One doesn’t usually think of Felipe Calderón, the tough-as-nails president of Mexico best known for his encyclopedic policy knowledge and unflinching crackdown on borderland narcotrafficking gangs, smiling and scuba diving through the clear blue waters of the Yucatán. This month, however, he does just that, descending into the peninsula’s famous cenotes, or freshwater-filled sinkholes, considered sacred by the Mayans and spectacularly beautiful to everyone else.
Calderón took time out earlier this year to show popular travel journalist Peter Greenberg the wonders of Mexico, which include some of the Yucatán’s brilliant blue gems. In addition to the cenotes, the president also escorted Greenberg and his camera crews to the top of the main pyramid in Chitchen Itza, just part of an upcoming travel special, The Royal Tour: Mexico.
Previous segments of the Royal Tour were led by the King Abdullah II of Jordan (hence the name of the series), Prime Minister Helen Clark of New Zealand, President Alejandro Toledo of Peru, and Prime Minister P.J Patterson of Jamaica. After each episode aired on Discovery and the Travel Channel, “tourism greatly picked up in the country that was featured.”.
That potential promise was enough to lure President Calderón away from the office just to show the world his magnificent country. In addition to sites surrounding popular Cancún, the Royal Tour takes in the festive Puerto Vallarta malecón, a whale-watching trip in Baja California, a visit to the jungled villages of the Lacandon Rainforest, and the mysterious ruins Palenque—including an eerie descent into the Tomb of Pacal, occasionally interpreted as evidence for pre-Columbian space travel.
Mexicans are sure get a kick out of seeing their usually solemn leader giggling on a canopy tour: “Our guides and staff were very excited to see President Calderón here,” gushed zip-line owner Juliana Coates. “We have had celebrities in the past at our canopy tour, but never the president of Mexico.”
The point of Calderón’s turn as adventure guide? To prove to travelers all over the world that it is safe, fun, and indeed, awe-inspiring, to explore the 99% of Mexico not currently consumed by narcoviolence. This can’t have been Calderón’s swishest gig, but it proves that he is committed to rebuilding Mexico’s tourist industry well beyond desktop decrees proclaiming 2011 the “Year of Tourism in Mexico.” And, as the 49-year-old drug warrior cheerfully noted as he descended, by rope, into the San Luis Potosí’s Cave of the Golondrinas, “I have other duties that are more dangerous.”