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Often referred to as 'dude ranches', these are traditionally working cattle ranches or farms where visitors pay to be guests of the owner's family, and take part in day-to-day activities like rounding up horses and cattle. These days, many ranches are purely concerned with tourism and offer spa services, guides, cookery lessons and so on. Standards range from rustic with basic meals to luxury all-inclusive packages with gourmet meals.
The enormous growth of tourism in Mexico is reflected in the wide range of hotels available, from large international chains to small boutique establishments. Obtain confirmation in writing or by e-mail when booking a hotel, as tariffs are liable to alteration at any time. It is especially important to make reservations when travelling in the high season. Arriving without a reservation is of course possible, and allows the chance to check rooms and facilities before committing. Every hotel is required to display officially approved rate schedules (rack rates), but these will not normally include meals. In low-season, or if the hotel is not full, it pays to ask around for a discount, or upgrades. In high-season, look for deals on the Internet, even at short notice.
Grading: A 5-star grading system similar to that in Europe is in common use with a 'Gran Turismo' category that recognises hotels that go beyond 5-star standards. Having said that, the ratings can be overly generous, and tend to stick for life, regardless of whether the hotel in question has gone down hill.
All-inclusive packages are very popular in large resorts such as Cancun, where pay-as-you-go tariffs are often referred to as 'European Plan'. The all-inclusive plans will typically include all meals, snacks, non-alcoholic and (domestic) alcoholic beverages - imported wines, spirits etc will cost extra. In terms of activities, non-motorised watersports are free, and planned entertainment is often provided in the evening. Spa treatments are usually extra. Some resorts are specifically family-oriented and others are adults-only.
For those on a budget, casas de huespedes (guest houses, similar to bed & breakfast in Europe) are a good option.
Nowhere near as extensive as in South American countries like Peru, hostels here are however beginning to catch on, even in beach resorts where hotel chains have traditionally held the whip hand.
Many motels along major motorways providing services for RVs (recreational vehicles) as they are known here, together with tent pitches, showers, and cafeterias for campers. A number of national parks (see Accommodation Information below) have camping areas, but the most popular regions for camping are the Baja California peninsula, Sonora, Chihuahua and Coahuila. The forests of Campeche and Chiapas also offer beautiful settings to pitch a tent. The western Pacific coast has excellent RV 'hook-ups' while Baja California is far more informal and isolated. For an unofficial list, consult Sanbachs (website: www.sanbachs.net/cgi-bin/mexico/mexicot.cgi).
Hotel Reservacion Mexico
CP 11590, Thiers 83, Colonia Anzurez, Mexico DF, Mexico
Tel: (55) 5203 0466.
Comision Nacional de Areas Naturales Protegidas (CONAP) (Information on national parks)
Camino al Ajusco 200, Colonia Jardines en la Montana, Mexico DF, Mexico
Tel: (55) 5449 7000.