Written by: Jaii Fredregill
Destination: Huatulco, Mexico
Visited: December 2019
Huatulco's tropical climate, warm ocean waters and peaceful scenic beaches make it too inviting too pass up. Located in the municipality of Santa María Huatulco in the state of Oaxaca, this laid-back beach town is ideal for a relaxing diving vacation. The dive sites are protected by nine separate bays, so the water is calm and warm. Dives are shallow, and though this description may sound best suited to new divers, there is enough life, reef and rocky terrain to keep even the most experienced of divers happy.
Schools of Yellow-tailed surgeonfish are a common site around Huatulco. Here are just a few we encountered at La Entraga
In Huatulco, the sun shines nearly every day of the year, with an average temperature of 28 °C (82.4 °F). A storm may pass through on occasion, but September is typically the only rainy month of the year, and you might even have a soft sand beach all to yourself during much of the day if you're willing to take a short hike from the main road to reach it. Just hop in a taxi and tell the driver you want to go to Violin Beach.
Seahorses around Huatulco are larger and easier to spot than many we have encountered. This one, spotted at La Entrega, was bout 5 inches long
Once covered in thick jungle, Huatulco had little more than a few fishing villages scattered along its stunning coastline. The area was then called Bahías de Huatulco (Bays of Huatulco). The Mexican government decided to develop La Crucecita, Santa Cruz, Chahue and Tangolunda for purposes of tourism in the 1980s, and it has since been known simply as Huatulco.
Surface interval at Cacaluta Bay
In case you are wondering, the 9 Bays of Huatulco are; Tangolunda Bay, Conejo Bay, Santa Cruz Bay, Chahue Bay, Maguey Bay, Organo Bay, Cacaluta Bay, Chachacual Bay and San Agustin Bay.
We didn’t find a lot online about scuba diving in Huatulco. However, Diving Center Anfibios Huatulco stood out to us, because they had excellent reviews. Once we arrived in Huatulco we met divers who told us Anfibios Huatulco was the most professional shop they had dove with. It was nice to know we were in good hands, and I can say without any hesitation that Diving Center Anfibios Huatulco is top notch. You can email them at firstname.lastname@example.org.
This little Rusty guard crab was only about one inch in diameter but carried himself with at least six inches of attitude
This is a family owned and operated company. We went out three mornings with owner, Alex, and his son Captain Efren and had a great time. Alex has been diving in Huatulco for 20 years and worked as a commercial diver prior to that. We were not the only divers on the boat, but the service we received was tailored to our needs. The energy on the boat was positive and fun and surface intervals gave us the opportunity to take in our breathtaking surroundings just off shore. Beautiful, easy dives in shallow waters also meant shorter surface intervals. These were very chill days, and our close proximity to the beach meant we were back on land by 2:00 p.m. This being said, night dives can be arranged and are said to be quite good.
As you can tell from all that I have described, Huatulco is perfect for leisurely diving. Like most divers, I have arrived at more than one “world class diving destination,” only to find that it is overhyped, overcrowded, and ultimately disappointing. In the case of Huatulco, we showed up knowing almost nothing about the diving and were greatly rewarded.
As I said before, our diving began at Huatulco National Park. We encountered a large Southern stingray just a few minutes into our first dive that was about one and a half meters wide, and completely unimpressed by our presence as he skirted along the sandy bottom. By the end of the day we had encountered several spotted eagle rays, a mobula ray and a black sea turtle.
The visibility here can be a bit cloudy due to the nutrients in the water. However, I think it’s a mistake to dismiss diving in the Pacific because the water may not be as crystal clear as the Caribbean. At times it can be very clear, and when it’s not there is often more to see because there’s more food to feed all the eels, rays, turtles, fish, dolphins and sometimes even whale sharks that pass through.
East Pacific green sea turtle AKA black sea turtle
On day two we dove near Santa Cruz Beach, starting at a site called Violin. Hundreds of stingrays inhabited this site, and I was given a start more than once when a ray shot out from beneath a pile of sand it had buried itself under. Needless to say, it is wise to hover a reasonable distance from the bottom here. In fact, this is good practice near all sand patches in the area. You can expect to see an abundance of rays, particularly stingrays. Several different species of pufferfish and boxfish are literally everywhere, along with many types of eels and starfish. Really, this is a wonderful place to explore.
Peter Piper picked a pack of Porcupine pufferfish
On our third and final day we started with a dive at the labyrinth at a site called La Blanca. This site winds around several rock formations and we spent a good amount of time looking at the creatures tucked away in the many cracks and crevices. Our last dive was done at La Entrega. We had been told that this area was popular for snorkeling, so we weren't sure what to expect.
The dive began in the deeper end of this site, which is only about 11-meters. Here there is less coral and less visibility, but we spotted an eel straightaway, and small schools of fish were there to greet us along the way, as were a few nudibranchs, and one sullen looking scorpionfish. There is, of course, more life to be spotted, but transitioning from this haze into crisp, clear, coral filled waters is what makes La Entrega most memorable to me.
Zebra moray eel
I found this experience to be quite cool. The diver in front of me was swallowed by the haze again and again during the first part of the dive. I followed close enough to keep the tip of his fins in site as we went until, finally, the haze began to dissipate and he gradually became crystal clear. Parts of the site are relatively shallow, and we had to watch our noggins as we passed by a few snorkelers.
A small scorpionfish hiding in the small polyp stony coral
The coral is beautiful at this site, and of course the healthy reef is surrounded by a bustling ecosystem. There were too many yellow-tailed surgeonfish to count, and more nudibranchs were soon discovered, but coming a cross a large seahorse was perhaps the highlight of the dive.
Like everything in Huatulco, the diving is "muy tranquilo". Dive sites are close, there is little to no current, and there's plenty to see. It is the perfect beach destination in Mexico for anyone looking to escape the crowds. If you desperately need to decompress on your vacation, and want to get some diving in while you're away, check out Huatulco. The one exception are the Christmas/New Year holiday and Semana Santa (Holy Week) in April. These are two of the few holidays widely celebrated in Mexico, so local tourism will be booming everywhere.
There most affordable direct flights seem to be from Mexico City to the Huatulco airport. Most direct flights take around 1 hour 15 mins and start at a little over USD 100. Airlines with flights between the two cities include VivaAerobus, Inter Jet, Aeromexico, and Volaris, who we have found to be the most affordable when traveling with a checked bag.
You will have to compare luggage allowances and charges to choose which airline works best for you. If you have a card issued by a U.S. bank, you may have trouble booking online. This can usually be resolved with a call to your bank. You can also fly from Oaxaca to Huatulco, but most flights have long layovers in Mexico City.
The Huatulco airport (HUX) is 10-20 minutes from most hotels by taxi or shuttle, which can be arrange at clearly marked booths at the airport, or walk about 500 meters to the main road where taxis are less expensive.
Pacific arrow crab
ADO was the best option we found. It takes around 8 hours and can be taken overnight or at several different departure times during the day. A one-way ticket is 400-500 Pesos / USD 20-25. These buses are comfortable with aircon, entertainment and a bathroom. The bus also stops for food along the way. You will find Huatulco listed in the ADO drop down menu as Santa María Huatulco.
Spot-on-spot round ray
Huatulco is a safe and charming place with enough Oaxacan culture and beautiful beaches to tick all the vacation boxes. La Crucecita is where most locals live, and we found it to be the best place for meals and shopping. There is a large local mercado next to the square selling local food, clothing, crafts and souvenirs. The streets are lined with shops, restaurants, bars and ice cream shops. As you get close to the square near the church, things become trendier, and vendors selling lovely Oaxacan crafts, textiles, and food can't be missed. Things are liveliest from 6pm to midnight and a taxi ride to or from the beach takes only about 10-minutes and costs around 35 Pesos each way.
Santa Cruz and Tangolunda are where beach bums tend be happiest. There are plenty of accommodations from budget to luxury, most within walking distance from the water. There is no shortage of restaurants, bars or shops here as well, and if you are looking for hotel with a pool you will probably have more luck near the beach.