Divided over Tourism: Zapotec Responses to Mexico’s ’Magical Villages Program’

  • Toomas Gross University of Helsinki
Keywords: tourism, development, indigenous culture, Oaxaca, Mexico


In 2001, Mexico’s Ministry of Tourism launched the Magical Villages Program (Programa Pueblos Mágicos) to promote tourism to “typical” Mexican communities. One of the 43 communities currently involved in the program is Capulálpam de Méndez, an indigenous Zapotec village in the State of Oaxaca. This article, based on the author’s intermittent fieldwork in Capulálpam since 1998, discusses local reactions to the Magical Villages Program and the villagers’ diverse perceptions of the impact of tourism on local culture and identity. These perceptions tend to be polarised and fall into two clearly distinguishable camps. Some villagers associate tourism with material gains and increased employment opportunities. Others, however, perceive it as a threat to communal intimacy and local ways of life, and accuse it of increasing inequality in the village. Such polarisation of approaches reflects, at least partly, the pre-existing divisions and hierarchies in the village. Similarly to some of the major anthropological approaches to the impact of tourism on host communities, especially in Latin America, the local discourse on tourism and tourists in Capulálpam centres on the notions of development and destruction.