Outside magazine, October 1995
Zapatistas, economic meltdown, corruption, political assassinations--there are so many reasons to cross Mexico off your list these days. Go right ahead; I'll be able to get a better room at a cheaper rate (which is why I don't mind sharing four of my favorite places). Forget the sunsets over the Pacific, the hundred shades of green, the centuries-old civilizations, the relaxing rhythm of life, the gentle humanity of people who honor civility, passion, and grace above all else. It's OK. Go somewhere else. Did I mention the esophagus-eating parasites?
There's a string of places to stay on Tulúm Beach (including Cabañas Santa Fe, which has campsites and cabañas for $8-$10 per person per night; 987-1-2096), but unless you like the odor of patchouli and the din of rock and reggae blaring from the open-air bars, I'd suggest Qué Fresco (no phone), about a mile south on the road to the town of Boca Paila and the Sian Ka'an Biosphere Reserve. The food is legendary, and you can camp ($3.50 per night) or stay in a cozy thatched cabaña ($35). There are four cenotes (deep, freshwater limestone sinkholes) to explore in the area, and it's a handy jumping-off point for exploring the reserve--full of panthers, ocelots, howler monkeys, jaguars, and tapirs. Arrange for tours into Sian Ka'an at Cabañas Ana y José (doubles, $60; 988-0-6022), two miles down the Boca Paila Road from Qué Fresco, or through the Amigos de Sian Ka'an ($40 per person; 988-4-9583). You can also rent bikes at Ana y José for $10 a day to ride the dusty Boca Paila Road. One bonus to staying in Tulúm: The Mayan ruins of Cobá are just 26 miles away.
The less turbulent Playa Marinero, the town's main beach, is better suited for bodysurfing. Snorkeling is best at waveless El Angelito, a five-minute, $1 boat ride to the north side of the bay. You'll see octopuses, barracuda, and lots of snappers; snorkeling equipment can be rented right on the beach for about $2 a day.
Puerto Escondido has a distinctly Italian flavor--reportedly there's even a retired Red Guard terrorist living in town, having traded in knee-capping for cappuccino-sipping at one of the espresso joints that front Pérez Gazga, the short, red-bricked main street of downtown. This three-block section of "new" Puerto Escondido is where you'll find all the restaurants and nightlife. La Perla Flameante has the best seafood (lightly handled and so fresh it's still quivering). If you go out fishing (arrange for a guide through your hotel, about $15 an hour, three-hour minimum), you can have the restaurant cook your sailfish, bluefin tuna, or whatever you catch. Il Capuchino is known for its great coffee as well as its incredible avocado pie, better even than the pie de limón, a local specialty.
A number of surf-dude hammock hotels are strung along Zicatela and range in comfort and price from about $6 a night for the bare essentials (a roomful of hammocks, shared bath) to $15 for more civilized surroundings (a fan, a bed, your own bath). Rockaway Surfer Village on Zicatela Beach (doubles, $12-$18; 958-2-0668) has a pool, a well-equipped surf shop (where you can rent everything you need for about $4 an hour), rooms with fans and mosquito nets--and it's stumbling distance from the break. For more upscale lodging, there's only one choice: The Santa Fe (doubles $75; 958-2-0170), at the northern end of Zicatela Beach, has air conditioning, a pool, and a restaurant/bar overlooking the beach.
Stay right on the beach at one of the no-name hammock-cabaña places (about $5 per day), or head back over the hill to Posada de Cañón de Vata (doubles, about $35; Box 74, Pochutla, Oaxaca 70900), a hideaway tucked inside a dense, semitropical forest of teak, mahogany, ebony, and mango. There's no phone or street address, but Puerto Ángel is so small you can find it easily--it's about 100 yards from Playa del Panteón (Graveyard Beach), the town's main beach.
For a break from town, take the half-mile cab ride south to Club Playa Estacahuite, a small palapa bar/restaurant perched on a rocky point that looks south toward the bays of Huatulco. There's great snorkeling just off the exposed coast here: swim around with sea tortoises, barracuda, and moray eels.
San Miguel de Allende
For all your biking needs--rentals, helmets, gloves, repairs, Smoke tires, Mr. Tuffy tube liners, Slime patch goop, and maps--your first stop should be Bici Burros bike shop on Calle Hospicio (rentals, $20 per day for Nishiki, TREK, and Raleigh bikes; 415-2-1526). From town, trails lead off in every direction; my favorites head north, skirting tiny pueblitos along the old Camino Real that sprang up when the area was a major silver-mining center some 300 years ago. Head out from the jardín in San Miguel to Palo Colorado, a small ranch about ten miles away, and then drop down into a roller-coaster track that leads another four miles to Atotonilco and its 250-year-old church. From there follow an old railway bed about seven miles to Cieneguitas, then head into the countryside on trails that parallel the train line to San Miguel.
The round-trip, which winds through a rocky, high-desert land of mesquite and cholla cactus, takes about six hours, depending on the heat, the number of flats you get, and your physical condition. (San Miguel is more than a mile high, so expect to spend a few days getting used to the altitude.) On the way back, there are hot springs where you can break up the ride with a thermal soak. Taboada and Xote are both close to the road from Atotonilco to Cieneguitas--look for the "Balinero" signs.
San Miguel is a resort, so there are loads of housing options. You can stay in a luxury hotel with swimming pools and private patios like La Puertecita Boutique'otel (doubles, $90-$165; packages, $119 per person per day, including lodging, local transportation, bike rental, guides, coaching, and two meals; 415-2-2250), the only hotel in town that caters to mountain biking. A couple of cheaper possibilities are Villa Jacaranda (doubles, $85; 465-2-1015) and Quinta Loreto (doubles, $17-$20; 415-2-0042).