Text and photos by Mary L. Peachin
Vol. 16. No. 2
Edged by the foothills of the Sierra Madre, Huatúlco offers a stunning twenty mile Pacific Ocean landscape. Located between the Coyula and Copalita rivers in Mexico’s southwestern state of Oaxaca, the city spans nine bays and thirty six beaches. Four of these bays are uninhabited nature reserves.
Santa Cruz, Huatúlco’s principal bay, is best known as a port of call for cruise ships. Tangolunda’s, a Zapotec translation meaning “pretty woman” is also home to the majority of Huatúlco’s luxury hotels.
Our room at the Camino Real Zaashila, a Mexican hotel brand, was separated from the ocean front by an open patio edged with a blue mosaic plunge pool. Zaashila’s stark white Mediterranean architecture is situated on a hill towering above a private beach. Guests relax around a 180 yard free form swimming pool or lounge under beach-side palm thatched palapas. Vendors soft-peddle handicrafts, while at lunch time the more entreprenuial free dive nearby rocks to sell scallops, oysters, and lobster. Hospitable waiters offer food and libations all day.
In spite of a red warning flag, guests swim in the booming surf, cautiously entering and exiting. That was until strong wave action closed the beach.
Fonatur, the Mexico tourism company that built Cancun, Cabo San Lucas, and Loreto recently opened Parque Eco-Arquelógico Copalita. The Zapotec ruin, located ten miles from Huatúlco is restoring the pre-Hispanic ruins, including the Templo Mayor, believed to have been the home of the ruling class.
Archaeological remains uncovered date between 900 AC to 1000 AD, include a ball field located in the central portion of the property with a second one at the southernmost point. A sacrificial stone was discovered at cliff’s edge overlooking the coast. Other cultural attractions include remains of terraces, platforms, structures and rocks.
Outside of the town of Apanguito, Hagia Sofia is an agro-ecological development of more than 321 acres that include 400 planted stages with 100 species of fruit, vegetables and trees. There is also a variety of fauna, flora, and endemic species. The landscape is symbolized by a cross made from eight turtles aligned to resemble Mazunte, the small town that shelters a wide range of turtles. Historically, legion says that the turtles arrived from four cardinal points to mark the site of Hagia Sofia, a nature shrine.
Huatúlco bay activities include sport fishing, scuba diving, boat tours, and snorkeling. A winding drive leads to Cascadas or waterfalls where visitors can enjoy a cool dip. There is also shopping in the village of La Crucecita. Black pottery polished with opals from grey soil is one of the local crafts.
But, the highlight of Oaxaca is its unique culinary flavors. And, I kid you not, chapolines, the translation for grasshoppers, are collected by hand and preserved with salt and lime. They literally jump to the top of Oaxaca’s delicacy list. I could pass on them for breakfast, but when El Sabor de Oaxaca restaurant owner Guillermo Ugarte delivered a luncheon plateful served with homemade tortillas and lime, how could we resist the crunchy morsels? He informed us he buys the smallest chapolines for visitors, first-time connoisseurs like us. Oaxacans snack on them, like peanuts.
Tlayudas, a large tortilla layered with black beans, rich white Oaxaca cheese and lettuce is the region’s version of America’s pizza. Toppings vary from salsa, crushed leaves of an avocado tree, crumbled fried pork skin (chicharrones), chorizo (Mexican sausage spiced with chile), and grilled pork or meat strips. Oaxaca cheese is another delicacy found at most meals.
Oaxaca is most notably known for its seven flavors of mole. These rich, chocolaty sauces can include raisins, peanuts, plantains, cinnamon, and a variety of chilies. Named by color, they include red (rojo), black (negro) and green (verde). Mole is known for its sweet or savory flavor, and used as a sauce for meat, chicken, pork, tamales, or bean (frijoles) or cheese-covered (quesadilla) tortillas.
In Oaxaca, mescal, an alcohol produced from Espadín’s green agave, attempts to rival the well-known blue agave tequila from the state of Jalisco. Resting lazily at the bottom of each mescal bottle is either the heart of an agave or a worm (gusano).
Other Oaxaca specialties include the production of a clear vanilla which is considered more delicate than the darker variety. Diamant coffee, boasted as “world class,” is grown in Pluma Hidalgo. The beans reached Oaxaca by way of Vera Cruz and can be traced back to a 1790s Cuban origin. Prickly pear cactus pads or nopales are blended into scrambled eggs.
The city market of La Crucita features holistic remedies made from mescal, a variety of greens, scorpions, and garlic. Local fruits and vegetables are stacked high, including pineapples, mango, banana, avocado, tomatillos and chayote. Piles of tamarind candies tempt your sweet tooth. Tamales, wrapped in banana leaves, have a hint of cinnamon covered with the chocolate of mole sauce.
Corn, cuitlacoche, a fungus of its leaves are used for everything from tortillas to condiments.
Chocolateterapia carries Oaxaca’s love affair with chocolate into the spa. Mexicans adopted the pre-Hispanic Temazcal’s metate or mortar ground chocolate for use in therapeutic cleansing. Dreams Resort spa director Carlos Ochoa explains the process. “The body is exfoliated with a scrub of chocolate and mint. After showering to rinse the scrub, warm chocolate is applied. The body is wrapped while the head is massaged. A second shower is followed by a full body milk chocolate massage.” Delicious aromas and textures help to detoxify the body.
Huatúlco is isolated along the Pacific coastline. Its resorts are accessible by a single road with air service from Oaxaca City or Mexico City. It is a beach destination with a small village enjoyed primarily by Mexicans and Canadian. Its only U.S. gateway is a single flight from Houston. Huatúlco is not yet a full blown tourist destination.