Tehuacán-Cuicatlán Valley: originary habitat of Mesoamerica is a semi-arid area recognized for its remarkable level of biological diversity and precolonial water management system.
The site consists of 3 component areas in the states of Puebla and Oaxaca. Botanically it is of special significance for its cacti, but for agaves, yuccas, bromeliads, bursera and oaks. The diverse fauna includes threatened amphibian and bird species.
Map of Tehuacán-Cuicatlán ValleyLoad map
Frederic M has done what I believe is the best way to really appreciate the OUV of this site--taking a multi-day tour. This was what I hoped of doing when I visited Mexico, but unfortunately, I did not have enough time and resources and I was traveling with my friend who was not too inclined to do such tours.
Date of Visit: April 2019
The nomination file indicates that the Tehucan-Cuicatlan Valley is an “arid or semi-arid zone with the richest biodiversity in all of North America.” It adds that the valley occupies an expansive area between Oaxaca and Puebla, which can be accessed through the scenic 135D highway. The nomination file also said that “it is one of the main centers for the diversification of the cacti family”, and “it harbors the densest forests of columnar cacti in the world”. As a biologist by education, this is the aspect of the site that I focused on.
Taking the single or multi-day tours was already out of the question given the above reasons. Hence, I had to choose properties within the core zone that were accessible for travelers with limited time. Reading through the nomination file and other sources, the following properties were mentioned:
- Parque Ecoturistico Turritelas
- Salinas Las Grandes
- Helia Bravo Hollis Botanical Garden
Sinuhe mentioned the Helia Bravo Hollis Botanical Garden in his review. Just to feel assured, I contacted the Comision Nacional de Areas Naturales Protegidas, and the lovely Director of Natural World Heritage responded and confirmed that Salinas Las Grandes and Helia Bravo Hollis are part of the site, while the Parque Ecoturistico Turritelas is not.
Helia Bravo Hollis Botanical Garden became our major stop on the way back to Mexico City from Oaxaca. It is easy to get there if you have your own wheels. It is “a very good reference to the vegetation and most representative cacti of the region", as shared by the Director. Indeed, the botanical garden has tours for visitors (available in English as well, in response to Sinuhe’s review) that highlight the life of Helia Bravo Hollis and the conservation of cacti in this region of Mexico. The tours are supplemented by informative panels installed around the botanical garden, which are helpful for those who want to roam around after the tour. The surrounding “forest” of columnar cacti made me appreciate the conservation efforts of Helia Bravo Hollis and the rich floral biodiversity present in this area.
After visiting the botanical garden, we decided to skip Salinas Las Grandes, although I believe we saw it while driving along Huajuapan-Tehuacan on the way back to 135D highway.
As shown in UNESCO's website, this particular site was inscribed based on criteria IV and X, and I felt like visiting the botanical garden only slightly touches its OUV based on criterion X. Hence, I would definitely recommend to do the tour that Frederic M did, if one desires to appreciate its OUV in its entirety.
All information about the site's attributes, history and other facts were retrieved from this site's UNESCO page and nomination texts written by Instituto Nacional de Antropologia e Historia & Comision Nacional de Areas Naturales Protegidas (2017)
Previous review by Sinuhe Reyrub is really good, but I though I could add some information here as my first review.
When planning my visit there I though it would be easy to enjoy the site due to its convenient location between Puebla and Oaxaca. But I soon realized it would be hard and time-consuming to visit this biosphere reserve on public transport. I finally found that ecotourism tour operator based in Oaxaca offering tours there (http://tierraventura.com/ruta-tehuacan-cuicatlan/).
We chose a three-day tour in the reserve starting and ending in Oaxaca, and we had a really great time. It was probably much more expensive than visiting on our own, but it was easy, nice and very instructive. I think this is the best way to visit the reserve if you rely on public transport. We visited (and stayed in) the amazing botanical garden (already well described in the previous review). The diversity of cacti there is impressive. We also spend some time in San Juan Rayas to see the countless fossils and dinosaurs footprints. Around those two regions, the landscape of cacti covered mountains is really beautiful, especially at sunset when the light gives a deeper colour to the canyons. We hiked a bit around and spotted birds, lizards and a fox at night.
On the second day, they took us to Santiago Quiotepec, a very small and remote village. From there, we hiked a nearby mountain to see some ongoing archeological works and enjoy once more the superb landscape. We even swam in the pristine river there. The ruins there were nice to see but are far from any comparison to any other Mexican prehispanic WHS. The natural beauty is more what makes the value of the valley.
On the last day, we visited the Sabino Canyon (already described here as well). I don't know for the evening visit, but the morning is an excellent time to hike the canyon. We arrived before sunrise and macaws were already numerous flying around as they leave the canyon. We enjoyed breakfast on top of the canyon and spend a couple hours there to see them returning inside. In the morning sun, their green, red and blue colours were dazzling.
I can't say from my visit that this site deserves inscription based on cultural criterion, but it is definitely a great natural site.
This will be an "easy" place to know if you're planning travel to Mexico and visit several World Heritage sites: site is halfway between Mexico City and Oaxaca. Now, not everything is as simple as you think.
If you’re travelling from Mexico City to Oaxaca, passing through the city of Tehuacan, a classic route is take Highway-135 D (Cuacnopala-Oaxaca) until arriving Oaxaca; you will surely see beautiful landscapes and a small portion of the reserve, but you will not cross the heart. So, starting today, recommend take the difficult local Highway-980 (Tehuacan-Coxcatlan-Teotitlan-Cuicatlan-Oaxaca). Of course, the difference in hours from the city of Tehuacan to Oaxaca, on this local road, is 3 or 4 hours more; so once you're going back to Mexico City, you could take the "fast route".
As a Mexican I can tell this is probably one of the most beautiful and interesting biosphere reserves around the country, and probably after Montes Azules and Zoque Jungle, the place that struck me most in the country, (well, I don't know Calakmul yet), anyway, can be very confusing if you don't bring an adequate travel plan. The place doesn't shine because of its infrastructure, promotion or knowledge throughout the country, which I believe has allowed it to be kept in a genuine and authentic way.
There are no defined routes in its nearly 500,000 ha, and there are too many places to see. I will focus on those I have visited, and are within the core area considered to be a World Heritage Site (145,000 ha.).
Last time I went (as part of my travel plan with 2 friends from Taiwan, for 2 weeks in Mexico), we first drive the road from Tehuacan to Zapotitlan. Just a couple of kilometers before reaching this village you will find the Botanical Garden "Helia Bravo Hollis", a communal botanical area that brings together a collection of almost all plants in the reserve through open fields. The place is mesmerizing, and boasts more than 50 species of large cacti. The main protagonists are the columnar cactaceae, some of which date back more than 1000 years and reach 20 meters and more. What particularly surprised me is the density (1800 ind / ha), just a look to the mountains and realize that, even if is a desert, in the strict sense could be called forest . The tours are very educational and cheap, but I don't know if are also in english. What is a fact is you will get a great effort from the locals to teach you everything about herbage, cactus and thousands of medicinal uses of plants (this is the best place to learn about something that should be intangible heritage of Mexico, its traditional medicine) (and sometimes they get 90 tourists a week, so the deal is very personalized).
From this garden we depart back to Tehuacan, to take the local Highway-980 towards Santa María Tecomavaca. The path itself is a real gem. Special attention to the landscapes and the view of "salterns" in the sides of the road. Although I suppose there are no periodic tours within the salterns, are very visible from the road. From the outside they look like authentic pre-hispanic sites (and indeed they are). These small local salt flats continue in function until today. The largest concentration of this landscape is probably in Zapotitlan; these salt-flats are composed by a small white salt desert, caves and wells, which have extracted salt from the subsoil for fifteen centuries (this salt is highly valued nationally as gourmet salt). After seeing these landscapes, I am clear the inclusion of the place as a CL. I will pause to mention that along this road is the town of Coxcatlan, where is the "Purrón dam", the first dam created by the man in Americas (what explains why in these sites of Oaxaca could be tame maize) (anyway, we overlook it, but now I read is one of the 3 core zones).
Why travel to Tecomavaca? Well, near to this town is the "Sabino Canyon", a deep canyon where lives the second largest population of guacayamas in the world (in this case Ara militaris). There is some signs to get into the canyon, but the best way to visit it, is ask to any person of the village for the canyon. All are trained to send you with local guides (maybe you have to walk one or two streets, and the guide, who also is father or farmer will stop doing their activities to show you the canyon) (in this part of the country people live in a kind of communal economy). They are kind and safe people. All.
Sabino Canyon is a beautiful site. To get there, we walked over an hour from the village, through beautiful trails of cactus and shrubs. Maybe the best time to see macaws around the world is in the evening, when they return to their caves, and can be seen more clearly. I have no words to describe this incredible place. You can ask about the village cabins, as we did, and camp one night. The services are basic but not bad, and there is no luxury, but it's part of a true experience, in an authentic primal cultural landscape. We decided with proper care, made a campfire to talk at night. The sounds of nocturnal mammals are common.
Next day we went to the city of Oaxaca, to continue our trip but maybe you can stay 3 or 4 days knowing this biosphere-reserve.
I have gone to Tehuacan-Cuicatlan more times, is very large, and it's important that you review your needs. I have not been able to go to San Juan Raya yet, a village on the northwest side where people have developed a paleontological ecotourism program. A friend says anywhere you stop in town, you are walking on shells, mollusks and snails from the Cretaceous. Formerly a sea, now the marine gastropod fossils have been left in the open due to the lack of rain. San Juan Raya, despite being a town of 2000 people, has been the scene of many mexican films. So could be "the definitive town of the rural mexican popular imaginary" (look on Youtube for the movie "La Ley de Herodes").
This TWHS is not a commercial tourist place, like all those already now in Mexico. But as soon you're there, you can see why it's one of the most important biodiversity hotspots around the country. All activities are developed by small communities, genuinely concerned about preserving the area. Maybe the best example that I know of sustainable management and use of resources in an organized way. Certainly, a great contender this year, a true definition of mixed heritage.
2018 Advisory Body overruled
ICOMOS advised Deferral for the cultural segment
Successor to former TWHS Tehuacan-Cuicatlan Biosphere Reserve (2012)
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29 Community Members have visited.