Don't let Huatulco's Mexican colonial-style architecture fool you—most of it is just a few decades old. The brainchild of Fonatur, Mexico's tourism development agency, this is one of the country's newest Pacific-coast resorts, and it represents a carefully balanced attempt at mixing high-end tourism with environmental preservation. The Mexican government set aside about 60% of the municipality of Huatulco (pronounced wah-TOOL-koh) as an ecological reserve, and all new construction adheres to strict codes: No buildings taller than six stories and plenty of open space and natural vegetation in between.

The result, so far, is a resort with a very different feel. Visitors are not going to find ancient ruins in Huatulco, but they won't be overwhelmed with glitzy high-rises and rowdy crowds either. What you'll discover in Bahias de Huatulco are nine gorgeous bays and 36 golden-sand beaches covering 22 mi/35 km. Many of these beaches are ringed by coral reefs, underwater grottoes or canyons that attract shoals of fish.

It's not surprising, then, that cruise ships now make Huatulco a regular port of call as part of their sailings along the Mexican Riviera. Myriad watersports as well as adventures to nearby coffee plantations, five different culturally distinct neighborhoods, a vast subtropical forest reserve and mountain streams mean there's something for most visitors to do—in addition to simply relaxing in deluxe seclusion.

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