One of Mexico’s most vibrant regions is waiting to be rediscovered.
The State of Oaxaca, one of Mexico’s most culturally rich and diverse regions, was severely damaged by earthquakes in September 2017. However, after reconstruction, Oaxaca is ready to welcome visitors.
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Chic Beachfront Hotels
WHERE: Puerto Escondido
Part of the hip Grupo Habita hotel group, Hotel Escondido’s 16 eco-chic bungalows are set on an undisturbed stretch of beach outside Puerto Escondido on the road to Pinotepa National Park. The understated hotel appeals to guests looking for secluded luxury and plenty of wow factor, with private plunge pools, an underground bar, and a rugged setting. The onsite restaurant’s new menu features coastal cuisine in a fusion of Nayarit and Michoacan influences with Oaxacan flavors. Must-try dishes include baby crawfish tacos and risotto of chicatanas (black ants) with pulpo (octopus).
WHERE: Puerto Escondido
Although best known for its big-wave surfing, Oaxaca’s coast is fast-becoming a hub for innovative art. While windswept Roca Blanca beach northwest of Puerto Escondido is where contemporary Mexican artist Gabriel Orozco built Casa Observatorio, his stunning private vacation home modeled on an astronomical observatory, the coast’s latest architectural showstopper is open to visitors. Renowned Mexican artist Bosco Sodi is the vision behind Casa Wabi, the studio retreat and contemporary gallery awarded “Best New Museum in Central and Southern Mexico” in the recent Leading Culture Destinations Awards. Designed by Japanese celebrity architect Tadao Ando, the gallery’s soaring space made of concrete and palapa palm fronds will serve as a dramatic backdrop for the highly anticipated 2018 exhibition by Ugo Rondinone, the Swiss artist known for his large-scale installations merging fantasy and color.
Zapotec Cooking Classes
Dive into local indigenous Zapotec culture in a hands-on Chiles & Chocolate Cooking Classes featuring an exploration of southern Mexican cuisine. Learn how to use regional ingredients such as nopal (cactus), chapulines (toasted grasshoppers) and Pacific Coast shrimp to make street food, party fare, and traditional main dishes. Although damaged by flooding in 2017, the newly rebuilt Chiles & Chocolate kitchen in the pueblo of Zimitan on the outskirts of the Bahia de Huatulco’s hotel zone now offers expansive river views and relaxed dining beneath a graceful 200-year old huayacan tree. Friday evening Village-to-Table dinners feature tastes of regional specialties such as tinchuiche, a tiny anchovy-like river fish that packs a wallop of flavor.
INSIDER TIPThe Chiles & Chocolate cooking school is the spot to score a jar of artisanal sea salt crafted by the Huatulco Sea Salt Company. Locally-harvested and infused with flavors such as jamaica (hibiscus flower) and romero (rosemary), it sells out fast in boutiques around town.
WHERE: Puerto Escondido
In the past, beachgoers had limited options when it came to luxury digs in Puerto Escondido. But the arrival of Vivo Resorts nine miles north of Puerto Escondido has changed everything. This contemporary property features spacious suites with balconies, granite kitchens, and onyx bathrooms as well as a beachfront infinity pool. With the launch of Vivo’s new Club House in December 2017, there’s even more to like. Most impressive is the airy new lobby with views of both mountains and sea. The hotel also it features a restaurant with Oaxacan cuisine, a sleek lobby bar, and a full-service spa, fitness club, yoga studio, tennis courts, kid’s club, and more. Other draws to the property include eco-adventures in nearby Laguna de Manialtepec, a glowing bioluminescent lagoon, or horseback riding and bird-watching. A shuttle bus whisks guests into Puerto Escondido to shop at Benito Juarez Mercado, a sprawling market packed with authentic goods like Oaxacan stringy cheese and shrimp plucked fresh from the waters of Salina Cruz.
With the aroma of fresh roasted coffee wafting out of the open doorways of its shops, Pluma Hidalgo must be Mexico’s most fragrant town. While coffee has shaped the culture, traditions, and landscape of this pueblo in the highlands of the Sierra Madre Sur Mountains, it’s not the only reason to head for the hills above Huatulco. Artisanal mezcal, bird-watching, and hiking are also big draws. To get to Pluma Hidalgo, it’s wise to take an organized tour, such as Homie Tours’s Three Levels excursion. On this full-day adventure, a local indigenous Zapotec guide navigates from Bahia Santa Cruz along the winding highway (still under post-earthquake repair ) into the cloud forest where you’ll taste some of the world’s best coffee. You’ll also stop at Santa Maria Huatulco (founded in 1539), home to the Church of Immaculate Conception and vibrant folk murals depicting the region’s rich history.
WHERE: Oaxaca City
Surrounded by dramatic mountains and dotted with leafy plazas flanked by historic 16th-century buildings, Oaxaca City is one of Mexico’s most fascinating colonial cities. While reconstruction of fragile historical monuments damaged by the earthquakes will continue through 2020, the good news is that many buildings such as the beautiful baroque Santo Domingo Church are open and others such as Macedonio Alcalá Theater are scheduled to open in early 2018. Impact at archaeological sites such as Monte Albán, the ancient home of the “cloud people” was minimal, and it’s business as usual for archeological sites and textile villages. Food fans will want to try street food such as tlayudas, memelas, and tamales from Oaxaca City’s best vendors.
Isthmus of Tehuantepec
With more than 50% of the homes damaged by the September 7th earthquake, the city of Juchitán and other communities on the Isthmus of Tehuantepec, the long peninsula in southeast Oaxaca are facing a long road to recovery. However, debris is being removed and reconstruction is underway, so the new focus is on economic rebuilding. Visitors can help with the recovery by purchasing the region’s beautifully embroidered and woven huipils (blouses), created by the region’s skilled local artisans. Shop the market in Juchitán (now operating in a public park) and learn about the indigenous textile traditions of the Mixtec weavers of the Oaxaca Coast on a special in-depth journey with Tia Stephanie Tours in 2018.
With much of its coastline protected from development, the Bahias de Huatulco (Bays of Huatulco) was the first resort destination in the Americas to obtain International Green Globe Certification. It continues to be at the forefront of sustainable tourism with Dreams Huatulco Resort & Spa recently achieving 100% compliance with Rainforest Alliance standards for environmental, social, and economic sustainability. At the Barcelo Huatulco Beach Resort next door, they’ve eliminated plastic straws in all bars and restaurants as part of a sea turtle conservation initiative (straws are a hazard for sea turtles who mistake them for food), while at Secrets Huatulco Resort & Spa on Conejos Bay, guests don’t even need to leave the property to do their bird watching. A new jungle observatory features a wooden boardwalk that’s ideal for spotting many of Oaxaca’s 800 species of birds.
Sea Turtle Fever
WHERE: Puerto Escondido
The opportunity to witness a sea turtle nesting or watch a baby sea turtle toddle its way to the sea is a great way to combine marine conservation with fun in the sun. Oaxaca is home to nesting beaches for four of the world’s seven species of sea turtles, which means you’re likely to encounter a sea turtle at some point during a visit. Although a tsunami alert was issued for Oaxaca’s coast post-earthquake, the alert was canceled quickly, leaving nesting beaches undamaged. Top spots for prime sea turtle action include Playa Bococho in Puerto Escondido and La Escobilla Beach, a protected sanctuary for the world’s largest nesting site for olive ridley turtles, located near Gecko Rock Resort. Check with the Tourist Information Booth on the Adoquin flanking Playa Principal in Puerto Escondido for more information.
Mezcal Distillery Tours
WHERE: Oaxaca City
Sipping mezcal from a gourd at a family-owned palenque (distillery) is the best way to appreciate the earthy nuances of this agave spirit. Mezcal expert Alvin Starkman, who heads up Mezcal Educational Tours, leads in-depth forays from Oaxaca City to artisanal distilleries tucked within Oaxaca’s central valleys. There, participants can observe the roasting of maguey piñas in earthen pits, see the operation of traditional stone mills, and learn about distillation in traditional copper stills. In addition to sampling joven (unaged), reposado (oak barrel aged for 6 months), and añejo (aged more than a year) mezcal, adventurous types can earn bragging rights by sampling rare varieties such as mezcal de pechuga, produced by using a raw chicken breast in the distillation process to create a delicate and fruity mezcal that’s highly prized for baptisms, weddings, and special occasions. Other memorable experiences include sampling pulque, the fermented pre-Hispanic beverage that’s making a comeback in Mexico City’s trendiest bars.