A bit of Old Mexico comes alive in a new resort destination

Huatulco – Paradise on the Pacific Two days in Huatulco, Mexico and I have already learned how to count in Spanish — sort of. Our family is staying in a small Mexican hotel where very few of the staff can speak or understand English.

Hotel Castillo Huatulco has a fantastic beach club on one of the best beaches in the area. With the far southerly location

Hotel Castillo Huatulco has a fantastic beach club on one of the best beaches in the area. With the far southerly location

Huatulco – Paradise on the Pacific

Two days in Huatulco, Mexico and I have already learned how to count in Spanish — sort of. Our family is staying in a small Mexican hotel where very few of the staff can speak or understand English. Out of necessity, we have all learned to say our room numbers in Spanish.

Counting in Spanish has also proven useful when negotiating with vendors in the local craft markets.

Although some travellers find language barriers frustrating, it’s one of the things I like best about Huatulco (pronounced wha-tool-koh). Unlike many Mexican beach destinations where English-speaking Americans and Canadians outnumber locals, Huatulco is an undiscovered gem that is more popular with Mexican vacationers than it is with Canadians.

There’s no mistaking which country you are in when you visit this destination.

Part of the reason this idyllic spot on the far south of Mexico’s Pacific Coast is relatively unknown is the fact that it has only been in existence for a little more than 20 years. The pristine area surrounding Huatulco’s nine bays and 36 km of golden sand beaches is being developed as an eco-friendly resort destination, the first of its kind in the country. Estimates prior to the recession put completion of the development at around 2020.

Some say Huatulco is not the “real Mexico” because it is a town constructed specifically to be a tourism destination. But those who have moved to this region to find employment have brought with them a rich Mexican culture and charm that you can feel when you wander the streets or shop in the markets. The nearby village of La Crucecita adds history and culture to the mix.

As the sun rises on our third day in Huatulco, we wait inside the lobby of our hotel for a man named Gilligan to arrive. Today I have booked a fishing excursion and our guide is picking us up and walking us over to his boat at the nearby marina.

Our teenage daughter is not interested in fishing, so I will just stand on the docks and watch as the boat pulls away and watch again as they return with their days’ catch.

Relaxing on the beach, fishing, exploring the bays, snorkelling, shopping in the markets, visiting the marina in Santa Cruz or the main square of La Crucecita seem to be primary activities in Huatulco.

If you are looking for someplace to spend a week in the sun doing very little besides escaping Old Man Winter, there’s no doubt this sunny spot fits the bill.

Perhaps that is why so many Mexican vacationers spend time here. It is taking just a little bit longer for other North Americans to realize that Huatulco is a paradise on the Pacific.

If you go:

•l Huatulco means “the place where wood is adored” in the Mixtecca language. The resort area is located 500 km south of Acapulco on the Pacific Coast, so you can almost count on the weather to be very sunny and hot. The area receives only about 40 days of rain per year and is noted for its abundant marine life.

• Several airlines offer service to Huatulco from the Canada, but Sunwing Airlines offers weekly direct flights on Tuesdays from Calgary or Edmonton to Huatulco. You can purchase air and all-inclusive hotel packages through Sunwing Vacations or their sister company Signature Vacations. A one-week all-inclusive stay starts at about $695 plus tax per person. For reservations or pricing, contact your travel agent or visit: www.sunwing.ca.

• During our visit, we stayed at the Hotel Castillo Huatulco. The Castillo is rated as a three star property by Signature Vacations, because it is not directly on the beach. Although it is not located directly on the beach, it has a great beach club with a free shuttle that runs every half hour. The service was good, the food is tasty and the resort is very Mexican, which can be a plus or minus depending upon whether you get easily frustrated by language barriers.

Travelling safe in Mexico

Thousands of Canadian tourists visit Mexico every year, but recent issues relating primarily to drug violence have some vacationers wondering if Mexico is still a safe vacation spot. Fortunately, the major tourist destinations in Mexico remain unaffected by the recent problems.

Whenever you are considering a trip outside Canada, it is always a good idea to consult the Canadian Consular affairs website (www.voyage.gc.ca) to see if they have issued any warnings or offer any travel advice for visitors to the destination you are considering.

With regard to Mexico, most major tourist areas are not affected by the deteriorating security situation in the country. It is highly recommended that travellers to these tourist destinations travel to Mexico by air. Travelling by land, especially in the northern border regions is not recommended due to high levels of violence linked to drug trafficking in those areas. Shootouts, illegal roadblocks, attacks and carjackings are also a concern in these border areas. High levels of criminal activity, as well as occasional demonstrations and protests, remain a concern throughout the country.

If you are travelling to one of the beach areas that are not affected by the above warning, here are a few general safety tips:

• Visit the International Travel Clinic (403-356-6400) prior to departing for your trip. They can advise you on any shots and health safety tips for your destination. For Mexico and other sunny beach destinations, they may recommend you get a Hepatitis A and B vaccination.

l Warnings posted on swimming conditions at beaches should be taken seriously. There are not always lifeguards on hand if you run into problems. You can also ask hotel staff which beaches are safe for swimming.

• Be aware of your surroundings at all times. Carry only small amounts of cash and do not wear expensive jewellery or watches as this can make you become a target for crime. Leave your passport and valuables in your hotel safe. Pack your jewellery in your carry-on luggage and not in checked baggage. Keep your credit card in sight while paying and withdraw money from ATMs or banks during daylight hours if possible. Avoid walking after dark alone in deserted or unpopulated areas.

• Water-borne and food-borne diseases are prevalent in Mexico. Purify tap water or buy bottled water, and avoid ice cubes. Fruits and vegetables washed in tap water should be disinfected, peeled, or cooked. Purchase only reliably pasteurized and refrigerated products. Choose restaurants carefully. Avoid consuming food or beverages sold by street vendors.

Debbie Olsen is a Lacombe-based freelance writer. If you have a travel story you would like to share or know someone with an interesting travel story that we might interview, please email: DOGO@telusplanet.net or write to: Debbie Olsen, c/o Red Deer Advocate, 2950 Bremner Ave., Red Deer, Alta., T4R 1M9.