Huatulco’s marketing problem, as a friend reminded me, is that there is no actual town called Huatulco. Nine bays, 36 beaches, small towns, and over 20 miles of coastline make up Huatulco (formerly known as Bahias de Huatulco). There are nice roads, clean beaches, rules about overfishing, and you can even drink the tap water. At night with the hotel lights off I laid on the ground and watched the stars— some of them shooting, all clustered and bright—for at least an hour. I also had a few conversations with the potted cacti and ate a lot of ice cream that night, but I can guarantee the sky is crystal clear regardless of what state your mind is in.
Huatulco had all the benefits of a clean, well-cared for resort town without feeling like we were in a resort town. Yes, there are two big hotels and our B&B was in a weirdly empty government-developed gated community. But the streets were clear of tourists in mid-January and contrary to a lot of beach cities in Mexico, you can go downtown and still feel like most of it is meant for the people who live there. A car is a must if you want to explore.
San Agustin de las Flores
On our way from San Agustinillo to Huatulco we stopped at a bay about 3 kilometers down a dirt road from the highway, passing a village and rows of palm trees. We were told to get fruit on the way in, and sure enough there were stands practically overflowing with mangoes, their yellow skin fading to an almost orange-pink. I love mangoes, and we grabbed a huge cup of cut up pieces for 10 pesos (he insisted on making a fresh one too). As if announcing the surreal beauty of the turquoise bathtub we were about to spend all day lounging in, we passed a peacock right after the mango stand.
The bay is surrounded by restaurants, mostly visited by Mexican tourists and locals, and arriving is like a Mexican beach version of Grand Theft Auto. There are several forks in the road with different restaurant names on wood signs pointing in opposite directions. Unless someone has given you a specific restaurant name, there’s no way you would know which way to turn. I kept thinking we would finally come to a fork with one sign and a creepy haunted house at the end, but we fared much better. Once you pull in, you are basically at the back of the restaurants and will be waved down by hustlers. Feel free to park and take a look at what the restaurant has to offer. Go for a crowded one if you want to eat. You can also rent snorkel equipment from a bunch of them. We just grabbed a few beers and this expensive piña en una piña drink that attracted all the bees in the area and stung us. Don’t order that. Do hang out in the bay all day.
At the beach ten minutes from our hotel we were gloriously alone until another couple wandered down. General announcement: Don’t plant your umbrella anywhere near the one other couple at the beach when you have an entire mile-long sandy beach to yourselves. We are obviously trying to get naked.
But then there were fishermen. Two dudes grabbing what looked like cockroaches from the side of the rocks. They were called lengua de perro (dog tongue), and they told us we could get some prepared in Copalita. So off we went.
Copalita is known for an archaeological park, which is not excavated enough to be worth a visit if you only have a day or two to explore the area. Apparently we found it more worthwhile to stop at several restaurants along the highway asking where we could find some dog’s tongue. We finally found a palapa restaurant next to a river bank, the two fridges of beers and sodas looking remarkably frosty for the jungle-thick heat, dirt roads and wild chickens surrounding us. It’s called Restaurante Prehispanico, just ask for it. There we met an expat chef with a thick Chicago accent now in the farming business and his very drunk friend (and his caguama of Victoria).
I had some bangin garlic shrimps and Josh found his dog tounge, the young chef graciously showing him how she shucked and prepared them. They taste a little like abalone, look like a little curled tounge and are typically eaten in a ceviche or coctel.
For dining before or after the beach head to La Crucecita, home to the biggest virgin in Mexico. Seriously, it’s a twenty-meter Virgin de Guadalupe painted on the ceiling of the church.
La Crucecita has a small downtown centered around a plaza that fills up at night with families, teenagers breakdancing under the gazebo, and a few food carts.
El Grillo Marinero
For a decent seafood dinner at a family-run place, El Grillo Marinero has all your standard food in these parts. We had a whole snapper, coctel, garlic shrimp, and hilariously, another whole fish in the bright red caldo de pescado. They do fishing trips too.
Xocitil at the Market
The Crucecita market has tons of stalls for gifts and a number of options to eat a cheap lunch or breakfast. Among all the hawkers at the mostly empty food stalls, I was convinced by one of the señoras who referred to Josh as “mi amor” multiple times. Then a few other people passed by and they were her new amores. But her chilaquiles were good, made with green tomatillo salsa to order. The breakfast specials including juice, coffee, fruit and a main are like $60 pesos. Behind us a family had a glass pitcher of green juice with their meal. The wonderful thing about Mexico is that you don’t have to go to an exclusive, expensive place just to get a fresh juice.
Juice at Kiwi
However, if you do want the full experience of a juice bar, Kiwi is where it’s at. It had been a full five days since we left LA so it’s even a surprise we made it alive without our daily juice (I am being sarcastic in case anyone is worried I have been spending too much time in LA). Kiwi has tons of different combinations with nutritional information for each one. I had an orange, guava and alfalfa combo. They also have tortas. I have been waiting forever for someone to open a torta and juice spot in Oakland so I may need to go back and talk some business with Kiwi.
Ice Cream at Zamora
Here you can pick a popsicle or an ice cream and get it covered in chocolate and a topping. I went for an arroz con leche popsicle with chocolate and almonds. It hurt my stomach but it was my last day in Mexico and I was panicking about not eating everything. This place is right on the corner of the plaza, so you can grab a cone and take a stroll around the park.
Restaurante El Coral
For a place where locals go head to El Coral. It was our last night and I hadn’t had my mole fill. El Coral looked closed but they beckoned us in and chatted with us all night. The owner makes her own mole and the waiter/bartender makes a decent margarita.
On the first and third Saturdays the Parque de Santa Cruz fills up with vendors from around the area with honey, chocolate, moles, seeds and plants, body products and other interesting things made and grown organically. It’s one of the bigger organic markets I’ve seen in Mexico with some fantastic products. This is a great place to get gifts, although many of the prices are set for the tourists or expats that frequent the market (but the bee pollen is still a steal, stock up y’all!) I had a passion fruit agua fresca, a banana leaf wrapped tamale with mole negro and a lot of chocolate.
Still, across the street might be my favorite attraction. There you’ll find a husband and wife team selling tacos, mostly guisados and breakfast fillings, from the back of their cherry red station wagon. Grab a ticket from her in the backseat and give them to him to redeem a taco. Market runs from 9 am to 2 pm.
Barra de la Cruz
Huatulco is mostly made up of bays, so if you like a wave Barra de la Cruz is a your spot and it’s fairly empty. You’ll be greeted by a super quiet village, cabins that cater to surfers, and a well kept beach that costs a few pesos to enter. On the beach there’s one palapa with a limited menu but plenty of beers.
A temezcal is a Mayan sweat lodge, typically accompanied by a purifying ceremony. This place is too cheesy for a spiritual experience, but for the $30 price I can’t hate on the recorded Mayan drumming and plastic aromatherapy blankets. Once you strip to your bathing suit, you’ll be put through a series of spa treatments: first the sweat lodge, with a series of breathing and movement instructions (my favorite), the aromatherapy where you are wrapped in a plastic blanket and serenated with prehispanic instruments, the exfoliation, where you lather yourself in clay, then tea, and a massage. My skin felt great afterwards. Tip: go earlier in the day to avoid the loud classic rock from the Camelot-themed pub next door competing with the rainstick meditation. Or not. It was pretty funny.
We loved Agua Azul la Villa. Each of the rooms have a balcony overlooking a bay, it’s nicely decorated with Oaxacan ceramics and textiles, and the owners will give you instructions to walk to a virgin beach ten minutes away.
We took a 12-passanger flight with AeroTucan from Oaxaca city that was super smooth and the view—from what felt like just above the mountains—was spectacular. We then flew from there back to Mexico City. Tar airlines just launched a new route for $60 from Oaxaca city each way. Flying is much shorter than driving, but I’ve heard that the puddle jumpers can be choppy rides. If you are taking a bus or driving please be aware that it is several hours of windy roads, anyone that gets car sick should avoid. If you are short on time but have a little extra cash, I would recommend flying.