Founded some 40 years ago by FONATUR, Mexico's tourism development agency, Huatulco (located in the state of Oaxaca) encompasses a stretch of 18 miles of Pacific coastline, located at the foot of the Sierra del Sur Mountains. Here you'll find dozens of pristine sand beaches, spread across nine bays -- four of which have been designated as ecological preserves where no development is permitted.
The area is also dotted with small villages where many of the locals preserve native traditions including basket weaving, cactus horticulture and cooking. Most cruise lines offer at least one excursion that visits these villages. (Look for one that includes the nopale -- prickly pear cactus -- farm; the fruit is delicious.)
Designed to attract mass tourism, cruisers visiting Huatulco will also encounter numerous souvenir and jewelry shops, and yet crass commercialism seems to have taken a back seat here, unlike other purposely designed tourist cities like Puerto Vallarta, Cancun and Acapulco. Buildings in Huatulco may not be higher than four stories, so there are no tall structures to clutter the area, beaches are everywhere and the government is taking pains to preserve the indigenous flora and fauna.
Huatulco is composed of three smaller regions, as well as several outlying villages. Santa Cruz is the port area where cruise ships dock. La Crucecita is the main downtown area and Tangolunda is the hotel and resort zone.
Huatulco most commonly appears on Panama Canal itineraries, though it might also be included in Pacific coast partial Panama Canal transits and some Mexican Riviera sailings.
Cruise ships dock at a pier in Santa Cruz Bay, right next to a beach and a small marina. As your ship pulls in you'll be able to see the beach to the left-hand side.
There's a fair amount to do within a short walk of the cruise pier, from the sandy Santa Cruz beach, to a slew of restaurants, bars and shops. The marina next door also offers Jet Ski rentals, plus a variety of boat tours.
Huatulco is a safe port with less crime than many of the larger tourist cities but as with many ports around the world, leave your expensive jewelry on the cruise ship when you visit and keep an eye on your wallet.
Getting around Huatulco is easy.
On Foot: For cruise passengers with difficulty walking, electric carts are available to take people back and forth from the ship to the entrance of Santa Cruz's shopping district. (Drivers work for tips.) The beach, restaurants and shops are all within a 15-minute walk.
By Taxi: For those who wish to go beyond Santa Cruz, taxis (both land and water), as well as numerous tour companies hawking their programs, are all available.
The official currency in Mexico is the peso. Visit www.xe.com for current rates.The nearest ATMs are at banks in downtown La Crucecita, which is about a 25-peso taxi drive away from the port.
The official language of Mexico is Spanish but because Huatulco is a tourist town, most shopkeepers, restaurant workers and taxi drivers speak English.
There are lots of beachside restaurants on Playa Santa Cruz, most with an array of international dishes on the menu. This isn't gourmet cuisine by any means, but if you're just looking to grab a bite to eat without venturing far from the beach, they'll do.
Restaurant Ve el Mar: One of the highest-rated beach restaurants in Huatulco is Restaurant Ve el Mar. With a great view of Santa Cruz Bay and a few tables actually on the sand, you'll find fresh seafood and soup served alongside cold beer and bottled water. (Santa Cruz, 70989 Santa Maria Huatulco, Oax., Mexico; +52 958 587 0364; open 8 a.m. to 10 p.m., daily)
El Sabor de Oaxaca: If you're up for venturing further afield than Santa Cruz and want something a bit more Mexican in nature, search out El Sabor de Oaxaca in La Crucecita. Here you'll find a variety of Oaxaca specialties, including black, red, yellow or green mole with chicken, Oaxacan beef with sauteed onions or pork skin with sauce. If you want to sample several Oaxacan dishes, go for the Plata Oaxaqueno, which comes with cheese, pork, sausage, tortillas, beans avocado, black mole and stuffed chili peppers. (Av. Guamuchil 206, Las Crucesitas, 70989 Bahias de Huatulco, Oax., Mexico; +52 958 587 0060; open 7:30 a.m. to 11 p.m.; daily)
Huatulco is located in the state of Oaxaca, which is famous for barro negro pottery, or "black clay" pottery. Look for some smaller pieces to take home with you from the Museum of Oaxacan Art in La Crucecita.
Tequila might be the drink of choice in most of Mexico, but in Oaxaca it's all about mezcal -- a liquor made from the green agave plant (as opposed to the blue agave, from which tequila comes from). You'll find lots of restaurants and stores offering taste tests.