The Río Los Horcones Canyon as an Essential Tourism Asset of Puerto Vallarta

From seaweed infested beaches across Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula, to an unprecedented number of fires raging in the Brazilian Amazon, there’s currently no shortage of alarming environmental news from the tropics. We’re entering a dark era in which the devastating reality of climate change related disasters aren’t just undeniable to those living in regions of melting glaciers and permafrost; we’re starting to see signs of it everywhere. These disturbing phenomena evidencing a rapidly degrading earth are capturing the attention of people across the globe. While this often provokes thoughts of despair, helplessness and anger, our collective outrage can also be channeled to action in hope for a healthy future for our planet. Here in Puerto Vallarta we need to step up for conservation and ecology not just to do our part for mother earth, but to save our tourism based economy.

Civil society’s environmental awakening is effecting consumer decision making regarding leisure travel and vacation tourism. The tourism brand of Puerto Vallarta that we must build together cannot just focus on tequila and beaches; it must include all of us here in Vallarta agreeing to be become an environmentally responsible city.

This kind of responsibility means protecting our most crucial natural habitats including the Río Los Horcones Canyon which has recently been threatened by an illegal hydroelectric project that would also destroy the area’s scenic beauty. The potential dam and power plant and the proposed above ground metal pipeline to connect them would convert our city’s only stretch of scenic canyon highway into a depressing ride along kilometers of industrial sized steel tubing. The water war going on now here in Puerto Vallarta did not begin because we needed more electricity—that’s only a diversionary story being sold to us so this magnificent river is being channeled into a giant pipe. The obvious motivation behind this project is so this river’s water can be used for yet even more unregulated and unsustainable development, this time from Boca de Tomatlán towards Las Ánimas and beyond.

The Río Los Horcones Canyon is a place of inspirational wildness inside the city limits of Puerto Vallarta. From its towering jungle cliff sides to its crystalline waters frequented by an abundance of wildlife from river otters to jaguars, it is among the most valuable natural tourism assets remaining within our city. The small amount of electricity that could be generated by damming this river can never come close to the harm it would inflict, not just to natural ecology but also to our tourism based economy—the direct livelihood of nearly everyone working in Puerto Vallarta and the indirect livelihood of just about everyone else. Publicly unnamed yet well-known private interests are trying to steal this river and are receiving red carpet service from corrupt government officials who are supposed to be looking out for our collective interests. This is an environmental and human rights crime of the highest order, that must be opposed by everyone who wants Puerto Vallarta to continue succeeding in tourism. Hotels and fancy resorts are not tourism generators; fancy hotels are found the world over. What attracts tourism to Vallarta is the unspoiled beauty of much of our bay and mountains, the warm hospitality of Mexican people and the charms of Mexican culture. Without an outstanding and well preserved natural environment, not even the most impressive hotels will attract anything by themselves.

Hundreds of thousands of Puerto Vallarta residents and visitors agree with the recently launched online petition to declare the Río Los Horcones Canyon as an official Natural Protected Area. This petition, just launched in June, is nearing half a million signatures—making it the most numerically successful petition in the history of Puerto Vallarta and one of the most successful environmental petitions in all of Mexico. Public support is clearly for the preservation of our pristine natural areas and our tourism based way of life, not for an illegal dam. To view the petition, go to Change.Org and search for “Horcones.”

Puerto Vallarta has only a few remaining intact natural areas capable of enticing vacation-goers from all over our planet, but not one of these left can be squandered. Tourist destinations that place short-term profits over the health of the environment will doom themselves to failure and abandonment, sooner rather than later. In competition to attract tourists, our local leaders should know that people are looking for destinations which prioritize preservation of the environment. Those destinations that commit to conserving the beauty of their lands and leading the world in environmentally sound practices will prepare themselves for the best possible chances of long term success.

The loss of the Horcones River would be a public relations and environmental disaster for Puerto Vallarta as the world finds out we are no better than those burning down the Amazon.

By Pablo González G.