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.
“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.
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.
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.
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