Boldness. That’s one of the qualities that makes the women of Wanderful so unique.
We boldly go out into the world, breaking barriers and creating new paths for other travelers to follow. We constantly seek out new challenges and different ways to share the world with others.
I recently connected with a Wanderful Global Member who embodies this unique quality of boldness. Mariana Courtney, a native of Mexico, is the managing director, photographer, and editor of Walking Mexico, a website dedicated to showing the world a different side of Mexico.
During our conversation, we talked about how she and her business partner are breaking new ground in the Mexican travel blogging community and the tourism industry.
Astrid: Tell me how Walking Mexico came about.
Mariana: In Mexico, outdoor sports and adventure travel are not that well developed. For example, there’s no notion of where the national parks are and what the country has to offer in terms of natural and cultural destinations. The way that tourism has developed in Mexico has mostly benefited tourist destinations and beaches. So, Cancun, Los Cabos, and Puerto Vallarta have been the main focus of the government and the business sector. And all the rest of the country is quite unknown, even for Mexicans.
Walking Mexico’s mission is to find these places and document them. We want to show people where they can visit and how they can do it. At first, I was interested in traveling and photography. Then my best friend started Walking Mexico, and we decided we would take it in this direction to promote tourism and outdoors culture.
A: So you and your partner both started Walking Mexico together?
M: She started it first, as a Facebook page to promote Mexico. It was around the time when Mexico had a really bad reputation, especially around the war on drugs. Tourism in Mexico really suffered. We wanted to show that Mexico is not how it has been portrayed in the mass media. She began by promoting Mexico in general, and then we started to travel together and I took pictures. We uploaded our photos, and Walking Mexico became popular. We decided to make it a real business. That’s when I came in.
A: It sounds like Walking Mexico came out of a desire to promote a different image of Mexico to the rest of the world. What kind of value do you think you provide to the travel community?
M: The most value we provide is information and inspiration. We find really nice places, and we give people all the information of that place and how to get there. Since then we have formed bonds with communities in Mexico, with adventure guides, NGOs, and people that are working for sustainable tourism and eco-tourism, We’re trying to connect the person who’s yearning to travel with all the opportunities that exist.
A: What challenges have you faced as you go about this work of building a travel community around Mexico?
M: I think our greatest challenge is still becoming properly established in the media world. Brands in Mexico are still very interested in having advertising contracts with printed media. They don’t really trust digital yet. In the United States, there are a lot of bloggers, and they survive because brands there recognize the importance of bloggers and how they speak directly with people. In Mexico, that transition has not happened. They value bloggers, but they don’t really trust them with their advertising programs, or any kind of marketing.
This year, we were sponsored by The North Face. They understand how important it is to connect with the community. But in general, it’s very difficult to make a bridge with different brands. Surviving as a non-established magazine has been the hardest part.
A: Tell me about your experiences of being a leader in the travel community.
M: It has been amazing to be part of a bubbling culture in Mexico. In the US, everything is well-established in the travel industry, and you know where to go. There are established magazines and blogs and apps, so you can travel anywhere. Here, it’s just starting. So we get to challenge it, and we also get the opportunity to create.
A: In a sense, you guys are on the cutting edge, and paving the way for other Mexican bloggers, especially female Mexican bloggers and writers. That’s probably challenging in its own way, but I’m wondering if it’s also empowering to feel like you’re breaking new ground.
M: It’s pretty amazing in that regard. It’s something that we never expected to do. We just started traveling and posting photos, and then all of a sudden we get to have a say in things. In this environment, it’s not that common for women to be pushing outdoor sports. Especially in Mexico. Our country is still very orthodox in terms of female roles. Women are supposed to get married, and have children, and that’s the end. But we’re part of the first generation to be changing that. It’s pretty amazing to be part of that generation, and also to do it in such a fun way as with the outdoors culture.
A: What do you love most about the outdoors?
M: I love getting out of what I think I know. The outdoors is always surprising, always changing, always challenging. The best is when you’ve exerted yourself to get somewhere and you get to sit down, enjoy the view, and enjoy life. It’s a moment of inspiration.
A: What’s your favorite place in Mexico?
M: I love the state of Yucatan. Cenotes, which are open caves with freshwater, are one of the world’s greatest wonders and there are hundreds of them there. And you can swim in them! The water is cool, fresh, and clear with hints of strong blues, and the rock is smooth. Often, tree branches reach down to the water from the surface. There’s nothing like them.
Yucatán also has great food, amazing Mayan ruins, beautiful colonial homes, and Haciendas.
A: Do you feel like you are inspiring other people to do the kinds of things that you do?
M: We’re kind of the first girls to be doing this out loud. And now there are a lot more people who are doing what we’re doing. In the beginning, when we first started Walking Mexico, we visited one of the volcanos and started posting photos. And the moment we started posting those photos, then that article post of ours had over 200,000 views, and people started hashtagging and posting photos of themselves in that volcano. So I saw a direct impact. I think the fact that there’s a #WalkingMexico reminds us every now and then that there are actually people looking at what we’re doing.
A: That’s amazing! It’s not every day that you get to talk to people that have that kind of influence. Do you think your photography is helping to change the image of Mexico with the rest of the world?
M: Yes, a hundred percent! And the fact that people are able to upload on the internet, I think that’s also changing all over the world. On Instagram, I see followers from Australia, and Alberta, and Iceland, and even New Zealand. All those places have been affected by photography.
A: What inspires you to continue doing your work?
M: Tourism as an instrument for change is huge. The United Nations developed a new set of goals last year, and sustainable tourism is embedded in all of them. There’s so much potential for Mexico, and it’s sort of all over the place right now. Because we’re getting into it from another perspective, we’re sort of like a map to show people how to do it.
Among my parents’ age group, no one traveled. They never got to know the world like we do. I think that definitely changed my life, and my perspective of things. I think people can be better if they do that kind of travel.
Talking with Mariana, it’s clear that Walking Mexico is in the forefront of a growing movement in the Mexican travel industry.
One that’s heading towards a more sustainable and experiential form of travel.
Although Mariana and her partner didn’t initially set out to lead this movement, it’s amazing to see that they’re realizing their role in this movement and using it to shape the way people view travel in Mexico.
It takes a bold person to pave the way for others, and Mariana certainly has what it takes. With each photo and story, she’s doing her part to change how the world sees her beautiful country.
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