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Huatulco
A (Still) Preserved Enclave on the Pacific
by André Gayot


Tranquil and pure: this part of Mexico is a paradise for travelers

They swear it’s paradise on earth! Indeed, Huatulco, located at the thin Southern part of Mexico where the Sierra Madre meets the Pacific Ocean, could very well be one of the last bastions of preserved maritime and jungle nature in this part of the world. The passenger seated next to me, Andrew G., aboard the new Mexicana Airbus departing from Mexico City over the green mountains, raves about Huatulco. This "muy simpatico" admirer of the destination turns out to be a former doctor who had to give up his practice after a debilitating accident. Adversity made him discover Huatulco, where in lieu of a temporary refuge he found a new life. He rebuilt his existence at the same time he was building his home. Now, with his son, he builds houses for himself, for his passion and eventually for the profit, dreaming of recreating a Saint Paul de Vence on the Pacific. This Renaissance man is now a well-accepted part of the community, dispensing the good among the people.

Iguana as a pet

My "Tocayo" Andrew G. is a cheerful fellow who loves Huatulco. It is a paradise he contends, because surrounding nature is pristine and untouched; it does not rain from October to June (and some hotels do not charge you if an umbrella is necessary); temperatures average 85º F; the ocean is clear and lukewarm; the people (the zapotecos and miztecos) are gentle and welcoming, poor but dignified; there’s no crime; the entire area is scrubbed down; and the local authorities are ecologically-minded. Waste water is treated and recycled, as they want to preserve jungle, birds, plants and the beaches, zoning off 52,000 acres to remain untouched. Only one hurricane has occurred in Huatulco in 80 years (Hurricane Paulina in 1997), there are few mosquitoes and nobody knows what “turista” is. What an introduction! The chamber of commerce couldn’t do a better job! Uplifted by Andy’s enthusiasm, I ended up finding that if it is relaxation, tranquility and purity you are looking for, a stay Huatulco it is. But will these paradisiacal conditions remain? Inaugurated in 1988 with five hotels, the resort has planned for 30,000 rooms to host two million visitors, generating 25 percent of the Oaxaca state budget. That’s cause for a lot of trepidation, and maybe then heaven might feel a bit busy. But we are not there yet. Let’s enjoy Huatulco as it is.

Old-timer plays the fiddle at the beach

Between two rivers, Rio San Augustin and Rio Copalita, on 22 miles, the rocky coast is jagged into nine bays harboring 36 beaches. Most of them can only be reached by sea, which keeps them neat and tidy. Swimming and snorkeling in these tepid waters is a sheer delight. You can embark on a day cruise on one of the large catamarans mooring in the Santa Cruz harbor, but prepare your eardrums for the blasting music from the public address system and the corny jokes of the would-be DJs. If silence seems more appropriate to enjoy the spectacular scenery that is the highlight of this sojourn, concierges in the hotels can arrange quiet, private excursions on smaller crafts.

Among the nicest hotels of Huatulco, the Quinta Real perched on a steep hill overlooking Tangolunda Bay stands out with its two white cupolas. The reception is accessed by a private road ascending the hill. While you savor a fresh fruit sorbet in the open atrium upon check-in, you can see beyond a fountain the ocean glittering in the distance. Ocean is the leitmotiv. All of the 28 oversized, luxurious suites under thatched palapa roofs are facing the bay, many with balconies opening to the refreshing sea breeze. In addition, eight of them have a two-story balcony and a private pool. Happiness inundates your body, if not your mind, as you swiftly rock in your large hammock, eyes half shut, a tad somnolent, caressed by a zephyr as the sun sets over the water. When a silvery moonbeam flashes on the bay, illuminating the fishermen boats as they begin their nightly aquatic hunt, it’s time for a tequila cocktail at the open-air Sky Lounge under a giant fig tree.

An inviting hammock for lazing

At your choice, dinner is al fresco on the terrace below or inside Las Cúpulas restaurant under a high ceiling, and with a view through expansive windows. Since fresh fish is plentiful, the menu takes advantage of the catch of the day and abounds with ceviche. Chef Olivier Gachignard also plays with exotic sauces to serve red snapper, mahi mahi and shrimps. When not served “à la plancha,” they come with exotic sauces such as lemon and vanilla, tequila and chipotle, coriander and saffron or tamarind and mescal. You will be agreeably surprised by the Mexican wines, especially the reds. Try the Duetto, the Casa de Piedra or the Monte Xantic. Breakfast (desayuno) is an important meal in Mexico composed of a variety of tortillas, cheeses, chicken, pork and eggs turned into many stuffed omelets. Among Oaxacan specialties are mole, tlayudas, tasajos and quesillos.

Room at the Quinta Real

Descending to the beach is a promenade in the lush vegetation boarding the walkways and the stairs. After exercise, massage or relaxation a light lunch—a shrimp cocktail, perhaps—awaits you by poolside at La Cuija Beach Club. A shuttle will whisk you back up to your room. Why would you want to step out of such a lavish, secluded, spacious heaven? Maybe to check if the nearby La Crucecita, this former fishermen hamlet, has absorbed the shock of moderate tourism and is as clean as they proclaim? And, to do some shopping, of course. It’s worth spending a moment to watch the weavers slowly and laboriously produce tablecloths and napkins on their antique looms. Browsing in one of the convenience stores is fun, fun to buy a bottle of mezcal, which is the appellation of the local tequila made of agave. With the addition of local herbs, and sometimes a scorpion, it’s a panacea for several conditions—or so they say.

A local weaver

They melt the cocoa cultivated in small quantities in the surrounding mountains, proclaimed to be of the best quality, into cakes of rough appearance that are meant to be dissolved in water or milk. All manner of chilies are available, as you can imagine. But the rarest commodity is dry crickets. An ounce or two will suffice. I don’t recommend deep-frying them in masses. That would be too expensive, and we have enough protein where we come from. Just add them to your stews. It will enhance their flavor and minimize the need for salt. But maybe, you better not tell your guests.

Scorpions and herbs in a bottle of Mezcal: a local cure for arthritis

Now, if you have energy to spend and need some activity, a nice 18-hole golf course lies just by the hotel, horses are available, river rafting is offered at five varying levels of difficulty, and tennis courts are plenty. Deep sea fishing is another option. During summer, the waters are rife with mahi mahi, sailfish and goldfish.

The infatuation with eco tourism has put La Gloria coffee plantation on the local map. The discovery of the jungle along 48 kilometers on a dirt road from Huatulco introduces us to the reality of the harsh life in these regions, where survival is a matter of the obstinate will exemplified by the farmers of La Finca (Plantation) La Gloria. With their high quality mountain coffee beans (Pluma, from the Arabica family) and a bit of eco-tourism, they have found a niche in the combined hostility of the jungle and the commodities market. By supporting the good intentions, a trip to Huatulco can also be a good deed.

PLANNING YOUR TRIP

Quinta Real
Paseo Benito Suarez
Lote 2 Bahías de Huatulco
Oaxaca, Mexico 70989
01-958-5810-428

www.quintareal.com

Suites start at $280 during low season, $390 during high season.

To help you plan your trip, contact:
Héctor Cisneros Dávalos
General Manager of Paraiso Huatulco
Calle Ceiba # 202 esq. Carrizal
La Crucecita, Bahías de Huatulco
Oaxaca, Mexico 70989
01-958-587-2878
gerencia@paraisohuatulco.com
www.paraisohuatulco.com


Going to Oaxaca? Check out our Guide.


 
(Updated: 07/01/08 HC)

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