Huatulco Cruise Port

Port of Huatulco: An Overview

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.

Hanging Around

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.

Don't Miss

La Crucecita: Shoppers won't want to miss Huatulco's downtown district, where you'll find a bustling market in the central plaza, perfect for picking up handcrafted items to take home. Other highlights within the town are the Museum of Oaxacan Art, offering insights into Oaxaca's culture and traditions, and a church dedicated to the Virgin of Guadalupe (located at one end of the plaza), which features the largest painting of the Virgin in Mexico. Located about a half mile from the Santa Cruz port, you can either walk into town or take a taxi from the cruise port.

Bocana del Rio Copalita archeological park: This museum is a must for cruisers interested in the pre-Hispanic history of Oaxaca. About 5 miles from Huatulco, you'll find the earliest remains here date back some 2,500 years. Sites you can visit include the Templo Mayor (Main Temple), Templo de la Serpiente (Temple of the Serpent) and a sports court, where locals play an ancient Mesoamerican ball game that's sort of a soccer-lacrosse hybrid. Guides are sometimes available for a fee, but not always, and most of the interpretive signs are in Spanish.

Hagia Sophia ecological park: This 320-acre park is located a few miles from Huatulco. On the park's interpretative trail visitors learn about the native flora and fauna of the area, including fruits, flowers and trees. At the end of the walk, a dip in the Magdalena River is a must. Another swimming spot is beneath the small waterfall, La Campana. Taxi drivers can take you to the park, or you can arrange directly with Hagia Sophia for a pickup at the cruise port and a guided tour of the property.

Iguanario: Learn about green and black iguanas at this small iguana sanctuary in Piedra de Moros, created primarily to save the endangered black iguana, which can only be found in Mexico. A guide is always on hand, though depending on who is on duty English might not be an option. You'll need to take a taxi to visit.

Getting Around

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.

Beaches

Closest to your ship: About a 10-minute walk from where cruise ships dock is Playa Santa Cruz, a small 800-foot crescent-shaped sand beach. It's surrounded by beachfront restaurants and you'll need to bring a beach towel as there is no seating to be had.

Best for snorkeling: You'll need to grab a water taxi at the Santa Cruz marina to get to Playa San Agustin, a lovely 1-mile long beach. Calm waves and a shallow depth with a lot of coral make it a popular spot for snorkeling. It's possible to rent snorkeling equipment and boats there. Many restaurants are located by the beach.

A beach with history: Popular with locals, Playa la Entrega is a pretty 600-foot beach great for swimming and snorkeling. It's also where Italian sailor Francisco Picaluga betrayed General Vicente Guerrero (one of the leaders of the Mexican War of Independence) in 1829, resulting in Guerrero's execution. Though in Santa Cruz, you'll want to take a taxi (land or water) to get to the beach.

Lunching

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)

Where You're Docked

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.

Watch Out For

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.

Currency & Best Way to Get Money

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.

Language

The official language of Mexico is Spanish but because Huatulco is a tourist town, most shopkeepers, restaurant workers and taxi drivers speak English.

Best Souvenir

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.

Best Cocktail

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.

For More Information

On the Web: Visit Mexico

Cruise Critic Message Boards: Panama Canal and Mexican Riviera

IndependentTraveler.com: Mexico Travel Guide

--By Dori Saltzman, Senior Editor

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