The morning after our night of partying at a Mexican wedding, we boarded our flight to the beaches of Huatulco, an area on Mexico’s west coast. We headed there on the recommendation of Bertha who’d said it was beautiful place with a more laid back vibe than the typical Mexican resort cities.
Puerto Vallarta was actually much closer, but she suggested we head elsewhere unless we wanted a “clubby” atmosphere. Later, we found out that she’d never actually been to Huatulco, but had just heard a lot of positive things from friends. Nonetheless, her description was beyond correct. We spent four nights in the area that’s famous for its seven bays (bahías) and something like thirty-six beaches. In the end, I’m glad we did a little something different rather than sticking to the typical all-inclusive, spring break fiasco of an environment from college years’ past.
As we exited our flight directly onto the tarmac of the small, straw-roofed Huatulco Airport, a couple from Michigan asked if it was our first time in the area. You could almost see the fear in their eyes after spotting young, fedora-wearing English-speakers heading into their secret vacation spot. They’d been coming here for fourteen years, they said, and now they owned a house in Huatulco. We assured them we’d been recommended here by our Mexican friends, and not some future spring breakers or Señor Frogs franchisors.
Where We Stayed
After obsessively stalking the TripAdvisor forums (what’s new?) and meticulously combing through hotel reviews online (and making a list of pros and cons of several places and emailing it to Charlie for his review), I booked a room at Villa Blanca Huatulco. Based on other travelers’ suggestions, we requested a room on the first floor, as these have a patio and open out to the pool area, and a mini fridge, because there’s a great Super Che grocery store within a five minute walk and thus you can chill your own booze. Since it wasn’t high season, the hotel graciously accommodated our requests.
After booking our flights from BJX to Huatulco through Expedia, the site gave us 15% off our accommodations, bringing the grand total for our hotel rooms to …$39 a night. Yep, you read that right. And this included a bomb ass breakfast buffet each morning with Western and traditional Mexican foods, complete with handmade tortillas stuffed with whatever your heart desired.
Our hotel wasn’t super fancy, but it was central to the beaches and the nearby quaint town of La Crucecita. Cabs are abundant and cheap. We went during the low and supposedly rainy season, but it only sprinkled once and was generally sunny and hot as hell. Apparently, the Canadians really start flocking down there in November, so we missed out on that.
The afternoon we arrived, we wanted to hit the beach for a bit and have dinner, but didn’t want to make any sort of trek as we’d just traveled all morning. We asked the lady at the front desk to point us toward Santa Cruz Bay and just a short ten minute walk later, we were able to swim with lots of locals while we ordered beers, margaritas, and grilled garlic shrimp from one of the many palapa restaurants on the beach. Man, we were happy. Santa Cruz isn’t the nicest of beaches- it’s conveniently located and therefore crowded, but hey, it’s still a beach. It’s also where the cruise ships dock during the high season, so there’s a nice long pier right smack in the middle of the beach.
The salespeople (hustlers) here stroll along the beach trying to get you to eat at their places or sell you their bookmarks or jewelry, but a simple no gracias or eight would typically send them away.
After our wonderful apps and drinks, we headed a little ways down the beach to the last palapa restaurant, Doña Celia, where I’d read you just had to eat the lobster. And we did- a very generous serving of lobster tacos and the fish with cilantro cream sauce- it was fabulous and fresh. We ordered way too much and enjoyed a song from a lone mariachi after the sun went down. You could really tell the tourists hadn’t flocked here just yet, as we were one of only two tables eating.
The next day we headed out to explore some other close beaches, starting with Playa Entrega which which was nearly deserted when we arrived. En route to the beach, our cab driver, Jaime (who soon became our personal chauffeur and handler) stopped off at a lighthouse (faro) at an incredible lookout point and we took pictures, and he took our pictures, and we were just generally like, “dang…” at the sights and our natural surroundings.
Playa Entrega is a flat stretch of beach with more palapa restaurants and a reef offshore where you can snorkel… and don’t worry, someone will ask you if you want to snorkel several times, or if you want a beer, because theirs is the coldest, they promise.
Of course, snorkel we did. And sadly, it seems that a lot of the reef is dead, though we did get to see lots of colorful fish, some parrot fish (I think?), a few trumpet fish, and TONS of puffer fish.
I’m not a huge snorkel enthusiast (despite my mother’s planning of snorkel excursions at every port-of-call on every cruise we’ve ever been on) but it was fun for a few dollars to check it out for a half hour, though for the flat fee you could use the equipment as long as you wanted. There was also the option of a guide (who would make the puffer fish blow up so you could hold them for a picture) but we went the cheap route and explored on our own.
Playa Entrega is a very beautiful beach with clear water and a good amount of wildlife, but it can get quite crowded and very hot since there is little shade to be found. As we were leaving around noon to head to another beach, more people began arriving in cabs and boats alike.
A little further out is Playa Maguey with a more chill feeling and a few less people urging you to buy things. Not that you won’t be escorted from the parking lot to a beachside palapa restaurant where you’ll be given a lounge chair and umbrella in a spot of your choosing in exchange for purchasing a few beers… obviously, that will happen. It’s really quite a deal though since we were going to have beers anyway.
While several of the restaurants weren’t open, for the most part they all sell the same fresh seafood cooked in a clay oven and it’s all pretty fantastic. We brought our own tunes, courtesy of Charlie’s impulse buy of Bluetooth speakers, and enjoyed cervezas, salsa, guac, and more shrimp (seriously, head-on with garlic sauce, delicious).
There weren’t too many people hanging out on this beach either aside from a few tourists and families taking group pictures in the water (often with their clothes on). We spent a very restful, sunny afternoon here reading, swimming, and drinking, of course.
Boat Tour of the Bays
At the pre-arranged hour 9:30 AM, Jaime arrived at our hotel with some dude and a booklet of photos of the different bays. We explained that we only wanted to go out for about 4 or 5 hours and told him which beaches we’d already visited and which we still wanted to see. We were quoted a price of $1,600 pesos which (at around $115 USD) for both of us in a private boat for the day was a great deal compared to the tour companies. When we asked if there would be a cooler of beer, he swung us by the Super Che and let us pick up beverages and then somehow made a cooler materialize out of nowhere for our use.
This mystery middleman then drove us to Santa Cruz harbor where he dropped us off at the beach with our cooler and told us to await our boat. Within minutes a man named Rigo appeared with his young assistant Doris in a boat with many more seats than we had passengers. He helped us onboard and then had Doris pack our cooler while we all got introduced. Rigo’s English was great and he told several jokes, lifting up his sleeve with a wink to reveal a tattoo of his name and saying, “Es my business card.”
We had a great day with Rigo, shared some beers, had lots of Spanish lessons, and he was completely at our service. He let us stop off and swim when we wanted at beaches that were only accessible by boat. The most beautiful of these was Playa Chachacual where we stayed for a bit and the nearby Playa India and Playa Cacaluta (where part of Y Tu Mamá También was filmed). En route, Rigo showed us a blowhole in the cliffs and a rock face… literally a face made out of rock.
On the way back, Rigo took us out into the ocean where we saw two sea turtles – one of them the tortuga de canal was about six feet long- and a pod of dolphins that had speckles on them. He made such an effort to show us all Huatulco had to offer in terms of beaches and wildlife – he even put our a handline for much of our ride in an attempt to catch some mahi mahi, but didn’t have any luck. We stopped for a lunch of fresh fish and cocktails at Playa Maguey (and ate at the same palapa restaurant no less) and Rigo waited for us at the bar where we’re pretty sure he had a little mezcal.
This was such a fun and hilarious day that we ended up leaving Rigo a big tip and the rest of the cooler of beer. Getting on a boat (with the wind, the sea spray, cold beer and gasoline fumes all combined) is a crucial part of any beach experience for me.
The taxi drivers will give you recommendations on where to eat (that you may or may not be able to find), but we stopped into Tlayudas Arely which is a hole-in-the-wall that actually makes an appearance on TripAdvisor yet still has super cheap, delicious food… even if it doesn’t have air condition or even many fans. We had handmade tlayudas and tacos here while we watched the World Series.
San Agustín is a long haul north of the city and about a twenty minute drive down a bumpy dirt road once you pass the airport. While the bay itself is a great beach, it’s the scenery and life we witnessed on the way in that impressed me. After having seen so many beautiful beaches already, it was cool to see cows, banana trees, locals working the field, basketball courts, churches, small family shops, and even an ostrich on a ranch.
Of course, the Corona trucks still make the dusty journey all the way there- capitalism is an amazing thing. Upon our arrival to the remote San Agustín, we found the same palapa restaurants offering cubetas of beers on ice for sale along with seating in their Adirondack chairs- yep, we’ll take it! Jaime was more than happy to drive us out there and nap in a hammock until we had soaked up all the sun we wanted.
San Agustín is one of the biggest bays of Huatulco with about a mile of beach and rock formations jutting out of the water. Cab drivers consistently told us it was the most beautiful of the bays (though quite possibly because the fare to get there is the most expensive). The only other tourists we saw were some folks who had hired a charter fishing boat and were anchored, taking a break to swim in the bay. As we were out swimming, the captain even asked us if we’d like to come on-board for some fishing as well. Capitalism.
After a few hours of lounging and swimming, we headed to our the final beach on our checklist…
Playa La Bocana
La Bocana required a trip in the opposite direction and it was probably the most similar to the beaches of North Carolina of any that we visited… and unfortunately the least beautiful in terms of the color of the sand and water. While the sand up to this point had been relatively course, this was that fine dirty, dark sand that realllly gets in your bathing suit bottom. Especially since this was the only beach thus far with real waves so we had to body surf.
The rocky cliffs to either side of the beach certainly added some drama to the scene, making La Bocana look like California’s beaches as well, though at this point it had become a bit overcast so my photos aren’t that stunning.
There were also tons of crabs on the beach here that we stood around a watched, enthralled, for an embarrassing amount of time. Apart from that, the beach was nearly deserted, with only one or two restaurants open and a two guys trying to boogie board and surf.
On our last night in Huatulco, we ate even more seafood at the French local favorite La Terraza. While there, we met two sets of Americans who told us about their long-term love affair with Huatulco and how they still split their time between the US and Mexico… and how they were really looking to spend even more time in Mexico.
After four days of constant gorgeous weather, plentiful beaches, solid relaxation, and stuffing ourselves with fresh shrimp and fish, not to mention several cold beers and margs, I can’t say I blame them at all. They told us we were really lucky to have come before the tourist season, as the place takes on a whole different character. I just feel lucky to have learned about Huatulco at all. This exciting discovery, however, has only given me the desire to return to Mexico to explore even more.