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Huatulco Travel Guide

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A tranquil beach in Huatulco
© Suzanne Barbezat

Huatulco:

Las Bahias de Huatulco (the Huatulco Bays), most often referred to simply as Huatulco (pronounced "wah-tool-ko"), is a beach area made up of nine bays with 36 beaches. Located on the Pacific coast of the state of Oaxaca, 165 miles from the state capital of Oaxaca City, and 470 miles from Mexico City, this area was chosen in the 1980s by FONATUR (Mexico's National Tourism Fund) for development as a tourist resort area.

Huatulco stretches out over 22 miles of coastline between the Coyula and Copalito rivers. It is set within a beautiful natural area with the Sierra Madre mountain chain forming a beautiful backdrop to the tourist development. The lush lowland jungle vegetation is particularly verdant in the rainy season, from June to October. Its biodiversity and pristine landscapes make Huatulco a favorite destination of nature lovers.

The Holy Cross of Huatulco:

According to legend, in Prehispanic times a bearded white man placed a wooden cross on the beach, which the local population then venerated. In the 1500s the pirate Thomas Cavendish arrived in the area and after looting, tried by various means to remove or destroy the cross, but was unable to do so. The name Huatulco comes from the Nahuatl language "Coahatolco" and means "place where the wood is revered." You can see a fragment of the cross from the legend in the church in Santa Maria Huatulco, and another in the cathedral in Oaxaca City.

History of Huatulco:

The area of Oaxaca's coast has been inhabited since ancient times by groups of Zapotecs and Mixtecs. When FONATUR set its sights on Huatulco, it was a series of huts along the beach, whose inhabitants practiced fishing on a small scale. When construction on the tourist complex began in the mid 1980s the people who lived along the coast were relocated to Santa Maria Huatulco and La Crucecita. The Huatulco National Park was declared in 1998. Later listed as a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve, the park protects a large area of the bays from development. In 2003 the Santa Cruz cruise ship port began operations, and currently receives some 80 cruise ships each year.

The Huatulco Bays:

Since there are nine different bays in Huatulco, the area offers a variety of beach experiences. Most have blue-green water and the sand ranges from golden to white. Some of the beaches, notably Santa Cruz, la Entrega and El Arrocito have very gentle waves. Most of the development is centered around a few of the bays. Tangolunda is the largest of Huatulco's bays, and is where most of Huatulco's large resorts are located. Santa Cruz has a cruise ship port, marina and shops and restaurants. Some of the beaches are completely pristine and only accessible by boat.

Huatulco and Sustainability:

Huatulco's development is proceeding under a plan to protect the surrounding environment. Some of the efforts made to make Huatulco a sustainable destination include reducing emissions of greenhouse gases, reducing waste, improving energy efficiency and management of natural resources. A large part of the area of the Huatulco Bays is set aside as ecological reserves, and will remain free from development. In 2005, Huatulco was awarded the Green Globe International Certification as a sustainable tourist area, and in 2010 Huatulco received EarthCheck Gold Certification; it is the only destination in the Americas to achieve this distinction.

La Crucecita:

La Crucecita is a small town located just a few minutes drive inland from Santa Cruz bay. La Crucecita was built as a support community to the tourist area, and many of the tourism workers have their homes here. Although it is a new town, it has the feel of an authentic small Mexican town. There is an abundance of shops and restaurants in La Crucecita, and it's a good place to do some shopping, have a meal, or an evening stroll. The church in La Crucecita, La Parroquia de Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe, has a 65 foot tall image of the Virgin of Guadalupe painted in its dome.

Dining in Huatulco:

A visit to Huatulco will offer an excellent opportunity to sample Oaxacan cuisine, as well as Mexican seafood specialties. There are numerous beachfront palapas where you can enjoy fresh seafood. Some favorite restaurants include El Sabor de Oaxaca and TerraCotta in La Crucecita, and L'Echalote in Bahia Chahue.

What To Do in Huatulco:

  • Shop for jewelery and souvenirs in La Crucecita
  • Take a boat tour of Huatulco's bays, which includes stops for swimming, snorkeling and lunch
  • Play golf at the 18-hole Tangolunda golf course
  • Visit Hagia Sofia, a beautiful ecological retreat located about 45 minutes away from the downtown area of Huatulco
  • Tour the Parque Eco-Arqueológico Copalita
  • Take a day tour to a coffee plantation, where you can learn about coffee production, visit a waterfall and have lunch with the owners of the finca cafetalera

Where to Stay in Huatulco:

Huatulco has a good selection of luxury hotels and resorts, most of which are situated on Tangolunda Bay. In la Crucecita you will find many budget hotels; some favorites include Mision de los Arcos and Maria Mixteca. Huatulco also has many options for vacation rentals.

Getting There:

By air: Huatulco has an international airport, airport code HUX. It is a 50 minute flight from Mexico City. The Mexican airline Interjet offers daily flights between Mexico City and Huatulco. From Oaxaca City, regional airline AeroTucan offers daily flights in small planes. Find flights to Huatulco.

By land: At present driving time from Oaxaca City is 6 hours on route 175 (stock up on Dramamine ahead of time). A new highway presently under construction should cut driving time in half.

By sea: Huatulco has two marinas which offer docking services, in Santa Cruz and Chahue. Since 2003 Huatulco is a port of call for cruises of the Mexican Riviera and receives an average of 80 cruise ships each year.

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