SECRETS RESORT AND SPA IN HUATULCO, MEXICO IS BY FAR THE BEST RESORT IN OUR NEW FAVORITE CITY IN ALL OF MEXICO. HUATULCO HAS IT ALL - GORGEOUS UNTOUCHED BEACHES, WILD JUNGLE, ECOTOURISM, SAFETY, EXTREME CLEANLINESS, CULTURE, HISTORY, FRIENDLY PEOPLE AND EVEN - GET THIS - FILTERED WATER THROUGHOUT THE ENTIRE CITY! LOCATED IN THE STATE OF OAXACA IN ONE OF THE MOST SOUTHERN STATES OF MEXICO, THE PACIFIC FACING CITY OF HUATULCO IS STILL A RELATIVELY UNKNOWN VACATION SPOT - BUT PROBABLY NOT FOR LONG. YOU COULD BEGIN BY DOING HOURS AND DAYS OF RESEARCH ON THE PLACE LIKE I DID... BUT MY SUGGESTION IS THAT YOU JUST READ BELOW AND I'LL GIVE YOU ALL OF THE TYPE A DETAILS YOU NEED TO KNOW BEFORE MAKING HUATULCO YOUR NEXT FAVORITE TRIP (DON'T THINK ABOUT IT LIKE YOU'RE CHEATING ON A TEST, WE'RE MORE LIKE STUDY BUDDIES!).
- Huatulco is Mexico's best kept secret
- Safe and clean city
- Amazing combo of beach and jungle
- All rooms face the ocean
- 7+ restaurants, all with good food
- Top shelf drinks
- Incredibly friendly staff
- Hard to get to/few flights
- No active night life in town
- Terrible wireless internet, best connection is near the lobby
- Lots of bugs
- Desserts are not great
- Poor at accommodating room requests
- Very hot heat
- Clear glass bathrooms
- Expensive Spa
Huatulco is on the Pacific Coast in the southern state of Oaxaca. Roughly 15,000 residents inhabit this extremely safe, quiet economically conscious fishing village. On one side it is surrounded by large, winding mountains making this a difficult location to reach by car, creating a perfect pocket void of major drugs, crime and gangs. On the other side are 9 bays with pristine beaches, clear warm waters and surrounding jungle. There are only about a dozen major hotels/resorts in the area so it has not been overrun with tourism, but it is growing each year. The newly built airport is only 25 minutes from most hotels and attractions and a new road was just built, which means the drive is extremely smooth (much different than before from what I understand). Unlike Cabo and Cancun, there aren't dozens of drivers/salesmen standing outside the airport waiting to take advantage of gullible tourists, just a simple line of taxis patiently awaiting your arrival for those who don't already have a transfer scheduled.
Ecotourism - Huatulco is the only city in Mexico to receive the Green Globe Award and has carefully planned out the city to protect the environment and promote safe practices. All of the towns of Huatulco have been integrated with modern sewage and water treatment systems so that none of the waste goes into the bays, making it so clean you can actually drink the tap water (I won't even drink water from my San Diego tap, so I stuck to bottled, but it's nice to know it's possible!). There is an agriculture program in town that teaches residents how to grow and sell crops and develop self sustaining practices. There is also very large area of National Forest along the bays that has been designated for preservation with hundreds of bird species, wild boar, deer and armadillos as well as a large variety of tropical plants. Construction and even most roads are strictly forbidden (you can access the forest by foot, bike, horse or boat) making this one of the few pristine, untouched areas of Mexico. Ecotourism is just starting to build in this little village; however, I'd say that it has the potential to be comparable to Costa Rica while being concentrated into a smaller area for greater enjoyment. While I'm no expert, my father-in-law, a professor of Agriculture and Natural Resources is and was very impressed with the area and what it was doing to pioneer ecological consciousness in Mexico. Take time to learn about the locals and the environment by supporting the efforts through tours to the places that help to protect the beauty of Huatulco.
Weather - Huatulco has two seasons - dry/brown or wet/green. The climate and the scenery does a drastic switch throughout the year, but keeps the same warm 80-100 degree F throughout both seasons. October through February are considered to be the best times to visit, being the driest months of the year, but with most of the surrounding area looking more like a desert. June through September are the wet/humid months, but are also the greenest and most beautiful. There are an average of 40 wet days per year and occur mostly in September. We visited in June during a storm with reports of "terrential downpours" and had an incredible time! The temperatures remained in the mid 80s the first part of the week with scattered clouds and a few hours of light to heavy rain per day. This didn't stop us from playing in the pool and having a blast. The second half of the week was full of clear blue skies with temps in the 90s and we were actually thankful that we had the first few days of rain to shield us from the blazing hot sun. I would not discourage anyone from traveling here during the rainy season, unless they truly dislike the possibility of rain. My best friend was very concerned about this before we left as it rained during most of her honeymoon; however, she had a great time and didn't complain about the rain one bit (shocking actually). Overall, visit Huatulco anytime except maybe September to truly avoid a full week of rain.
Money - We were able to pay using US dollars everywhere we went and even received dollars back on some occasions; however, pesos are best, especially for tipping, since locals get charged a hefty exchange rate. We brought about $250 in small bills (just go into a bank before you leave the US and get what you need) and it was more than enough to tip and pay for an excursion when we weren't using our credit card. It's best to have cash in most cases, so visit one of the many ATMs in town or at your hotel.
In Town - There are a few little towns in the area where you can visit stores and restaurants and learn about the people. The surrounding towns are shockingly clean and filled with families and locals enjoying the outdoor restaurants and the warm weather. With 80% of tourism coming from within Mexico it rarely, if ever, feels crowded. The main town of La Crucecita felt very safe and the people we met were extremely friendly. Don't expect to barter much in these towns, they aren't cheap, but prices are usually set and fair and you won't feel pressure to buy like you would in other major cities in Mexico. We were able to visit the local Pharmacia where we could get sunscreen, bug spray, ear drops and dramamine (by the pill) for a much lower price than at our hotel. You can take a taxi in and out for around $6 and you probably don't need more than a few hours to explore.
We booked our trip with Apple Vacations only about 6 weeks ahead of time because of a deal that came up that we just couldn't pass by. The package included a direct flight from LAX, direct airport transfers to and from the hotel and a 7 night all inclusive stay at Secrets Resort and Spa for about $1,050pp (we paid a few hundred more than this for an upgrade to a swim out suite). We've taken numerous trips to Mexico and this was by far the best deal we've ever seen, even for off season travel. We talked to numerous couples on the trip who easily paid double by booking with a travel agent or on their own (maybe they should read my blog next time, I'm just saying).
While we didn't know anything about Huatulco, we did know that we loved the Dreams/Secrets Resorts and we were looking for a relaxing summer getaway. After just a little bit of research we pulled the trigger along with inviting one of my best friends and her husband and my in-laws (please don't stop reading because you think I'm a crazy woman for going on vacation with my in-laws, it really isn't that bad).
Overall, Apple Vacations did a fabulous job. Booking online was easy, the price was thousands below other offers I found online, I was able to call and get friendly/fast customer service, and they had representatives at every point of the trip. An Apple rep greeted us at the time we checked into the airport, met us with a modern tour bus when we arrived in Huatulco, booked our tours at the hotel and sent us on our way back home. Our representative Marco, a friendly Italian man who had lived in the area for many years, gave us an overview of the area as we took the short 25 minute drive from the airport to the hotel and ensured he was available to answer any questions we had throughout the entire week. The only hiccup was when our flight times changed by 3 hours and we were only notified the day before. Of course, I found this out on my own 5 days prior because I printed our travel docs and noticed the change - which I suggest all travelers do. We had friends flying in to LAX to catch the flight, so if we had waited for Apple Vacations to notify us, I'm sure they would have missed the flight and the trip completely.
Flight - I have to highlight that this was the first time we had flown on a chartered flight. A chartered flight does not mean a mini plane - it just means that Apple Vacations purchased the flight and only offers the flight to their customers through their deals. Because it was a direct flight through Aeromexico, it only took 4 hours and was the easiest flight I've ever been on to southern Mexico (no delays, food served, good service). To give you a comparison, the last time we went to Cancun, it took us 9+ hours with the layover and in my upcoming trip to Punta Cana I'll be traveling for over 12 hours. There aren't many direct flights coming from the West Coast and if there are they are extremely expensive - so if you find this as an option make sure you take it!
SECRETS RESORT AND SPA
Secrets Resort and Spa is a five star, adults only, all inclusive hotel, which is part of the AM Resort chain (Dreams is the kid friendly sister resort less than 10 minutes away, but is older and much larger). The resort is completely secluded, located on a private beach/bay, is surrounded on both sides by forest, and is the most southern resort in the area. It was built in 2011 and has all of the major amenities with little wear and tear that you'll see at some of the older hotels. It is a rather large property and walking is definitely a requirement; however, there are numerous elevators to take you from level to level. Colin was on crutches due to a knee injury, so while it wasn't ideal he was still able to get around just fine. The decor is combination of clean, modern luxury, a perfect compliment to the surrounding area. The grounds are impeccably clean and we always saw staff cleaning, updating, fixing or maintaining the property to keep up with their excellent standards. From everyone we talked to - locals, taxi drivers, tour guides - Secrets is unanimously considered the best hotel in Huatulco.
All 399 rooms face the ocean, which is a huge benefit compared to most hotels which charge a major premium for such a view. The junior suites (standard rooms) are all a minimum of 500 sq. feet with either a jacuzzi, balcony or swim out pool. This is more than enough for any couple and unless you really like having the extra space, it's not necessary to upgrade. The one bedroom suite is over 1,000 sq. ft. with 1.5 bathrooms, a swim out pool, dining room table, wrap around couch and in room bar area. We loved this option because we were traveling with 2 other couples so it gave us a place to watch movies and play games as a group. There is also a 2 level Presidential Suite that I did not get a chance to check out. Each is equipped with all of the amenities you'd need, including coffee maker, stocked mini fridge (that doesn't get very cold), toiletries, bath robes and slippers, iron/ironing board, safe, dvd player (there is a library of DVDs available through the front desk for checking out), large flat screen TV with a few channels in English (note that channel 23 is an adult movie channel so steer clear if it's not your thing), and a secret room service door where you can have food delivered and picked up without being disturbed. The bathrooms have clear and frosted glass, making it a pretty open viewing area. The one bedroom suite's second bathroom had a regular door, which made it way less awkward when we had guests in our room. Air conditioning worked really well and made for a perfect oasis for when we needed to hide from the heat.
Rooms are cleaned fully once a day with tidy/turn down service each evening where you get a nice little chocolate, a flyer detailing the next day's activities and events. Note that they turn on the TV to the Spa channel that plays soothing music and shows random scenes of elephants and people in the desert in black and white (some kind of weird French spa thing).
There are 6 tiered buildings, each with 3 levels. Building 1 and 2 are located at the top of the resort where the majority of the restaurants, lobby, attractions and bars are held. Building 5 and 6 are located on the lowest level of the resort closest to the beach and pool areas. The rooms with shared swim out pools are located on the bottom level of building 1, 5 and 6 (5 & 6 giving you the worst overall view because you are on the ground floor of the lowest buildings and the least privacy because people can look in, but not at all bad). It was nice having the swim out pool, but we honestly didn't use it that often and neither did anyone else. Because you would be swimming right in front of someone's room, you didn't feel that comfortable using the entire area, especially when the large pools were right outside. We did get served drinks from our balcony on occasion, which was a nice touch. As far as the jacuzzi's go, no one really used them; they're pretty small and have little privacy, so don't pay extra for this amenity.
My personal preference would be a room in building 5 or 6. We had people scattered throughout multiple buildings and this was our favorite based on the proximity to the pool. Saying that, the hotel pretty much sucks at accommodating any room requests. I sent an email request to the Assistant General Manager directly about 3 weeks ahead of time asking to be in building 6 and to be in the same building with the other guests traveling with us. We were put in building 5 while our travel buddies were in building 3. When we arrived, I asked to be moved to a room closer to the elevator since my hubby was hobbling around on crutches, but they weren't able to accommodate that until 4 days later... granted we were limited to a swim up suite and they had just filled up, but still. This is probably my only major criticism of the resort and it's a pretty small one at that.
Some rooms are considered "Preferred" that cost extra. Below is a list of what that includes and my thoughts on each one. Our suite was Preferred already, which was nice, but I would highly suggest that you not pay extra simply for this advantage.
- Preferred Club Lounge - Near the lobby, includes a few desks, a couch and a very small bar. I rarely saw anyone in there and we never used it.
- Exclusive concierge services - Never used or knew what this even meant.
- Daily continental breakfast service in the lounge - But there's a buffet and room service... how is this an advantage?
- Afternoon hot and cold hors d’oeuvres - We just went to the cafe if we wanted a snack.
- Exquisite desserts and fine liquors in the lounge - Never used and you would have to go out of your way and pass multiple bars to just to go in the lounge.
- Complimentary local newspaper in suite every day - You have to ask for it, it doesn't just automatically show up.
- Pillow menu - We didn't use and no one asked us if we wanted another pillow. I'm sure we could have asked, but we didn't.
- Upgraded mini-bar service, including miniature premium alcoholic drinks and snacks - 3 mini bottles a day and Pringles, M&Ms and Cacahuates (spicy peanuts). You only get more if you use or remove them from the mini bar area, that's the only way to really get the benefit from it.
- Upgraded toiletries - You get a comb, razor, SPF 15 sunscreen and shaving cream which we did use daily.
- Exterior Jacuzzi or swim-out access in every Preferred Club suite - Jacuzzi is really impractical and the swim out pool is nice, neither has any privacy and I rarely saw anyone use them.
There are lots, you are in the jungle. Bring bug spray and anti itch cream. Let me repeat, BRING BUG SPRAY! It isn't cheap to buy at the hotel so make sure you pack it in your check-in bag. We got our fair share of bites throughout the week by coming unprepared. The bottom floors get the most where big and small insects alike linger in the halls with frogs and the occasion crab. Bugs, especially mosquitos, do get in the rooms at times, but the resort uses non harmful, unscented preventative spray weekly in each room to help out. You are warned the night before they come to spray and are given an option to opt out by hanging a card on your door.
The staff at the Secrets resort are some of the best we've ever seen. They are friendly, helpful and most of all always seemed genuinely happy, often going out of their way to ensure that their guests had everything they needed for a wonderful experience. A large majority of the staff speaks moderate to fluent English so that you can at least get by, but they are excited when you try to speak Spanish and are often even more excited when you help to teach them additional words in English (as an exchange of cultures, NOT out of frustration for better communication). Since the majority of guests are from Mexico, English isn't as necessary so we appreciated that they always tried when it was not a strong suit. Take time to talk to the staff and get to know them more - many of them are locals who have seen Huatulco change over the years and have great insight to share. Be warned that after everything they are required to say "It's A Pleasure", which is very nice but can get a little redundant after a while... just know it's part of their job.
There were definitely a few people who truly stood out that we felt went beyond acquaintances to friendship, so if you are there be sure to seek them out, you won't be disappointed! From what I understood, the staff rotates jobs throughout the month so they can learn everything, meaning the roles they had when we were there may be different now.
- Eric - works at the front desk and is one of the most cheerful guys we met. He is an avid adventure seeker so if you're interested in mountain biking or surfing talk to him!
- Abimael - a new, young server who has a contagious smile and wants to make sure that his guests enjoy their meal. He has such a sweet and warm personality and we made sure to always sit wherever he was working.
- Mardela - works near the pool as a server and is extremely fun to hang out with! She always made us laugh as she made us drinks at the bar and helped us with our Spanish whenever we asked.
- Javier, Fabiola and Miky - the activities staff are incredible! Not only are they great at hosting all of the activities throughout the week, they are some of the kindest and most genuine people we met. We often found ourselves spending as much time with them as we could - playing sports, talking near the pool, participating in games they hosted each night. You won't find a better team in town, I promise you that.
While tips are considered to be included in the cost of your stay and are absolutely not required, we make it a priority to always bring about 50-100 in $1s to tip those who work extra hard. While the staff at Secrets is paid slightly higher than average, it's still a very low daily rate and the tips do help. Tips are NEVER expected and ALWAYS appreciated, so we feel it's worth it. We tipped a few dollars at meals and to each of the bar servers each day as well as left a few dollars to the housekeeper at the end of the week (about $1 for each day we were there) and it always went a long way. We also ensured to tip each of the activities staff because they work 12 hour days and truly make the trip fun and entertaining.
There are technically 3 pools all located at the bottom (closest to the beach) area of the resort. There are 2 very large and long pools and a smaller one with a slightly warmer jacuzzi in the center of it. All 3 are impeccably clean and we saw staff either cleaning or making minor updates to them at all times of the day. Chlorine levels are low so we didn't feel like our skin dried out or our eyes were burning. They are just deep enough to swim, relax and play water sports and no, there is not a diving board. You will occasionally find a few bugs, a crab or a frog in the pool (again, you're in the jungle), but someone would always quickly help scoop it out if we said something or we just got them out ourselves. You have a beautiful backdrop of the ocean as well as the nearby forest. There are bars close to both, including a swim up bar at the main pool next to the beach. The other bar also serves food like Nachos and Burgers - but you need to walk over to order it. The bars have top shelf alcohol, just be sure to specify which one you prefer.
I've read practically all of the reviews out there and I saw it repeatedly written that there were not enough pool chairs and umbrellas. We were there during the off season so it was not full; however, at the main pool alone there were over 100 chairs and there are umbrellas between every 2-3. I also asked about umbrellas and if you need one all you need to do is ask and they will bring one out; I would venture to say the same goes for chairs. There are plenty of clean towels near both pools as well.
**Tip: Bring something for swimmers ear if you are doing more than just lounging around in the water. 2/6 people in the group got it and were in pain most of the week so it's worth the preventative care.
The view of the beach is picture perfect with endless ocean views and forest on both sides. The sand is corse and hot, so sandals are needed, but it's worth it because you can find plenty of beautiful shells and coral along the shore. There are over two dozen chairs and umbrellas available and you can order drinks from the beach as well. The water is a bit choppy at times, but definitely swimmable and warm. I brought water shoes with me which helped to walk in and out of the water. We've heard that snorkeling isn't great in this particular area, but it's worth a try (check out the Excursions section for better options). The resort has plenty of kayaks and hobies that you can use and there is a lifeguard on duty for your safety. If you walk through the forest, following the beach to the left, just on the other side is a private beach with breathtaking views and worth the 10 minute walk. Be sure to bring bug spray and it's best to go in the morning when the mosquitos aren't as active as you walk through the forest. There are also outdoor showers located between the beach and the pool so you can wash off all the sand you've collected.
FOOD AND DRINKS
There are 7 restaurants, 1 coffee lounge, 1 buffet, 24hr room service and 7 bars onsite. Each of the bars offers premium drinks and are open at various times throughout the day. We didn't spend a ton of time in any of the bars in particular except for Desires, which is the sports bar where they have numerous TVs for you to watch any sports you want. They even opened the bar in the morning for us to watch the Belmont Stakes to try and see California Chrome win the Triple Crown. I will say that each day the resort features a new specialty drink that was always girly and delicious (look for it on the daily flyer you receive in your room each night).
Overall the food was very good for a resort. I don't try to compare it to any 5 Star or James Beard restaurants in the states, you have to know that's just not realistic. However, compared to other all inclusive resorts we've been to, we considered this to be a 4/5 for the quality of food, presentation, ambiance and service. They do some of the details worthy of a Michelin Star restaurant like gorgeous and detailed plating, amuse bouches, truffle oil, duck, filet mignon and they are often providing comment cards after the meal to get as much feedback as possible for improvements; all very impressive. The only area that did fall short was the desserts - we were never blown away and they were often overthought causing us to be disappointed most nights in the sugar department (and yes we tried every dessert and every restaurant just to be sure!). If they would just make some simple ice cream sundays, homemade tres leches or some sweet crepes it would go a really long way.
During the off season, not every restaurant is open each night, only 2-3. We never needed reservations (except to book the Tappanyaki experience, below) or waited more than 5 minutes to be seated. There is a very strict dress code and you will be turned away or be forced to eat on the patio if you come unprepared so pack accordingly! Most dinner's require at least long pants, a collared shirt and dress shoes for men and no shorts and dress shoes for women. Key to the dress code: Breakfast and Lunch is Casual - pretty much anything goes, but you do need shoes and a bathing suit cover up is definitely suggested. Dinner - expect to dress up unless it is noted otherwise and it doesn't matter how hot it might be outside, men still need long pants and shoes. You can order a few options of white or red wine at each restaurant and we were satisfied with the taste of what was offered instead of opting to purchase a bottle.
Here's a breakdown of each restaurant in order of most casual to most elegant:
- Room Service - Offers a decent menu during normal hours and a limited menu during the late night hours. The service was very prompt each night and we usually ordered ice-cream and hot wings. There was one time the food came cold, but other than that it was good and hot. We just didn't use it that often because we preferred to eat at one of the many restaurants.
- Barefoot Grill - snack bar at the pool serving just a few options from around 11am - 5pm like hot dogs, hamburgers, nachos, hot wings and french fries. The hamburgers were especially good and always cooked to order. You have the option of eating at the tables there or brining it back to your seat at the pool.
- Market Cafe - The buffet, open every morning for breakfast and some lunches. Very casual and has a wide variety of options that you would expect at a buffet. Breakfast includes both an omelet station and a quesadilla station where Amada makes fresh corn tortillas right in front of you! It also offers delicious, fresh squeezed OJ as well as fresh fruit drinks and smoothies.
- CoCo Cafe - A little coffee shop that is a bit harder to find on the same level as the lobby. They have computers for use, small snacks and desserts as well as teas and coffees. My best friend is a bit of an annoying coffee snob so we were all thankful that she was very happy with the strong, gourmet coffee served. She would literally go out of her way to get it instead of drinking what was served at the buffet, so you know it's got to be good.
- Castaways - The outdoor casual lunch restaurant that sits up closer to the spa with beautiful views of the ocean. There is a decent size menu with everything from shrimp tacos to steak and potatoes. They also have a fresh salad bar with soup and appetizers to grab. If you are with a large group they offer an appetizer platter that gives you a variety of options to try. We loved going here whenever it was open so that we could get out of the sun while still enjoying the ocean breeze.
- Cin Cin - The Elegant-Casual Italian restaurant. There is a salad bar with traditional Italian appetizers as well as a large menu of appetizers, pastas and meat courses. Of all of the dishes we ordered, the mushroom risotto was by far the best and I would enjoy going back. It can get a little loud, it sounded like a blender was being turned on and off throughout the night, but we were never bothered by it.
- Tamarindo - The Elegant-Casual Mexican restaurant which serves traditional Oaxacan dishes. Don't think Chevy's or your corner taco shop, there are local dishes like mole (ask for a taste of the 2 types of mole before ordering so you know if you like it before hand, it's not for everyone) and fried cricket salad, as well as more common items like burritos and fajitas. The chile rellenos with cheese were AMAZING, but very spicy so beware.
- Spice - The Elegant-Casual Asian restaurant with two types of dining options - Teppanyaki or regular menu.
- Teppanyaki is basically a Benihana experience where you get a fun and entertaining show while your food is cooked. We were really impressed with the skills of the chef as he threw his knives around and tossed food in our mouths from afar like a pro. The actual food was decent, but a bit overcooked at times. Reservations are required, so make them early on with the concierge.
- The regular menu has a large variety of Asian dishes, from Japanese sushi to Chinese sweet and sour pork. You sit at tables set in the ground, which is a fun change. The food was good, but didn't blow us away as some of the dishes were more fancy and modern than traditional and delicious.
- Oceana - The Formal seafood restaurant near Castaways, the only other restaurant up near the spa. The best dish of the night was the coconut shrimp and no one really cared for the ahi tuna dish. We aren't big seafood eaters, but we were impressed with the amount of options they offered and many other people we talked to thought this was the best restaurant there.
- Bordeaux - The Formal French restaurant with an open kitchen concept. This was our favorite meal of the week. The lobster bisque was made to perfection, the steak was cooked to order and they even served truffled mashed potatoes that we just had to order more of. Unfortunately the creme brûlée was too firm, but the cheesy garlic bread and the dessert with the berries in the middle made up for it. Definitely stop here for dinner at least once. Funny story - my husband asked if he could take pictures of the kitchen and was told yes. Before we knew it, the manager brought out all of the chefs and kitchen staff to take a group picture! A bit of a misunderstanding, but it was so sweet, creating a great memory and unforgettable photo.
All 3 ladies on the trip went to the spa for a massage. Let me start off by saying that prices are HIGH. Higher than any other 5 star resort I've been to, even higher than the LaCosta Spa in Southern California! One of the days they offered 35% off services, but that only brought massages to about $100 for 50 minutes. Of course they say it includes the hydrotherapy circuit, but that just means you go through various spots in the pool while water shoots at you like a jacuzzi and sit in the sauna for 10 minutes (a cool add on, but still not enough to justify the ridiculously high price tag). If they would just offer some reasonable packages, I think many more people would sign up... we didn't see anyone else there in the 2 hours we spent at the spa. Saying that, the building is beautiful and sits high and off to the side of the resort for breathtaking views. The massage rooms are extremely professional with one little hiccup... you can definitely see through the glass windows from the resort. You'd have to be looking at the right time, but I checked and it's easily possible. Getting undressed with the clear glass windows is a bit unnerving knowing that, but not impossible. Also don't expect to enjoy the view too long since you end up looking down the whole time anyway, duh. The massages were very nice though and what you would expect from a resort spa. My masseuse wasn't the most experienced technically, but it was incredibly relaxing and enough to make me fall asleep and not want to leave.
I'll be honest, I didn't even look in the gym's direction. However, my best friend and her husband who work out regularly did and were very pleased with the machine options. It is attached to the spa and while it isn't large, it has everything you need for a hard workout, including waters and towels. It also has a gorgeous view... I'd rather just enjoy the view from the pool with a pina colada in hand, but that's just me.
ACTIVITIES AND ENTERTAINMENT
From 6am to about 11pm each night there is something going on. There's definitely options for everyone - from tennis and volleyball to Spanish and dancing lessons, outdoor movies and even carving and cooking workshops. The staff loves when people get involved and they do a wonderful job of getting you to participate without being pushy. The activities team is incredible - Javier, Miky and Fabiola - are so fun and entertaining and work extremely hard each day to ensure that guests have an unforgettable experience. Each evening there was a new show or main event; however, by 9pm we were usually too full and tired to go see what was going on so I'm not much help in that area; however, I heard from others that they were also pretty good, but not amazing. Shows vary from theater, dance performances, games and karaoke.
There are plenty of excursions available in Huatulco and through the hotel including surfing, fishing, mountain biking, horse back riding, ecotours, jet skiing, boat rentals, etc. We did a few so I'll give you a break down of what we did and what you should do too!
- Pilo Vazquez Private Boat Tours - We booked with Pilo after doing weeks of research to find the best tour in Huatulco and man did it pay off. My husband emailed him to get more information and schedule a date. Pilo was quick to respond and gave us all of the information we needed and more. On the morning of the excursion, Pilo had us picked up from our hotel with a great driver, Adan Juarez (I definitely suggest booking him for any transportation needs you might email@example.com). Adan was nice enough to take us to a pharmacy in town before we met Pilo so we could buy dramamine and bug spray.
Pilo made sure to let us know that he would take care of the cost so we didn't have to worry about any payment. When we met Pilo at the dock, he was extremely friendly and led us to the boat with his nephew. On the boat he had water, sodas and beers as well as life vests as needed (but bring towels if you think you might want them to dry off). From there he took us on an unforgettable journey where he basically made himself available to whatever we wanted to do for the entire day.
He told us all about the area as we started out by fishing. Pilo baited and casted out the lines and he let each of us reel them in. Within the first 30 minutes, we had each caught at least 1 dorado (mahi mahi), for about 10 total! Pilo was such a professional, ensuring that we had the best memories possible, unhooking each fish and holding it up for us to take a picture with after each catch.
As we drove out, we saw dozens of dolphins and he made sure to point out each one. We even drove by a huge sea turtle and instead of just driving by and taking pictures from the boat, he stopped the boat and pulled it in with us!!!! He then safely handled it so that we could all take a picture with it before gently putting it back in the water. What an experience!
Pilo then took us to each of the 9 bays where he led us on a snorkel tour. He knew the best spots and because he is an incredible diver, he would find puffer fish (non poisonous) for us to hold and take pictures with in the water. Don't worry if you don't have an underwater camera, he brings one with him so you don't miss a thing!
Finally, he took us to one of the bays that has restaurants where we were able to have one of our fish cooked on the beach and served to us with rice and tortillas. He was extremely transparent with us and made sure to tell us the price they would charge to have the fish cooked and reminded us to check the menu first to know exactly what we are paying before ordering anything else. The meal was incredible and without surprises.
We agreed on a very fair price when we originally emailed with Pilo (roughly $250-450 depending on the size of the group and length of the trip) and there were no surprises when we paid at the end of the day. I talked to more than 3 couples who booked similar boat rides through our hotel and they all paid more and experienced way less! Most of them simply watching the boat driver reel in the fish and no one got to hold a puffer fish. I promise you everyone was very jealous of our trip with Pilo and were wishing they did the same.
I can't say enough about Pilo. We were a mixed group with adventure, luxury, laid back and hard to please travelers and he managed to give us all an experience of a lifetime. We can't thank Pilo enough for such an incredible day.
**Tip: Buy some dramamine at the pharmacy in town ahead of time. They will sell you individual pills and it will help you to enjoy the entire day without worry, but be sure to take it at least 30 minutes before getting on the boat for best results.
- Medicinal/Ecological/Mezcal Tour - We booked this tour through our Apple Vacations rep at the hotel. The tour was a peek into the local culture and ecological efforts being done in the community, including a trip to a medicinal plant farm where you enjoy a home cooked lunch and learn to make tortillas, an iguana farm and a tour of a local mezcal factory.
The tour began at about 9am when we were picked up at the hotel in a large passenger van and our guide, Riccardo, drove us through the streets of Huatulco, teaching us about real lives of the people who live there. We drove about 30 minutes out of the city into the mountains. Our first visit was to the medicinal plant farm where dozens of plants are used to cure everything from headaches to cancer, even options for Viagra alternatives. It was a beautiful farm and the owner has worked very hard to make it a place for people to come and learn about practices that have been passed down from generation to generation. I did feel that the tour could have been shorter and the guide spent far too long explaining each plant (I would have preferred to hear more from the owner, who was a small, sweet older man who only spoke Spanish). They don't sell any of the plants, so don't expect to go home with a cure for all of your issues. Colin and his mom had a terrible ear ache from too much time in the pool and we were ecstatic when we walked by a tree that cured it... except that it wasn't in season. Wah Wah. The family then showed us all how to make corn tortillas. We made our own and were served a beautiful lunch of hibiscus flower water, tamales, cactus and the most incredible salsa I've ever had in my life. **Side note - there are newly finished, very clean restrooms on site**
We then headed to a local iguana farm where we learned that iguanas are actually a local food source and are hunted and either sold or eaten. It is now illegal to sell iguana, but they are still diminishing in number rapidly. The owner started the farm to protect those that are seized due to illegal sales and to breed them for release into the national forest. He has built the facility on his own with no funding or support from the government, it is simply a passion for a cause he feels strongly about. We were given a tour and served fruit during our stay. We left very impressed with what he's doing for these animals and even more impressed with his commitment to a cause that isn't supported by the government. Please note that restrooms are new and very clean here as well.
Finally, we stopped at a Mezcal factory where we learned about the process of growing and making the alcoholic step-sister to tequila. While it's a factory, we remained outdoors to see everything except for the bottling process (which was fine with me). Our guide walked us through various flavors of mezcal and we were able taste each one. I am not a drinker and hate the taste of alcohol so chose not to partake in most of it except for the fruity infusions. Colin, also not a drinker, enjoyed all of them and felt they were much better than regular tequila. We were given the option of purchasing anything we liked and anyone who didn't have cash with them was allowed to pay the guide back at the hotel (much appreciated).
We then headed back into the hotel, returning around 3pm. It was a very long and hot day and could have been done in only 4 hours instead of 6. I would highly suggest that it be shortened, but otherwise we really enjoyed ourselves and would do it again. It's not the most exciting tour and not for everyone, but is definitely valuable if you are interested in the heart of what Huatulco has to offer.
- Valentino Boat Tour - This was an unplanned excursion that we booked because my father-in-law met him when he came up to the beach at the hotel. He charged roughly $75 per hour and took us out fishing. Because we had already had a terrific day with Pilo, we said we were only interested in going out for 2 hours with the intent of trying to catch Sail Fish (Marlin), which he said was most definitely possible. So we took off directly from the Secrets beach where he took us straight out from the hotel towards the darker parts of the water. He cast out and to our surprise used bait used to catch more dorado. We caught quite a few, although we weren't that excited about it. It was a very different experience than with Pilo, less personal and when we caught a fish Valentino didn't hold it up for us to take pictures with. We then asked that we just try to catch sail fish, so he put larger, live bait on for us and we drove around searching. After about 1.5 hours, we hadn't caught any sail fish, which we knew was a possibility since it's not easy. I had wondered when we were heading back, not only because I was starting to feel sick, but because we only wanted to pay for 2 hours and it was going to take at least 20 to get back. After another 30 minutes went by and no sign of heading back, we finally asked to return. By the time we got back we had been out for 2.5 hours and when it came time to pay he definitely made it known that we were out for that long. I asked what we owed him then and he said to give him a good tip, which we honestly would have done anyway, but this put a bad taste in my mouth because I felt taken advantage of. I will say that we did catch 14 fish and he asked if we wanted to take one with us to have cooked at the hotel, which we declined. You should also know that these fish get sold by the owner of the boat, which some people have a problem with, but I don't know why... were you planning on putting them in your mini fridge??? Anyway, I would not do this tour again only because Pilo was so so so much better for a lower cost. Please be sure to read Valentino's reviews though, because people do really like him, we just had very high standards.
These are items you should definitely bring along when visiting Huatulco/Secrets, not a full list. Do be sure to pack liquids in your check in bag as we met numerous people who put them in their carry on and had them taken away at the airport (I'm sorry, but duh), then had to pay $20 for SPF 30.
- Bug Spray
- Aloe/Sunburn Cream
- Anti-Itch Meds
- Tums or Pepto*
- Advil (to aid in hangovers and sunburns)
- Dramamine if you plan on going out on a boat or snorkeling
- Swimmer's Ear Drops
- Nice Clothes for Dinners
- Dress Shoes
- Dress Pants for men
- Collared Shirt for men
- Pants or Dresses for women (non shorts)
- Water Shoes (optional)
- Snorkel Gear (optional, you can rent if you like sharing germs with strangers)
- Walkie Talkies (optional, if you are traveling with a group these help to stay in contact while at the hotel since cell phones aren't an option)
*We never once got sick from any of the food or drinks due to food poisoning; however, our tummies did have issues because we ate like pigs, drank like sailors and sat in the sun all day like it was our job. So this caused us to be in the bathroom more than normal and is usually the culprit and NOT the food, water or drinks that often get the blame.