Within the limits of the protected area, 121 legally established communities exist, each of which has less than 1,000 inhabitants, with the exception of Sontecomapan, which has more than 2,000 inhabitants. According to the National Institute of Statistics, Geography, and Information, 25,447 people live within the limits of the protected area (INEGI 1996). However, the total population of the eight municipalities within the reserve is 335,315, all of whom contribute to the intense pressure on the resources of the reserve.
The communities of Soteapan, Mecayapan, Tatahuicapan, and Pajapan, with more than 2,000 inhabitants apiece, are located just outside the southern boundary of the reserve. In the west, outside the protected area, are three large cities, San Andrés Tuxtla with 54,043 inhabitants, Catemaco with 22,965 inhabitants, and Santiago Tuxtla with 15,500 inhabitants (INEGI 1996).
In 1995, the municipalities of San Andrés Tuxtla, Santiago Tuxtla, and Catemaco had more than 80% of the total population of the seven of municipalities in the region. At 149 inhabitants per square kilometer, San Andrés Tuxtla has the highest population density, while Santiago Tuxtla and Catemaco are the second and third-densest municipalities. Nevertheless, municipalities like Mecayapan and Soteapan with low population densities of 43.4 and 54.7 inhabitants per square kilometer, respectively, have an annual average population growth of 4.4% and 4.5%, respectively, which is higher than the 1.58% reported as average for the state. 85% of the area's income is generated by livestock and agriculture and 13% comes from the service industry, such as small-scale tourism, transportation, commerce, and construction. Finally, 2% of the areas income comes from industrial activities, including tobacco and soft drink bottling (SEMARNAT-RBLT 2001).
During the 1950s, a rapid expansion of livestock in the region took place, mainly due to the construction of large private ranches. The increase has continued dramatically during the last three decades, replacing agriculture as the principal activity of the ejidos. The economic policies of the region have accelerated this process by supporting programs for the development of livestock.
In the territory of the reserve, an estimated area of 86,739 ha is under pasture and livestock. Public policies (colonization, distribution of land, and credit), patronage, cultural practices, and external influence implemented in the region determined the use of soils for livestock. The annual population growth from the 1960s to 1990 was 180%, and from 1990 to 1995 increased by an additional 26% annually. Large-scale livestock grazing is practiced among both small and large landowners (SEMARNAP-PRODERS 1997).
Approximately 53% of the wage-earning population works in corn production. Most of the farmers own an average of 1.5 ha of land under the property rights regime of the town. Corn production occurs throughout the region especially in the municipalities of the reserve: Soteapan, Tatahuicapan, Pajapan, Mecayapan, and San Andrés Tuxtla.
Regionally, sugarcane production is important to several municipalities within the reserve such as Angel R. Cabada, San Andrés Tuxtla, and Santiago Tuxtla. Sugarcane fields occupy 5,000 ha within the reserve, principally located at the extreme north of the Northwest zone. This activity has recently suffered notable declines in production due to market problems, which have caused a migration of farmers to the United States in search of jobs.
An area traditionally dedicated to the production of tobacco is found in the region, between the cities of San Andrés Tuxtla and Catemaco. The area occupied up to 2,500 ha in the first half of the '90s, but beginning in 1997, an increase has been documented which puts tobacco in competition with the amount of area dedicated to subsistence agriculture and livestock.
Nearly 500,000 tourists visit the area of Los Tuxtlas annually, which represents 10% of the statewide tourism (INGI 1996). Tourism is fundamentally national (98%), though publicity from the national and international film industry could secure a greater influx of foreign visitors. Tourist activities occur principally in the cities of San Andrés Tuxtla, Santiago Tuxtla, and Catemaco, as well as other places close to Catemaco such as Nanciyaga, Coyame, Sontecomapan, and la Barra de Sontecomapan. Along the coast, some villages of the municipality of San Andrés Tuxtla, such as Playa Escondida, Monte Pío, Arroyo de Lisa, and Toro Prieto are utilized for tourist activities on a small scale although they have great potential for increased, well-planned tourism development.
Recently, groups of people from rural communities and tourist operators have begun to promote alternative tourism and provide tourism services near the cities of San Andrés Tuxtla and Catemaco. The promotion of ecotourism for farmers is already present near the ejidos Adolfo López Mateos and Sontecomapan and in the municipality of Catemaco. The beaches in the municipalities of Tatahuicapan de Jáurez (Peña Hermosa) and Mecandayapan (Perla del Golfo and its surrounding communities) probably have the best possibilities for development of alternative tourism. Private pickup trucks locally known as "piratas", departing from Catemaco, are the most common means of transportation to the various tourist destinations. Another option is to make the journey in an all-terrain vehicle. The system of roads between the communities is good, but only a few are paved.
Most of the region's tourists are inhabitants of Los Tuxtlas region, especially from the cities of Minatitlán, Acayucan, and Coatzacoalcos. Others travel from the state of Veracruz and from the Federal District in buses and personal vehicles. The majority of tourists are families or groups on excursions that visit the zone on the weekends or during their vacations. Another type of tourist, although not well documented, is the birdwatcher. Los Tuxtlas is a popular destination for birdwatchers because this zone is especially diverse and rich in migratory species such as Passerina cyandanea, Empianddonax flavivandentris, E. minimus, Pandolandiopandtila caanduruleain, and Parula americana.
The roads to access the protected area are connected to Highway 180, which runs from Veracruz to San Andrés Tuxtla, as well as the highway that connects Catemaco with Coyame. The infrastructure in the region is good in the cities surrounding the reserve such as San Andrés Tuxtla, Santiago Tuxtla, and Catemaco. Hotels of excellent quality with all of the relevant services (communication, food, transportation, and medical services) can be found in these cities. In the communities within the protected area, services are basic and the infrastructure includes hostels, cabins, and campsites, which have basic services such as bathrooms, food, and water. Guide services are provided occasionally. Many of the services offered by the communities are ecotourism-based and combine traditional, cultural, and rural values of the region.
The organized groups that provide these services do not document the income generated from tourist activities within the reserve. The administration of the reserve does not receive any money from the operation of tourist services. However, the administration of the reserve currently works with several community projects on ecotourism, developing training courses for its promotion.