1. Beach time in Bahías de Huatulco: An undiscovered stretch of Mexican coast
So much beauty fills the nine aquamarine bays of Huatulco, on Mexico's Oaxacan coast, the first sighting of one of its 36 pristine beaches might send you to your knees. Spend your days under a palapa with a margarita in hand and a sweetheart by your side. Or be as active as you want. Explore coral reefs and hike leafy jungles. See wildlife and nature preserves by boat or tour van. Head inland, into the small city of La Crucecita, and enjoy shopping and dining around its plaza. But expect those white-sand beaches to lure you back before long. ― Lisa Taggart
INFO: Huatulco's small airport receives a handful of flights a day. Most travelers from the U.S. fly to Mexico City (3½ hours from L.A.), then connect to Huatulco (a 1-hour flight). Contact the Office of Tourism (Blvd. Benito Juarez, Bahía de Huatulco; 958/581-0177). It's roughly $35 to $50 for a cab from the airport to a hotel. Taxis are common in La Crucecita and nearby Santa Cruz, and rates between cities are fixed.
Bays tour. Operators walk the beach hawking boat tours to Bahía Cacaluta and Bahía Chachacual out of Santa Cruz, bus tours to Puerto Angel and Playa La Ventanilla, and jet-ski rides; don't miss a water tour, since many beaches are only accessible by boat. Individual boat about $130 per day, group tour about $25 per person. Group tours through Huatulco Fiesta, on Calle Mitla in Santa Cruz; 958/587-0081.
National Mexican Turtle Center. The region is sea turtle central. Tours 10-4:30 Wed-Sat, 10-2:30 Sun; $1.50. In Mazunte; www.tomzap.com/turtle.html or 958/584-3376.
Playa La Ventanilla. See the new crocodile reserve during a boat tour of a mangrove swamp. 8-6 daily; about $3. 2 miles west of Mazunte.
Snorkeling. The best coral reefs are at Bahía Cacaluta and Bahía de San Agustín. Rent gear (about $7 a day) in Santa Cruz or through your hotel.
LODGING & DINING
¡Ay Caray! Restaurant Bar & Grill. Casual beachfront eatery with fantastic fresh seafood; opens for visitors arriving by boat. $; typically serves lunch and dinner daily. 1 Playa Maguey, Bahía de Maguey.
Café Huatulco. Outstanding coffee from local beans, local chocolate, and Oaxacan breakfast tamales at outdoor tables. $; breakfast, lunch, and dinner daily. In Santa Cruz's main park; 958/587-1228.
Camino Real Zaashila. At the north end of Tangolunda Bay, on a private small beach, the whitewashed luxury hotel has an enormous pool and 148 rooms with views. From $225. 5 Blvd. Benito Juarez, Bahía de Tangolunda; www.caminoreal.com or 800/722-6466.
Don Porfirio. Watch your meal cook at one of the sidewalk grills; excellent steaks and margaritas. $$; lunch and dinner daily. 24 Blvd. Tangolunda, Bahía de Tangolunda; 958/581-0001.
Quinta Real. The most luxurious lodging in the area, with 28 suites. The hotel's Moorish domed towers are set back from the beach. From $225. 2 Blvd. Benito Juarez, Bahía de Tangolunda; www.quintareal.com or 866/621-9288.
Tostado's Grill. Good seafood and tasty Oaxacan standards. $; breakfast, lunch, and dinner daily. 306 Flamboyan, La Crucecita; 958/587-1697.
Travel tip: The resort restaurants are excellent ― but you can save a lot by dining at smaller, independent places in town.
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