Hot in Huatulco: A True Mexican Experience

Discover an authentic Mexican getaway in Oaxaca

Credit: Barb Sligl

Head to Huatulco for the Mexican path less travelled

When it’s raining in Vancouver, Mexico calls. Actually, it beckons rain or shine. It’s the perennial year-round getaway from the wet, um, West Coast. Yet Huatulco is still somewhat undiscovered.

Almost as south as you can go in the country, this sultry stretch of curvaceous bays has been growing for a couple of decades (in popularity and properties), beloved by Mexicans and in-the-know Canadians.

It has its own version of a Hollywood-like sign (pictured) overlooking Tangolunda Bay, the letters appropriately multi-coloured (this is Mexico, after all). Below, resorts are tucked along the sandy sweep of this bay, which is just one of nine in Huatulco. These bays are the obvious destination, but it’s beyond their embrace that things get really interesting.

Click through to discover some of Huatulco’s best kept secrets.

Credit: Barb Sligl

A Taste of Huatulco

For my first escape from the rigours of the all-inclusive – guacamole, cerveza, quesadilla, margarita, repeat – I go inland to the little town of La Crucecita, just minutes away. I make my way to a mezcal house for a tasting (both sin and con gusano meaning with or without worm) and the local treat of mole, Oaxacan cheese and chapulines or grasshoppers (pictured). Yes, these roasted bugs, complete with antennae, legs and wings, are a crispy delicacy here in Oaxaca. Think salty, spicy snack food akin to chips. Really.

I happily crunch quite a few, and more happily wash down with some anejo mezcal, Oaxaca’s version of tequila. With its smokiness and vegetal character, it’s as if the true taste of agave comes out by roasting the heart or piña of the agave plant in the earth. Just add thick, juicy orange slices and a little sal de gusano or chili spice with ground worm on the side. Bueno!

For dessert, my guide demonstrates another Oaxacan tradition: hot chocolate with pan de yema or egg-yolk Easter bread. After frothing the spicy, strong liquid with a molínillo, I sop up the chocolate-y goodness with the spongy bread. Sated, I decide to skip the buffet that night at the resort, opting for solitary stargazing instead.

Credit: Barb Sligl

Exploring Puerto Escondido

For my next foray outside the resort, I go farther, northwest to Puerto Escondido. Before leaving the coast, I get another look at Huatulco’s bays at a viewpoint overlooking the National Park of Huatulco, its rocky cliffs framed by organo cacti. Then, travelling inland, I begin to see “simple, regular life,” as my guide calls it.

En route we stop in Pochutla, a real working town with a vibrant market or tianguis. Street vendors sell rolled tacos, empanadas, and refreshing drinks like agua fresca (a non-alcholic drink with fruit, sugar and water) and horchata (a Mexican rice milk). Women, men and even some entrepreneurial kids (it’s a no-school weekend) sit by their wares in woven Acapulco chairs.

I pick my way past stray dogs and overladen wheelbarrows of massive bananas (called macho, of course) and bunches of huge bright-red radishes for five pesos or a mere 50 cents.

We stop outside the town’s church to listen to the singing of people crowded inside, at the doorways and on the steps, the refrains of “hallelujah, hallelujah” wafting outside.

Credit: Barb Sligl

Surfing at Zicatela Beach

From Pochulta to Puerto Escondido is another hour back towards the beach. On the outskirts of town, the surf paraphernalia starts appearing. This is home to one of the world’s surf meccas, Zicatela Beach. Dubbed the “Mexican pipeline,” waves here reach six metres and the beach itself is some 100-metres wide and four kilometres long.

My early-morning jog along the long, sandy strip takes me past bobbing surfers waiting to catch the perfect wave. Come summer, the waters crowd with real pros tackling really big surf (prime surfing season runs April to November), the site of past international competitions – and, of course, a Miss Bikini contest.

Bronzed and bare bodies are ubiquitous here and people watching at local go-to coffee shop El Cafecito is a must. I stop counting how many surfboards roll by in pickups, under arms and on bikes – even strapped to the roof of a taxi. Hostel-like accommodations and rustic palapas or thatched-roof bars and eateries have an old-school hippie-mixed-with-new-school hipster vibe. Think bohemian.

Here you can have your green juice followed by a michelada (cerveza, lime juice and spicy goodness with a tamarindo-and-chile-coated straw). I keep it a little more posh at the colonial-style, four-star Hotel Sante Fe, which may just be the best spot to watch the sun go down over Zicatela Beach.

Credit: Barb Sligl

Crocodiles at La Ventanilla Lagoon

After getting too much sun and surf, it’s to the lagoon for some crocodile spotting. I ride a panga to a small island in La Ventanilla Lagoon, where locals raise baby crocs to be released into the wild and give tours as part of this ecotourism project.

It’s hot, humid and a cacophony of birds – woodpeckers, kingfishers, storks, herons, cormorants – bounces off the heavy air sheltered from the sea breezes of the undeveloped beach nearby. Multi-coloured iguanas climb among dense mangroves and sunbathe in sunny patches.

It’s hard not to gasp when I first see the ridged back of a crocodile seemingly suspended just below the still surface. I crane my neck to try and gauge if the four-metre-long reptile’s eyes are following us as we glide by in the now puny seeming panga. We alight on the little isle and edge closer to the croc on foot, silently as if he (she?) can’t sense us. It seems preposterous to stand so close and watch as this creature snaps up the sizable fish our guide tosses its way, as if the snack was a mere tortilla chip.

From here, it’s not far to Mazunte, another hippy enclave, with a turtle centre and a natural cosmetics factory – an alternate source of income for locals after turtle hunting was banned. Then, through thick jungle and dirt roads, past rustic fruit stands and the odd hammock strung between two palms (it’s always siesta time for someone), we reach Zipolite, another backpacker go-to where “free and easy” means clothing optional.

Dreadlocked hacky-sack players mix with surfers and nudists on the beach. Heading back southeast towards Huatulco, the road passes through fishing village Puerto Angel, its bay choked with working boats.

Credit: Barb Sligl

Play Archeologist in Huatulco

Back in Huatulco, the all-inclusive resorts await, but an easy 15-kilometre drive beyond them is another place to escape to. Copalita is the first Zapotec archaeological zone in the Huatulco area, and the only site ever built by the ocean on Mexico’s West Coast—the Tulum of the Pacific. There’s a modern museum with artifacts that include a turquoise-encrusted skull, but I prefer to wander outside among the river-stone buildings.

An ancient ball court, Templo de la Serpiente (Temple of the Serpent) and the main temple were long hidden beneath layers of jungle before being rediscovered. Excavation of the ruins (some dating back 2,500 years) is ongoing, so I can’t freely explore and climb upon the ruins. Being so close to these relics, yet still out of reach, only adds to the mystery that hangs in the air here.

I walk past the main temple on a tunnel-like path through the forest to high cliffs overlooking the ocean and Playa La Bocana. Along the way, my guide points out various indigenous and endemic plants and trees, like copal (which gives it name to the site and nearby river), a tree resin that’s used as incense. He also points out the guaje tree and its pods that give this region its name (“Oaxaca” refers to the “guaje” seed from this acacia tree) and famous mole sauce. I break one open and nibble the soft, nutty yet beany seed.

Far below I watch surfers inch their way along the shoreline and a group lather themselves in the Copalita River’s healing mud. Vultures roost in the cliffsides and glide back and forth, riding the air currents. I lose count of how many passes they make. I’m mesmerized and could stand here, a solitary sentinel, all day.

So close to the resorts just beyond these cliffs and yet so far away.

Credit: Barb Sligl

How to Get to Huatulco

The easiest way to explore all of Huatulco’s surroundings is through an all-inclusive package, like Air Transat’s. Stay at Las Brisas – you’ll hear just as much Spanish as English at this popular resort with Mexican families – or the higher-end Secrets with its swim-up pools and all-to-its-self beach and crescent bay. Then explore outside on a day tour (Air Transat offers a wide variety of these, with local, knowledgeable guides) and do an overnight excursion to Puerto Escondido (stay at the beachside Hotel Sante Fe, with its fabuloso sunset-viewing terrace), and get the best of both worlds – all-inclusive and authentic.