We finally found our paradise in the sun!
After being on the road with our two toddlers for almost a year from Argentina to the US, passing into Mexico was like entering the home stretch. From Guatemala we had the choice to take the Panamerican Highway through Chiapas – and more direct route to Mexico City – which is one stop we definitely wanted to make to visit some good friends of ours. The other option was to take highway 200 along the Pacific coast. As always, we asked as many locals as we could about the routes – conditions, safety, etc. From what we were told, the Panamerica Highway is the most traveled route to get to Mexico City from Guatemala, and Highway 200 along the coast through Chiapas and Oaxaca would be a good an safe route, though less traveled. Of course our choice was clear: take the road less traveled by!
We once again survived the border crossing…
It was a winding but beautiful road through the mountains of Guatemala, dropping down through the cloud forest to sea level, then crossing into Mexico the next day between Malacatan, Guatemala and Tapachula, Chiapas (Mexico). In Guatemala we had to do our exit paperwork next to a group of seedy-looking characters who were being manhandled and dragged around by other plainclothed men. It made me very nervous to say the least with our toddlers, so I corralled them protectively and kept my eye on the group. When they finally left towards the Guatemalan side, I asked an official what the deal was. It turns out that they had come off a bus from Mexico and had been deported from the US – and obviously were not happy about that at all. Once we crossed into Mexico though the offices were sparklingly clean at customs, the roads in excellent shape, and our entire truck was scanned with a high-tech X-ray machine that could put any US border crossing to shame. It’s strange how relative your experience can be. In my mind I had always thought of Mexico as this dangerous, run-down place having always visited from the US. But entering into Mexico after traveling in Honduras and Guatemala felt almost like getting to the US! Ironically, I had been nervous about traveling in Mexico after hearing so many warnings and media stories. But Mexico was clean and organized compared to the chaos on the Guatemalan side of the border.
Bahias de Huatulco: An Eco-friendly Paradise!
Our first destination in Mexico was the beach resort area of Bahias de Huatulco in Oaxaca. We had read that the government of Mexico has strictly controlled development of this beautiful coastal area in order to protect the environment, and as a result has been awarded the Green Globe International Certification and the EarthCheck Gold Certification. Indeed, the beaches and coves we visited were surprisingly clear of trash and although the nine bays in the region are dotted with some of the most exclusive resort chains in the world, the natural beauty of the place was still intact and most of the land was undeveloped. In fact, Parque Nacional Huatulco – situated to the west of the populated areas – is an almost 30,000 acre protected area that harbors over 50% of the species of the state of Oaxaca and safeguards many delicate coral reefs.
We really don’t like visiting touristy places because we don’t like feeling like a tourist: we like to connect with and learn from locals, and we have found that very hard to do when we are surrounded by other foreigners. Although Bahias de Huatulco is without a doubt constructed for tourism, the reality is that a majority of the visitors are Mexican and not international. This is due to the difficult access to the area – the airport is small and not served by any major airlines, and the access roads are windy and full of speed bumps so you will need an entire day to drive there from any major city. Apparently a few cruiseships do stop at the harbor south of La Crucecita, but we didn’t see one actually there during our stay. As a result, we were able to enjoy the natural beauty of the area, swim in the protected coves with our children, and walk around the town and enjoy the infrastructure without having to share the place with thousands of pale-skinned gringos wearing bad shirts (sorry Dad!).
We loved our hotel…
As we are traveling on a tight budget, we opted not to stay in an all-inclusive resort, but rather find a place in La Crucesita, a small town nestled into one of the bays that offers a few budget hotel options, a cute plaza, great restaurants, and even a Mercado (or farmers and artisans market). After stopping in nearly every moderately-priced hotel in town, we settled on Hotel Posada Eden Costa, a cute little place in walking distance to the pier and downtown with a great adult pool and kiddie pool and very comfortable rooms. The owners – a Swiss and Vietnamese couple – gave us top notch service, making sure we had maps and recommendations for our stay, and made us feel very at home even though our cute but uncontrollable toddlers were clearly disrupting the peace! But as I mentioned, all the other guests were Mexican, and one thing I love about Mexicans is that in general they adore children so I never felt like our little ones were a nuisance. The hotel also has an amazing restaurant onsite called L’echalote which serves up international cuisine and offers a brand new plate from around the world once a week. After months and months of eating street food we were delighted to try gourmet Oaxacan food as well as a few culinary treats such as fondue and quiche, mmmm!
We found the perfect swimming beach…
Our little ones had so much fun swimming in the hotel pool that we literally had to drag them kicking and screaming to the beach! Our hosts at Posada Eden Costa recommended La Entrega beach as a great swimming spot for toddlers. Indeed, this sheltered bay had almost no waves and turquoise blue water that was lovely, clear, and warm. We enjoyed hanging out for the day with other Mexican families and watching the snorkelers swim out to the coral feef just off shore for what is supposed to be amazing fish viewing. Unfortunately, even though we’ve been hauling around snorkeling gear for the past year we didn’t snorkel – not a toddler friendly activity. But the reef at La Entrega beach is supposed to be an excellent place to see marine life, so if you make the trip bring your snorkeling gear and waterproof camera (or you can always rent it there). Later we drove around the peninsula past La Entrega, caught an excellent view from the lighthouse, and were impressed to see the construction of miles of bike path through the area.
We felt blessed to have been able to spend a few idyllic days in Bahias de Huatulco on the Oaxaca coast. Especially after speaking with another couple saying at our hotel – they were vacationing from Tampico, a Mexican city south of Texas. We were disturbed to hear that nobody ventures out at night there, and families even have to stay away from exterior windows after dark in case a stray bullet flies in. They were newlyweds, and were unsure of their future in their hometown, especially since most of their neighbors had already left the area. They were on their honeymoon and felt they could breathe a sigh of relief in the safety of this Oaxacan paradise. We felt the same magic too in the Oaxacan sun, watching our kids chase the waves, breathing the ocean air, and feeling the beauty of nature all around us. Bahias de Huatulco is still an untouched gem and we hope to return someday – when the kids are ready to snorkel!