Snorkeling in Huatulco: An Incredible Underwater Adventure
Wondering about snorkeling in Huatulco? Do you think Huatulco is all about beaches, mezcal and sunshine? With a coastline dotted with 36 beaches, a wealth of dive sites and extraordinary sea life, taking a Huatulco snorkeling tour is one of the top things to do on Mexico’s southern Pacific Coast.
This detailed Huatulco snorkeling adventure guide offers tips about where to find the best spots — whether you’re looking for a guided excursion or just planning to snorkel from shore.
Trying to decide on a resort that’s good for snorkeling? Learn more about where to stay in our Hotel Guide to the Best Huatulco Beaches
Why Go Snorkeling in Huatulco
While the Pacific Coast of Mexico is not as well known for snorkeling as the island of Cozumel in the Caribbean, much of the coast of Oaxaca is protected from development which helps support rich marine life and healthy reefs. Huatulco National Park is one of the largest protected areas in southern Mexico.
In Huatulco, you can expect to see sea turtles, parrotfish, needle fish, grouper, snapper, angelfish as well as manta rays and eagle rays, It’s even possible to see dolphins and migrating whales as they head south in December and return north in March.
Best Snorkeling in Mexico for Unpolluted Water
When it comes to clean, non-polluted waters, Huatulco offers some of the best snorkeling in Mexico. The beaches in Huatulco consistently receive high marks for cleanliness by SEMARNAT, the government agency that monitors the water quality of the beaches in Mexico.
Three times a year they publish water quality results measuring the enterrococcus fecal bacteria levels. Scores of more than 200 per 100 milliliters of water means swimming is unsafe and the waters are too polluted for human health.
Under its Clean Beaches Program, the agency monitors 15 beaches and 17 sites within the three main tourism areas of Oaxaca and all six beaches in Huatulco reported within the June 23, 2018 report received clean (APTA) scores. That’s important if you’re planning on spending a lot of time in the water or are looking for the best family beaches in Mexico.
To help keep Huatulco’s waters clean, be sure to pack biodegradable sunscreen and a rashguard shirt with high SPF protection. What else to pack for a snorkeling trip depends on whether you are travelling light and what your skill levels are. Check this complete packing list for ideas on what to pack for a snorkeling trip.
Choosing the Best Snorkeling Tours in Huatulco Mexico
During my full-day snorkeling tour with Hurricane Divers, the waters were teeming with a fascinating type of sea creature — sardines! Compared to swimming with dolphins, swimming with sardines probably doesn’t rank high on the lifetime bucket list for most people.
But, as I plunged headfirst into a school of thousands of the graceful acrobats, I discovered that the tiny silver fish has its own special charms. They shape-shifted from a shadowy cloud into a shimmering ribbon of silver that swirled around my body like a wisp of fine silk. Then, moving in unison, they morphed again – this time into a blanket that blocked out the sunlight and threw the coral reef into darkness.
My swimming with sardines experience took place as part of an all-day Snorkel Excursion with a Tour of the Bays with Hurricane Divers.
Anyone who has read my post the Beginner’s Guide to Snorkeling Grenada’s Underwater Sculpture Museum, knows that although I love the ocean, I’m not the most confident swimmer. When deciding on a snorkeling excursion, it’s extra important for me to choose a safe tour operator.
Hurricane Divers features bilingual guides, modern boats with roofs, life vests, mobile phones, safety equipment, first aid kits and more. They are PADI-certified and only take small groups.
While they do supply snorkeling masks and fins, many people prefer to snorkel with a full-face snorkel mask for comfort, visibility and enhanced protection from water leakages. If you do, then you’ll need to bring your own. If you’re considering purchasing a full face snorkel mask, it’s worth consulting this complete Guide to Buying a Full Face Snorkel Mask comparing different brands.
Where to Snorkel in Huatulco Mexico
Our group of eight snorkelers and three crew members were anchored offshore at San Agustin Beach, a western bay in the Bahías de Huatulco area that has incredible, sapphire-blue waters. It’s definitely one of the best snorkeling locations in Huatulco.
With calm waters and underwater visibility of up to 18 metres, even novices can spot florescent damsel fish, spiny black sea urchins and eels ducking through the crevasses of the coral reef.
A Picnic Lunch at Chachacual Bay
Another of the other attractions of going snorkeling with Hurricane Divers is that their all-day excursion includes a full gourmet lunch.
Upon arrival at Chachacual Bay — even more untouched than San Agustín and accessible only by boat– the crew laid out an al fresco lunch while we floated in shallow waters bursting with blue-spotted coronet fish and yellow-tailed sturgeon.
Refreshed by the clear waters, we planted ourselves on the white sand to enjoy grilled steak arranchera, spicy adobo chicken and fresh papaya salad.
Snorkeling around Cacaluta Island in Cacaluta Bay
Next up was Cacaluta Bay where a coral plate stretches for 300m at depths of between 2 to 12 metres. The marine life is so abundant and the coral so colourful around Cacaluta Island, it’s known as Las Jardines or the gardens.
“Watch for strings of gas bubbles escaping from between the rocks on the bottom” said our guide as we anchored in open water. “You may find sea turtles and Nurse Sharks resting in the gaps in the coral.”
Deciding to drip-dry for a few stops, I soaked up the panorama of sun and sea. Manta rays leaped above the water’s surface and plumes of crystal spray shot out of a nearby blowhole.
No other boats were in sight.
“Where is everybody?” I asked.
“Huatulco is out of the way for many people,” he shrugged. “We rarely see other boats.”
Where is Huatulco Mexico?
Located in the southern state of Oaxaca two hours from Puerto Escondido, it’s 185 km south of Acapulco and closer to Guatemala than major Mexican cities. Yet its isolation doesn’t mean roughing it. Much like Cancun, Los Cabos and Ixtapa, Huatulco was identified as a prime site for tourism development by Fonatur, the Mexican government agency.
A massive injection of cash created an impressive infrastructure of wide boulevards, luxury marinas, golf courses and a modern sewage treatment system. Yet it remains surrounded by stretches of undisturbed wilderness.
“They learned from earlier overbuilding mistakes and imposed development restrictions,” said our guide.
With flights to Huatulco increasing, the region’s peaceful seclusion may not last long. But for now, the beaches and clear blue waters are free of crowds.
Unless you count the sardines.
Huatulco Snorkeling from Shore
While taking a snorkeling tour is the best way to see the most variety of fish in Huatulco, it is possible to experience some rewarding snorkelling from shore in Huatulco. It’s even possible to snorkel right in the bay of Santa Cruz. The Santa Cruz marina is also where you book fishing tours for fish like sailfish, marlin and tuna.
When it comes to variety of fish, abundant coral and calm waters, the best place for snorkeling from shore is the Bahia San Agustin. Located an hour by boat and a $15 – 20 USD cab ride from the luxury hotel zone of Tangolunda Beach, San Agustín Beach is relatively deserted, apart from a few seafood palapas (thatched huts). It flanks Huatulco National Park, a 119 sq. km. ecological reserve at the base of the Sierra Madre Sur.
It’s also possible to do some snorkeling from the shore at Dreams Resort & Spa and to a lesser extent, Secrets Resort & Spa, where you’ll need to wait for low tide and cross over the rocks at the end of Conejos Bay to find the best snorkeling area.
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Travel Guide for Huatulco Snorkeling Tours, Tips, Gear and Excursions
Hurricane Divers is located in Santa Cruz harbour ( near the cruise terminal) and offers dive and snorkel excursions for half and full days. Book at least two or three days in advance.
What to Pack: According to the environmental protection organization Marine Safe and many other sources, “swimmer pollution” is a major cause of declining coral reefs in many parts of the world, including the Caribbean, the Red Sea, Costa Rica and anywhere humans get into the water on or near a reef.
Chemicals in sunscreen such as oxybenzone induce coral bleaching and are genotoxic which means it damages coral DNA. Oxybenzone is also toxic to algae, sea urchins, fish and mammals. Concentrations of oxybenzone are growing around nearshore reefs are already within the range of being a significant environmental threat so it’s important to take action to reduce the chemicals in our ocean now.
To reduce your impact when snorkeling, try to use sunclothes to protect against UV exposure and reduce the amount of sunscreen you use. You can reduce the quantity of sunscreen you use by 90% if you apply it only to your face, back of hands, neck and feet and use a biodegradable suntan lotion such as Badger SPF 35 Sport Sunscreen Cream – 2.9 fl oz Tube or Organic Sunscreen Natural Biodegradable Minerals. No Titanium Dioxide Non-Nano Zinc. Infused Vitamin D Nutrients. Gentle for Kids and Adults. Made in USA
Snorkel Gear: While all tour operators include snorkel gear as part of their rental rate, the quality of the gear can vary widely. If you want to have the best and safest snorkeling experience, it’s wise to travel with your own snorkel kit. At minimum, invest in a mask and snorkel. I travel with a custom snorkel mask that’s been fitted with prescription lenses. It cost $200 but has lasted me for years and is virtually indestructible.
My travel writer pal and colleague Sue Campbell who has fearlessly snorkelled everywhere from Belize to Tahiti swears by her full face snorkel mask. It’s important to invest in a good quality full face snorkel mask as low-cost, poor-quality imitations have the potential for CO2 build-up and head straps can be too tight and difficult to remove in an emergency.
Where to Stay: Both Huatulco and La Crucecita offer a wide range of hotels for every budget. If you’re on a budget, the Holiday Inn Huatulco located in the Santa Cruz harbour features clean rooms with balconies, a full breakfast and outdoor swimming pool while Mision de los Arcos in La Crucecita offers luxury rooms at budget prices but no swimming pool. For a luxury stay, try Dreams Resort & Spa ( family-friendly) or Secrets Resort & Spa (adults-only).
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