0

Huatulco, Mexico with Kids: Why You Should Go

Beach in the Huatulco area of Mexico

What does every Minnesotan want when the temp drops below freezing and you’re shoveling your way into your car every morning during the chaotic school drop-off rush?

We want an escape. We want sun. We want sand. We want seafood. (We also want to rewind time and take those kind friend-parents up on their carpooling offer at the beginning of the school year which we so foolishly declined.)

A beach vacation is always a good option if the stars align. And while it’s convenient to hit up the beaches with popularity and the comforts of home, sometimes it’s a fun challenge to think outside the box. That’s how our family honed in on Huatulco (pronounced wah-tool-co), Mexico, as our winter getaway. We finally got our kids those passports we’d been talking about for a decade and started our planning.

Family Beach Vacation Packing List

Passports and Underwear

Sunscreen and Swimsuits

A ton of other small crap that I won’t remember if I don’t write it down

Was Huatulco a little more off the beaten path? Yes. Was Huatulco authentic and friendly and incredibly safe? Also yes. Was Huatulco AMAZING? Hell yes!


Read on to learn about the highlights from our family trip to Huatulco, including what you should expect and what you 100% should not miss.

The question we got most often was, “Where IS Huatulco anyway?” And we’d say, “It’s on the Pacific side in the state of Oaxaca.” Did that help? Not really. So I would just pull up this map and explain its proximity from Mexico City and Guatemala.

Then they’d ask, “Why did you choose to go THERE and not Cabo or Cancun?” Well, we wanted more rural. We wanted coves and natural beaches and some tourism (but not too much). We wanted a national park, endless sunshine and insane food!

Map of the Huatulco area of Mexico

I’m pleased to report that we received ALL of those things on our recent trip to Huatulco – and then some! With a population of under 50,000, the Huatulco region is broken into smaller cities where we spent a lot of our time. The charm was worth the taxi rides, I promise you that.


The Basics

Getting There and Around:
With direct flights to Huatulco’s International Airport (HUX) being a much easier option from Canada than the US, A) you’ll meet a lot of Canadians on your trip, but B) you will need to have a layover (ours was in Dallas – be warned – this is a monster of an airport so allow plenty of time on your layover to go through customs, check bags, or catch a shuttle to the next terminal. You’ll land on the runway (this is novel for us Midwesterners) and you’re not supposed to have your cell phone out (for selfies or otherwise – I learned this the hard way). The Huatulco (HUX) airport is tiny so you’ll basically fill out your customs forms, answer a few questions, and you’re off. You can’t get lost and you can’t mess it up – I promise.

There will be plenty of modes of transportation waiting to help you out including taxis, which are easiest. Be sure to check with your hotel to see if they have a shuttle or are able to set you up with a ride before your arrival. We had a driver waiting with a van, compliments of our resort – Las Palmas (more on that later).

A few items to note about transportation to the Huatulco area: I would’ve been a nervous wreck driving in this area. Very grateful we didn’t rent a car. Stop signs felt optional and it was just confusing overall. I was much happier putting that job in the hands of cab drivers who were, yes, fast and cheap, but also very kind and respectful. We had a family of five and squeezed our 8-year-old on our laps for rides when we could only access a smaller taxi vehicle. It was…interesting. Lots of speed bumps, and motion sick folks might want to pack Dramamine. Also it felt safe in a taxi even though you’d see folks with babies in the front seats, people sitting in the backs of trucks, no car seats, etc. It was shocking at first but people wave through their windows are are so very welcoming, and the taxi drivers know what they’re doing. It almost felt like everybody knew everybody in the Huatulco area.

It’s easy to catch a cab from basically anywhere so don’t stress about that like we did. Drivers accept pesos and will tell you what your total will be before you hop in – simply ask, “Cuanto?” when you open the door and make sure you have enough to cover the ride.

Taking a taxi around the Huatulco area of Mexico

Local Currency:
While we were able to pay one cab driver in American dollars, every other person and business only accepted pesos (or a choice few took our Visa card). Look for the credit card symbol on doors or cash registers beforehand if you’re worried about running short on pesos. We did a few times and basically became experts at locating ATMs in the city of La Crucecita. I kept the My Currency Converter app handy on my iPhone at all times and highly recommend downloading it before you go so you can know how much something will cost in American dollars. We exchanged quite a chunk of cash in the US before going to Mexico, just for peace of mind. Avoid doing your exchange at the airport if you can (high rates and busy).

Staying Connected:
The local cities near Huatulco had cell service for our AT&T plan, but the second you left the city’s perimeter, or cruise through the national park or any more rural area (and a lot of it is rural), you will lose signal quickly. Just be mindful about downloading any maps you might need or getting an offline version of Google Translate, or other apps you need on-hand.

Language:
You will encounter quite a number of hospitality workers that know some English, but this is a place where it’s respectful to try to speak their language of Spanish as much as you can. Download, and don’t be afraid to use, Google Translate. Use the Conversation button to translate live when someone is speaking to you and speak back into it for a translation response in Spanish. It’s a brilliant little invention and will come in handy when you have the service to use it. Otherwise, brush off the old high school Spanish class words before you go and be prepared to use choice expressions throughout your trip. People are SO helpful in understanding, so don’t let the language barrier stop you.

Random Notes:
Bathrooms at a lot of public locations were not the greatest. I’m not a snob, but being a woman and having to use those bathrooms was not the most pleasant thing I’ve ever done. Bring hand sanitizer. Pack Kleenex. Work on your squats. You’ll thank me later.

Try shifting gears as soon as you can to “island time.” No one will rush you to leave the restaurant, no one will bring your check unless you ask, no one will tell you it’s time to go to the next stop. It’s a very “yes” town with big smiles and friendly people. I loved it, but it did take me awhile to release my inner uptightness and really lean into it.

Embrace the culture. Try the food. Purchase the necklace from the sweet lady on the street. Take pictures of the flowers. Walk into the church. Wake up for the sunrise. Stay up for the sunset. And for goodness sake, wear sunscreen.


Lodging

LAS PALMAS | OCEANFRONT VILLAS & CASITAS

Our family cannot say enough good things about the place we stayed in Huatulco. It came recommended from a personal friend and the more we looked into it, the more we fell in love. The concierge was super responsive via email and made us feel taken care of before we even stepped foot in Mexico. And the best part was the homemade meals prepared fresh for us by the sweetest ladies with beautiful, prideful smiles.

Las Palmas is definitely worth checking out. I’m not sure if it categorizes as a hotel, a resort, an Airbnb, or some mish mash of them all, but our family of five was able to rent our own casita where they brought in two twin-sized beds to make sure we could sleep comfortably. Las Palmas offers casitas (which accommodates 4) and villas (which accommodates 10). The price varies depending on what you go with, when you go, and whether you pay nightly or weekly, but with the infinity pool, the view, and the cleanliness (oh, and did I mention the food?), this place was well worth the money.

Las Palmas sits atop a hill about 10-15 minutes from the port city of Santa Cruz and La Crucecita and is a 10-minute walk from La Entrega, a popular (yet small) snorkeling beach lined with restaurants and live music. The location requires you to taxi nearly anywhere you’d like to go, but the concierge is very attentive and will line you up with tours, meals, and transportation upon request. I don’t know if I’ve ever met a sweeter, more adorable human than Luis, our first concierge. Smiles for DAYS!

The best part of staying at Las Palmas was the always-empty swimming pool and the meal options. I cannot even begin to express the ease of coming home from a long day of touring or swimming and being able to sit on their public patio where homemade tortillas, salads, pico, chilaquiles, tacos, salsas, juices, chicken, pancakes, mole, and grasshoppers (yes, grasshoppers) were served beautifully without me having to think twice. It was a mother’s dream. And the kind chefs were so pleasant – you’ll want to know 100 different ways to say “delicious” in Spanish if you go this route.

Oh, and one more thing worth mentioning that was a huge perk to Las Palmas – we were able to pre-order groceries to have in the casita when we arrived. Grocery delivery is a more common convenience offered from many places these days and it will be one of those perks I’ll forever use if I can. We emailed a list of food and drink to our concierge and they just…took care of it. From beer to fresh fruits to snacks and juices, it was a fantastic way to really settle in and relax.

If you decide you want to stay closer to the city, there are plenty of hotel, condo, and apartment options in and around Santa Cruz near the ports where the cruise ships come in. The perks of those would be your proximity (walkability) to food, entertainment, and night life. Some options on Airbnb can be found here.


Can’t-Miss Highlights

Our family tried to pace ourselves with a balancing act of tours, busyness, sightseeing, and relaxation. If I could’ve done five more tour days, I would have, but those snorkel and lay by the beach days? Well, those are just priceless. The decision for which tours to do was almost as difficult and selecting our cerveza orders at dinners each. night.

What I discovered about the tours provided is that they are very loosely planned. On the websites, you’ll see a “sort of agenda” of the day, but also will notice nothing has a time attached to it. “So what do we DO on the tour? When is lunch? How long do we stay at each spot?” The answer to all those questions is pretty much, “Whatever, whenever, however you want.” The guides are exactly that – a guide. They make sure you hit the main spots, but how long you want to spend snorkeling at beach one, how many pitstops you make on your drive to your destination, when you want to stop for food – really all seemed to be laid back well beyond anything I’m used to in the United States. But it took me awhile to adjust, so I thought it was important to mention (for my fellow Type A mamas).

In the end, our days wound up looking like this:

  • Day 1) Arrive, swim, relax, visit the on-site beach (Playa de Violin)
  • Day 2) Tour of the Huatulco Bays boat ride and snorkeling
  • Day 3) Cities of La Crucecita and Santa Cruz
  • Day 4) Eco Tour and Turtle Release
  • Day 5) Kids Choice Day (pancakes, shopping, swimming, beach)
  • Day 6) Wahaca Cooking Class *one of my favorite vacation experiences of ALL TIME

The first thing to know is there’s no shortage of bay tour options in the Huatulco area. If you search “Huatulco Bay Tour”, you’re sure to find dozens to choose from. If you want to see one that is comparable to the one we did, check out Pilo Vazquez’s website here or this one of the Viator website.

We heard from so many people that the Huatulco Bay Tour was the tour of all tours – and it did not disappoint. We crashed over waves that would’ve made us ill had we not packed our Dramamine, but it was super awesome getting a lay of the land our first full day in Mexico. We visited a number of bays, got out and snorkeled along the shore with colorful fish, played in the sand, and ate seafood on Riscalillo Beach.

Our tour cost a total of about $350 USD for the full day.

The bays were tame and tucked away from any big ocean waves so letting the kids snorkel, swim, and climb on rocks was comfortable. The waters were a gorgeous turquoise color and the waters felt warm and inviting.

We packed our beach bag with towels, drinks, pesos, snacks, Dramamine, sunscreen, collapsible beach pails, and rash guards (we are SO close to the equator!). Santa Claus also brought everyone snorkel gear for Christmas so we saved some money by not having to rent snorkel gear from the tour company, but that IS an option.

Due to the weather, the waves were pretty robust so the ride took a lot longer than normal and the motion sickness could’ve kicked in badly sans medicine. We kept our eyes peeled for dolphins and whales with no luck, but we spotted one giant sea turtle basking in the wild waves, just chillin’ like a villain, crazy guy.

Our guide stopped at Riscalillo Beach for a fresh seafood lunch. We had margaritas, Victoria lagers (my husband’s newfound favorite), red snapper, shrimp with eyeballs, squid pasta, and quesadillas. We lounged in hammocks and played in the sand, and really didn’t know when we were supposed to be “done.” Again, the shift to island time was a hard one.

The point of the bay tour is to show off the beauty of these bays. For you to experience the calm blue waters and spend some time with the creatures that live underneath it. To slow your mind down, sit on a towel, buy a Pacifico from a beach vendor and really do, well, nothing. Our entire family loved it (and needed it). The first day was the perfect day for this – really laid the vibe for the rest of the trip. Would recommend 100%.


The towns of La Crucecita and Santa Cruz in the Huatulco area are a 10-minute walk apart (conveniently too, since they’ve built the Corredor Turístico, a pedestrian walkway connecting them safely). We were able to conquer both towns in four hours, with stops for breakfast, lunch, smoothies, souvenirs, iced coffees, breads, ice cream, even a small playground.

The highlight of La Crucecita for me was Iglesia De La Crucecita Huatulco, the large church on the town square. Built in the early 1800s, this structure is remarkable – but make sure you go inside! Completely free to tour, take some pictures, get some shade, and take in the stunning artistry and bright color of a church like I’ve never seen.

If you visit on a weekend night, the town square in La Crucecita is alive and poppin’. Live music and dancers, food trucks, families dancing in the grass. We took in the atmosphere until our bodies shut down due to exhaustion, but what we saw was beautiful.

Santa Cruz is a port city for cruise ships, so it has a more “touristy” vibe but it’s a great spot for souvenirs, swim gear, and tasty (but pricier) food. There are pushers along the beach who really REALLY want you to eat at their beachside table, so be warned about that. But Santa Cruz Beach is a lovely public beach and pier area to spend a warm afternoon.

Stops worth mentioning in La Crucecita and Santa Cruz:

  • Breakfast at Cafe Paraiso in La Crucecita started the morning perfectly with an upstairs patio and everything!
  • Breads from La Crucecita’s Panificadora Martha Jary were worth snagging for the next day’s breakfast.
  • Nachos and beer from Xipol hit the spot when we ran out of steam.
  • Grab a paleta (popsicle) to cool off on a street corner, or walk the streets with a juice or beer from a local frutas stand.
  • Casa del Cafe was a happy slice of cheesecake heaven.
  • The best iced latte I’ve ever had in my life came from a little place called Agave, where the kids each became obsessed with smoothie bowls and a 2-foot lizard fell on my husband’s head (yes, this is true and its own story for another time). The seating was adorbs, staff was wonderful, drinks were BOMB!
  • Plaza El Madero is like a “mall of souvenirs” in La Crucecita. Two blocks of clothing, jewelry, shoes, magnets, you name it. Mezcal is everywhere and grasshoppers (for eating) too – kids liked it here!

We chose this tour over the waterfall/coffee plantation tour because we have kids. And I’m so very glad we did (although I’m sure they would’ve loved that one too). THIS was the tour in which I knew nothing. Do I bring swimsuits? Do we pack a lunch? Again, the tour was loosely spelled out (and planned by our concierge) but if you can grab a tour on Viator (or some other site) that includes a turtle release, the turtle sanctuary, stops in cute cities like Mazunte and the Puerto Angel beach, and then be sure you get to row boat with the crocodiles among the mangroves at Ventanilla. By the way, I packed a small bag with drinks, snacks, sunscreen, bug spray, Dramamine, and my camera. That was about it. Swimsuits were an option for Puerto Angel, but time would’ve been tight, plus I didn’t want to sit in the van wet all day.

Our guide was amazing – his self-proclaimed nickname was “5-star Eduardo” and I sort of believe it. He made the 1.5 drive entertaining and inclusive and, since we were the only five in his van, it was very flexible. In fact, on the way out of town he stopped at a gas station for an orange juice and so we all got a morning treat. The roads are very windy. VERY windy. But with breaks, it was not that bad and I’m so happy we did it.

Our final destination was La Ventanilla, a protected nature reserve that felt like a magical island, like if Lost weren’t about smoke monsters but more about wandering wildlife and green trees. At Ventanilla we walked down a dirt path with four other people + guides (and saw a boa constrictor in the tree. I died on the spot.). At the end of the walk was our rowboat. And crocodiles. You don’t see a lot of crocs here in Minnesota, so of course we are all freaking out, yet climb into the rowboat because we are sheep lol. We were taken through the mangroves and listened to the guide (and the translator) as they explained the area’s history, purpose, and animals. Crocodiles swam right up next to the boat and were completely peaceful and undisturbed. We also saw giant heron, a few turtles, and an iguana. When we landed on the island, we were able to see more (protected and fenced-in) crocodiles, a spider monkey, and fed boatloads of deer. It was a kid’s dream and I hope they remember it forever. This is where you’ll want to use that bug spray too!

On the way to Ventanilla, we made plenty of stops that were equally as memorable. There are lots of little lively towns along the way including San Agusitinillo and Mazunte, where we stopped for some fresh bread, heard some street drumming, and did a coffee beans/chocolate/Mezal/honey tasting at Cafenduva. Everyone thought this stop was so unique and we did make many a purchase here and the local Mazunte soap and skin care shop (thanks to our pre-teen daughter).

Another visit on the tour was supposed to be the turtle sanctuary, Santuario La Escobilla, but unfortunately (and unbeknownst to our guide) it was closed that day. We were actually ok with it since we spent so long chasing the waves at the Puerto Angel beach and my husband had read that the sanctuary can feel a little sad.

So instead we grabbed a seafood lunch, some artisan ice cream, and our guide called an audible and showed us two things our kids will remember forever – 1) A Punta Cometa lookout point, otherwise known as “heart beach” and 2) Zipolete Beach, the only legal nude beach in Mexico. Were there nude people chillin’ right there outside of our car on the sand? Yessir. Did my kids want to get out of the car? No ma’am. But now they know that nude beaches exist and can do with that information what they so please in the future. 🙂

The end of the tour was the highlight of the day – the reason we chose this tour – the 10 minutes of vacation that our three kids said was the coolest adventure of all. It was baby turtle release time!

Our guide told us we had to cover our hands in mud and sand (something about human scent and re-navigation back to their beach). We walked a bowl of baby black turtles to the seashore and were told some statistics about some not making it. I thought, “Oh please, they’re like three feet from the water. How hard can this be?” Turns out I need to watch more Animal Planet because these little guys were slow and the local birds were hungry.

He drew a line in the sand and each of our kids release two turtles (after naming them, of course). We watched them waddle towards the water, take long breaks, get frustrated, waddle some more, roll over, and eventually make it to the water. The whole time the baby turtles are struggling and the kids are cheering, my husband and the guide are chucking chunks of sand at the birds hovering above hoping for a snack. It was an enthusiastic and unique few minutes that I will remember forever.

In case anyone is counting, four of the six turtles survived (two were not saved by thrown sand, stupid birds). RIP Juan and Isabel.

Our tour cost a total of about $300 USD for the full day.


It’s hard to pick a favorite moment from any vacation of all time. Maybe I’m a little biased since we just returned from this trip, but watching my kids knead tortilla bread, devein shrimp, mix margaritas, squeeze limes, chop cilantro, blend salsas, taste test everything – it filled my heart seeing them so happy. Watching them take instruction and be able to reap the rewards at the end of the day by eating 40 million tacos was also a beautiful thing.

Wahaca Cooking class was a last-minute add by my husband, tossing it into our agenda less than a week before heading out on vacation. He chatted with Alfredo, the head chef, on Instagram and found out they could accommodate kids as young as 8 (which ours is) so my husband signed us up based on positive reviews and his personal enjoyment of taco and margarita consumption.

Wahaca is located in La Bocana Copalita, a 20 minute drive from Santa Cruz. A cab picked us up at 9am to head there and we cooked and ate until 1pm. There’s a huge table on the covered patio that held 10 of us, there were clean bathrooms, an authentic tortilla oven, pictures of the chef’s mother, a large colorful logo, and fresh ingredients waiting for us to turn them into something wonderful in the indoor kitchen. So we apron’ed up, washed our hands, and got ready for some action.

Alfredo was PHENOMENAL. I have no other words for him. He did not baby our children, but kept them involved and interested. He trusted them to do hard things and helped them do them properly. He laughed a lot and kept the beer and fresh juices flowing. As a group of 9, we made four different salsas, four protein options (fish, chicken, pork, and shrimp), two flavors of margaritas, pico de gallo, sliced vegetables, and more than 50 homemade tortillas. You could sense his authentic joy when it comes to the kitchen. And by the end, our kids felt the same.

Once we finished the chopping, cutting, kneading, flipping, cooking, breading, and mixing, we ate the fruits of our labor. We ate. And we ATE. And we ate some more. You’ll never know the true limits of a 14-year old boy’s stomach and metabolism until it’s faced with bottomless freshly-made Mexican tacos. We all went back for thirds, minimum. It was a happy table of people from Canada, Ireland, and California whom we’d gotten to know and appreciate over the course of the class. And here we are now, slamming tortillas together as one unit of hungry, bonded chefs. I can’t say it enough – it was flawless.

Just like everything else in this area, we were not rushed to leave. We lingered and chatted and ate and drank until someone eventually said, “Well, I guess we should head out.” No schedule, no hurry. Only time, relaxation, and good company.

Are tacos and margaritas not your thing? (hmmm, are there people in this world who actually answer yes to this?) But there are other different options available – be sure to check out his other cooking classes online, including spicy tingas and peppers, seafood, moles with pork, tamales, passion fruit ceviche, jalapeno poppers, and more. I recommend following him on Instagram too. Reservations can be made very close to the date you plan to attend and he says he hosts classes six days a week.

OH – and Alfredo also owns a restaurant in La Crucecita called “Alfredo’s” which, of course, our family ate at that night. We told him we were going and when we arrived he had reserved the table up front for our family. Does it GET nicer than that? The food was unsurprisingly spectacular and it felt good to support this awesome guy and his passion.

Our cooking class cost a total of about $450 USD. Worth every penny.


La Entrega beach Huatulco, Mexico

If you decide to take this trip, I do recommend bringing your own snorkel gear. We loved being able to have it on-hand at all beaches without having to deal with renting.

While Huatulco isn’t legend for snorkeling, it does provide peaceful spots to snorkel in turquoise waters because of the bay formations blocking ocean waves. I felt very safe out there with my kids, even in the deeper waters. Every beach had coral hot spots where we hung out and my two oldest especially could’ve snorkeled all day every day. We saw a puffer fish, long skinny fish, huge schools of fish, red fish, blue fish (one fish, two fish). It is a happy, calming, gorgeous experience and I recommend squeezing in as much of it as you possibly can.

Beaches where we snorkeled were Playa La Entrega, Chachacual, and Playa La India (that one was our favorite). The waters are shallow and the bottoms are sandy, so we had nothing to complain about. See a list of the best Huatulco beaches here.

If snorkeling on your own makes you nervous, you can sign up for tours of all lengths. This is one I found that looks to be family-friendly.

Speaking of tours and classes, in doing our research we found that these tours were also highly rated. Time didn’t allow for us to do them all, but these would’ve been great I’m sure:

Here are some of the articles we read that helped in planning our adventure:

Overall, Huatulco was a VERY pleasant surprise. It was the perfect introduction to Mexico and was what we were searching for in the less-touristy, more-rural and authentic vibe. The conveniences of an all-inclusive resort on a beach in Cancun will happen someday, but this was a magical getaway that truly engulfed our kids in the culture of Mexico and around some of the kindest, most selfless people I’ve ever met. Huatulco is an up-and-coming secret gem that deserves to be recognized and appreciated!

You Might Also Like

No Comments

    Leave a Reply