Art and Gastronomy Routes: 
An Unexplored Tourism Proposal for Latin America
Alicia Bernard, Hotel and Restaurant Management, Universidad de las Americas, Mexico
Patricia Dominguez, Hotel and Restaurant Management, Universidad de las Americas, Mexico
Isable Zaragoza, Hotel and Restaurant Management, Universidad de las Americas, Mexico
May 1999 / This paper explains the development of art and gastronomy  routes  as  sustainable  tourism alternatives. As an example, routes developed for the state of Oaxaca, Mexico are presented. The search for new and more interesting products has led to the rediscovery of cultural tourism with all of its aspects. However one aspect that reflects the ancestral customs, history, geography, daily life, religion, economic and social development of a region has not been fully explored, gastronomy. This paper offers guidelines for developing this new tourist product, which can be adapted throughout the region, in order to promote this innovative aspect of cultural tourism that can be an important element in sustainable tourism projects. 

Key Words: Gastronomy, cultural tourism. 


The tourism industry has been forced to broaden its options to respond to the increasing demands of more sophisticated tourists. Hence, in latter years there has been a rediscovery of the importance of cultural tourism in its multiple facets. Nevertheless, there is a facet which carries in itself the ancient customs, history, geography, religion, economy and social life that has not been profoundly studied: gastronomy. 

Cultural Tourism 

The international tourism market is changing. The  increase  in  purchasing  ability,  greater availability of leisure time, as well as social and demographic changes in the developed countries, have modified traveler's demands creating a substantially different  market in the 90's in comparison to the one in the 70's. The outcome of these social changes translates into a larger variety 

of tourists regarding type, necessities and patterns (Martin and Mason, quoted by Weiler & Hall, 1992). The tourist market is more segmented and specialized in the development of new leisure and tourism styles (Hall & Weiler, 1992). Nevertheless, the limited number of studies on specialization within the tourist market reflect the difficulties found while pretending to classify tourists on a basis of motivation. The profile for the tourist with special interests is very limited. Generally, these tourists belong to the allocentric category according to Plog's psicographic classification (quoted by Weiler & Hall, 1992). 

An allocentric person is one whose interest patterns are focused on varied activities. Such a person is outgoing and self-confident and is characterized by being adventurous and willing to reach out and experiment. For the allocentric personality, travelling becomes a way to express inquisitiveness and satisfy curiosity (McIntosh and Goelder, 1990). Culture, heritage and the arts have long contributed to the appeal of the tourist destination. However, in recent years, culture has been rediscovered as an important marketing tool to attract those travelers with a special interest in heritage and arts. Throughout the world, museums, art galleries, heritage sites, historic landmarks, archeological sites and festivals have become major tourist  attractions.  Rather  than just  being peripheral or secondary attractions, arts and heritage are increasingly becoming major catalysts in the whole travelling experience. (Zeppel and Hall, quoted by Weiler & Hall, 1992) 


UNESCO's mission is and has been to promote understanding through the intercultural bonds among cultures. To achieve this contact with historic, monumental and natural heritage becomes a cognitive experience and a source of spiritual uplifting. In accordance with these goals, UNESCO sponsored  in  1996  in  Havana,  Cuba,  the International Meeting on Cultural Tourism in Latin America and the Caribbean. The meeting's purpose was to be a discussion forum, which would spring an accord among government authorities and the private sector, and translate it into combined actions with positive results for the involved parties. 

Some of the speakers like De Angeli and Gironella from Mexico, and Olaya from Colombia, among others, presented papers on food and gastronomy, which set the tone for the main topic for UNESCO's next meeting: Gastronomy (UNESCO, 1996). This event will take place in Puebla, Mexico. A baroque city, whose art was transmitted to the convent cuisine during the colonial era when baroque dishes were created which are still considered masterpieces of Mexican cuisine. This international organism, which has the maximum authority in culture studies, is the one that will give gastronomy the important place it deserves. Food and drink products of a country are among its most important cultural expressions. 

Tourists enjoy native food, particularly items of local or ethnic nature (McIntosh and Goelder, 1990). De Angeli and Gironella (quoted by UNESCO, 1996) broaden this concept pointing out that the knowledge of the local, regional and national cuisine is of great interest for every tourist. It is an integral part of the physical and spiritual enjoyment of the tourist experience. Gastronomical satisfaction ranks in first place among the resulting pleasures derived from a travelling experience. The favorable or unfavorable impression that the traveler takes with him/her can condition the value and memory of the trip, not only from the restaurants visited, but also from everything experienced during the trip. Nevertheless, gastronomy has not been considered for its real potential, nor exploited conveniently as a tourism resource. Even the references that mention this important cultural expression as a tourist resource are scarce and contained within the cultural tourism frame. 

Mexico and Its Cuisine 

During the XVI century, the immediate contact between such different cultures awoke a feeling of rage among the indigenous and the Spanish, but also an enormous curiosity. Proofs of this are the testimonies of the great reporters of the Conquest of Mexico. in those testimonies the aboriginal customs are described in detail. 

There was certainly an urge to establish, in some way, a routine in daily life, to cover the great 
emptiness left behind by the Conquest war. Pursuing the purpose to recover their habits, ones and others would discover that everything had changed. The Spanish were in an unknown land and not capable of consuming the products bred by the aborigines. There was a necessity to fulfill the newborn colonies with wheat, oil, wine, and the basic ingredients of their religious and culinary traditions. And there was also the need to attract domestic animals that would give them meat, another important food product. "Questioning those who lived in Europe during that era . . . Sonia Corcuera says, "A common food element is found: a craving for meat and the necessity of bread." On the other hand, in Mexico meat was rarely consumed; most nutrients came from fruits. 

Undoubtedly,  necessity broke through the original resistance of ones and others and benefited the acceptance of foreign food. Nevertheless, at the same time, Mexicans and Spaniards held faithfully to their culinary traditions. An affirmation process of what they already had took place, and also developed the acceptance of the new products. The descriptions of Fray Bernardino de Sahagun and Bernal Diaz del Castillo remain as a testimony of this process. The first one tells about "The food used by the Aztec lords," where we learned that they ate a wide variety of tortillas, plain or bean tamales, "pots with chilies, tomatoes and smashed pumpkin seeds called pipian, birds, fish, frogs, tadpoles, ants with wings and maguey worms, grasshoppers and shrimp; fruits such as plums, zapotes, and anonas, tree roots, batatas, green leaves, mazamorres and thick beverages made from chili and honey." 

Bernal Diaz del Castillo describes the first banquet offered by Hernan Cortes in Coyoacan to celebrate the triumph over Tenochtitlan. Hogs and wine were brought in. The same reporter tells the story of the banquet that the first viceroy Don Antonio de Mendoza and the conqueror Hernan Cortes, marquis of the Valley of Oaxaca, gave in 1538 to celebrate the peace treaty among France and Spain. They served salads, olives, radishes, cheese, turnips, garbanzo beans, all sorts of meat and birds, in turnovers, cakes and casseroles. The dishes were "pure delicacy", pepitoria, royal torte and escabeche. Desserts were mazapanes, almonds, confites, acitron and fruits. The gold and silver cups were filled with white and red wine, sherry and cacao. In this banquet, turkey and cacao were combined with other products of the Spanish cuisine. 

This food product exchange worked both ways, the affirmation of traditions and the acceptance of new food products is what Mexican cuisine is based upon. Once the conquest war was over and the colonization process was initiated, neither of the groups forgot their traditions regarding food, but the trend to merge and innovate, natural in the kitchen, starts to combine strange elements of one and the other to give birth to excellent and exquisite dishes. New harvesting and production forms, domestic animals to be eaten and to transport, new abilities and industries, they all contributed to create a new family and society. The nuns and monks at the convents, the cooks at the dining rooms, and the housewives at the homes that were established were all innovating. They rehearsed and produced new dishes, using the local natural products with exclusive  particularities  that  integrated  the heterogeneity and plurality of an incipient national cuisine. However, the gestation of the great Mexican dishes had to await for the construction of the convents, the palaces and the haciendas that could benefit and shelter the baroque productions of the New Spain. 

The routes presented in this paper are just a sample of the original work about the state of Oaxaca. This state was chosen because of its enormous ethnic,  cultural  and  gastronomical richness. On the other hand, it has a very basic tourism  infrastructure  in  some  zones  and insufficient in others, offering great potential for the generation of sustainable projects in order to benefit the local economies. 

Purpose of the Study 

The project pretends to generate tourism routes that integrate diverse cultural attractions, with a special emphasis in local gastronomy. 


  • A database was generated of all of the tourist, cultural and gastronomical attractions of the area. Available infrastructure was also included.
  • A map was prepared to show all the important attractions.
  • Routes were designed combining art and gastronomy, as well as other aspects of interest to potential visitors.
  • On-site visits were realized to verify that the services offered had a minimum standard of quality and that the times estimated for the visits were correct.
  • The routes were judged by a panel of 10 experts. The panel was conformed by senior staff members of travel operators and travel agencies in Mexico City, Puebla and Oaxaca.
Assessment Instrument 

The following questionnaire of semi-structured questions was applied through interviews: 

  • Do you think there could be tourists interested in art and gastronomy routes?
  • Do you consider that the proposed routes could be of interest?
  • What type of market segment could be interested in the proposed routes?
  • What kind of promotion efforts do you think would be adequate for this proposal?
  • Do you think the infrastructure available is the minimal required?
  • Do you consider that the routes should be extended to cover other states?

Because of space limitations, the routes are presented in an abbreviated form, pointing out only the most important aspects. In the original paper, information  is  included  about  hotels  and restaurants. Furthermore, specific details are given on highways and roads, distances, and the attractions that can be visited in each one of the mentioned towns. There is also detailed information on the local gastronomy. 

Mixtec Route 

The departing point is the city of Oaxaca. This route is 300 kms. long. It includes the typical and pintoresque towns of Tlaxiaco, San Juan and San Pedro Teposcoula, Yanhuitlan, Coixtlahuaca and Villa de Tamazulapan. The time suggested to do it is two days.  In this route numerous novohispanic constructions from the XVI century can be visited: Temples, convents, open chapels, as well as examples of civil architecture, such as renaissance houses, municipal palaces, kiosks, and markets with  rooted  indigenous  traditions.  Another attraction are civilian and religious celebrations where the merge of indigenous elements and catholic aspects can be observed, complemented with fireworks, costumes, ball games, horse races and dances among others. A wide selection of handicrafts are typical in this zone, such as crafts made out of palm leaves, leather, wood and textile fibers, among others. 


When talking about regional products and dishes, they are presented with the common names. A glossary is not included because of the extent of the vocabulary. This glossary is included in the original work. A wide variety of dishes characterizes this route. 

Main dishes: liver dish, yellow mole, green mole, black, red and bean mole, miztec pozole, ram barbeque, yellow tamales, green tamales, mixtec tamales, vegetable soups. Rabbit, deer, goat, chicken and turkey are eaten. 

Desserts:  lechechilla,  tejocotes,  preserved peaches and figs, revolcaditos, encaladas, fresh fruit. 

Beverages: fermented beverages from berries and pulques, sweet atoles, fruit beverages, cinnamon, lemon and orange tea. 

This tour is recommended during the months of May and June, 50 the tourist can participate in the town celebrations. It is not recommendable to visit this zone during the months of July and August because of frequent showers. 

Mystical Route 

Running opposite to the previous route, the departing point is Mexico City, 500 kms away. It begins using the Puebla highway, then the super highway to Tehuacan and then the 131 state road to Flores Magon and afterwards, 145 state road to reach Huautla de Jimenez, a little town hidden in the Mazateca Sierra, of Maria Sabina fame. This notable medicine woman used ancestral rituals with alucinogen fungi (Pylocibe Mexicana) to penetrate different dimensions and cure  her patients. Numerous people from show business, John Lennon among others, participated in this ceremonies that came from prehispanic roots and made this town a well known place. Afterwards, the route continues to San Felipe Jalapa de Diaz, y San Lucas Ojitlan, very important Mazatecan towns. Then, going down state road 75, it reaches the National Valley Ecological Park, then IxtIan de Juarez, a Guelatao, and finally Oaxaca City. This route has approximately another 200 kin from Huautla de Jimenez. The tour of the Mazateca Sierra offers beautiful natural landscapes with abundant fauna, there are also waterfalls and caverns up to 1000 m deep. Throughout the year, numerous religious celebrations and fairs are celebrated in the towns of this route. This celebrations include fireworks, cock fights, regional product   selling,   horse   races,   basketball tournaments, regional and popular dances, among others. The inhabitants attend dressed in regional customs. 

Regarding civilian architecture, houses have indigenous characteristics, one story high, made of adobe and tiles. 

This route is characterized by its textile fibers, clothes with Mazatecan motifs, particularly huipiles with flower, bird and ribbon designs, besides rebozos, shirts, skirts, blouses, table clothes and serviettes. 


Since this zone has no tourism infrastructure and its towns are communicated by scrappy mountain roads, the local gastronomy uses the abundant ingredients found in the area. Plenty of vegetables are used, like quelites, green beans, nopal, alverjas, chayotes, huacamotes, yucas, potatoes, seed such as corn, beans, pumpkin, chilacayota, mountain cilantro and chiltepes. Flowers and mushrooms are used along in diverse preparations. 

Important dishes: pork in red sauce, cat stew (beef and vegetables), rice with chepiles, chilaquiles, clemole moles, goat stew, bean tamales and beef tamales, pumpkins, dry beef, tasajo, cheese tacos and enchiladas. In the Papaloapan river area dishes are prepared with eggplant, chepil, donkey grass and the animals used are ducks, doves, owls, frogs, hares, rabbits, possums and boars. Among the fish there are robalos, sabalos, pejelagarto and mojarras. 

Fruits: plums, zapotillo, chicozapote, mamey, anonas, guavas and they are used to prepare candies and atoles. Among the desserts, there are pudin, candies, coconut and chocolate bunuelos, coconut preserves, coconut candy,  mamones, glorias, camote and pineapple sweets, turrones and yolk bread. 

Beverages: mezcal, pulques, tepaches, champurrado, fruit sodas, coffee, popo (made from corn and cocoa), tejate, milk and water with chocolate, rice and almond horchata, fruit juices. 

Summer, the rainy season, makes the access to this route more difficult. It is recommendable to visit it in the months of April and March, during Holy Week and Easter, as well as August and November to enjoy the fairs and celebrations. 

Itsmena Route 

This route includes the towns representative of the  Istmo  de  Tehuantepec:  Juchitan  and Tehuantepec, united by the seaport of Salina Cruz. This route starts in Oaxaca City through state road 190, and it has approximately 300 kin. The first detour  is  made  to  reach  Santo  Domingo Tehuantepec. Many ethnic groups inhabited this area. Until the XIII century it was dominated by the Mixes, then the Huaves dominated and finally the Mixtecs. During the colonial era, the Dominicans built important religious constructions. There are many dances in the region, like the sandunga, the sones and the marimba. The more important celebrations are the Istmena Sails. Taking state highway 185, one reaches Juchitan de Zaragoza, place where the Zapotec dialect is still spoken and the family system is led by the mother. Women dress in traditional clothes, huipil and a large skirt made out of velvet with flora motifs. It is accented by jewelry made with the filigrana technique. A few kilometers away from Tehuantepec, using state road 185, one reaches the seaport of Salina Cruz which became  a  high  port  during  Porfirio  Diaz' administration. 

In the first two towns, there are important samples of religious architecture from the colonial era,  temples, convents,  churches, just  like important civilian architecture samples. Numerous celebrations where women use their beautiful typical attires are found in this region. 

Handicrafts:  Regional  costumes  made  in multicolor silks, huipiles, skirts, gold jewelry in tehuan style, hamacks, wooden and tin crafts, terracotta items, huaraches among others. 


Among the typical dishes of the region there are: 

Dishes: casserole covered by two tortillas, nopal stew, hen stew, tlayudan sat on pork, oxaca mushrooms, chocolate with beef, grasshoppers and memelas, pork sausage molotes, moles, spicy meat, oaxacan casserole, garnachas, chile and carrots, black beans with pork legs, ram clemole, pork and moronga, iguana casserole, armadillo, doves and fish and seafood. 

Desserts:  bunuelos,  doughnuts,  cocadas, sorbets, sweet turnovers, tunate, camote and pineapple sweets, nicuatole, burned milk, cup cakes, urrones, calabazates y gollorias. 

Beverages: mezcal, guaje de tejate, jiotilla water, of almonds and red tuna fruit, chia and tamarindo, coffee, bichicna buupu (sort of chocolate with white cocoa), rice and almond horchata. 

August and December are the ideal months to visit this route due to the celebration of the Istmena Sails. The rainy months are July and June (Munoz and Rugeno, 1997). 

Interview Results 

All the interviewed experts agreed that there is people interested in travelling for cultural and gastronomical motivations. One of the experts pointed out that the number of interested tourists in this sort of experience is increasing. 

The senior staff interviewed (ten people) said that the presented routes result attractive for the international market and eight indicated that it was also an alternative for the national market. Regarding the promotion required, nine suggested brochures, eight mentioned travel agencies, five mentioned magazines, four mentioned the Ministry of Tourism and radio and two suggested using Internet. It was indicated that the promotion material should be of high quality. 

Of the interviewed people, 70% expressed that the touristic infrastructure of the state of Oaxaca has a level of quality between acceptable and regular. Three people expressed that the quality is bad, but with the habilitation of the new tolled highway from  Puebla,  the infrastructure is improving. Also 70% of the interviewed, indicated that it would be convenient to combine this routes with the other states particularly for the foreign tourist, the remaining 30% expressed that it would not be necessary because Oaxaca has enough attractions to get the attention of the tourist. Regarding national tourism, they agreed that it would not be necessary to combine these routes. 

Final Considerations 

According to the results of the study, it can be concluded that the art and gastronomy routes of the state of Oaxaca are a viable option. They hold great potential for the increasing number of travelers interested in the cultural tourism, both of national and international origin. In some zones, the lack of infrastructure on one hand and the ethnic, cultural and gastronomy wealth on the other, offer the adequate frame to implement projects of low impact sustainable tourism to preserve both the cultural and natural resources while bringing resources to the area. 

From the Spanish conquest and forth, Latin America shares the same culture and the mostly the same language. However, the diversity in human resources,  precolumbian  cultures,  immigrant groups, and geographic locations have allowed the development of diverse typical cuisine in each country, perhaps with some coincidences in neighboring countries. For instance, in South America there is a combination of European cuisine, in Brazil the influence of Portugal and Africa is forever present, the Inca heritage is sensed in Peru, Ecuador, Bolivia, northern Chile and Argentina, in Mexico today's cuisine has firm prehispanic foundations. Nevertheless, above all these cuisines there is, without doubt, the Spanish heritage. 

This great gastronomical diversity constitutes an area of great richness. Sadly, it has remained widely unexplored. As an important cultural resource it can and should be integrated into the tourist product that the region offers. It seems only natural to take advantage of the regions gastronomical resources, combining them with its artistic legacy, and natural heritage, and offer it to tourists seeking new and  more  fulfilling travel  experiences. Furthermore, by helping preserve ancient traditions and ways of life, many times expressed through food and its preparation, and promoting the use of local products for ingredients, this kind of tourism is definitively sustainable. The guidelines presented here for developing this new tourist product, can be adapted throughout the region, in order to promote local art and gastronomy. Finally, the broad appeal of this innovative form of tourism can be reflected in Lambert Ortiz's observation (quoted by Leonard, 1968): "Those who explore the cuisines of Latin America must have something of a botanist, an historian, an archaeologist, a traveler, a detective and overall be a persistent eater." 


Munoz Rugeno, G. (1997). Promoci6n del Estado de Oaxaca a traves de su arte, gastronomia y recursos naturales. Tesis sin publicar, Depto de Hoteleria. Universidad de las Americas, Puebla, Mexico. 

McIntosh, R., & Goeldner, C. (1990). Tourism, Principles. Practices. Philosophies. Wiley, USA. 

Stoopen, M., (1988). El universo de la cocina mexicana. Fomento Cultural Banamex A.C. Mexico. 

UNESCO (1998) Turismo Cultural en America Latina y el Caribe. Ferrari Grafiche S.P.A, Habana, Cuba. 

Weile, B., & Hall, C.(1992) Special Interest Tourism. Belhaven Press: London.

©First Pan-American Conference
Latin American Tourism in Next Millenium: 
Education, Investment and Sustainability
May 19-21, 1999 / Panama City, Panama
Editor: Professor Kaye Chon, University of Houston

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