Travel | 10 comments
By: Zdenko Kahlina
The best-kept secret in Mexico
So, after crossing Sierra Madre Del Sur Mountains by car, we are finally here on the Pacific coast, in place that’s called Huatulco. And the best part is we’ll stay here for ten days! Yippy! Only sun, sandy beaches and cerveza for next ten days… that’s what I call life!! Even the “commercial” beaches with palapa (palm thatch) restaurants, such as La Entrega, are rarely crowded at this time of a year (before Christmas holidays).
Club de Playa Chahue
I had vaguely heard of Huatulco before, but when I looked at the map of Mexico’s south as I was making plans for our trip, I knew immediately this was the place I wanted to see. Huatulco is accurately described as “the best-kept secret in Mexico”. For us this was one of the charms.
Air view of Santa Cruz and La Crucecita town in the background
What is considered Huatulco
But first let me explain what is actually a place called Huatulco. The name Huatulco in the “nahuatl” language means “place where the wood is venerated” surges more than 1,500 years before the Spanish colonization.
Huatulco refers to the resort area Bahías de Huatulco or the bays of Huatulco. The four main parts of Huatulco are Tangolunda, the area where the more upscale resorts are located, Santa Cruz, a small town with more hotels, the marina and Santa Cruz beach, La Crucecita, another small town just inland from the beach area having a more genuine Mexican ambiance, and Chahué, an area between Santa Cruz and Tangolunda. These areas are within a mile or two from each other. All this places together are simply called Huatulco.
Construction on the Huatulco resort area began in 1983; virtually all structures were built after that date. The existing population was relocated to Santa Maria Huatulco some 20 km away. The area is known for its beautiful isolated bays separated by rocky hills set against the backdrop of the Sierra Madre del Sur. For a look at the area see Aerial Photos of Huatulco. Traveling north of the area, the terrain rises quickly becoming a lush tropical jungle where crops such as coffee, bananas, cashew nuts are grown. For some specific recommendations, see The Best of Huatulco.
Huatulco is very Mexican — one has only to walk through the local market or sit in the central square in La Crucecita, on a Sunday evening and watch the local people to be convinced of this. Music and dance are an important part of the culture and frequently there are performances in the central square or in the ecological park. It is true however, that Huatulco is a cleaner, neater version of Mexico.
Some criticize Huatulco as not being “the real Mexico”, because it is a town constructed as a beach resort and many of its inhabitants are not local. I disagree. Although many of the people are from different parts of the state and indeed from around the country, they bring with them rich mixture of Mexican culture.
The wide, paved streets, lined with grass, flowering shrubs and palm trees, contribute to making Huatulco an extremely pleasant place to be. Huatulco beaches have been reported to be the cleanest in all the country and this is no accident. Benefiting from extensive government resources, Huatulco has a series of water treatment plants for processing and recycling all sewage, the product of which is used on the extensive green spaces around the town. Not a drop of sewage treated or otherwise, is deposited into the ocean, making Huatulco unique in Mexico.
Hotel Marina in Santa Cruz
This resort town was created to provide jobs for the people of Oaxaca, one of the poorest, most traditional states in Mexico. The government has invested almost one billion dollars in this resort to the benefit of thousands of Oaxacan families and also the foreign and domestic tourists who enjoy the world-class facilities of Huatulco.
Driving into Huatulco (wa-TOOL-co) my wife commented that the town center, La Crucecita, was charmingly Mexican with a traditional central square bounded by shops and patio restaurants. Beautiful wide boulevard lead us to Santa Cruz area, only 2 km further from La Crucecita, where we were going to look for the hotel.
We found our accommodation easily, even though we didn’t make any advanced reservations, in one of the all inclusive hotels in Santa Cruz, hotel La Castillo. Since we were staying here for 10 days, we wanted to stay at a nice place, somewhere near the beach, with free Wi-Fi and breakfast included. We purposely picked beginning of December for our trip, so the prices were very low and affordable.
It’s a small village and walkable in an hour or so but has lots to offer. A square shaped marina directly across from our hotel, a collection of market stalls where prices are better than at beaches or La Crucecita – except when the cruise ships are in town. There is also Zocalo, a nice small park with a coffee shop at its hub, and several stores, restaurants and mini hotels. On the far side of the marina is an HSBC bank with ATM that accepts major credit cards. At the Scotiabank down the street I exchanged my Canadian dollars into pesos with no hitches… and got better exchange rate than I would in La Crucecita.
Santa Cruz marina
Beyond the park, you come to more shops, a row of restaurants (including Jess y mar, Dona Celia) and the beach, though most other beaches are better. Little disturbing was seeing how many houses and future hotels are not finished and are left empty. Just on the hill above Santa Cruz marina is a big unfinished housing complex left standing there as a ghost town. Not a nice picture for all the tourists who arrive with the Cruise ships. I guess this is reflection on current situation in Mexico, all the negative writings about gang killings, which resulted in luck of tourists.
Hotel La Castillo
When we arrived in Santa Cruz, first we looked at the Marina hotel, but something told us to look around some more. La Castillo hotel was just around the corner.
All inclusive hotel La Castillo
La Castillo hotel was clean, with great food, and great service. The location and the price is why we considered this place. In La Castillo, we were just behind the Santa Cruz marina and close to the public beaches. We were on walking distance to Santa Cruz shopping area and market, banks – the ones which have the best exchange rates are also nearby, taxi terminus as well, to get into La Crucecita. We spent $800 CDN for our 10 days stay in the hotel, including buffet breakfast and secured free parking. Its location (on the main street) doesn’t mean it’s noisy except early in the morning when the marina boys blare music from their vans and boats which is normal since even on vacation one must wake-up at a decent hour to do things.
The hotel itself is low rise Mexican colonial style building with about 100 rooms. The pool is good but not always in the sun, with several umbrellas for shade. But, who wants to stay by the pool (we didn’t), when there is such a big selection of beautiful beaches. The rooms are spacious – ceramic floors and beautiful balconies, which made me feel I was in a Mexican telenovella (Soap Operas) set in colonial times. The lobby bar has live music on Fridays and Saturdays.
Marina Santa Cruz
La Castillo hotel seems well-organized with a shuttle bus to Chahue beach club which is only 1 km away from hotel (15 min if you walk). Though, the other beach – Santa Cruz beach is even closer, only 5 min walk nearby. We used shuttle bus only on our first day, but later didn’t want to depend on their schedule, so we always used our car. The shuttle leaves the hotel every 30 minutes for this 5 minute trip.
Chahue beach club
The beach club is fantastic, with a pool, restaurant, washrooms, volley ball courts, hammocks and lots of palapas. The beach is never crowded, bar and food service was well beyond expectations… everyone smiling and saying hello. Our server Eleuterio (Teo) did a wonderful job serving us, bringing cold cerveza under our umbrella on the beach in the bucket of ice. And most importantly, he wasn’t “pushy” salesman… if I order only one beer (it never happened) or several, it didn’t matter to Teo.
Chahue beach club – paradise
On this beach, we didn’t get bothered by too many vendors. Few of them would stop and offer jewellery for sale, massage services or hair braiding (very popular). One local guy, walking the beach with an open suitcase full of jewellery, was there every day trying to sell his stuff. He would start talking to us and we learnt he visited Canada few years back. His name was Pepe, and to show us how he knows English, he kept repeating “Hole Mole, Guacamole!” Locals say you should never pay more than half the asking price in tourist stores or from vendors. Vera got a $45 silver ring with large red coral stone from Pepe, for $250 pesos (~$20 CAD). It has the .925 stamp on it, indicating real silver, and would be more in a shop. Besides we befriended him and he continued to stop by our umbrella every day to chit chat about Canada and Mexico. When I mentioned our next stop will be Acapulco, he gave me instructions how to get into the city and save time.
The clientele of this hotel is mostly Mexican families, try out your Spanish and make new friends. We did… but there were Canadians as well. We met great couple from Saskatchewan, Natalie and David, who were staying in our hotel. Hello guys… if you read this.
Croatian-Canadian on Chahue beach
While we were there, for several days we couldn’t go into the water because of the jellyfish. First three days were good, but than one morning there was jellyfish all over the beach. One day, when I was thinking they were gone, I swam into jellyfish and got stung several times but it wasn’t painful and diminished quickly. So, when swimming or snorkeling, look up occasionally to see if there are jellyfish. They were small, translucent, white, pink and blue. Again, locals told us they will disappear in about three days and they were right.
Restaurant in Chahue beach club
Vera on the beach
Chahue area has Best Western which looks into a dead end area but Eden Costa hotel in Chahue is lovely, well-lit and houses the excellent fusion-cuisine Echalote restaurant. Next door to the Chahue beach club was Xquenda Huatulco Spa hotel, which looked very deserted. There are condos being build everywhere in this area, but the prices are pretty high.
Boulevard Santa Cruz connecting with Tangolunda area
Barefoot on the beach
More than anything else it was the beaches that sold us on Huatulco. There are nine bays with thirty-seven beaches spread along 18 kilometers of rugged coastline. Several of the beaches are set into coves within the bays so that, unlike much of the Pacific coast, the waters are calm and safe for swimming and snorkeling. Some areas are accessible only by boat and many are virgin beaches with nothing but pristine sand and crystal clear water. We were surprised by how very few tourists were here at this time. Mexico’s tourism is really being hit hard by all the negative writings about gang killings and danger. We didn’t see any of this, especially not here in Huatulco area, and we felt safe at all times. I keep repeating this, but it’s true!!
With our car, we checked every strip of beach available and depending on our impression of a particular location, our stay lasted from one hour to whole day. Five of Huatulco bays have been designated as a National Aquatic Park. While the coral is not as colorful as you might find in the Caribbean, the abundance and variety of marine life will fascinate those interested in diving or snorkeling.
Vera on Santa Cruz public beach
Santa Cruz public beach was within walking distance. It has a few excellent seafood palapa restaurants. Umbrella and chairs given for free with the purchase of a drink(s). This is the democratic public beach for Mexicans. What was annoying was those first minutes when approaching the beach area. You are suddenly surrounded by several guys at once, who are trying to get you to their part of the beach, so they can sell you drinks and food later. We created our own tactic to ignore them at first, pick the place that we like and than move toward chairs and umbrellas.
Vera and Zdenko on Santa Cruz public beach
Vera in front of a restaurant in Santa Cruz
Santa Cruz marina
La Marina hotel has a private beach – so small and empty, not worth the visit. There is no beach club as advertised. Well, it’s physically there, but empty.
La Marina beach – very small
La Entrega is beautiful. La Entrega, with the best snorkeling in the area, is about a two miles past the Santa Cruz beach, by road. It is worth a cab ride. We came with our car at the end of the day, just to explore it. Water was clean and warm, but the beach can be busy during the day. To see schools of fish there, just follow the right side row of buoys that marks the swimming area. Use the attached rope to propel you along. Restaurants here are more expensive. Between the beach and Santa Cruz there is a nice vista, with the view on Santa Cruz bay. You should stop there and take a few pictures…
Beautiful La Entrega beach
We didn’t like Maguey beach because of the procession of vendors, who jumped on us at the parking lot above the beach. They followed us all the way down to the beach trying to get us to their restaurant. They were really annoying. The beach was nice, but not as big as we expected. With a 400 m long beach, this bay offers its fresh soft waves and soothing environment, ideal for the families with children to enjoy water sports, snorkeling and Jet Ski.
Maguey beach offers good snorkeling
Maguey beach: too many restaurants and very few tourists
The water was much warmer here than on our beach in Chahue. Approaching the beach there is about 2 km of grovel road, because you have to go through construction zone, as they are expanding Santa Cruz boulevard, all the way to Maquey bay.
Playa La Bocana
We fell in love with La Bocana. It’s a short 10 minute car drive from Santa Cruz. The ocean there is amazing! The few hours we spent there were most memorable. Huge waves crashing to the shore, local kids jumping from the rocks into the ocean. The surfers… it was all breath taking and a fantastic place to take pictures.
Entrance to La Playa Bocana – wide boulevard
La Playa Bocana
The restaurants at Bocana are right at the end of the beach – where the road stops. The beach goes on quite a bit after that….so if you want drinks and food you should stay at the entrance. If you go to the secluded beaches – Cacaluta and La India (we didn’t) are the prettiest but you might get seasickness since they are far away. You get to see them from afar in the seven bay tours.
Cruise ship pier in Santa Cruz Bay.
The newly constructed cruise ship dock in Santa Cruz is receiving on the average of 80 cruise ships per year. While we were there the cruise ship “Norwegian Star” arrived early in the morning on Wednesday and left shortly after 5 PM.
Cruise ship ”Norwegian Star” has arrived
Tourists from the cruise ship on the beach
Prices go way up in town when the ships arrive. We were told there are about 6 ships a month, depending on the time of year. It’s not too bad shopping on the same day as the cruise ship arrives; at least it provides some entertainment watching cruise ship people try to find their way around. However, you should avoid real shopping in Santa Cruz, when the cruise ship is in, because the prices increase substantially for the benefit of the tourists on the ship. Even the restaurants at the marina where the cruise ship docks, have all the prices jacked up on the day when ship arrives. As soon the ship leaves, the real menu comes out with everything nearly half priced. Vera and I stayed on the marina beach that day, curious to see tourists from the ship and all the events surrounding them, but the chair and umbrellas on the beach were $100 pesos on that day and the beach was very crowded.
Norwegian Star cruise ship
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