river.gif (2396 bytes)

RIVER NORTH NEWS December 5, 1998

Paradise Isn’t Hard to Find – You Only Have to know Where to Look

By Ed Lowe

You’ve probably never heard of Villa Azomalli. You may not have heard of Huatulco. That’s going to change because Huatulco is destined to be the "in" place for the new millenium. It’s the upscale replacement for weary travel destinations like Cote d’ Azur, and Majorca or the Canary Islands. Mexico’s governmental tourism organizations has at its core a section known by the acronym, Fonatur which is charged with the responsibility for developing new tourism facilities throughout Mexico. We met with Sr. Pedro Nunez, director of Fonatur for the Huatulco development region. He explained how the organization has studied Mexican tourist destinations and when they found conceptual flaws, learned from their mistakes in developing new areas such as Huatulco. Located a 55 minute plane ride south of Mexico’s "south-coast" – Huatulco is about 250 miles south of Acapulco.

Our Mexican flight from Chicago was seamless. Despite the fact that Mexico City’s airport, with its tubelike design, leaves a lot to be desired for plane transfers, the schedule provided just the right amount time of time to move from our arrival gate, through immigration control, and to our departure lounge. One bonus – Mexicana’s flights to and from Mexico City provide some of the best tourist class airline food I’ve eaten in a very long time. Beverage service includes soft drinks, but also provide an assortment of complementary beer, wine and hard liquor. Clearing Huatulco customs was simplicity personified. Many of the hotels and resorts anticipate their guests’ arrival, a wait for you to identify yourself, provide baggage handling and a complimentary ride to your destination.

Our choice of staying at Villa Azomalli was made, in part, because of its Chicago connection. The dream of Chicagoan Tony Palos, this new villa consists of four suites – two with private jacuzzis on two levels. The villa is served by a pool and one of the most spectacular views of the calm Pacific Ocean that you could imagine. Rooms having sliding glass doors, and ours permitted us to step out onto the terrace and down one step to the pool. The setting would do justice to a movie about luxurious trysting places removed from civilization but loaded with all the modern conveniences. Tony’s architect, Carlos Campillo, realized how unique this site was and provided a plan which accentuated the magnificence of the surroundings to provide an aura of tranquility rarely duplicated.

Where Palos’ concept is unique is in the extras. Villa Azomalli also comes equipped with two other assets that make it special. We had our own private gourmet chef, Araceli and her assistant, the grounds keeper general factotum named Don Jose. The chef, whose full name is Araceli Garcia Hernandez accepted our faxed food order. Planning a vacation menu from Chicago was a novel experience, and Araceli met the challenge. Food is not included in the cost of this facility, but Araceli shops Huatuluco’s economy rather than buying at tourist rates. As a consequence, food costs are amazingly reasonable when considered against comparable purchases in the U.S. and Canada.

For example, we enjoyed a patio dinner for two consisting of a couple of huge, perfectly seasoned and broiled red snapper, vegetables garnish, a desert – all preceded by home made salsa, tostitos and great margaritas – for under $20.00. Huatulco is famous throughout Mexico for its seafood and Araceli knows where to find the best and the freshest of the day’s catch.

If you decide to dine away from your private villa, fine local restaurants are centered in the nearby village of La Crucecita. One of our favorites is home to regional Oaxacan fare. Called "El Sabor de Oaxaca" it features things like unusual local mole made from chocolate and peppers. We’d also recommend a sampler platter offering a variety of unique Oaxacan dishes. Tostadas and empanadas with chicken or beef, guacamole from locally grown avocado and all sorts of exotic fish are offered daily. "El Sabor" will certainly go into a tourist’s memory book.

Another local dining gem is at water’s edge in Santa Cruz. Called Ve el Mar, it has been operated for years by Dona Celia who personally greets her guests. With gentle waves washing at the nearby shore, Ve el Mar naturally specializes in seafoods and an evening candlelight dinner is a way to become reacquainted with starlight.

If Villa Azomalli happens to be filled, there are any number of alternative accommodations available to the visitor. The very modern hotel and resort facilities in the area are basically of two sorts. First, the inclusives who "band" guests and permit them unlimited access to facilities, food and drink. Then there are those who provide conventional resort hotel accommodations. In the latter group, many of them feature outstanding gourmet restaurants that open to outsiders’ reservations. Because cab transportation is readily available and good quality independent restaurants are located along the beaches and in the towns, hoteliers have to provide an incentive for their guest to remain and dine in the resorts. The excellent quality of resort restaurant offerings is the result.

Top of the line hotels include the Quinta Real and the Camino Real Zaashila. Quinta Real would be categorized as a boutique facility with only 27 suites, eight with private pools. Zaashila is larger with 120 rooms. One final boutique hotel and restaurant deserves mention. It’s Casa del Mar. Offering only 25 suites, this is an exclusive luxury hotel with a dining room that’s worth a special trip.

Mid-range hotels include the Sheraton, the Royal Maeva and the recently renamed Crown Pacific. Crown Pacific and Royal Maeva are inclusives and some Sheraton packages include food service. Among other local four star facilities are some delightful European style hotels located in picturesque Santa Cruz. The Marina Hotel and Resort with 40 rooms has a very Mediterranean ambience. So, too does the 29 room Marlin. Situated away from the sea but with its courtyard pool, it’s spotlessly clean, offers food service and, again – that European feeling.

Having unpacked your luggage, stored your clothes and changed gears from city life to luxury vacation setting, what’s to do in Huatulco for recreation? An 18 hole public golf course is one answer. If you’re bored with the simple pleasures of relaxing at your own poolside, you can consider a series of side trips and day-long adventures. By law, 60 percent of all land is in its natural state allowing for wonderful eco-tourism adventures.

Full catamaran cruises are available on the Huatulco Fiesta and the Tequila. Passengers have a chance to rent and use snorkeling equipment in the warm, protected waters during a one hour stop. Then, at El Maguey bay the tender takes you ashore for a leisurely lunch at a beachfront restaurant. There’s even a cruise director organizing games. This bargain day trip including beer, soft drinks and margaritas is about $20.00! The schools of porpoises that follow the ships provide some additional entertainment at no extra cost to passengers.

A different day trip takes you north about 35 miles to Puerto Angel and the vicinity. "Vicinity" includes a trip through a factory in Mazunta producing natural cosmetic products from locally grown fruits and vegetables. The factory provides a way by which locals can earn a living in a community which had previously existed through the exploitation of local endangered turtle population. The cosmetics co-operative was the answer. Using corn, avocado, sesame, honey, banana, peanut and other oils to produce a nationally distributed line of wrinkle creams, shampoos and lotions. And the turtle population has been saved.

You might want to visit the Mexican Government’s Turtle Museum and research facility nearby or sunbathe on the only officially sanctioned nude beach in Mexico – Zipolite, a spectacular mile-long stretch of sand catering to the visitors. Possibly the last remaining enclave of 1960’s hippies you can rent hammocks along the beach for $1.00 a night. For a second floor, ocean view, the price escalates to $2.00. Continue along the oceanfront for a bite of lunch at Puerto Angel’s best restaurant and bar, Cordelia’s, known throughout the area for its seafood. Trips through this part of the coast are easily

arranged through Bahias Plus, a local tour agency based in La Crucecita.

Souvenir shopping? There’s plenty! Located off Zocalo or town square is the Museum of Oaxacan Culture. There are rugs being woven and you can watch as Angel Tiburcio carves and paints the soft local wood to make unique alibrijas, brightly colored carvings representing local wildlife and imaginative dragons. All these handicrafts are for sale at prices beginning at a few dollars.

To get information about Villa Azomalli, call Tony Palos at 312-226-7639. Your travel agent can book you into one of the resorts, but only Tony can rent you a week of paradise.