You may or may not have heard of Huatulco, Mexico, pronounced wah-tool-koh. It’s a lesser-known tourist destination where the Pacific Ocean meets the Sierra Madre mountains, home to all-inclusive resorts like Barcelo, Dreams, Secrets, and Camino Real Zaashila, among others.
Located on the Pacific Coast of the state of Oaxaca, Huatulco is made up of 36 beaches and 9 bays including the Santa Cruz Bay cruise port, giving the area its formal name “Bahias de Huatulco.” Most of the big resorts are located along Tangolunda Bay, the largest of the bays, but the area is also known for its luxury villas, vacation homes, and condos, providing more local living-style accommodations.
With a population of 50,000, Huatulco has a very small town feel and secluded beaches offering peace and quiet to sun seekers. There isn’t a ton in the way of attractions, but for those seeking a low-key sun vacation and a more authentic Mexican experience, Huatulco may be for you.
I recently returned from a week long stay at the 4.5-star Barcelo Huatulco resort on the best stretch of beach in the area, Tangolunda Bay. The resort is a favourite among families but could also be an ideal spot for a couple’s vacation.
When I arrived at Bahías de Huatulco International Airport (HUX), I walked off the plane, onto the asphalt and into the small airport. I booked my airport transfer in advance with a recommendation from the hotel so a private driver was waiting with a sign in hand and an air-conditioned van ready to go – for 1,300 pesos (approx $86 CAD) roundtrip.
We used Xpert Travel who provided excellent service (we also used them for tours), but if you’re looking for a more cost efficient option to get to your hotel, a taxi is much cheaper. The hotel is 20.8 km from the airport, about a 20 minute ride which is nice short trip after a long flight.
Barcelo Huatulco Guest Rooms
Barcelo Huatulco is a small hotel with 351 rooms and easy-to-navigate grounds. All room types are equipped with a mini bar, safe, and include pool and beach waiter service. I stayed in a Premium Level deluxe room with ocean view – the view from the balcony was one of my favourite parts of the trip.
The room was very nice and spacious with added perks. Upon arrival, there is a private check-in area in the Premium Lounge. In addition to a sea view and private check-in/check out, the benefits of premium level include access to the Lounge with snacks and premium drinks (and premium drinks in all bar areas), a fruit bowl and bottle upon arrival, unlimited a la carte reservations, spa discounts, pool towels in your room, nightly turndown service, concierge service, free local and national calls, express laundry service, priority in-room cleaning service – and my two favourites: free Wi-Fi throughout AND 24-hour room service. There were also superior bathroom amenities in case you forget anything like a toothbrush and toothpaste, nail file, hair net, Q-tips and cotton pads, soap, moisturizer, shaving kit, sewing kit, shoe shine, etc.
Barcelo Huatulco has beautiful scenery to wake up to and spend your sunny days. There are “three” pools on the property but it’s really more like two. There is an adults-only pool closest to the beach with a swim-up bar, and a small activities pool connected to the kids pool with a Barcy Water Park and waterslides.
There is a large games room with board games, pool tables, ping pong, an Xbox, an outdoor jungle gym for kids, a great fitness center, tennis courts, a sauna, and a spa. To get an idea of spa prices, $80 USD would get you a 50 minute massage (*subject to change, spa credits may also be available). There are activities like beach volleyball and pool aerobics organized by the entertainment team, and shows every night in the theatre.
The Barcelo Huatulco beach is a good walking beach but not large (maybe a half hour walk from end to end). It’s not the best for swimming due to lots of waves and a strong undertow. It’s definitely swimmable – and there are lifeguards – but most children borrow life jackets available at the hut and stay close to shore. It gets deep quick. Kayaks and other water sport equipment is available. The beach has palapas nestled in its soft brown sand.
Beware – vendors are constantly approaching offering everything from hair braiding to jewellery to bookmarks. A simple “no, gracias” should buy you some time until the next one comes. I also caved and purchased a coconut and oysters from the beach – don’t do this, it’s not fresh.
The resort offers two buffets: the indoor Dona Rosa main buffet serving breakfast, lunch and dinner, and the poolside La Tortuga Restaurant serving breakfast and lunch. A la carte restaurants include La Trattoria (Italian) in the same space as La Tortuga with a view of the Bay, Don Quijote (Spanish), Agave (Oaxacan cuisine), and Kyoto sushi bar. The buffet gets repetitive (like anywhere) but breakfast has a lot of options. There is a Mexican fiesta every Friday in one of the meeting/event spaces with a large buffet and mariachi band. Menus for the a la carte restaurants can be found on their official website.
Satisfy your cocktail craving at one of four bars: the lobby bar (with live music at night), the pool bar (part swim-up, part attached to La Tortuga restaurant), the theatre bar (while you enjoy an evening performance), or El Jorongo bar, open late. If you have the privilege, head to the Premium Lounge for top shelf liquors.
For coffee lovers, there is no coffee bar or espresso machine for lattes and cappuccinos, however there is a button-activated machine in the premium lounge with espresso and americanos. Right across the street from the resort is a coffee shop with espresso machines.
In the lobby on occasion, you may find a small market with handmade products. The resort also has a photo center, public computers, a boutique, wedding gazebo (also used for romantic dinners) and large event spaces. Across the street from Barcelo Huatulco is a small shopping plaza with souvenir shops and restaurants.
Barcelo Huatulco is a clean, comfortable, friendly hotel in an intimate, more quiet environment. While it’s starting to show it’s age a little bit, it’s a picturesque option for families if the price is right, with just enough onsite activities, amenities, sightseeing, and water sports to make your stay active if you’d like.
What to do in Huatulco
Far from the activity hub of Cancun and similar Mexican hot spots, there are some excursions in the area worth experiencing.
People visit Huatulco for its eco-tourism. The landscape is made up of beaches, bays, islands, coral, hills, escarpments, cliffs, mangroves, wetlands, and more with an emphasis on protecting the environment. Huatulco National Park is 29,400 acres large.
Waterfalls & Finca La Gloria Coffee Plantation
This is the waterfall area during low season, so I would imagine it gets much busier.
For ~$35 USD, I took the Magic Falls tour paired with Finca La Gloria coffee plantation. People had mixed reviews on whether the tour was worth it or not. It’s definitely a long day (approx 10am-6pm) and a bumpy, uncomfortable road up the Sierra Madre mountain to get there. If you want that perfect Instagram pic or are really travelling to experience that cool dip in the Falls, and don’t mind the ride, it’s worth it – but be aware of the cons.
We were told (and it seems like most people are), the ride is an hour and 20 minutes long, but it is actually two hours and it is VERY BUMPY. Be prepared for a long, uneven, bumpy, ride. If you consider the journey part of the trip, you’ll pass by tiny homes and self sufficient communities high in the mountains, and see some wildlife along the way. We were stopped by a herd of cattle blocking the road. Be prepared to pay very minimal for bathroom stops along the way and we had to pay a sort of “toll” (a couple dollars) twice on the way there.
The waterfalls are not spectacular in size by any means, but are beautiful to see and have the chance to swim so close to them in the clean cool water. The tour is not for those with mobility issues, young kids who won’t sit through a long rocky ride, or those who get easily motion sick. I’m usually one for motion sickness and while the ride was very uncomfortable, I had no problems. The hike wasn’t difficult and took about 15 minutes each way – but travellers should still be in good walking condition. Some of the paths are narrow and the rocks leading into the water are slippery.
There are spots to jump into the water, swing on ropes, and an option for a mud facial at the waterfall.
Lunch is late so bring some snacks. There was an opportunity to purchase a tamale before making the short trek to the waterfalls so most people opted for the snack after the long ride. Lunch was fantastic but simple: homemade tortillas, pork, chicken in mole sauce, beans, and rice.
The coffee part was not so much a “tour” as a brief explanation about the process of growing espresso and American beans with opportunities to taste and purchase the coffee (it is very good, of course). I purchased some cocoa from the shops – there are also homemade insect repellents, natural herb remedies, jarred grasshoppers (a Oaxacan delicacy), and other specialties.
Bring appropriate footwear like water shoes (I had running shoes for the walk and changed into flip flops during our time at the Falls). Bring motion sickness pills if you need it, and bug spray (bugs were not a problem for me).
La Crucecita & City Tour
The city center of La Crucecita is a must-visit. You can visit this as part of a city tour or take a taxi and explore on your own (or do both like I did!).
The city tour was ~$20 USD, from 5pm to 8/9pm and made a couple of stops on the way into town to get a view of the river (and kids fishing), the HUATULCO sign, the lighthouse, and the marina. There isn’t much to do at these stops other than get a quick photo.
In La Crucecita, we got to see the church of the Virgin of Guadalupe, visit a store for samplings of mezcal, mole, chocolate, and other Oaxacan specialities, and visit the Oaxacan Craft Museum to see how traditional weaving is done with opportunities to purchase handmade textiles (beautiful blankets, tableclothes, etc), black pottery, and wooden sculptures. La Crucecita is very safe and only 43 pesos for a taxi from the hotel. It’s an authentic Mexican town where not everyone speaks English but you can get by. Expect lots of people trying to sell you things.
There are sports bars, local and international restaurants, coffee shops, craft and souvenir shopping, lots of silver shops, ice cream, and more to explore in this area. It all centres around the plaza with the Iglesia de la Crucecita church on the West side with Mexico’s largest mural of its patron saint, Our Lady of Guadalupe. Shop for silver, textiles, mezcal, and Oaxacan crafts here. If you’re bringing home alcohol (remember the duty free limits), this is the place to buy it for a steal!
Food and drink is very affordable. Two beers and guacamole was 110 pesos at Ricky’s #Juan (owned by a nice Canadian from Alberta – stop by and say hello to Ricky if you’re in town!). The hotel and guidebooks recommended the popular pizza joint, La Crema on the second floor overlooking the main square. We went to Mamma Mia on a local’s recommendation instead for wood-oven pizza and were not disappointed. It’s a little further away from the main plaza on Ceiba and Bugambilia Streets but was delicious. Other restaurant recommendations (we didn’t go to) were El Sabor de Oaxaca and Los Gallos for traditional Mexican cuisine and Don Porfirio close to the resorts for steak and seafood.
The most popular excursion is likely the Bay Tours by catamaran or boat where you can explore marine life with scuba and snorkelling and relax on the secluded beaches. For golfers, Huatulco is home to the Las Parotas Club within walking distance of Barcelo Huatulco. River rafting is also popular on Copalita River (where there are also archeological sites to see). There are different levels of rafting for different experiences. ATV tours and fishing are also available. Some people visit the Santa Cruz cruise port for shopping and restaurants.
Flying from the Huatulco airport is a breeze. The hotel recommended we arrange our airport transfer to pick us up 2 hours prior to departure so we would arrive 90 minutes in advance. There were no lines and security was quick. There’s a small waiting area with a couple of shops and a restaurant (with drinks!). On the record: we always recommend arriving to the airport 3 hours prior to departure for international flights to ensure you (and your baggage) board the plane on time. It’s important to note we were not checking any luggage and printed our boarding passes at the hotel in advance. There is a very tiny duty free store – don’t wait to get your alcohol here, it was very expensive and in USD.
When to go: Huatulco’s dry season is December to May which coincides with their high season. Hurricane season takes place September and October. Visit in November or April to avoid the crowds.
Getting around: There are many guided tours with hotel pick-up and drop-off that can be arranged in advance (check out Viator!). Taxis are very affordable and are plentiful in the resort area. There are also city buses throughout the city.
Getting there: WestJet, Sunwing, Air Canada, and Transat offer seasonal direct flights to Huatulco from Canada. For off-season travel (keep in mind not all resort facilities will be open and you’ll be in for a mega-quiet vacation, Aeromexico connects in Mexico City).
Check out Barcelo Huatulco reviews from our clients who have been there.