Mexico Beaches, Bioluminescent Waters, and Charming Hotels Make This Underrated Destination a Top Pick

Mexico Beaches, Bioluminescent Waters, and Charming Hotels Make This Underrated Destination a Top Pick
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You can plan the perfect trip to Huatulco if you're a surfer, a nature lover, or a foodie.

Mexico's Huatulco region is not so much a destination as it is a region. Bahas de Huatulco, or Bays of Huatulco, is the name of this rocky region along the rugged Oaxacan coast. Located along the southern coastline of Mexico's state of Oaxaca, this popular resort destination is carved out of nine bays. They each have their own energy and vibe, but together they form an excellent starting point for exploring the rest of the wild, untamed coastline of Oaxaca.

With golden crescent-shaped beaches, dense groves of languidly swaying palm trees, and the green Sierra Madre del Sur and Sierra Madre de Oaxaca mountains in the background, Bahas de Huatulco has always had an undulating coastline. By bus, travelers reach the mountain capital of Oaxaca City via a zigzag highway that zips up the rocky face.

Despite this, Bahas de Huatulco is relatively new in terms of resort destinations. As with Cancun in Quintana Roo and Ixtapa in Guerrero, the monument was built about four decades ago by Mexico's National Tourism Fund. However, Huatulco lacks luxury shopping malls and high-rise hotels similar to Cancun and Ixtapa. Rather, the vibe here is more low-key, with large swaths of land still protected to preserve the lush jungle. 

Following the construction of highways down the mountains from Oaxaca City and up the coast to fishing village-turned-surf mecca Puerto Escondido, it was decided that Bahias de Huatulco would be spread across nine different bays, with 36 beautiful beaches, resorts, restaurants, boutiques, and extensive outdoor activities. Santa Cruz, Chahué, Tangolunda, Conejos, San Agustin, Chachacual, Cacaluta, Maguey, and Argano are just a few of the bays of Huatulco.

From surfers and backpackers to nature lovers, foodies and sailors to those who never need more than a book and a chaise lounge by the pool, it attracts everyone today. From here, you can explore some of Oaxaca's wilder side, including the many national parks, bioluminescent bays, and bohemian beachside villages.

Traveling to Huatulco

Courtesy of A Taste for Travel 

In spite of being situated on one of Mexico's less traveled coasts, Bahas de Huatulco has excellent transportation connections. Flying into the Bahas de Huatulco International Airport is the most convenient way to get there. Dallas, Chicago, Toronto, Calgary, Edmonton, and Vancouver also offer seasonal direct flights from Mexico City, Tijuana, and Oaxaca.

You can also take the ADO bus down through the mountains from Oaxaca City. Approximately 10 to 12 hours of sharp switchbacks at heart-pounding speeds make up the journey. Although the buses have wide, plush seats that recline, you can rest assured that they are safe and comfortable. The mountain village of San José del Pac?fico is a great stopover for a completely different perspective of Oaxaca. You can rent a wood cabin overlooking the mountains and forest for a completely different experience.

The best places to eat, stay, and play in Huatulco

Bahia de Santa Cruz. Courtesy of Expedia 

Among the nine bays of Huatulco, there are 36 beaches, and there is plenty to do off the beaches. Various bars and cantinas spill live music into the streets when sailboats and catamarans pull in and out of the marinas. There are also all-inclusive resorts and condominiums for rent on other islands. Then there are those that are sleepy at best, with palapa-covered seafood shacks, a toes-in-the-sand vibe, and no cell service. Most visitors stay in Bahia de Santa Cruz, Baha Chahue, and Baha Tangolunda, unless they want to go off the beaten path. Many travelers make La Crucecita their home base if they aren't staying in an all-inclusive resort on the beach.

La Crucecita

Courtesy of Escapadas 

La Crucecita, although not technically a bay, is one of the main driving forces behind Huatulco. Located between Baha Chahue and Baha de Santa Cruz. Generally speaking, La Crucecita is the primary meeting place for the Bahías de Huatulco. Many local boutique hotels are located here, as well as the majority of tour offices, restaurants, and bars. Travelers can easily walk between the bays and beaches, and taxis are readily available to transport them there and back. Huatulco National Park, which consists of tropical jungle, dry forest, and marine park, can also be reached from La Crucecita. In addition to kayaking, bird-watching, hiking, and horseback riding, it is a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve.

The best places to eat and drink in La Crucecita

As a result of having backpacker bars slinging cheap mezcal shots and refined haute Mexican cuisine on air-conditioned patios, La Crucecita caters to a wide range of tastes. In Rocoto, for instance, you'll find fresh seafood infused with traditional Mexican flavors and a surprising Asian twist, like tuna poke and mango Thai curry.

If you're looking for succulent and hearty moles of all colors, El Sabor de Oaxaca is the place to go. Plates of stringy Oaxacan cheese, crispy tlayudas, and bean-smothered sopes swirl on terra-cotta tiles beneath colorful tables.

A rasta-inspired decor, washed aglow with black lights, makes La Crema Bar the perfect place to blend in with the backpacker scene. Nightly live music, strong drinks, and a lengthy menu of affordable and tasty pizzas lure people in.

At Agave, you'll find a healthy, juice-forward restaurant that serves healthy smoothies, cold-pressed juices, and acai bowls.

The best places to eat and drink in Bahía de Santa Cruz, Bahía Chahue, and Bahía Tangolunda

Marina Chahue. Courtesy of Expedia 

Visitors are drawn to Marina Chahue by the mobile Marea Alta's stunning views of the marina from its entrance. The menu of delightfully fresh seafood, however, keeps them coming back.

The marinated flank steak, grilled sausages, and heaps of sides at Finca de Vaqueros are sure to satisfy steak lovers. Whether you want a taste of everything or a taste of everything, the parrillada offers it all.

Playa Santa Cruz's Ve El Mar has become nothing short of an institution after three decades. The restaurant's all-day menu includes succulent dishes such as chilaquiles, grilled octopus, fresh ceviche, and a whole fish that could feed a small army.

Its entire menu is based on the southern Oaxaca culinary heritage from the Isthmus of Tehuantepec (corn tamales, fried chicken with onions and potatoes, garnachas topped with meat, cheese, and pickled cabbage). Vermillion-splashed walls and paintings depicting scenes from traditional Oaxacan life adorn the walls of this restaurant.

Accommodations in La Crucecita, Santa Cruz Bay, Chahue Bay, and Tangolunda Bay

You can find dozens of charming boutique hotels within walking distance of all the activity in La Crucecita if you don't mind forgoing beachfront resorts. Located just a few blocks from the main square, Mission de los Arcos is a classic option. Many of the bright rooms have small terraces, and they range from standard to junior suites. You can't beat the location and comfort of the rooms for the price, even though it's not exactly five-star luxury.

In order to stay beachfront, or at least overlooking the water, you may want to consider a resort near Bahía Chahue, Bahía Tangolunda, or Bahía de Santa Cruz. A picture-perfect stretch of golden sand greets guests at Dreams Huatulco Resort & Spa. All of the hotel's 421 rooms have balconies and plenty of natural light. Whirlpools and ocean views are available in some rooms. The facility also has six pools, including three with infinity edges. With chaise lounges shaded by thatched palapas, the beach is one of the resort's most popular features.

Quinta Bella Huatulco. Courtesy of 

With 44 rooms, seven restaurants, an oceanfront spa, and a full-service fitness center, Quinta Bella Huatulco sits atop the sugary stretch of Playa Chahue. Despite being closer to the beach than the beach itself, Quinta Bella is a short five-minute ride away from it. 

Quinta Real Huatulco, an elegant beach resort, overlooks Playa Tangolunda. It has 27 rooms and spectacular ocean views, with lofty dome tops and handmade palapas. The hotel is not directly on the beach - a shuttle provides service - but the rooms are stunning, with marble bathrooms and hot tubs for relaxation. Private pools are even available in some rooms.

While technically located in Bahia de Santa Cruz, Hotel Binniguenda Huatulco is much closer to La Crucecita. With 77 guest rooms, numerous restaurants, a private beach club, and a spa, this all-inclusive resort offers something for everyone.

Beaches and bays in Huatulco

Although there are some mainstays and more popular areas in Bahias de Huatulco, none of them are particularly far away. Getting from beach to beach is easy with safe, affordable taxis. Bahia San Agustin, for example, is little more than a few seafood shacks and modest accommodations on an undeveloped stretch of gorgeous beachfront. There are no signature services here unless all you want is a plate of superbly fresh ceviche and a cold beer. 

In spite of being one of the furthest away from La Crucecita, a taxi ride still costs roughly $5 US. Make sure you mention you're going to the public beach, not the Secrets resort. One of the most beautiful beaches in all of Oaxaca can be reached via an unpaved path. There aren't many services here, but its undeveloped ruggedness makes it one of the most beautiful places in the region.

Puerto Escondido. Courtesy of Expedia 

Beach towns and natural attractions along Highway 200 are certainly magical if you have the time and energy to explore them. A bohemian-chic crowd continues to flock to towns such as Mazunte and Zipolite for their beachfront restaurants, crystal shops, yoga studios, tattoo parlors, and juice bars. 

Puerto Escondido, two hours from Huatulco, started as a bare-bones fishing village and is on its way to becoming one of the next hot spots for design hotels, gastronomy, and nightlife.

Nature lovers can explore remote national parks like Lagunas de Chacahua National Park and the mangrove canals of Laguna de Manialtepec beyond Puerto Escondido. Other natural wonders include the Bioluminescent Bay of Laguna de Manialtepec, which is known for its bioluminescent bay.

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