk their lives in dangerous slums.

Escalating violence in Mexico's war on drugs may be prompting some would-be tourists to think twice about Mexico, but agencies offering alternative tourism are thriving among those seeking not just a break, but a break from the ordinary.

Innovative tourist agencies offer trips to remote mountain areas home to leftist Zapatista rebels and to the most crime-ridden neighborhoods of Mexico City.

It is uncertain whether the trend can provide a boost for Mexico's tourism sector, which accounts for about 9 percent of Latin America's second-largest economy.

But foreign tourists, mostly from Europe, are signing up for undercover tours in Tepito, a sprawling market area in Mexico City notorious for drug deals, underage prostitution and pirated goods, said Cesar Estrada, head of Universal Travel.

Another community center runs what they call a 'safari' in this historic area, where many Mexicans refuse to set foot for fear of being robbed at gunpoint.

"We tell visitors to dress simply. If they want pictures, our guides take them discreetly," Estrada said.

Domestic tourists are taking to reality tourism in the central state of Hidalgo, where one agency run by local residents simulates the dangerous trek Mexicans and Central Americans undertake as they cross the U.S. border illegally.   Continued...