Huatulco, Mexico: Just like home but way hotter

Toronto Star, March 7, 2014: It may be the maple leaves scattered on towels, hats and t-shirts. It could be all sun-screened noses buried in Chris Hadfield’s book around the pool. Or maybe it’s everyone politely picking up and tossing their towels in the bin before heading back to their rooms.

Everywhere you look, there is ample evidence that most of the visitors enjoying Secrets Huatulco Resort and Spa are escaping the long Canadian winter.  While we jostle with Americans to get a spot poolside in popular destinations like Puerto Vallarta, Los Cabos and Mazatlan, further south on the Pacific coast we seem to have Huatulco pretty much to ourselves.

Canadians thaw out in Mexico in droves—a record 1.6 million of us in 2013. Mexico is the country we visit the most next to the U.S. and in Huatulco, about 80 per cent of the foreigners are Canadian.

We like our wide open spaces after all, and there are plenty of them here.

Huatulco has dozens of beaches in nine bays that stretch 31 kilometres along the coast of the southern state of Oaxaca. Only half of the bays are, or will be, developed (just a few more big hotels are coming). The other half of the bays—4.5 to be exact—are part of Huatulco National Park and protected from development.

You can only get to most of the bays in the park by boat.

As our boatload of Canucks leaves the marina at Santa Cruz, we’re a little confused to see a couple of Canadian Coast Guard mid-shore patrol vessels. Turns out they’re taking the scenic route from Nova Scotia to B.C but this day, they’re docked and enjoying the hot Huatulco sun like the rest of the Canadians.

On our way to Violin Beach to go snorkeling around the coral reef, our guide tries to makes us feel even more at home by pointing out the “Mexican snow” (white bird poop) on the giant rocks along the coast. Later, we’re one of only a few boats in Cacaluta Bay, where we fall in love with the heart-shaped beach. Except for a couple of umbrellas at one end and two guys spread out in the middle of the stretch of hot sand, we have the place to ourselves.  Not unlike driving the James Bay Winter Road at home.

It’s a little more crowded next door at Maguey Bay. Here, loads of Mexican families have driven five or six hours from across Oaxaca to enjoy the beach for the weekend. As you sip Coronas served in ice buckets and eat shrimp baked in pineapples, you watch little kids and their grandmothers hang on to the swimming area rope and wait for the next wave. There’s lots of splashing, and Spanish.

Back at the Secrets swim-up bar, a quick breast stroke down the length of the pool brings snippets of conversations about Eddie Shack, the price of oil and yet another big snow storm about to hit Toronto.

A little walk down the beach, past the hotel’s sail boats and through the trees, reveals a beach with waves crashing into the rocky coastline. It’s rugged and wild. It’s just like Newfoundland. Except for the heat. And the cactus. And the woman walking along the beach in a gold lame’ bikini.

It can’t help but feel a little like Canada in Huatulco, what with all those Blue Jays and Habs t-shirts and guys wearing Roughriders or Oilers hats around the pool.

But alas, you can only escape the infinity of winter at the infinity pool for so long. As this Canadian heads toward the hotel lobby on her way to the airport—dreading the return to heavy coats and warm boots—a couple enjoying a cold beverage wave good bye and shout out “Sorry!”

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