THIS IS PART OF A SERIES ON THE FOOD, CULTURE, AND SIGHTS OF HUATULCO, MEXICO
Nearly a decade had passed since I visited Mexico as a bright-eyed college freshman intent on having an “authentic experience.” Even in my youth I wasn’t interested in tequila, partying, or diving off the cliffs of Acapulco–I wanted to know the real Mexico so I set off with a few brave friends (a few other friends declined because Mexico was much “too foreign” for their travel tastes) and spent nearly 2 weeks doing anything and everything we wanted. We wandered through open-air mercados, ate churros from the food stalls of crooked-spined abeulas whose kindly but weathered faces told a thousand stories, and we visited religious shrines and museums. That turned out to be the first of a few trips to our southern neighbor. I felt like a real adult and a bona-fide traveler and that desire to experience a country’s real culture and eschew activities deemed too touristy would become the blueprint to the way I traveled for the rest of my life.
As I got older and started traveling more, people would suggest from time to time that I return to Mexico but having developed a taste for travel that took me further than the confines of North America, I would always fabricate some excuse or another as I opted for what I felt were more exotic locales. In recent years, the American media kept me from even thinking about visiting Mexico again. I bought into the hype and imagined the country I had once freely roamed without a second thought about my safety now overrun with nefarious drug cartels and rampant crime. The nightly news told stories of ruthless coyotes (immigrant smugglers) who packed desperate illegals into trucks like cattle in the cover of night. As a woman who travels alone the majority of the time, to set foot in the country of Mexico would have certainly been akin to signing my own death warrant.
Or so I thought.
A recent invite from Apple Vacations to visit Huatulco (pronounced wah-TOOL-co), a tourist development in the state of Oaxaca, left me with mixed emotions. One on hand, I was excited at the thought of visiting a region of southern Mexico that was entirely unknown to me and conversely, I was nervous at the thought of visiting a region entirely unknown to me. I am a planner and over-thinker by nature so my first visit was not to a site like TripAdvisor or even Wikipedia–it was to the U.S. State Department’s website to research any active safety warnings for the area. I felt slightly ashamed when I discovered that there were no past or present warnings for Huatulco. Further research on vacation and travel sites revealed the loveliness and serenity of not only Huatulco but its surrounding areas.
Mexico, like the United States, is divided into states. Huatulco, whose name translates to “place where they worship the wood” (a reference to not only the ancient legend of an indestructable cross but also its jungle of deciduous trees like mahogany and cedar), is located on the Pacific coast in the state of Oaxaca. Huatulco’s tourism industry is centered on its nine bays thus the name Bahías de Huatulco which has since been unofficially truncated to the less cumbersome Huatulco. Huatulco has a wide variety of both inland and oceanview accommodations from rooms for rent, inexpensive hotels, luxury oceanfront villas, vacation condos as well as several luxury resorts resting on or near the shores of Tangolunda Bay. A local marina houses a number of vessels including the private yachts of the wealthy. Critics could make the argument that Huatulco is about as authentic as a fabricated boy band–after all, it is a man-made tourist development controlled and maintained entirely by the government agency known as FONATUR (Fondo Nacional De Fomento Al Turismo) which has implemented regularly scheduled street and beach clean-ups as well as the planting of palm trees (which are not indigenous to Huatulco) all along the development’s streets. Some might say it’s sort of a polished Mexican Disneyland–a shiny jewel presented to unwitting visitors to distract them from the terrors of the real Mexico. Critics can be silenced, however, by the fact that the surrounding neighborhoods and the town square offer a very real primer to everyday life in Mexico whose majority of streets are perfectly safe and free of the dangers of, say, Philadelphia. From mom-and-pop bodegas selling basic groceries to the neighborhood lavenderia (laundromat), there is definitely no pre-fabrication or pretense.
How frightening could an area known for its gorgeous waterfalls and bahías (bays), active coffee plantations, and luxury resorts be?
Turns out, not frightening at all. In fact, the scariest sight I witnessed was these guys:
Obviously, I’m not naive–I know that there is crime everywhere, but that’s the point–crime happens everywhere and that is no reason to limit yourself and refrain from seeing the world. Of course, you must be a smart traveler and remain diligent and not ignore basic safety tips like not accepting drinks from strangers, trusting your gut instincts (this is especially important for women), or being careful about going out alone at night. Again, these same rules could (and should) be applied when you’re anywhere–including U.S. cities.
The beaches, culture, and food of Huatulco are too enticing to ignore. In Part Two of this travel series, the cuisine of Huatulco will be explored as a cooking class with Chef Alfredo Patino of Cafe Juanita in La Crucecita is discussed in detail.
Disclosure: Flight and accomodations at Secrets Huatulco Resort & Spa were generously provided by Apple Vacations but in no way influenced this post. My thoughts are my own.