By Leigh Morrow
Sometime last fall the Mexican government declared a small community on the southern Oaxacan coast to be the latest jewel in its tourism tiara. Best known in the history books as a slaughterhouse for turtles, including the famous Oliver Ridley species, Mazunte had already become known in conservation circles for a large turtle sanctuary and museum aimed at preservation of the species, and stopping the illegal turtle egg trade. Yet the Pueblo Magico designation caught many off guard. This kiss of government approval for a tourism mecca was touted as providing a “magical experience” for tourists, by reason of the area’s natural beauty and/or cultural riches. Think Tulum, Palenque, Isla Mujeres.
In Mazunte, I watched as anyone who had a portable grill, an extra bed, or a table to sell from, sprang into action expecting a gold rush of tourism to flood in for the pending Christmas holiday. The christening of a village to Magico status brings with it government money for cosmetic paint and trim – lipstick improvements – and large advertising budgets, so understandably, many locals view the designation as winning the tourism lottery.
The fallout from having the Pueblo Magico wand waved is that this new attention, while great for the local economy, means that anything that was a secret, is no longer.So it’s a bit of a miracle that San Agustinillo, just a five minute walk from the zany late rave crowds and new night clubs of Mazunte, is still relatively unknown.
While the large tourist busses barely squeeze through our cobblestones street, they are all focused on getting through San Agustinillo, on the way to Mazunte. The only time they stop is if parking is too horrific elsewhere. San Agustinillo is still very much as it has been for decades. The single road through town curves and turns with color-popping fuschia and cream bougainvillea spilling over iron fences and front gates. Last year the hydro wires were relocated below ground, and the addition of cobblestone roadwork adds to the village charm and now wireless viewpoints.
The beach is often empty in the early morning and after sunset, and the water is always clean and clear, often deliciously warm for long afternoon bobs. The few restaurants close early, but serve thoughtful seasonal dishes with ingredients often trucked in overnight from the agricultural hub of Oaxaca City. The nights are dead quiet and star filled. Set your telescope for nightly celestial events in the inky black skies unfettered by light pollution.
Hike to Punta Cometa
Walk up the hill from San Agustinillo into neighbouring Mazunte and follow the main road to the beach. Just before you see the beach, the road branches to the right. During the rainy season this road is prone to wash outs and despite paving it each year, the water always wins, washing all the hard work away. The road runs by the cemetery with its pots of artificial flowers and crumbling headstones. Keep going and watch for the wooden markers saying simply -Punta Cometa.
This trail offers spectacular vistas of Playa Mermejita and the rolling Pacific Ocean from the unique perspective of a peninsula jutting into the water. Punta Cometa is the most southern peninsula on the Pacific side of the North American continent. Local history tells a story of a treasure hidden by the Aztecs somewhere on Punta Cometa. It is considered by many to be a magical and healing spot. Many searching sacred wisdom visit Punta Cometa on their journey of self-discovery. A gigantic towering cactus was living on the point, but the last hurricane toppled the succulent. New, younger offspring are flourishing and if your visit is in the spring, they will delight you with a bounty of yellow blossoms. Once you have walked the circular route and appreciated the Pacific from the various vantage points, take the trail back and savor sunset from Playa Mermejita, the perfect vantage point to watch the orange fireball sun melt like ice cream into the Pacific.
Whale and Dolphin Salutes
Wake early and catch a ride on one of the four boats Captain Beto Fajardo has waiting on the beach at San Agustinillo. His family was one of the two founding families of San Agustinillo. The powerful motor quickly cuts through the waves and out to the open ocean where you will squeal with delight as humpback whales breach right beside you in perfect synchronicity. Three pods of school-aged dolphins cavort, I reach for my phone but I’m not quick enough to catch the sailfish in flight. We stop and snorkel in a secluded bay where a momma manta ray and her two babies swim by. Yellow parrot fish and tiny iridescent blue ones are spotted feeding on the coral. I bob up, just in time to see a large turtle swim by. The ride culminates in a rapid run for the beach which Beto navigates with precision and years of practice. We land high on the sand as the hull sails over the two logs placed there to help with our assent, and Beto pulls the motor up, just in time.
If you have not visited, do so now, San Agustinillo won’t always feel this authentic, and off the beaten track.
Leigh Morrow is a Vancouver writer. You can rent her home in San Agustinillo.