When I planned out the last leg of our Mexican journey from Huatulco to Oaxaca, I assumed that we’d travel by bus. Both of these cities are located in the same state of Oaxaca, so I figured it couldn’t be that tough of a trip. I looked up the bus schedules on the ADO website and found that for about $33 USD we could leave Huatulco at 10 PM and arrive in Oaxaca at around 8 AM on their nicest overnight bus. The first class buses in Mexico are decently comfortable and hey, I’d once ridden 21 hours on a bus in Argentina.
So why didn’t we take the bus? Well, there is no direct route from Huatulco to Oaxaca because there are MOUNTAINS in between. Despite rumors of a new highway being built to provide such a direct route (and lots of hopeful TripAdivsor forum posts) it hasn’t really come to fruition just yet. Thus any trip between the two cities via land takes you on a windy, circuitous path that goes through/around/between the mountains.
In the words of Bertha as she advised me on the situation via email, “A friend just told me that the drive is beautiful but long (about 8 hours) and with lots of curves! But maybe is worth it… Is up to you.” She immediately followed this statement with the website for Aerotucán.
I’ll take that as a hint.
Reviews of the journey throw around horror stories of cliffs, motion sickness, and the need for large doses of Dramamine, not to mention the occasionally exaggerated rumors of bandits and the dangers of traveling through the highlands of Mexico in the dead of night. But for me, if a Mexican says it’s windy, I believe it.
As I pictured my bus going over a cliff, or worse yet, Charlie being unable to sleep on an overnight bus and then bitching the entire next day as we walked grumpily around Oaxaca and wasted most of our first day in the city, I found Aerotucán’s not-so-customer-friendly website. I browsed the entire Internet for information regarding the process of purchasing tickets (you can’t use a credit card on the site), a how-to and when-to-buy guide, and a description of exactly what kind of trip I would be taking in an 11-seater death trap with wings, but to no avail. I found myself really craving some reassurance that this flight wouldn’t be so terrible, but was unable to find much. Entonces this post was born.
So now I’ll attempt to describe the Aerotucán experience, from the flight, to the booking of tickets, to the airport, to convincing
your significant other yourself that flying in a tiny plane doesn’t necessarily mean that you’ll die.
How to fly Aerotucán from Huatulco to Oaxaca
(or any of the other destinations that Aerotucán serves, really)
1. Convince yourself that you won’t die.
This is actually the hardest part of the entire process. Aerotucán flies a Cessna 208B Grand Caravan which can hold eleven to thirteen passengers and up to two pilots. The interior feels like a church van, with seatbelts resembling those of a car and tiny aisles to squeeze through. There are rows of single seats on the left and two seats on the right with full row in the back. You can sit directly behind the pilot and look over his shoulder if you so choose. Yes, it’s a tiny plane, but I didn’t find any troubling news in Aerotucán’s history and from what I’ve read, these Cessnas seem to be very reliable planes with good engines. Plus this plane flies from Huatulco to Oaxaca and back every day of the week – these pilots know what they’re doing. If you need more reassurance, check out this YouTube video of the flight I found – we may have watched it a few times before our departure.
2. Figure Out the Aerotucán Website.
While tons of people on the Internet complained about the basic-ness of Aertotucán’s all-Spanish website, it was actually pretty straightforward. You gotta use the chat function, people! A salesperson will chat with you and quote you a price for the specific date you’re looking for. I chatted with these guys in Spanish and in English multiple times and they were actually very helpful and quoted me the same price for my date each time, no crazy fluctuations like most airlines.
While you’re at it, check out the Promociones tab on the site where you may be able to get special discounts on your tickets. I was able to take advantage of one called Jueves De Preventa, where if you book a ticket on a Thursday, you get a 15% discount. Easy enough!
3. Book Your Ticket.
The salesperson I chatted with on Aerotucán told me I needed to reserve my flight about three weeks prior to my departure date, so that’s exactly what I did… on a Thursday. I went to the website, chatted with a salesperson (this time in English, because when dollars or pesos are involved, I need total clarity), and she asked for my email address.
As a side note, I tried calling the toll-free international number to book, but it was a recording telling me I didn’t qualify for a senior citizens-related gift certificate to Wal-Mart. Or something like that. Really, I pressed all the buttons trying to redirect my call and dialed their phone number several times, all with the same wacko result.
I was confused how a sale could take place over email, but it was simple enough and nothing crazy happened to my credit card afterwards. After my chat session, Aerotucán sent me an email instructing me to fill out an attached form in which I gave them my credit card information and certified the fact that they were charging it the price of the tickets (in pesos). I printed the forms, filled them out, scanned them, and emailed them back to Aerotucán. In return, they sent me a confirmation email and scanned pictures of my tickets. As Charlie called it, the process was a little “bo-bo,” but it worked.
Total Price per Ticket from Huatulco to Oaxaca = $129.50
So yes, this flight was almost $100 more expensive than an overnight bus ticket, but it also saved us over eight hours and a possible bad night’s sleep.
4. Go to Airport. Get on Plane. Don’t Freak Out.
Aerotucán flights leave Huatulco Monday through Saturday at 10 AM from Huatulco International Airport (HUX). The flight is only about 30 or 35 minutes long. It’s a breeze.
They instruct you to arrive an hour before your flight, but don’t bother getting there any earlier than that – the ticket counter won’t even be open. Seriously. When you see people actually standing at the solitary counter that has the screen lit up with the blue and white Toucan Sam-esque logo, then you can head on over and show them your reservations (which you’ve dutifully printed out) and passport. They will take your luggage as obvi there’s no room for carry-ons to be stowed in the passenger cabin on this flight. With boarding pass in hand, you can head over to the terminals, maybe grab breakfast at the café outside on the way, and pass through security.
Keep an eye on any (super touristy looking white) people that you may have seen checking in with Aerotucán so you know when to board. They make an announcement, but it can get lost in the echoing mix of the terminal and all of the other bigger planes boarding at the same time. Also, your flight may be a few minutes late, but don’t fret, it’s Mexico. Once your flight is called, you hand a guy in a vest and Aerotucán shirt (who will later turn out to be your pilot) your boarding pass and proceed out the door, onto the tarmac, and into your tiny little plane… after taking pictures to show all of your friends how brave you are, of course.
5. Choose a Window Seat. Chat with Fellow Passengers.
News Flash: Most of the people on the plane will also be rather nervous about this flight. Maybe they won’t even sit in the front row behind the pilot because obviously they think that people who sit in those seats will die when the plane crashes. You sit there! Get a seat by the window too, because this flight is going to be super scenic and beautiful. And you’ll be able to watch the pilot as he takes down the sun visor in the window (just like a fucking car!) and fumble around looking for something the entire flight… which will turn out to be his cell phone (just like in a fucking car!). It will be awesome.*
Next, meet the guy next to you that does this flight all the time because he has a house in both Huatulco and Oaxaca. He will reassure you and then tell you about how Miguel is a great pilot “even though he can’t see over the dashboard” (haha, funny joke, I wonder how many times you’ve told that one… but seriously though he can’t possibly see over the dash!) and how brilliant Oaxaca is during Muertos.*
*These things may not happen on your flight.
6. Don’t Get Nervous. Have Excellent Flight.
There is no explanatory preface to this flight. No “Good Morning. This is how your seatbelt works. We will have winds from the north. It is sunny in Oaxaca. Your local time is 10:22.” But who cares about that, because I have seriously never had a better takeoff than on this flight. There’s no need for a long runway and high speeds for this little plane. You start going and whew, you’re off the ground so painlessly you didn’t even realize it. You don’t even really have time to freak out. Truly.
The plane doesn’t fly very high, the cabin isn’t pressurized, and we had very little turbulence except when passing above the occasional cloud. The views looking down on the mountains are spectacular and you can see the aforementioned windy roads and some small cities along the way. Take MANY pictures. The only eerie part of the flight is passing through clouds, when everything surrounding the plane becomes a bright white. It feels like what I imagine traveling in a time machine feels like. It’s very freaky, but all returns to normal once you exit the other side. The rest of the flight was amazing, soothing, and fun. I’m so glad we didn’t shy away from taking a tiny plane, because it was a great experience. Given the option, I would honestly take Aerotucán over a large commercial jet experience any day.
Told ya, you can get real up close and personal with the pilot.
Just tell yourself that the extra hundred bucks you spent on this plane ticket isn’t only sparing you motion sickness and eight hours of travel time, but you’re getting a world class aerial tour of the mountains of Oaxaca, Mexico.
As we got closer to the ground in Oaxaca, we could see the fields of marigolds and other flowers that had recently been cut and taken to the markets for the Día de los Muertos festivities.
Our fellow local/expat/townie passenger told us that he loved this flight, but he also highly recommended taking the bus trip to the coast during the day because it’s very scenic as well. Maybe one day, guy, maybe one day…
Okay, I’ll stop with the airborne photos. Seriously though, I’ve never taken a flight this fun. Thanks for the ride Aerotucán, you don’t know how happy I am that I don’t regret it! These were some pesos well-spent.
If you’re in need of a short flight to or from Oaxaca from Huatulco or Puerto Escondido, book Aerotucán flights at their website via email using the chat function with the steps outlined above. They have flights once a day, every day of the week, to and from each destination. Look for promotions to save some pesos. The other (much longer) option is to book a flight to Mexico City and then onward to Oaxaca. Or, as mentioned, you can take the ADO bus journey.
Update: I’ve also just learned that if you’re in need of a flight from Puerto Escondido to Oaxaca, you can take a 6-8 seater plane with the even more elusive AeroVega for a bit cheaper… and it looks awesome.