Saturday, August 27, 2011

Insider's Guide to a Week in Huatulco

The nice folks at My Huatulco Vacation invited me to write a guest blog post for them, An Insider's Guide to a Week in Huatulco. Problem is, you really need at least TWO WEEKS to see and do everything!  Enjoy!

So you’ve arrived Paradise, aka Huatulco, and let’s face it, it is like no other place you have ever visited!

Whether your stay is in a condo, hotel or villa, the first thing to do is just stop for a moment and breathe in the wonderful tropical atmosphere. Lush palms, gardens cascading with bright flowers, flocks of parrots, the warm salty breeze, the rhythm of the ocean on the shore … this will be the magical backdrop for everything you do while you are in Huatulco.
Here is an insider’s guide to a week in Paradise. Many vacations run Saturday to Saturday, so that is when we begin. Here is the most important advice that I can offer: WEAR SUNSCREEN!
Saturday Evening:  Sunset cocktails are a ritual in paradises all over the world, and Huatulco is no exception. The lofty elegant SkyBar at the Quinta Real on Tangolunda Bay or Xitric on the breakwater in Santa Cruz are definitely recommended.  Saturday night is a fun night to visit La Crucecita where the zocalo, or central park, with its soaring huayacan trees, is the centre of all the action. Courting couples, strolling musicians, art displays, craft sellers and indigenous artisans provide lots of local color. Want to try some Oaxacan cuisine? Sabor de Oaxaca is just a block off the zocalo, a bit upscale and well known for its traditional black mole and Oaxacan specialties.
Sunday is a great time to hit the beach, and this is when the choice gets tough. If you like to snorkel, I recommend Maguey or Entrega; if surfing is your thing, then La Bocana is your best and closest choice, and is also the home of Bocana Surf School where you can rent a board and take a few lessons. Sunday afternoon, however, should be reserved for Finca de Vaqueros in La Bocana. Mexico’s great ranch expanses have spawned a whole caballero or “cowboy” culture and Los Vaqueros is a cowboy bar/restaurant of the finest order. Our standard fare is charros (delicious beans in a tomato sauce), and a “mixta”  platter that includes arrachera (marinated steak), chorizo, ribs, and quail. All of these savory treats are accompanied by tender tortillas and an array of delicious salsas. A chunky onion condiment is my favourite. This is a great place try your first shot of legendary mescal. The beer is cold and the singing is smooth. Oh, didn’t I mention the singing? The owners have great crooning voices and are wonderful crowd pleasers. Wind up the evening with a beach stroll or amble around the zocalo in Crucecita.

Monday, I definitely recommend a bay tour to orient yourself to the 9 bays and 36 beaches that comprise the area known as Bahias de Huatulco.  Charters are available, or there are many catamaran tours out of Santa Cruz which include beverages, guided snorkelling and a stop for lunch. Maguey Beach is great for snorkelling, and boasts a number of palapa style beach restaurants, but our personal pick is Ay! Caray!, where the fish is fresh and delicious and  the beer is icy cold. This is a long day on the water, and you will probably be a bit tired, so make it a pizza night, and early to bed. There is a surprising Italian presence on the Oaxacan coast (due to a cult sixties Italian movie filmed close by), and the pizza is excellent at quite a few restaurants in town. La Crema, that funky throwback to the sixties with its head shop and batik bedspread ceiling, serves up crispy thin crust pizza from its wood-fired traditional domed pizza oven. Mamma Mia and Rigoletto offer pizza and other Italian specialties, in a slightly more traditional setting.  Sleep well.

Tuesday is market day in Huatulco, and truck loads of produce arrive from the Oaxaca Valley. Local mountain farmers come to town and spread their wares on blankets on the sidewalk, and locals stock up on fresh fruits and vegetables. This is a good day to walk the streets of town and do a little shopping. You won’t be taking papayas back on the plane, but a hand made rug or bedspread might do the trick. Follow your ears – that clackity clack you hear are the looms for which Oaxaca is famous. The weavers’ feet literally dance across the loom’s foot pedals, creating intricately patterned rugs and textiles. While you are immersed in all things Oaxacan today, it might be the right time to indulge in what I consider the quintessential Mexican dish. Restaurant Santa Clara specializes in traditional Mexican cuisine, including Chiles en Nogada. Because it displays all the colors of the Mexican flag, it is a nationally celebrated dish – the green poblano chile is stuffed with a mixture of ground meat and dried fruits and spices, it is then smothered in a creamy white walnut sauce, and scattered with ruby red pomegranate seeds.

Wednesday is a great adventure day – I am sure you are feeling confident and are ready to explore more of this amazing coastline and the scenic southern Sierra Madres. Last year six of us did a challenging 22km raft trip with Aventura Mundo, which is probably the most experienced tour company in the area. Thirty- five Class IV rapids later, we arrived exhilarated and safely at our destination. These guys also do bike tours and combination iguana farm and low key river tours. Come evening, check local English language newspaper Huatulco Eye events calendar. There are lots of things to do, but tonight might be your lucky night. Once a month in high season, on a Wednesday, Amigos de la Musica, a local non profit arts group, sponsors an outdoor concert. The ever changing program brings some of the finest Latin American classical musicians to Huatulco, and this is definitely THE evening to dress up a little and rub elbows with some very interesting people. Get ready for a truly magical experience!

A day in a botanical paradise is a must for Thursday. Hagia Sofia is a 130 hectare agro-ecological development only about an hour from Huatulco, in the foothills of the Sierra Madres. Swim in the grotto, eat fruit right from the trees, this is probably what Eden looked like. From beehives to earthworms, it is an evolving example of sustainable agriculture and deep respect for the planet. Make arrangements when you arrive in Huatulco so you don’t miss out. After a rustic day in the mountains, it is probably a good night for a fancier dinner out. Caf√© Viena is one of Huatulco’s few fine dining restaurants, and is the most personality driven of them all. That means FUN! Manfred is the front of house consummate professional and Helmut mans a kitchen that produces a myriad of fusion dishes – Austrian/Mexican/Thai. Lively, a great pour, delicious food – that’s fusion at its finest.

Friday – oops only a day left… How about visiting one of the beaches that caught your eye while you were on your bay tour earlier in the week? But this time, do it on a jet ski. Huatulco Water Sports is a professional bilingual company renowned for their ski/snorkel trips. Luis, the owner/operator has even been known to jump off and catch a lazy fish sunning on top of the water! Or, take a snorkel or dive tour on one of Huatulco’s best dive charter boats, Sam’s Town, with Gravity Sports Divers. Friday night, put on your dancing flip flops and shake it up with the band.  Hemingway’s Cantina in La Crucecita has live music, an extensive menu, yummy fruity cocktails and a great selection of mescal. You’ll probably see me there!

Saturday morning – this is your last morning in Paradise, at least for a little while – I know that you have had such an amazing time that you will come back as soon as possible. On this last day, take your final,  lazy swim in the ocean, walk the beach, drink a refreshing juice or smoothie, and pack your suitcase full of amazing memories to take home. See you soon!

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