By Mark Orwoll
September 21, 2011

Recent headlines about Mexico are more likely to involve drug cartels and killings than adventure travel and Mayan pyramids. That's why the opening interview with President Felipe Calderon in a new TV travel special is surprising: Calderon confronts the image problem head on instead of trying to divert attention with pretty images. He even lays some of the blame on Mexico's neighbor to the north. But make no mistake. "Mexico: The Royal Tour," which premieres tonight and tomorrow on PBS stations nationwide, is a love letter to Mexico, a celebration of its history and the travel adventures that await visitors.

Calderon served as tour leader to host Peter Greenberg during a whirlwind five days across the length and breadth of the country. In the program they search out a hidden tunnel in the Temple of Inscriptions in the ruins of Palenque. Among the Mayan temples at Chichen-Itza the pair goes scuba diving in a water-filled sinkhole where the remains of sacrifice victims were once tossed. They pet whales in a lagoon in Baja California. Calderon is a world statesman, yes, but he is also a proud Mexican and a low-key funny guy. "It was nice knowing you, Peter," he says as Greenberg hesitantly prepares to take a zipline tour through the canopy of a Jalisco jungle.

Calderon attended a preview of the travelogue Tuesday night at New York's Guggenheim Museum. To a crowd of dignitaries and media he explained why he took so much time to take part in the TV program. "There were a lot of risks," he said. "There was a lot of criticism. People even in my own administration said it was a mistake. But it was an opportunity for me to show Mexico to people around the world." It's a show worth seeing.

Previous "Royal Tour" subjects include New Zealand, Peru, Jordan, and California.

Smart Traveler Mark Orwoll is the International Editor of Travel + Leisure. You can follow him on Twitter.