Things to Do in Huatulco
In 1998 this national park, which spans tens of thousands of acres of Oaxaca countryside, was declared a protected area and later designated as a UNESCO Biosphere reserve. As a result, Huatulco National Park has become a destination for travelers looking to get back to nature and spot rare species of animals and birds that exist nowhere else in the world.
Exhaustive conservation efforts have preserved the ecosystems of the tropical forests, mangroves, coral reefs and wetlands that make up this park. Visitors agree the park’s untouched beauty makes it worth a trip and easy access from nearby Cruz Huatulco means it a breeze to get to. Despite easy access this crystal blue bay manages to remain untouched. So whether it’s charting a boat to snorkel, dive, or fish in the pristine surrounding waters, or lounging on one of the deserted beaches, Huatulco National Park offers visitors a chance to experience the country as it used to be.
Maguey Bay (Bahía Maguey) is an easily accessible bay with a popular beach of the same name. A handful of busy seafood shacks line the beach, and visitors can sip cold beers on patio chairs, or splash around in the bay’s calm, clear waters. You’ll find lots of amenities here, too, as Maguey tends to be one of Huatulco’s busier bays.
Zipolite, or Playa Zipolite, is a beach community that is often referred to as Mexico’s hippie haven. This 1.5-kilometer stretch of beach seems lost in time with its slow pace of life. The beach is divided into several areas—the eastern end is called Colonia Playa del Amor, the central part is Centro and the western end is Colonia Roca Blanca. There is really only one main street in Zipolite: Avenida Roca Blanca, or El Adoquín. It was once the only paved road in Zipolite, but three residential area streets are now paved as well.
Don’t expect the party zone like you find in other parts of Mexico like Cancun, but visitors can take part in the surfing, a major draw to Zipolite. You won’t find high-rise hotels or large fancy restaurants with huge fishbowl-style drinks, but instead, look for the main street for a carnival atmosphere in the evenings, with artists, musicians and street vendors making an appearance.
Colonia Roca Blanca is really the central neighborhood in Zipolite and was named after the large, white rock just offshore. The area has grown but still attracts crowds of yoga gurus, surfers and musicians that pass through town. During high season, the area’s small bars and nightclubs see more activity.
Zipolite’s beach is pristine with clear water and golden sands. You may recognize it from the Mexican blockbuster film “Y tu mamá también.” While swimming is allowed, it is not always recommended due to strong waves and undertow.
Chachacual Bay (Bahía Chachacual) is just half a mile (one kilometer) long, but its world-class snorkeling, impressive birdlife, and serene setting continue to attract travelers to its sunny shores. This tiny bay in Huatulco is best reached by boat and still relatively untouched, making it the perfect destination for those seeking a bit more privacy.
Órgano Bay (Bahía Órgano) is an isolated stretch of beach just south of Santa Cruz in Mexico. Recommended for travelers who want to get away from it all, it’s an ideal spot for snorkeling and diving with calm, clear blue-green water and several interesting rock formations. Organo Bay is very near Maguey Bay, but not as popular or easy to access.
Still relatively unknown to tourists, the Copalita Ecological Park and Ruins (Parque Eco Arqueológico Copalita) sit on the shores of the Pacific Ocean in the Huatulco resort area. Remnants of pyramids, temples, a ball court, and a pre-Hispanic lighthouse dot the lush landscape of the archaeological park, which also includes a massive stone believed to have once been used in sacrifices.
Cacaluta Bay is the largest and least accessible of the Huatulco bays. This heart-shaped Oaxacan inlet, which served as a stunning backdrop to the blockbuster Mexican film Y Tu Mamá También, has good snorkeling just a short swim from shore. Its serene setting offers a nice alternative to the noise and excitement of Santa Cruz Bay.
In September 1991, in response to the dwindling numbers and near extinction of many turtle species, the Mexican government banned the trade of sea turtles and created the Mexican Turtle Center, or Centro Mexicano de la Tortuga.
The 10-acre center, located in the town of Mazunte near Zipolite, is home to various varieties of sea turtles, fresh water turtles and even some land turtles. Some of the species of sea turtle you can find at the center include green turtles, hawksbill, leatherbacks and olive ridley turtles.
The center is located nearby to what used to be the Mazunte region’s turtle slaughterhouse, making reuse of the area in a constructive manner. The main exhibition contains 13 aquariums showcasing sea turtles through various stages of their development, and other aquariums feature the six freshwater species and two land-based species.
There is also a botanical garden on site featuring local cacti. The garden is dedicated to Dra. Helia Bravo Hollis, in honor of her 62 years of researching the cacti. The center also has a multi-purpose room and a cafeteria and gift shop.
Ventanilla, or La Ventanilla, is an estuary of the Tonameca River, and is an important ecological area on the Oaxacan coast. A small village is also located here, surrounded by mangroves and the birds and animals that call them home. La Ventanilla gets its name “the window” from a large rock formation on the beach. The huge rock juts out on the coast, featuring a small “window” that looks out to the sea.
Back in the 1990s La Ventanilla was just a stretch of undeveloped beach with a coconut plantation. Three families lived in the area, despite no electricity until nearly 2000. Today, there are approximately 25 Zapotec families that have settled in the area. These inhabitants have established crocodile farms, where they monitor and raise them, setting them free once the reptiles are able to survive on their own. The villagers also work on reforesting the mangroves, with over 30,000 mangroves already replanted.
Visitors to Ventanilla typically journey on a canoe through the mangroves, looking for crocodiles in their natural habitat, along with birds and other reptiles that call Ventanilla home. In addition to exploring Ventanilla via canoe, horseback rides along the beach are also popular. Depending on the time of year, look for sea turtles and dolphins that frequent the area to feed on crustaceans and microorganisms. They are more abundant during a rainy season phenomenon known as “broken bars,” when the sea meets the lagoon.
Home to fewer than 100 people—mostly fishermen—San Agustin Bay (Bahía San Agustín) has no electricity or running water. The bay itself is known for its prime snorkeling opportunities. Visitors head into the ocean straight from the shore and are immediately surrounded by schools of tropical fish, coral plates, crabs, snails, bivalves, and sea urchins.
More Things to Do in Huatulco
Home to Huatulco’s harbor, Santa Cruz Bay (Bahía Santa Cruz) is located just minutes from La Crucecita and offers shops, restaurants, hotels, and easily accessible beaches. It’s the jumping-off point for boat tours of Huatulco’s bays, or for hiring small fishing boats to visit some of the coast's more remote spots.
La Crucecita sits just inland from Santa Cruz Bay on the coast of Oaxaca. Originally built as the service town for the Huatulco resort area, today La Crucecita has an authentic atmosphere draws that visitors from the beaches to its lively streets. Highlights include a traditional market, a historic church, specialty shops, and restaurants.
Luxurious all-inclusive resorts and private beachfront villas line the rocky cliffs ofTangolunda Bay (Bahía Tangolunda) in Huatulco. Some of the big names that you’ll find here include Dreams, Barcelo, and Las Brisas. It’s a top choice for those wanting to stay right on the bay, and the endless stretches of sandy shores are perfect for early morning walks.
Get a first-hand look at the process of turning fresh coffee berries into a cup of aromatic brew at Finca La Gloria. This family-owned coffee plantation in the Sierra Madre de Oaxaca is known for its fertile green farms and butterfly sanctuary. Here you can tour the working coffee farm and sample high-quality organic blends straight from the roaster.
Copalita River, or Río Copalita, is a river in Huatulco that is popular with surfers and river rafters. During Huatulco’s rainy season from May to October, the Copalita River swells, becoming an ideal spot for river rafting excursions. Río Copalita empties into the ocean several miles northeast of Tangolunda. On the beach, you are likely to find local surfers and boogie boarders hanging out. The surfing is so popular here that there is an annual Huatulco surfing and boogie board championship that dates back to 2003. Rafting along the Copalita River takes rafters through a series of adrenaline-pumping rapids – everything from Class I to Class IV rapids. Class I rapids are considered easy with fast moving water, but few obstructions and small waves. Class IV rapids are advanced, with intense turbulent water and a risk of unavoidable obstacles and waves. Tours that include river rafting typically require rafters to travel between 5 to 7 miles (8 to 11 km) on the Copalita River.
Guides will start with a required safety briefing and then a provide examples on how to properly use the paddle. Each raft will have a guide who will provide navigational instructions as you hit each class of rapids.
The scenery you will experience on a Copalita River rafting trip is unsurpassed. During the slower Class I rapids, you can observe natural habitats of animals and birds, which live amongst the riverbank’s pristine landscape. Stunning rock formations and waterfalls round out the epic adventure in Huatulco.
Playa La Entrega, or La Entrega Bay, is an important beach in the Santa Cruz region of Huatulco, Mexico. In 1831, Insurgent General Vicente Guerrero was betrayed by a Genoese sea captain and delivered to his enemies on this beach, where he was taken as prisoner and subsequently shot by a firing squad days later. The name of the beach means “The Delivery” in remembrance of the 1831 events.
On a more light-hearted note, La Entrega Bay is the southernmost beach in the Santa Cruz area with a bit more than 600 feet of beach frontage, important ecological significance and beautiful coral reefs in its waters. Look for a wide variety of fish, including the blowfish, which puffs up when it senses danger.
Playa La Entrega’s waters are clear and calm, making it a popular spot for swimming, snorkeling and scuba diving. Visitors will be particularly interested in the underwater trail that leads to an underground cave, where you can find insect-eating bats in a chamber filled with round pink stones.
For an unusual spa experience, consider a Zapoteca Mud Bath. Done at La Bocana, the silt in the region turns to mud believed to contain medicinal healing properties. The mud, called lodo in Spanish, has been used for hundreds of year by indigenous tribes, and today, a local women’s cooperative offers the mud bath to visitors for a very small fee. You can even purchase a bag of silt to take home to make your own mud treatments.