On September 19, 2017, an earthquake struck Mexico causing severe to moderate damage in Mexico City and the states of Puebla and Morelos. The estimated 7.1 Richter-scale quake damaged about 150 thousand homes, some completely destroyed. Government sources confirm 366 lives lost, including 225 in the capital and 74 in Morelos. Mexican first responders, the army, foreign assistance, and thousands of civil volunteers rallied for search and rescue operations, then settled in for the long-term task of rebuilding. Needless to say, a quake of that magnitude represents a significant blow to the economies of the affected areas that will require close to two billion dollars for reconstruction and recovery. One of the important engines of the Mexican economy is tourism which suffered an immediate decline of about a 30 percent. The most famous Mexican tourist destinations like Cancun and the rest of the Mexican Riviera, Puerta Vallarta, and resort-heavy Baja California were unaffected by the quake and hotel reservations there are holding up well. Though all but a handful of hotels in Mexico City and the state of Morelos survived intact, national and international tourism responsible for hundreds of thousands of jobs will not recover quickly. Yet most of the tourist infrastructure in the affected areas has proved resilient and there is no need for visitors to change plans for most destinations.
The State of Morelos has been a lure for tourists since the days of the Aztec emperors who vacationed there to escape the cold of Mexico City winters at 7300 feet altitude. The conquistador Hernán Cortes built a sugar hacienda and a palatial fortress in Cuernavaca.The city is still the weekend resort for thousands of capitalinos.
In the 1950s and 60s Cuernavaca lured Hollywood stars and jetsetters. Helen Hayes had a home there and the Shah of Iran built a home to spend some of his exile. Much of the jetset tourism was lured away when Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor put Puerto Vallarta on the map. The ease of private jet travel dispersed that kind of travel to even more remote global hideaways.
But Morelos and its capital Cuernavaca continued to thrive thanks to heavy weekend tourism from Mexico City and its fame as a center for Spanish-language schools drawing thousands of North American and European students of all ages. (See my previous post on the importance of Cuernavaca for language learning: https://jimhornnews.com/2015/08/10/study-abroad-why-choose-mexico-its-preeminence-its-impediments).
International tourism to Mexico took a sharp dive after the international economic collapse beginning in 2008. The decline was exacerbated by H1N1 influenza epidemic in 2009, and the alarmist publicity surrounding the government’s war on the drug cartels during that decade. The secretariats of tourism for the State of Morelos and the city of Cuernavaca responded to the crisis with an intense and successful campaign to lure national tourists. The attractions of Morelos were more widely publicized including the ruta de los conventos, the ruta de Zapata, the rich arqueological heritage, and the magnificent Jardines de Mexico, the largest flower garden in the world (https://jimhornnews.com/2014/03/18/tourism-should-be-coming-up-roses-in-morelos).
Thousands of tourists visited the state not just from the capital but from many other states of Mexico. Cuernavaca has not suffered damage in the past by quakes from faults in Oaxaca, Chiapas, and the coast of Guerrero, but this quake had an epicenter near the border of Morelos and Puebla states, causing major damage to areas not previously affected.
A significant part of that tourism has been reluctant to return, thinking perhaps that the destruction has affected the comforts and amenities of the destinations. But that is far from reality. In the aftermath of the quake, State Secretary of Tourism Monika Reyes sounded a positive note saying that 90 percent of the hotels and 80 percent of the bathing resorts (balnearios) are functioning. Much of the damage at bathing resorts was merely cosmetic and most reopened within a few days. Tourist and commercial officials are surveying the actual damage in the 33 municipalities of the state so that reconstruction can begin. The state branch of the National Institute of Anthropology and History (INAH for its initials in Spanish), is surveying the situation at arqueological and historical sites, many of which ar still not open to visitors.
Most severely damaged are the many convents and chapels featured on the Ruta de los Conventos, so visitors are advised to check with state tourist offices before making travel plans. The spectacular colonial haciendas that became resort hotels like Cocoyoc and Vista Hermosa are mostly all back in operation, easily checked by a call or email to reservations. None of the traditional Day of the Dead tourist sites have been affected although, sadly, more Mexican families are mourning their lost loved ones.
In Cuernavaca, hotels have repaired mostly cosmetic damage and are making visits more attractive with significant cost-saving packages. The city’s world-class restaurants are open for gourmet al fresco dining in beautiful gardens.
None of the Spanish-language schools suffered damage and all are receiving new students weekly. Normally schools have a maximum of 5 students per teacher but low enrollment means many classes have even fewer students offering even more individual attention. In sum, all but a few of the major tourist attractions in Cuernavaca and the state of Morelos are fully operating and welcoming a return by national and international visitors. For advice on what to see in Morelos, see my earlier post https://jimhornnews.com/2014/01/19/tourist-attractions-in-the-state-of-morelos-mexico.
For North American and European visitors, the autumn low-season has always been a hotel bargain in Mexico with low room rates until the November Thanksgiving and pre-Christmas rate increases. But low-rate packages are now better than ever. One Cuernavaca hotel is offering a 40 percent discount on midweek reservations. The online hotel reservation sites are brimming with bargains.
The collapse of oil prices at the beginning of the year and political threats to the NAFTA economy caused a significant drop in the peso/dollar exchange rate, now hovering around 18 pesos to the dollar. So the low hotel rates in pesos offer even more incredible value for those with dollars. Mexico has been a sensational bargain destination all year, and more so now with so many promotions. Perhaps due to low demand, air carriers have offered bargain airfares all year. Round trip economy flights from New York’s JFK to Mexico (MEX) are as low as 259 dollars and from Los Angeles (LAX) even less. Arguably there is no better value for North American international tourism right now than Mexico. Despite continued bad publicity from the actions of the drug cartels, most of Mexico is safe for tourists. Drug lords are still killing other drug lords, but students and tourists are not the targets nor the victims. The U.S. State Department has no travel advisory for Mexico City, Cuernavaca, and most of Morelos.
Mexicans are greatly appreciative of the donations pouring in from international governments and private foundations. But ordinary North Americans can contribute to recovery by bringing their tourist dollars. A stagnant economy in the tourist sector with thousands of unemployed can only worsen the suffering of the thousands who labor in that sector and need their salaries to help their families recover and reconstruct. Both national and international tourists can contribute greatly to relieve the economic suffering of those stricken by the quake. Tourism in Cuernavaca and the State of Morelos is safe, economical, and attractive. And the Mexican people, renowned for their kindness and hospitality, are now more welcoming than ever. It’s time to plan a trip knowing you will be providing relief and support to suffering neighbors.
This post was reprinted in full in El Sol de Cuernavaca, Oct. 15, 2017.