Escaping the Crowds in Magical Huatulco

Once primarily known to those in Oaxaca City, Mexico City, a sprinkling of adventurers, and a few in-the-know global travelers, Huatulco is a breathtaking (possibly perfect) coastal escape. Found where the Sierra Madre Mountains subdues the Pacific Ocean on Mexico’s western boundary, this spectacular stretch of rugged coastline (some 23 miles long) boasts nine bays, 36 beaches, and has served as a minimally developed, natural playground for generations. Only since 1985 has Huatulco enjoyed the benefits of an international airport and planned development. And the small town of Crucecita, with its wonderful central park, is the population center of the area.

Along the western coastline of the state of Oaxaca (wah-HOK-ah), this purpose-built area was formerly known as The Bays of Huatulco but is now simply known as Huatulco. Located a bit more than 300 miles south of Acapulco, and a six-hour drive from Oaxaca City, this stretch of coastline arguably offers some of the best, if not the most accessible, bays and beaches to be found along Mexico’s Pacific coastline. In fact, Huatulco offers some of the best coastal scenery available anywhere. Cliffs and rocky shores separated by calm bays with sandy beaches provide breathtaking landscapes. Photographers and painters love Huatulco, even if they never dip a toe into the water.

The nine bays and over 30 beaches along these 23 plus miles provide visitors and residents access to a stunning selection of aquamarine inlets, set against the magnificent backdrop of the Sierra Madre Mountains. Not all bays and beaches are accessible by land, however. In fact, the majority of them are only accessible by boat which allows you to experience some pristine beaches, productive sport fishing, awesome diving, and snorkeling. If you don’t have a boat, no worries. A local marina offers lots for charter. And the good news is that a couple of the best beaches/bays are road accessible, only a short drive from Crucecita.

Retire in Huatulco, Mexico

Huatulco
©Donald Murray

Mexico has a couple of simple, straightforward visas for retirees; the first is a Temporary Resident Visa and the second is a Permanent Resident Visa. Both permit full-time residency in Mexico but there are some significant differences such as income requirements, employment legalities, and automobile importation.

Visitors spending less than 180 days in Mexico need only possess a valid passport. No visa required. That allows all those snowbirds to make repeat, annual visits without worrying about a visa, as long as they do not exceed the 180-day limit. If you wish to remain longer than 180 days, you must apply for a visa.

Begin your visa quest at the Mexican Consulate in your home state. There, the consulate officer will review your completed application, verify your income based on the documents you provide, review a nominal number of other documents, and your completed application. After a short interview, if approved, you’ll likely depart with your residency visa affixed to the inside of your passport.

All legal residents over the age of 60 qualify for a discount card from INAPAM (Instituto Nacional para las Personas Adultas Mayores) facilitating discounts on a wide variety of goods and services.

Taxis are the primary mode of transportation in this small community and the prices are geared toward the local population and are more than reasonable, cheap in fact. Three or four dollars can take you across town.

Medical Care in Huatulco, Mexico

©Donald Murray

For a small town, Huatulco provides good healthcare options. There are two hospitals, one operated by the Navy and the other is the IMSS government hospital. Both will see patients. The Red Cross clinic, on the main square, also sees patients for less critical needs. Doctors in Huatulco are very agreeable to making house calls if needed. And while no Medicare or Canadian government insurance options are accepted (except for approved private insurance plans), the costs are low enough so that even a surgical procedure won’t break your bank.

A regular doctor appointment will run from about $12 to $27 dollars, depending on the specialty.

Pharmacies in Huatulco stay open late, some 24 hours. And like all pharmacies in Mexico, prescriptions are only needed for strong antibiotics and narcotics. Prices are, literally, pennies on the dollar for most medication, compared to the U.S.

For those issues needing more advanced medical care, you can make the drive to Puerto Escondido about two hours away. But it appears a better option is on the horizon. The Oaxaca government has recently announced a project, in partnership with Canadian investors, to construct a $256 million dollar hospital in the Huatulco area. The project is intended to attract additional travelers to the area through the growing medical tourism business.

Lifestyle in Huatulco, Mexico

Lifestyle in Huatulco
©Gregg Herman

The name Huatulco is more of a regional brand (much like Riviera Maya), rather than a specific location. And while brand recognition has gained some ground, it wasn’t until the Mexican government stepped in (in the mid-1980s) that the region became a planned tourist area. The vision of Mexico’s national tourism bureau (FONATUR) was to develop the area much as they had done with Cancun.

They intended to create a planned tourist zone with solid infrastructure including hotels and good roads as well as a good water supply, fast internet, and a stable electrical grid. Following a proven formula, these things would assure a solid base for further private development. In the case of Huatulco, however, much care and consideration was also given to the sustainability of the natural environment and the result was worth the effort.

Significant input from local residents influenced the development plan to avoid the glitzy feel of Cancun’s hotel zone. Structures were limited to low rise only and there is plenty of open space left untouched and natural. The area in and around the small town of Crucecita shows the care given to planning, with good roads, lovely landscaped medians, a very nice and active city square and park, a nearby international airport, and functional infrastructure. The planned development was, indeed, a success.

Crucecita and the immediate area, are home to numerous upscale all-inclusive resorts, luxurious condos (with killer views of the rugged coastline), adequate shopping for the essentials, and a number of regular hotels. But true to the goals, these properties do not offend the landscape and seem to blend in.

Crucecita also offers a nice variety of good restaurants with all the usual favorites you would expect from pizza and steak to local specialties including, of course, fresh seafood, salads, fresh fruits, and local favorites such as mole dishes. There are even a couple of very active, ongoing cooking schools/classes for those wanting to learn the local secrets. As a tourist town, it also supports numbers of gift and artisan shops around the city square, along with at least one traditional weaving business, a skill known well in Oaxaca.

Access to Huatulco can be a bit of a challenge as the primary highway connecting it to the rest of Mexico is marred by nonsensical, frequent speed bumps which drastically slows traffic at too-frequent intervals. The road is already narrow and winding and cuts through the Sierra Madre Mountains and the speed bumps only make it worse. And while a road improvement project continues (as it has for several years) between Oaxaca City and Huatulco, when completed, the drive will be shortened from six hours to four hours, making it within reach for those seeking a weekend getaway.

While the international airport is only about 20 minutes from Crucecita, nearly all flights arrive by a connection through Mexico City. For now, direct flights to Huatulco originate only from Canada and those fly mostly during winter snowbird season. U.S. airlines have not offered any direct flights making air travel a bit lengthy.

Huatulco’s lifeblood is tourism, the purpose for which it was intentionally designed. And it serves that purpose well. About 80% of the area’s tourists are Mexican citizens. The remaining 20% come mostly from Canada (the airline advantage), snowbirds who usually spend four to six months in Huatulco, escaping the cold winters. Some 1,000 Canadians return to Huatulco each winter, renewing annual friendships and playing a significant role in boosting the area’s economy, a boost eagerly anticipated by the locals.

There are also a handful of U.S. tourists who make the trek plus an estimated 150 or so, permanent expat residents in Huatulco. Most of the permanent expats migrated from Canada. But there are a few exceptions.

Things to do in Huatulco, Mexico

Huatulco Beach
©Donald Murray

Going to the beach seems to be a regular pastime for the residents of Crucecita. Beach parties/gatherings often involve picnics and cold drinks. The evenings are social occasions with folks meeting in and around the city square to enjoy street performers and music or maybe a game of darts and a few beers at one of the local watering holes.

Crucecita also offers good internet so those interested in keeping up with their favorite sports teams can watch live streaming games, or binge-watch a Netflix series.

FedEx and the other carriers line up each morning to collect their packages from the airport. All the residents look forward to the deliveries as the trucks parade through town. It’s how it is here. There are a couple of decent grocery stores but for almost everything else, it seems the locals have learned to shop online or drive to the big city, Salina Cruz. There is a Walmart and Sam’s Club there but it’s about a three-hour drive, maybe more. It makes for a long day.

Cost of Living in Huatulco, Mexico

Cost-of-Living-in-Huatulco
©iStock/javarman3

The lifestyle here is a fraction of what it takes to live anywhere in North America, and the expats are taking full advantage.

A couple can find a wonderful two-bedroom condo for about $500 to $700 a month depending on your particular tastes. A nice home with an ocean view can set you back a little more at around the $1,000 to $1,500 a month. Most places have gardening and maid service, and gated properties are springing up at a stimulating rate. On the grand scale, the area is quite safe, and because it is a federally built city, the security presence is quite prominent.

The restaurants are very reasonable, where a $25 dinner for two with a drink is standard. A $5 Mexican dish is very easily obtained just about everywhere. I recommend Terra-Cotta restaurant for breakfast ($12 for two), El Grillo Marinero for lunch ($15 for two), and for sandy-toe ambiance, La Terraza Restaurante & Grille for a great dinner.

Come visit Huatulco and see what all the fuss is about. The weather is great, the people are friendly, the crowds are somewhere else, and your money goes a long way. Chances are, you will find out why everyone is returning year after year to enjoy the calm waters and wonderful lifestyle. You may just find Huatulco is the retirement place of your dreams.

ExpensesCost $USD
Rent$500
Utilities$60
Groceries$325
Entertainment$250
Housekeeping$100
Medical$150
Transportation (car, gas, insurance)$100
Transportation (public)$45
Total$1,530

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