With its high-rise hotels and crowded beaches, Cancún, Mexico is, in many ways an environmentalist’s tourism nightmare. It would have been easy for the country’s government to keep cashing in on the concrete jungle that lined the coast, but there has been a move in Mexico to think about the long-term environmental impacts of resort development.
One of the results has been the creation of a sustainable resort town in Huatulco, located on the coast of Oaxaca, where the foliage and brilliantly colored tropical flowers are the focal point. The resorts are almost an afterthought, tucked into the trees and sitting discreetly along the shoreline.
The Bahias de Huatulco is 29,368 acres, making it one of the largest and most diverse ecosystems in Mexico with 128 endangered species and several bays. Now a national park, it encompasses both land and water zones, which include large swaths of untouched beaches and overgrown wilderness that creeps right to the water’s edge.
Seventy percent of this land is preserved as an ecological reserve, and some of Huatulco’s resort area is located in this protected zone, but anything that is part of the future growth plan is scrutinized and approved only when the environment and sustainability are at the forefront of the design plans. Modern water and sewage treatment plants are designed to protect the area’s water and coastline, the golf course and public parks are watered with gray water, and long-term planning and sustainable infrastructure has allowed for schools and medical facilities to be built along with resorts.
FONATUR is the government agency behind Huatulco’s sustainability plan, but there are many regional and local commissions and committees that have been established to protect and preserve the eco-growth of specific areas in the community including the airport, marina, beaches and golf course. Community outreach programs help teach locals about environmental issues and involve them in beach cleaning, waste separation, battery confinement and reforestation programs and efforts.
Because of the ecological commitments made on behalf of everyone in Huatulco, the town received the prestigious Green Globe Community certification in 2006, making it the organization’s first tourist destination in the Americas to receive such a designation. It was also recognized by the Ramsar Convention on Wetlands and was named an UNESCO Biosphere Reserve in 2006.
With such a commitment to the environmental integrity of the area, Huatulco is a far cry from Cancún, indeed.
Huatulco is served by Huatulco International Airport (HUX), which is located about 12 miles north of the town.
There are flights to Oaxaca and Mexico City. Taxi rides from the airport into Huatulco are expensive due to a monopoly on the service, and visitors should check to see if their hotel offers a pick-up service.
Most resorts offer a comprehensive list of activities and nearby restaurants, but for early planning, check out this list with comprehensive travel information for Huatulco. Read more about Mexico’s ecotourism efforts in National Geographic News.
JoAnna Haugen is a full-time freelance writer. Her travels have taken her up the Inca Trail, down the Nile River, across the Great Barrier Reef and to several national parks in the United States. Follow her travels at Kaleidoscopic Wandering or on Twitter.