It’s evening in Oaxaca City and the warm night air is pouring in through the open doors of the mezcal bar. Music is playing–an old Spanish favorite, Cielito Lindo—floats from the corner where a lone guitarist stands singing. I am surrounded by my fellow travelers; an unlikely, slapstick gang of bloggers and writers who, up until a few days ago, were complete strangers to me. There’s a couple from Costa Rica, a luxury blogger from Arizona, a baby boomer adventure blogger—to name a few—who are sitting shoulder to shoulder and singing to the music.
We are on a group trip together–compliments of Cantimplora Travel–founded by Mexican City photographers, Samantha Calzada and Bernardo Buendia. In our selfie-obsessed culture, Cantimplora Travel is founded on the idea of having professional photographers snap photos of you during the trip (given to you each morning) so you can put your camera, GoPro, iPhone and iPad down and simply enjoy the moment. It’s a radical and welcoming idea in a time when self-documentation has run amok and travel is all too often measured only in the number of likes and comments received on social media.
As a travel writer, my Achilles heel is often the push-pull relationship I have with enjoying a trip and documenting it. I am constantly at odds with myself when I venture abroad, as I am torn between sharing updates to bring my readers along for the ride or simply putting down technology and allowing myself to experience a destination. The perk of traveling with professional photographers becomes obvious then: you get to live in the moment while they take on the task of documenting your travels.
We start our trip in Mexico City where we meet at a charming cafe one lazy morning before making the 6 hour drive to Oaxaca City. The drive passes fairly quickly as we stop for roadside tacos in the shadow of a distant volcano eruption before we arrive at the main city of the Oaxaca region. Oaxaca is in Southwest Mexico and is known as one of the poorest states in Mexico yet one of the richest in terms of heritage, food and culture. We spend 3 nights in Oaxaca City, taking day excursions to nearby ruins, visiting a local shaman for a traditional temazcal, eating at the indigenous Mercado Telacolula and hiking the trails of Hierve el Agua. After our third night, we leave for San Jose de Pacifico in the mountains for a chilly evening amongst towering forests and foggy mountains–a scenery expected more in Seattle than Mexico—before we head down to the balmy beaches of Zipolite. The decision to stay at Zipolite versus the more popular Puerto Escondido is a testament to the type of trip Cantimplora Travel offers. At Zipolite, we are away from the resorts, the chain restaurants, the tourist scams and are instead within a warm and welcoming ex-pat community near a small, colorful town.
Although we are traveling as a group, at no point does the trip have the feel of one of those standard tourist tours that tragically draw a line in the sand between the locals and travelers. One of the main highlights of the Cantimplora Travel tours–and something that immediately appeals to me–is the balance it strikes between solo travel and group travel. Admittedly, I tend to gravitate more towards solo traveling (or traveling with loved ones) and the freedom it offers. I fell in love with travel because of its spontaneity and stark contrast between my then overly planned and scheduled life in New York City. Travel has always been a respite for me–a way to throw itineraries out the window and simply wake up each morning and decide in the moment what I feel like doing. Then came group travel and press trips–a byproduct of wading into the world of travel blogging. Group travel seemed to go against the very nature of traveling for me. 8am wake up calls? Strict schedules? Hurried days and rushed visits? Then, Cantimplora Travel invited me to Oaxaca and proved to me that group travel can appeal to the solo traveler.
The tour Cantimplora Travel has offers ample free time to explore and, well, solo travel. I roamed the local markets of Oaxaca in search of chiles, I walked around the colorful town of Zipolite and I did so solo. My days in Oaxaca seemed to strike the perfect balance–I would explore on my own and then meet up with my fellow travelers for planned activities.
I was recently asked by a London-based friend about group travel and whether it’s a trend that is catching on in the United States. I took a moment to consider the question. In Australia and Europe, group travel has caught fire and become a popular way for young travelers in their 20s and 30s to explore destinations, make friends along the way and not worry about logistics of planning it out. Yet, in the United States, group travel is often considered a mode of travel for the fanny-pack toting, Hawaiian shirt wearing tourist who doesn’t dare to step off the beaten path. It’s an antiquated approach at a time when you no longer need to choose sides between group and solo travel. Authentic experiences, genuine connections and local culture can all be explored on a group trip and Cantimplora Travel is a perfect example of that.
Do you prefer group or solo travel? What’s your opinion on both? Join the conversation below! Check out Cantimplora Travel for information on their upcoming Mexico tours.