Taking the plunge in Huatulco, Mexico

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 realized the tiny silver fish had 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.

An 18-km coastline with 36 beaches, a wealth of dive sites and  a varied underwater scene are just a few of the outdoor experiences Huatulco offers. Our group of eight snorkellers and three crew members of Hurricane Divers, were anchored offshore at San Agustin Beach, a western bay in the Bahías de Huatulco area on Mexico’s Pacific Coast. Located an hour by boat and a $15 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.

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. All of which makes snorkelling one of the top things to do on a visit to Huatulco.

trio of snorkellers in Huatulco

A trio of snorkellers readies to jump into the waters at San Agustin Bay

“We saw humpbacks here last week,” said Ken Gray, our tattooed, platinum-haired dive master.

Even more untouched than San Agustín, our next stop Chachacual Bay , is accessible only by boat. Upon arrival, 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.

Cacaluta Bay Huatlulco

Snorkellers enjoy the enticing offshore reef that lies just below water’s surface at Cacaluta Bay

Next up  was Cacaluta Islandwhere 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, it’s known as Las Jardines or the gardens.

“Watch for strings of gas bubbles escaping from between the rocks on the bottom” said Gray, 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,” shrugged Gray.

Located in the southern state of Oaxaca, 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 unchecked wilderness.

“They learned from earlier overbuilding mistakes and imposed development restrictions,” said Gray.

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.

Travel Planner

Hurricane Divers is located in Santa Cruz harbour and offers deep-sea fishing in addition to dive and snorkel excursions for half and full days.

The snorkelling tour is offered from Tuesdays through Friday. Book at least two or three days in advance.

Subscribe to the A Taste for Travel Newsletter for more on what to do in Huatulco Mexico

Michele Peterson
Michele Peterson
Dividing her time between Toronto, Mexico and Guatemala (or the nearest tropical beach), Michele Peterson is an award-winning writer, blogger, editor and publisher who specializes in travel, cuisine and luxury lifestyles.
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Showing 6 comments
  • Mason Lindquist

    Hello Michele,

    I saw your article about Huatulco. I am currently the owner of a real estate company here called Resort Real Estate Services. I also have a blog www.huatulcolife.blogspot.com that I manage and I would love to repost your article on Huatulco with a credit to you if you would be ok with that?

    Thank for the great piece!


    Mason Lindquist

  • Lesley Peterson

    I loved Huatulco, the friendly people there and the dry, desert-like climate. I enjoyed a boat ride from gorgeous emerald bay to gorgeous emerald bay, swimming at beaches otherwise deserted because there is no road access. Swimming with the sardines sounds an amazing experience.

    • esperanza

      Swimming with sardines in those beautiful waters sounds so lovely! Just remember to keep your mouth closed. Would love to try it!

  • Bella cruse

    Mexico is an amazing family holiday place. When it comes to family holiday the first thing that click into our mind that the place should be beautiful and stunning. By going through your pics it seems that you really enjoyed the tour and yeah amazing pics i must say.

  • kirk and rebecca needham

    my husband and i have been snorkeling in the dominican rep.
    for the last 6 years and it is getting so run down without
    hardly any more good snorkel sites. a stewardess on
    our flight told us about huatuco and what we have been
    reading it sounds like it would be just what we have
    been looking for…..fabulous snorkeling, warm, beautiful waters,
    private lagoons, beaches and just nice and secluded. we are
    anxious to try it next year for our anniversary in october….
    could anyone out there let us know more about the hotels and
    which one to stay at? we would like to be at an all incl without
    kids —-for some peace and quiet especially when dining? we
    have five adult kids and numerous grand kids—we love em but
    when we go on vacation—-that is what we want—privacy-adults…
    let us know please more about awesome snorkel spots too—
    we like going on our own also—we r retired scuba divers due to
    my injury years ago—-

    • Michele

      Hi Kirk and Rebecca…it sounds as though you’d enjoy Huatulco. It’s received Green Globe International Certification as a sustainable tourist area which means it has modern water and sewage treatment plants all the better for clean waters for swimming and snorkelling. The new Secrets Huatulco is my favourite place to stay if you are travelling without kids and want a romantic getaway on a beautiful, private bay. All rooms are ocean-view and the culinary team is one of the best in Mexico. I wrote about Secrets in this article on Huatulco’s Soul Food. and on my blog post Secrets on a Day Pass.. You shoudl be able to get a good deal in October. An economical option is Mision de los Arcos – its in the small town of La Crucecita so it isn’t near the beach but it does offer a shuttle service. I’m headed back to Huatulco again soon so will report back on any new hotels I recommend.

      My colleague Sue Campbell just wrote a review on Secrets Huatulco in Luxury Latin America so you might want to check it out. Hope this helps with your planning ( and happy anniversary)!

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