Travel | One comment
By: Zdenko Kahlina
Self-Guided Getaways for snowbirds in Mexico
It is winter time in Canada and it’s the time to escape Canadian cold and time for some snowbirding… or maybe I should call it ‘sunbirding’. Vera and I love to travel and dislike winters and cold weather. Ideal combination to hit the road… and travel!
Every time we travel the excitement of visiting a new place, experiencing a new culture and seeing the world, brings me to life and has given me an increased sense of appreciation. This time we traveled to Mexico. Again. Our destination was Huatulco, one of our favorite holiday escape destinations, a beautiful Mexican community situated near the small quaint town of La Crucecita. This is a corner of Mexico, many Canadians have not heard of before.
Escape the winter
Canadian winters are tough and February was time for us Canadians to flock south as old man winter tightens its grip on Edmonton. Winters in Edmonton can be long, hard and extremely frigid. Escaping our reality, even for a week or two, really helps to make the unforgiving wintry season more bearable. The longer we stay away during the winter, the better. It’s always tough returning back into cold climate. Sometimes the temperature changes can be extreme. Leaving Mexico and its +30 degrees and landing in Edmonton at -30 degrees weather, only few hours later. Brutal…
This time Huatulco Bahias International Airport (HUX) was our destination airport. This airport serves the southern Mexico state of Oaxaca and the city of Santa Cruz, and is operated by ASUR. HUX Airport is located in Huatulco, close to the city of Crucecita, Santa Cruz and Tangolunda, at Huatulco Bay. With one long runway and an estimated 400,000 passengers a year, Huatulco Bahias Airport is served by a few domestic airlines & international airlines, offering direct & connecting flights to all points of the globe, as well as by seasonal charters. From Canada you can arrive aboard Air Transat or Sunwing charter flights. We arrived on a direct Air Transat flight from Edmonton. It took only six hours to get there. As soon as we left the plane, we were hit by the warm and humid climate at the Huatulco airport.
The airport is tiny and easy. Once inside the non-smoking, air conditioned international departure terminal there is a big waiting room, restaurant, restrooms, a trinket stand, a small store selling Tequila and other booze for your carry-on and a kiosk with drinks, snacks and sandwiches. If departing, you might want to delay clearing security as long as possible and stay in the open air.
Transport from Huatulco Bahias Airport
Huatulco airport is exactly 16 km away from La Crucecita. If you’re looking for transportation and looking for a taxi you can go to the official taxi booth and see the official taxi rate to your destination (about 400 pesos to Crucecita). Another option is via a ‘colectivo’. Colectivos are air conditioned vans located to the left, after passing through the arrivals exit. Arrange for a colectivo at the official taxi booth. Sometimes, if there are few passengers, the taxi booth will substitute an air conditioned taxi at the same rate. The colectivo rate to the major hotel areas was 220 pesos ($20 CAD) for a couple in February 2015. In general a colectivo is simply a shared van or taxi. Away from the airport a colectivo is often a pick-up truck driving a set route.
To save money on a longer ride, you can take a short walk (about 500 m) to the airport exit and take the local bus from there, or a much cheaper non-airport licensed taxi. The Sur bus to Puerto Escondido costs about 80 pesos, making a short stop in Pochutla. Or you can take a taxi into La Crucecita and from its bus station there take a first-class bus.
Vera and I made online booking with the ‘BestDay.com’ company. They really had very good rates and took good care of us. Their driver Alex was waiting for us with a sign and my name on it. He grabbed my suitcases and showed us a way to his van. We left the airport in 2 minutes. I was very pleased with their service.
Leaving the airport
While taxi rates are high, the ride into Huatulco is short. They just completed building new highway between the airport and Crucecita. To get to downtown Huatulco, take the exit road, turn left at junction with main Pacific Coast Highway 200. Less than a kilometer after leaving the airport area and next to the Pemex gas station is an Oxxo store which is a kinda 7-11 store, where you can buy beer and other little things for the highway. After about 10 minute drive on the new two lane highway you’ll see the University of Mar on your right. Immediately thereafter is the sign for turnoff to Huatulco. Huatulco is actually a small town of La Crucecita. After about 3 minutes there is a gas station to the left and the road into downtown La Crucecita, to the right. Our destination was about 1 km further down the road in Chahue area.
Huatulco can be found in the state of Oaxaca in an area where the foothills of the Sierra Madre del Sur Mountains meet the Pacific Ocean, approximately 500 km south of Acapulco. Population tops out at around 50,000 in 2015. The three main towns around the Bays of Huatulco are Crucecita, Santa Cruz and Tangolunda.
We were very impressed by this little town, during our first visit several years ago. It is very safe and friendly. You can walk anywhere, any time; the presence of police is much less than in other towns. Canadians and gringos are in great numbers in Huatulco. The most remarkable trait of this town though is by far its cleanliness and well watered grass around roads and very healthy palm trees in spite of a drier climate. Oh also, there was no need to ask taxi drivers how much to go here and there because every destination to and from all parts of town was always 30 pesos ($2.5 CAD)! I had never seen that before.
In the mid 1980s, Fonatur, Mexico’s National Trust Fund for Tourism Development found this poor and sparsely populated area, relocated its Zapotec inhabitants to nearby Santa Maria Huatulco, and began building the infrastructure to attract foreign tourists and bolster the local economy. Development proceeded slowly because of a confluence of factors, including the global economic downturn and the area’s unique geography; it is nestled between the ocean and the foothills of the Sierra Madre del Sur Mountains. As a result, Huatulco is an oddity in terms of Mexican resort towns.
The town is so new that none of the existing structures (including the parish church) are more than 25 years old. The majority of tourists are from other areas of Mexico.
Huatulco offers an eco-friendly alternative to other Mexican resort areas that critics characterize as overdeveloped. One day we went to the farmer’s market held on the Square in Santa Cruz. I tasted fruit I had never seen before, cacao in its harvested form I had not seen before. The vendors never once called you over to give you a sales pitch or buy. This could have been a farmers market just like here in Edmonton. The behavior was the same.
The nice touch was the folkloric dancing in the middle of the Square in Santa Cruz, the happy smiles of youth, their dedication to gladness. From there, just a short walk away, lunch on the beach under a large ‘ombrella’. This particular small beach had a long pier that extended out to sea a long way, to welcome cruise ships once a week.
Bays of Huatulco
To many Canadian sun-seekers, the Bahias de Huatulco (Bays of Huatulco) are a little-known Pacific sanctuary tucked along the southwestern spine of the world’s eighth-largest nation. This increasingly popular resort area on the Mexican Riviera in the state of Oaxaca practically guarantees sunny and clear skies throughout the whole year. The area boasts on average 320 days of sun with an average yearly temperature of 28 Degrees Celsius. The area is a low hurricane risk zone. While June and September are the wettest months, the Oaxaca coast only averages around 40 rainy days a year, and all of them through the summer months. The ocean temperature is stated to be 7 to 8 degrees Celsius warmer than Hawaii.
The area is blessed with nine lovely bays and numerous small coves stretching for about 26 kilometers of rugged coastline. Bahia Tangolunda boasts the biggest all-inclusive resorts such as Barcelo, Secrets, Las Brisas (the former Club Med) and Dreams Resort & Spa, among others. Although on this vacation, our home away from home, for three glorious weeks, was a small three star hotel ‘Princess Mayev’ in Chahue bay area.
Ways to Enjoy paradise
Huatulco’s calm bays are ideal for a full range of water sports, including swimming, snorkeling, jet-skiing, windsurfing, and sailing. If you’re a diver or snorkeler, you’ll find yourself surprised by just how crystal clear the waters of Huatulco are. The area’s rugged shoreline and many coral reefs create pockets of diverse undersea life just waiting to be explored. Tangolunda and Santa Cruz have the best water sports facilities of the nine bays (including jet skis and wind surfing). Here’s an overview of the nine bays from east to west.
Santa Cruz bay has a jetty from which various motorboats, sailing boats and yachts embark on winding trips around the nine gorgeous bays. It boasts a dock specially designed for cruise ships and – for the hours spent on dry land – a charming square dotted with stalls, a handcraft market and shopping center, along with numerous restaurants, bars, and discos.
Tangolunda bay is the main hotel zone, home to Huatulco’s top hotels, and an ideal choice if your taste is for the luxurious and supremely developed. This is also the perfect place for sailing, diving, snorkeling, renting jet skis, and even a spot of golf on the area’s exclusive golf course. Chahue bay also offers its share of tourist attractions: it is home to a sizeable marina for yachts, a shopping center, bookstore, cafes and restaurants. It is also famous for its Guelaguetza park, a striking venue for festivals and cultural events throughout the year. Check in advance to see what’s on during your visit.
Conejos bay is definitely for those who want to get away from it all: it boasts beaches with calm waters, and is an ideal place to sunbathe and swim. It is also one of the best bays for enjoying the landscape. Why not go horse riding while you’re there? One hour costs just $150.00 pesos ($10 USD).
If you’re looking for some out-of-the-ordinary gastronomy, take a trip to Maguey bay where you can eat delicious fish and other seafood in traditional palm-thatched palapas (palm leaves) at affordable prices. And don’t forget to try some of Oaxaca’s regional specialities: quesillo (stringy cheese), tasajo (a cut of beef), tlayuda (a long, baked tortilla covered with various toppings), fried grasshoppers, spectacular mole sauce and, to wash it down, a delicious mezcal.
For nature lovers, Cacaluta and San Agustin bays both offer plenty of flora and fauna to see, while Cacaluta bay is home to the magnificent Laguna el Zanate – a lagoon that receives flocks of birds migrating from the colder north. As if all this were not enough, San Agustin bay boasts the largest coral reefs in the Pacific. These two places are a short distance from Crucecita and you’ll need a car to visit.
San Augustin beach
This is the beach all the locals recommend for snorkeling. It’s a popular location for local people and the beach is lined with little restaurants. It’s the best water we have been in. The water is clear and calm with perfect water temperature. It’s about a 20 min. drive from the highway (13 km) on a windy gravel road. The turn-off is about 1 km north of the airport. The various restaurants provide parking. There is a big coral reef here which makes for excellent snorkeling.
Okay, we were just there for about an hour but it is absolutely stunning. There are no facilities at the beach (that I could see), so you would need to bring your own shade and snacks and carry out any garbage with you. There is a freshwater lake at the top of the beach. The surf is pretty strong here, so not for small kids but we still managed to go in for a dip. Absolutely beautiful – I doubt I’ll see another beach like it.
Sun, sand, and sea! Huatulco is located far south on Mexico’s Pacific Coast in the state of Oaxaca, with the Sierra Madre del Sur Mountains as a beautiful backdrop. If you want Mayan ruins, go to Mexico’s Riviera Maya. For guaranteed days of sunshine, head to Huatulco. The area is blessed with about 330 days of sunshine a year with temperatures in the 80s. My favorite thing is to head into town in the evening, pick a restaurant for something to eat… walk around the square, get some ice cream at the Mision… seat on one of many benches in the park, maybe head over to Hemingways and have some drinks and listen to music. Simple and fun.
None. Seriously. The only thing we would have done differently is to wear better shoes for walking. We did a lot of walking between our hotel in Chahue and Crucecita town. Also, be prepared for lines at Huatulco Airport, especially when departing, but by then you’ll be so relaxed from your trip that the wait to check in won’t be bothersome.
Take advantage of package deals and book your flight and accommodations together. Even with an international airport (albeit a small one), Huatulco is still a secret and has an uncrowded ’small town’ feel. It’s a tourist development created by the Mexican government but, unlike Cancun, much of Huatulco is a protected ‘green zone’ and many of the bays are only accessible by boat.
If You Go
If you can pull yourself away from your palapa, definitely splurge and go on a snorkeling excursion, visit the charming town of La Crucecita, and enjoy some tacos al pastor and cervezas at budget-friendly Los Portales Restaurant along the main square. Hire an air conditioned taxi and take a ride to the magic waterfalls in the mountains at Copalita to cool off in the icy cold waters. Stop by the coffee plantation for a cup of java and purchase a pound or two. Take an evening sail from the Marina Chahue to watch the sunset over the Sierra Madres. Take a stroll (or taxi ride) to the main plaza at La Crucecita for people watching, joking with the locals and ALWAYS some ice cream (at the parlor adjacent to the Hotel Misión de los Arcos).
For fans of the Oilers or Canucks, the only ice they will find here is in the bottom of the glass at this winter getaway where there is sunshine at least 330 days a year and where the average temperature is 28 C. On our last full day at ‘Princess Mayev’, the mercury hit 35 during the middle of the day when most sensible people would choose the shade. And yet the hard-core sun-worshippers where still out there pool-side, soaking up the rays. Turn me over when I’m done.
‘For my part, I travel not to go anywhere, but just to go. I travel for travel’s sake. The great affair is to move.’ (Quotation by Robert Louis Stevenson)
Have a good and healthy season.
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