Mexico's State of Oaxaca was in the spotlight last evening during a special travel media event over cuisine representative of the region.
Hosted at El Catrin restaurant in Toronto, the setting was fitting as Pia Oberholzer, manager of the Huatulco Hotels Association, professed that the gastronomy throughout Oaxaca (pronounced wa-hah-kah) is one of its best qualities.
The destination is home to 14 ethnic groups and its mountainous landscape has helped preserve the individual languages, traditions and cultures of each. According to Oberholzer, the state is one of history, culture and archaeological sites, but of course, Canadians also know it for the beaches, especially those in Puerto Escondido and Huatulco.
Puerto Escondido is popular for surfers, and in attracting visitors, is home to about 3,700 rooms with a prominent colonial Mexican style. The International Surfing Tournament is held every year at Zicatela Beach in November. As for Huatulco, 36 beaches stretch along its nine bays, and it boasts at least 330 sunny days each year, plus many activities, a fun party scene, and notable gastronomy.
The State capital of Oaxaca City is also a primary choice for visitors, as it is a UNESCO World Heritage Site with a historic downtown and various hotel accommodations available.
More about Oaxaca (courtesy of the Mexico Tourism Board):
- Oaxaca City has a "pleasantly mild climate" due to its altitude of 5,000 feet above sea level. It was founded in 1529, but the area has been inhabited since prehistoric times; some of the earliest known evidence of domesticated plants in the Americas was found within the valley of Oaxaca. Monte Alban archaeological site, located on a spectacular mountaintop setting, about 16 kilometres west of Oaxaca City, was the capital of the Zapotec civilization from 500 B.C. to 800 A.D. It is the most important archaeological site to visit in Oaxaca, but there are several others that are also well worth your time, such as Mitla, Yagul, and Dainzu.
- The layout of Oaxaca City follows the traditional colonial town plan, with its zocalo (main square) surrounded by the cathedral and government buildings. Many of the city’s colonial-era buildings, dating from the 16th century, have been exquisitely restored and now house galleries, museums, hotels, and restaurants.
- Among the many important fiestas that take place in Oaxaca City throughout the year are the Guelaguetza, Day of the Dead, and Noche de Rabanos (Night of the Radishes).
- Huatulco was a successful commercial port and favorite haunt of pirates and Elizabethan navigators such as Sir Francis Drake in 1578 and Sir Thomas Cavendish in 1587. In January 1832, during the War of Independence, the Mexican Picaluga brothers betrayed the revolutionary insurgent Vicente Guerrero on the coast of Huatulco and handed him over to a firing squad - the beach where this is said to have taken place is known as “La Entrega” (“the handover”).
- Located on the coast of the state of Oaxaca at the edge of the Sierra Madre mountains, Huatulco spans 20 miles of Mexico’s Pacific coastline, between the Coyula and Copalita rivers. Huatulco is just 225 kilometres from Oaxaca City, but the journey between the two is through a winding mountain range to get there so the drive could be up to six hours. A new highway is in construction to help reduce travel times.
- In 1988 the Bahias de Huatulco (bays of Huatulco) National Park was declared a protected reserve with a world-class tourism infrastructure of luxury hotels, restaurants, nightclubs, discos, and golf courses and a small urban zone called La Crucecita.
- Puerto Escondido is built around a picturesque bay dotted with gigantic rock formations. On the northwestern end, Bacocho Beach has the most variety of hotels and the atmosphere is decidedly laid-back. Playa Principal in the middle of town has a nice beach for families and several boats you can hire for fishing or sightseeing. On the southeastern end you’ll find Zicatela, a vibrant action-packed beach with a cosmopolitan atmosphere which is home to the world-famous waves.
- A stroll along Zicatela provides the chance to enjoy the spectacular performances of surfers skimming atop the crests of colossal waves. According to experts, Puerto Escondido is among the 10 best surfing sites on the planet.
- Come nightfall, it’s party time in Puerto Escondido, especially along the pedestrian main street known as El Adoquin where nighthawks party from bar to club until dawn.
- Just 20 minutes north of Puerto Escondido, birders can rent kayaks or motorboats to view the pelicans, hawks, hummingbirds, spoonbills and more that inhabit the mangrove forests of the Manialtepec Lagoon.
- Alternatively, if you’re looking for an authentic ethnic experience, visit the communities nearby and learn a little of their customs. Mazunte, for example, is a small village whose inhabitants have dedicated themselves to protecting the natural environment. They invite visitors on eco-tours on foot, on horseback or by rowboat. Mazunte is also home to the Centro Mexicano de la Tortuga, a turtle sanctuary that shelters specimens of every marine and land turtle species found in Mexico.
Photo: Miguel Narvaez Munoz, groups & conventions manager, Barcelo Huatulco Beach; Pia Oberholzer, manager of the Huatulco Hotels Association; Laetitia Laruelle, international promotion, Ministry of Tourism & Economic Development, the State of Oaxaca; and Erika Esteves Sotres, sales director, Camino Real Zaachila