Seven years ago I visited Huatulco, known on many maps as "Las Bahias de Huatulco" (the bays of Huatulco) because of its situation on a grouping of five bays.
At the time of that first visit, the Mexican government had just designated it as the next big-time resort destination for Norte Americanos, and was pouring in money to accomplish the feat. At that time the region was basically just home to Club Med and a handful of other resorts located on Tangolunda Bay, located two bays east of Santa Cruz Bay, where cruise ships dock and where there is a new pier.
Santa Cruz Bay is home to an active little marina which could only accommodate tenders up till the construction of the new dock. The bay has a little seaside community, Bahia de Santa Cruz, which has sprung into existence since my first visit, though most of the marina and resort workers live in the somewhat larger town of La Crucecita, five minutes by car inland. Both little communities have shopping, though Bahia de Santa Cruz is the quainter of the two and sells more stuff with "tourist appeal." It also has the advantage of being within walking distance of visiting ships. Besides shopping, the beaches along Santa Cruz Bay are spacious and relatively clean, with their only drawback being the constant parade of locals hawking trinkets or hitting you up for a few bucks to regale you with an off-key rendition of "Guantanamera." Also new to the area is the lineup of little open-air seaside restaurants.
Nearly every shoreside activity in Huatulco revolves around one or more of the five bays. Snorkeling is popular here, as is scuba diving, though it was not offered as a shore excursion on our ship. There is a healthy coral reef here, though it lacks the color and variety of corals of the more familiar Caribbean reefs, and the water tends to be cooler and murkier. Two other ways to explore Huatulco are by horse or ATV, both options available through our shore excursion department.
The last time I visited here I snorkeled. On this trip, I felt no need to repeat the experience. More intriguing to me was to see how much the marina had been developed since my first visit. Then, there were few boats docked, other than commercial tourism vessels such as snorkel/dive boats and Tequila, a power catamaran which takes tourists on a sightseeing cruise around all the bays. (Its return to port can be heard from miles around, as the vessel pours prodigious amounts of its namesake. With music blaring, it sounds like Barbados's infamous Jolly Roger Pirate Boat after having been hijacked by a group of Mariachi pirates.)
Our choice was simply to go ashore, explore the new little port town, have a local seafood lunch and then return to the ship. As we passed from the pier to the town I noticed two things: First, not only had the town grown since my last visit, but it had gained a modicum of charm. All the streets were clean and evenly paved and most of the buildings sported a new coat of paint. Moreover, the marina was now filled with side-to-side moored pangas (skiffs) whose owners were not shy about pitching their services. These included everything from simple spins around Santa Cruz Bay to a three-hour tour of all five bays with snorkeling, beach, shopping and dining stops included. Prices began at about 20 very negotiable U.S. dollars. In truth, the boats seemed well cared for, and I would have had no hesitation at all to charter one of them. Their proprietors' English seemed decent enough, and, as I looked from the marina dock to the hordes of people filing out from our ship to get on their much more expensive tours (most of which offered little more, many of which offered far less, but all of which were more costly), I decided that on the next visit I would explore the bays of Huatulco privately and independently.
The shopping, like that in most of Mexico, involved condo-sales-level, high-pressure stalking and hawking, and, given that the wares were less than overwhelming, and priced higher than expectations, we continued to the beach, where we selected a waterfront restaurant to enjoy lunch. We chose La Ve Mar, which had indoor/outdoor seating, the outside seating extending all the way out to the middle of the beach. I was happy to see a number of our fellow passengers joining us. Very often cruise passengers are chary of dining off the ship, especially in regions that have, rightly or wrongly, a reputation for challenging tastes or food-borne illness. Mexico, for many Americans, certainly fits with the latter. But here were many of my fellow passengers, from various age groups and backgrounds, all enjoying local food, and swapping recommendations. We dined on local seafood soups, the content of which changes daily dependent on the day's catch, and plainly broiled local lobster served with a dish of steaming-hot sweet butter. The lobsters were hardly larger than big prawns, and were incredibly tender and moist. (I am a subscriber to the inverse formula of "size does matter," as it applies to lobster; in most cases, the larger the lobster, the tougher the flesh.)
While we were dining, of course, we were approached by countless peddlers, selling everything from jewelry to serapes, and by halfway through our second Margaritas, we couldn't resist popping two bucks to a strolling guitarist to serenade us with "Cuando Calienta el Sol."
We returned to the ship, and, no surprise, opted for a siesta. We awoke just about the time Captain Guillou cast off the lines, went all the way up to the Observation Lounge on Deck 12, and enjoyed cocktails, hors d'oeuvres and music by harpist Margaret Sanzo as we slid out of the picturesque harbor of Santa Cruz Bay, bathed in the glow of the setting sun.
After cocktails we enjoyed dinner in the Compass Rose; I dined on chilled pumpkin and corn soup, a salad of yellow beans and daikon (Japanese radish) and a sirloin steak. Debbie supped on a chicken consomme, mushroom and green asparagus salad on bibb lettuce with avocado dressing, and a roast quail stuffed with foie gras mousseline (light creamy mousse). The orange chocolate truffle cake sounded delicious but we are beginning to feel as stuffed as walking pinatas, and we decided to call it quits.
After dinner we visited the casino for a bit. The casino doesn't get a lot of traffic on this ship. It doesn't open (for table games) until 9:00 p.m. nightly, and even on sea days, daytime access is limited to four hours.
Tonight's entertainment was a singer, and, still being tired from our day ashore in the hot Mexican sunshine, we opted for early retirement.