The Nine (More?) Bays of Huatulco

By Julie Etra

Huatulco’s tourism advertising trumpets the “nine bays and thirty-six beaches” of the Bahías de Huatulco resort area. Well, it all depends on how you count them, but the names of the bays and beaches offer a fascinating mix of history, legend, and local flora and fauna.

From east to west – Bahía means “bay” and playa means “beach”

Bahía Conejos. Conejos is a large bay; the name means “rabbit,” as in cottontail. There are bunnies in Huatulco, but they are not abundant nor are they pests, as they are in many places in the U.S. Perhaps once there were bunnies galore? Conejos Bay has four major beaches from east to west: Playa Conejos; Playa Arena (“sand”) and Playa Punta Arenas (“Sand Point”), which are continuous but divided by a rocky point; and Playa Tejoncito (“little badger”).

Bahía Tangolunda. The name means mujer bonita, or “beautiful woman,” in Zapotec. Tangolunda Bay contains more or less accessible beaches from east to west: Playa Mixteca (the Mixtecs are one of Oaxaca’s 16 major indigenous groups); Playa Rincon Sabroso, literally “tasty corner); Playa Tangolunda; and finally, three beaches in front of the Las Brisas resort – Playa Tornillo (“screw” or “vise”), Playa Manzanillo (“chamomile”), and Playa Ventura (“fortune”).

Bahía Arrocito. Not one of the nine major bays, and not always called a bay because it is very small, “Little Rice Bay” is definitely shaped like a bay and hosts a beach of the same name.

Bahía Chahué. The name means “fertile” or “humid land” in Zapotec. Chahue Bay has four beaches from east to west: Playa el Tejón (“badger”); Playa Esperanza (“hope”); and Playa Chahué itself, and Playa San Andrés, at the bottom of Punta Santa Cruz.

Bahía Santa Cruz. The name means “holy cross,” and perhaps is associated with the legend of the origins of Huatulco. The word Huatulco means “place where the wood is worshiped or revered”, and it is said that the Toltecs and the deity Quetzalcoatl arrived in Huatulco and planted a huge and indestructible wooden cross. Given that any number of places claim to have pieces of that cross, maybe not completely indestructible. Santa Cruz bay has four beaches: Sunset Beach, named by northerners and once used for volleyball, it lies east of the Pemex that serves the marina; Santa Cruz, basically the “town beach” for the Santa Cruz area; Playa Yerbabuena (“good herb”), which serves the Naval Base of Huatulco; and Playa Entrega (“delivery” or “surrender”), the most popular beach in Huatulco because it is easy to access and boasts excellent snorkeling. The short version of how it got its name: Vicente Guerrero was the second President of Mexico. He was tricked into boarding a ship in Acapulco, ostensibly as a respected and welcome dinner guest, betrayed by his hosts and taken to Entrega Bay. From there he was “surrendered” by being “given” a horse and escorted by troops to Oaxaca City, where he was promptly assassinated by firing squad.

Bahías de el Órgano y el Maguey. Although these are considered geographically to be one bay, they are lately more often noted as two, bring the official bay count to 10.

Maguey is the eastern bay, and the name means the “agave plant,” mother of mezcal and tequila, among dozens of other things – a keystone plant in ecological speak. There are 157 species of agave in Mexico, 71% of which are endemic (native to Mexico and don’t occur elsewhere).

Órgano (“organ”) is the common Spanish name of a columnar species of cactus that resembles organ pipes. Common in the area, its scientific name is Pachycereus marginatus.

Bahía Cacaluta. The name means “black bird” in Náhuatl (one of the Aztec languages), since the form of the beach is two wings spread out. The black bird is most likely a black vulture. Playa Cacaluta is the beach made famous by Y tu mamá también, the 2001 Mexican film that made the careers of director Alfonso Cuarón and actors Gael García Bernal and Diego Luna, major players in the development of Mexico’s currently booming film industry.

Bahía Chachacual. How the name came about is unclear – chachacuales are folkloric festivals, and that word is derived from the Náhuatl chachahuatótotl, also meaning parties or festivals. There are two beaches, Playa la India (“Indian Beach”) on the east and the Playa Chachacual on the west. Given that thatched palm rooves on posts appear regularly on the beaches, providing shade for parties, the name seems appropriate for visiting Chachacual today – which can only be done by boat – the tour boats from Santa Cruz will take you there, or you can hire a boat at San Agustín.

Playa Riscalillo lies between the bays of Chachacual and San Agustín. According to the Océano Spanish/Spanish dictionary, the name would mean a “small area with high pointed rocks,” but that’s not a great description of Riscalillo. Until recently, like Chachacual, Riscalillo was reachable only by boat, but a sandy road has been cut between San Agustín and Riscalillo.

Bahía San Augustín. Presumably the bay is named for the small fishing village of San Agustín, which predates the date that the land was taken to build the Huatulco resort area, but why the village was named for Augustine is lost in history. Saint Augustine was the patron saint of brewers, printers, and theologians. Maybe brewers? Great site for a beer on the beach? If you go, ask a local. The bay has two beaches, Cacalutilla (“tiny black bird” – how about a grackle?) on the east and San Agustín on the west.