Good food and service, with no wacky games, makes for a quiet all-inclusive alternative
A deserted island would offer only slightly more peace and quiet than the Camino Real Zaashila in Huatulco.
But it’s way easier to get room service at this serene, oceanside hotel in southern Mexico.
Judging by occupancy rates when we were there during an early December getaway, the 150-room Zaashila is not the acknowledged star of Huatulco’s abbreviated hotel zone. That made it the perfect vaccine for those crazy busy weeks leading up to Christmas.
While most North American tourists seemed to have gravitated to the nearby Barcelo, Dreams and Las Brisas resorts, or further along the highway to Secrets, the Camino Real catered mostly, and quietly, to a blend of Mexicans, Europeans — and us.
Why the difference? Most likely because of what the Zaashila gives up in traditional all-inclusive amenities and activities: there are no aqua-sports, no complimentary water snorkels or fins, no entertainment nights, no games co-ordinators.
The focus is on service, the casual and understated ambience, and the vibrant, Mexican-centric menus at its three on-site restaurants — Bel-La Grille (the breakfast buffet), Chez Binini (dinners), and the dual personality Club de Playa Zaashila (casual daytime meals) / Azul Profundo (romantic oceanside dinners by reservation.)
The food: We’re talking killer salsa, shrimp tacos that taste like more, fabulous fish and chicken entrees, bittersweet Mexican hot chocolate and the richest Oaxacan coffee, and mole, mole and more mole. During our week there, dinner alternated between the Chez Binini and Azul Profundo restaurants.
For those who also need an occasional taste of home through the week, the room service menu features go-to staples like pasta, salads, burgers, sandwiches, chicken soup and awesome breakfasts.
For a change of pace / scenery, you can even order room service to the Bitza lobby bar, where you can also try out the outdoor pool tables that will defy the laws of physics.
The rooms: The beds are comfortable, the rooms clean and soundproof, though fairly dated and unspectacular.
On the other hand, the views from their tiny balconies (every room faces the ocean, no “garden view” accommodations here) are ripped from a postcard. Golden sand of a virtually private bay meets the Pacific Ocean, which stretches out to meet the sky. Although the busy Barcelo and Dreams resorts are next door, the Zaashila’s beach is tricky for those guests to access; a barely navigable rocky outcrop crawling with multi-coloured crabs prevents all but the bravest tourists and a few beach vendors from blocking your view.
So yes, more peace and quiet.
Some of the rooms have a private swimming pool, which is actually of a decent size.
Speaking of pools: The main pool is massive (120 metres long, touted as the largest in the region), just deep enough, lots of loungers, generally empty and situated within splashing distance of a well-stocked bar that closes at 6 p.m. Sharp. You have been warned.
At the beach club, there is another small pool and more loungers and umbrellas. And the beach area itself features plenty of shady, low-slung palapas.
There’s no fighting for chairs or umbrellas. No lineups for drinks. No ear-splitting music. No D.J.
Break the silence: If the solitude is not your thing, your search for life — day or night — will take you into Santa Cruz or La Crucecita, both just 10 minutes away in a super affordable taxi. These communities (one on the beach, the other inland, and you can walk between the two) are tiny but very clean, with just enough restaurants to get the job done, and plenty of shops of selling typical tourist-focused wares, including local coffee beans, Oaxacan chocolate and the gorgeous black clay pottery which is famous in the region.
That said, even the hawkers who front those establishments are low-key when compared to their noisier brethren in Puerto Vallarta. Maybe it’s a Oaxacan thing.
If you are looking for action, there are plenty of excursions to choose from: fishing, snorkelling, boat tours, coffee plantation tours, dune buggies, river rafting, archeological tours and more. A golf course is within walking distance.
Final thoughts: We loved Huatulco and the Camino Real — the people, the food, the beach. But we did get a bit restless; therein lies the danger of a resort that specializes in a gentle, peaceful vibe. Next time, we’d be a bit quicker to book a couple of off-site excursions or stay in town for some evening action.
Have you been to the Camino Real Zaashila? Have you stayed at another resort in Huatulco? Tell us about it.