We tried to avoid it. But as we pedaled our way up the Pacific coast of Mexico, we were hit by all the Big Ones: Puerto Escondido, Acapulco, Ixtapa, Puerto Vallarta, and finally Mazatlan, and we realized that it was inevitable. Tourism is a huge part of the economy here - in addition to foreign tourism, it is estimated that over 1.2 million Mexican-Americans return to Mexico to visit relatives just during the holiday season. Large numbers of Mexicans also vacation within their own country, much like we do in the States. Tourism can mean anything from beachfront skyscraper hotels and resorts or restaurants that sell drinks and tacos to the huge numbers of people that flock to Mexico's beaches.

Throughout our journey we have spoken with people about the pros and cons of tourism. While some say that it can provide much-needed income and jobs, others say that it changes the culture of a place in drastic ways. Here are some thoughts to consider.

One woman we spoke with was vacationing for the holidays and felt a barrier because she could not communicate with Mexicans around her. She feels that next time she visits she has a responsibility to learn more Spanish so that she does not live in a “tourist bubble”. Language is a key part in understanding a culture, and many tourists miss large aspects of the culture in which they travel as a result of not knowing the local language.

There also exists a power relationship between locals and Western tourists whose money is worth so much more than the local currency. We witnessed one American in El Salvador who could not believe how much his dollar was worth - suddenly he was considered a rich man and began flaunting his power as a consumer. Perhaps as the value of the dollar weakens and the euro increases, we will enjoy less of this.

There also exists the mentality that one can do anything while on vacation since they “worked hard all year long” for this well-deserved vacation, never acknowledging the fact that those who are serving also are working hard. This class issue of course exists anywhere in the world where there is a tourist industry, it is just more apparent when there exists such a discrepancy between the economies of the places in question.

Is there a way for locals and tourists alike to reap the benefits of tourism while not succumbing to its pitfalls?