By Randy Jackson
Here’s a question for people familiar with Huatulco: How many of the nine bays of Huatulco can you name (without googleandolo)? I conducted a non-random, non-representative survey amongst friends and acquaintances, and came up with a range of between 2 and 7. That’s OK. I wasn’t any better at it until undertaking a fun project with my friend John this season, to swim across each of the nine bays of Huatulco. There is nothing like direct experience as a teacher, as I can now name all nine bays.
But far more important than mastering a list of names, swimming each of the bays means having an experience with the bays in a personal way. It’s like the difference between knowing the name of a particular mountain, and having climbed it. What follows is some information about each of the “official” nine Bahías de Huatulco, and a little about our experience of swimming each of them in the winter of 2022. (NB: The order of the bays is by the dates we swam them, not the geographical order).
Órgano (January 14):
For me the memory of our swim at El Órgano is the “ghost body.” I saw something in the water, floating about 5 feet below the surface. Its shape and colour, obscured by my swim goggles and the water, caused my brain to fire-up an image of a body seemingly suspended in the water. Our brains do that. They instantly form a reality influenced by subconscious expectations. On a deserted bay on the coast of Mexico there is always some unconscious trepidation about swimming out into the Pacific. And when you see something brown in the shape of a leg, calf and foot – well, it stops a fellah cold. Freud and Jung both believed that dreams had equal impact to waking experiences. I wonder if at some advanced age, years from now in a nursing home, whether my remembered reality of the swim at Órgano will come back: The image of a ghost body, or the realisation after investigating, that it was a cloud of brownish algae-like substance, surprisingly clustered in the shape of a human leg.
The walk to the trailhead for Bahía del Órgano from the Hotel Binniguenda in Santa Cruz takes about 25 minutes. Once on the forested trail, it takes an additional 10 minutes to walk to the beach. Our swim at Órgano was out to a point of rock on the right side facing the bay, then across the bay to the roped off swim/snorkel area, then back to the beach. Swim distance, approximately 500 metres (half a kilometer).
Maguey (January 21):
Back in the day before Huatulco tourism development, Bahía Maguey was enclosed by lush vegetation stretching across its mouth. People could only access the bay with a smaller boat. There is also reported to be a “secret” cave, only accessible underwater. The cave was at one time rumoured to be a hiding place for pirates. I wonder though, how did the pirates know about the cave if it was behind the reeds and under water? However, neither reeds nor diving pirates impeded our progress as we swam across the bay and back again, a swim of about 600 metres.
Also relevant to both Órgano and Maguey is a news story (March 2021) that FONATUR had purchased back these two bays from Fernando Chico Pardo (Chairman of the ASUR group). Pardo had purchased this land for development in 2011. The land is zoned for hotel and mixed commercial use, but no development had begun (and presumably no development had even been proposed). I guess the “For Sale” sign is back up on the beaches.
Chahué (January 28):
In The Edge of Enchantment: Sovereignty and Ceremony in Huatulco, Mexico, author Alicia Maria Gonzalez notes that Bahía Chahué was an alligator-infested marshland up until the FONATUR development. The sand, gravel and rock from nearby construction was used to fill the marsh and create a lovely beach with a lifeguard, public washrooms (5 pesos), and showers (10 pesos). Caution is advised at Chahué for anyone not comfortable in the water. The beach descends quickly below the water and waves crash near to shore. There are occasional rip tides. Chahué is less sheltered than other Huatulco bays so there are often modest waves. These sea swells were moderate, in fact fun, as we swam across the bay and back. The bay is about 400 metres across at the breakwater, so about an 800-metre) swim.
Cacaluta (February 4):
The original name of this bay was Cacalotepec, translated as “the hill of crows.” To get to Bahía de Cacaluta, one drives or walks 5 kilometres from the Binniguenda hotel, passing beyond Maguey, to get to the trailhead. It is then a 20-minute walk along a maintained trail. Part of the trail is along a boardwalk with two viewpoints overlooking what in February was a dried-up wetland – so dry in fact that even the grass growing where the marsh used to be has turned brown. We may need the help of Tlaloc, the Aztec god of rain, and the rainy season to replenish this (and other) marshlands.
Cacaluta Bay has two beaches shaped like side-by-side smiles. There is a small spit of land separating the smiles, and this point is closest to the rock island dominating the mouth of the bay. From that point, we swam across to the island, then across its rocky frontage (no beach), inside the roped-off snorkel/scuba diving area. We then closed the triangle by swimming back to our starting point, about 700 metres.
San Agustín (February 11):
It was about 10:30 in the morning as we wound our way along the gravel road (half hour drive), to access Bahía San Agustín from Highway 200. We followed a convoy of five large tourists buses on the way in. Our beach restaurant waiter at San Agustín, Cristian, thought there were about forty restaurants lining this bay. I didn’t count, but there certainly are a whole lot of them.
A central attraction at San Agustín is the coral reef located close to shore, in shallow water, and is more or less at the centre of the bay. The roped-off swimming and snorkelling area includes the coral reef and a rocky outcrop which is to the right while facing the sea. The boat access to the shore is on either side of this snorkel area.
My favourite part of Huatulco bay swimming is crossing over a coral reef. Not only for the underwater eye-candy this provides, but it also allows for a sense of movement not normally experienced in open water swimming. So even we slow swimmers feel as if we’re “ripping” when crossing over a reef. We did just that at San Agustín, but mostly we swam around the reef following the buoys along the outer edge of it, and then back, an estimated swim distance of 900 metres.
Conejos (February 18):
Some long-time visitors and residents might remember Bahía Conejos before the all-inclusive resort hotel Secrets opened in 2010. There used to be a walking trail, now fenced off, that led down to the beach and a restaurant run by local fishermen. Neither the trail nor the restaurant survived the arrival of Secrets and the subsequent fencing off of the adjacent property by the Melia Hotel chain.
Melia had announced in 2014 it would build a 500-room resort hotel on Conejos – it would have been located just east of Secrets, but as of yet, nothing but the fence and a security guard occupy the site. However, there is another trail down to Conejos west of Secrets, and two local restaurants on the beach.
Thanks to our swim quest, we rediscovered Conejos, and enjoyed the bay and beach from one of the restaurants. The trail access has a handmade sign for Conejos Bay just before arriving at the Secrets resort, about a 7 kilometre drive from Tangolunda. Conejos has the unique feature of a rock outcropping that partitions off a part of the bay. This spot is where the trail leads, and where the two restaurants are located. There is a slightly elevated, full view of the entire bay and beach access from this spot. The rock outcrop serves to screen the view of the resort leaving anyone at the restaurants with the illusion of a lovely undeveloped bay on the Oaxacan coast. In addition, while we were there for several hours, very few people from the resort ventured out onto the beach, solidifying this perspective.
Our swim was straight across from the two ends of the curved bay and back, about 650 metres in all.
Tangolunda (February 25):
Being a foreigner of the snowbird variety, with ten or more winters in Huatulco, it’s funny how much of an outsider I still felt at the resort-lined Bahía Tangolunda (“pretty woman”) bay. Yet for thousands of tourists each year, the view of this bay is likely what they take home as a memory of Huatulco. It’s a beautiful bay, in a resort-esque sort of way. The sandy curve of the bay is framed on one side by the impressive and ordered look of the reddish-orange Las Brisas hotel complex, and on the other side by mansions of Balcones de Tangolunda peeking out on the rocky cliffs.
Getting to the beach I couldn’t help feeling as if we were sneaking onto the king’s estate to poach deer. The public access is from the campground (parking 10 pesos). From here you walk along the chain-link fence of the golf course. The trail is strewn with tires and broken sand bags, placed there when the area was a bog. In February, of course, it’s bone dry. The walk is 3 or 4 minutes to the beach.
The Chontal name for this bay was tecualo, the place of rocks. We found this to be an apt description. The bay itself boasts prominent rocky islands, but there are also rocky mounds near the surface of the bay, cordoned off inside the swim areas. There are two buoy-lined swim areas, one in front of the Barcelo, the other in front of the Dreams resort. There is boat and jetski access between these two roped off areas.
We swam out and along one side of the Barcelo swim area, then further out to a point on the rocky island closest to the shore. From this rocky point we could see there was a line of rocks behind the island stretching out seaward. There is a break in the rocks about 10 metres wide, and through this break we could see the beach in front of Dreams (Camino Real Zaashila has its own cove separated by a rocky outcrop from the Dreams Resort.) We swam through this break in the rocks and across to the swim area in front of Dreams. Then back across the front of the bay to our starting point. This swim route was our longest swim in our swim-the-bays project – the full loop was about 1 kilometer.
Chachacual Bay (March 4):
Of all the nine bays of Huatulco, Bahía Chachacual takes the most effort to get to. It is accessible only by boat. We rented a lancha at San Agustín for the 20-minute boat ride to Chachacual. As you enter the bay by boat, the long playa Chachacual is on the left, stretching across most of the bay. To the right, is a separate cove known as Playa La India. This beach, often touted as a remote idyllic spot, was partially lined with beach umbrellas and tables. There was a beverage service. A lovely spot with boats anchored in the cove, shallow waters, and a nice beach, Playa La India was the end point of our cross-bay swim.
We jumped off the boat at the entrance to Chachacual bay, opposite Playa La India, where there was a small roped off snorkel or dive area along the rocks. From there we picked a large boat anchored at La India as our line of sight and began our swim. For this swim, John and I had company. John’s niece, Schuyler, an experienced open-water swimmer, joined us for the swim; John’s wife Deborah and her sister Priscilla were the boat spotter crew as we swam across the deep waters of the bay. Our swim distance at this, our final bay, was about 900 metres.
Bahía de Santa Cruz sees the most open-water swimmers. Each morning between about 6:30 and 8:30, there are a fair number of regular swimmers. Besides the ease of access for most Huatulqueños, there are markers for the different swimming abilities. From the beach looking seaward, there are some green buoys that can be used as swim objectives. The first green buoy, referred to by the regular morning swimmers as “El Primero,” is at the end of the cruise ship pier. The distance out and back is about 700 metres. The next buoy further out is at the entrance to La Entrega (round-trip, about 1,500 metres). Most of the longer distance swimmers, if going this far, swim to the beach at Entrega. The Entrega beach is approximately 1 kilometre in each direction from the Santa Cruz beach.
John and I separately do a fitness swim at Santa Cruz each week, so we didn’t include it in “Swimming The Bays Of Huatulco” project.
In all, a fun and interesting project for John and me this season. The swim across each of the nine bays of Huatulco has enhanced our experience of Huatulco overall, and provided us with unique experiences of each of these lovely bays. There will be another swim project for us next season in Huatulco. I hope the above descriptions and swim information are useful and encourage other open-water swimmers to explore Las Bahías de Huatulco.
Randy Jackson: firstname.lastname@example.org