64km (40 miles) SE of Puerto Angel; 680km (422 miles) SE of Acapulco

Huatulco has the same unspoiled nature and laid-back attitude as its neighbors to the north, Puerto Angel and Puerto Escondido, but with a difference. Amid the natural splendor, you'll also encounter indulgent hotels and modern roads and facilities.

Pristine beaches and jungle landscapes can make for an idyllic retreat from the stress of daily life -- and when viewed from a luxury hotel balcony, even better. Huatulco is for those who want to enjoy the beauty of nature during the day and then retreat to well-appointed comfort by night.

Undeveloped stretches of pure white sand and isolated coves await the promised growth of Huatulco, which lags far behind CancĂșn, the previous resort planned by FONATUR, Mexico's Tourism Development arm. FONATUR development of the BahĂ­as de Huatulco is an ambitious project that aims to cover 21,000 hectares (51,870 acres) of land, with over 16,000 hectares (39,520 acres) to remain ecological preserves. The small local communities have been transplanted from the coast into Crucecita. The area consists of three sections: Santa Cruz, Crucecita, and Tangolunda Bay.

Though Huatulco has increasingly become known for its ecotourism attractions -- including river rafting, rappelling, and hiking jungle trails -- it has yet to develop a true personality. There's little shopping, nightlife, or even dining outside of the hotels, and what is available is expensive for the quality. However, the service in the area is generally very good.

A cruise ship dock in Santa Cruz Bay has given the sleepy resort an important business boost. The dock handles up to two 3,000-passenger cruise ships at a time (passengers are currently ferried to shore aboard tenders). Still being refined is the relatively new 20,000-hectare (49,400-acre) "eco-archaeological" park, El Botazoo, at Punta Celeste, where there is a recently discovered archaeological site. Hiking, rappelling, and bird-watching are popular activities there. This new development is all being handled with ecological sensitivity in mind.

If you're drawn to snorkeling, diving, boat cruises, and simple relaxation, Huatulco nicely fits the bill. Nine bays encompass 36 beaches and countless inlets and coves. Huatulco's main problem has been securing enough incoming flights. It relies heavily on charter service from the United States and Canada.