The Highway of Dreams: Oaxaca-Puerto Escondido

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I have lived in Bahías de Huatulco since January 2007, and even then, there was talk of the highway that has just been inaugurated. I understood the concern for this route the first time I traveled to the state capital in 2008. On that occasion, due to a congress, I rented a car and went to Oaxaca via highway 175, which passes through Pochutla and San José del Pacífico, returning via 131, the road that reaches Puerto Escondido. I am a driver with quite a bit of experience; in fact, driving is one of my greatest hobbies, and I love mountain roads, but those two days of travel can be said to have satiated me, I got fed up with so many curves. In both cases, the roads offered absolutely spectacular landscapes but with very strenuous driving experiences. A few months later, I discovered highway 190, the one from the Isthmus, also very curvy.

With the three options I just mentioned, when those of us who live on the Coast had to go to the city of Oaxaca, as is so common, for multiple reasons (work, administrative, health), we always joked that we would go “by the good road,” and it was usual for someone to respond that “That road does not exist” or to ask, laughing: “And which one is the good one?”. I understood perfectly, as I tell you, the need for this Highway that was inaugurated on February 4, 2024, so many years after it began to be talked about.

The institutional advertising says it is a dream come true, and the truth is that it is quite right to consider it a dream. In 2009 it was granted a concession and was abandoned until 2020, the year in which the current government, as part of its concern for the state of Oaxaca, recovered the project until its completion.

The Barranca Larga-Ventanilla superhighway, 104 kilometers long, has cost 13 billion pesos. It has two lanes, each 3.5 meters wide, also equipped with wide shoulders, and is expected to have traffic of 4,000 vehicles per day. The rugged topography of the state posed some difficult engineering challenges, which made it necessary to build ten bridges, three viaducts, and three tunnels along the Highway.

It is expected that this will represent practically a dose of steroids for the Oaxacan economy. For starters, the project has already provided direct employment to 1,800 people and has created an additional 3,500 indirect jobs. At the same time, many works have been carried out for the benefit of the surrounding localities, such as the rehabilitation of hospitals and schools, electrification works, or the creation of new roads.

Moreover, the 15 junctions and accesses that this superhighway has will presumably energize the entire economy of its area of influence, estimated at about 50 municipalities and more than 100,000 people. An example of such benefits is the possible support for agriculture, favoring the creation of agro-industries with products such as coconut, papaya, and of course coffee, which lately has been in decline due to large multinational companies.

At the tourist level, the highway will have an enormous impact. For starters, it puts the beaches of Puerto Escondido two to two and a half hours away from the state capital. Bahías de Huatulco, the most important sun and beach destination in the state, is approximately an hour and a half away from Puerto Escondido, so an increase in tourist influx can also be expected. At the same time, many tourists who have arrived by plane at these destinations will be able to get to know the city of Oaxaca, even going back and forth on the same day (I do not recommend it, because Oaxaca has a lot to see, but with this new highway, it is a real possibility).

Of course, not all impacts will be positive. The arrival of the highway threatens to profoundly change the dynamics of tourism along the entire Chacahua-Huatulco corridor, in directions yet to be determined. For the moment, it seems to have already accelerated the processes of parceling out communal lands, which will presumably end up as Airbnb plazas or second homes.

The environmental impact is undoubtedly there, as a work of this nature always produces negative effects on the environment: loss of vegetation cover, increased susceptibility to erosion, and various impacts on fauna, among others. However, if it is assumed that the project has complied with all environmental regulations, also trying to minimize damage, it only remains to hope that such impact will result in a significant increase in the well-being levels of a very neglected area of the state. Of course, this topic should be debated much more, but the general idea I believe is the one mentioned.

My first trip on this highway was on Thursday, February 8 of this year, a few days after its inauguration: deliberately, I did not take photos or record videos, nor did I make more stops than strictly necessary, and I tried to maintain a moderate speed. The day was cloudy, and so was the climb to the top of the Sierra, where we were caught by rain and fog, before descending to the Central Valleys, with completely clear skies and warm weather. The trip lasted, in total, from my home in Huatulco to the entrance of Oaxaca, about four and a half hours, which represents a brutal reduction compared to the usual times, which could easily reach seven or even eight hours. There is a small stretch of highway missing between the Pochutla crossroads and the Huatulco Airport: hopefully, we won’t have to wait another fifteen years for it to be completed. There are also small works still in progress, but they are very localized and do not impede progress.

I returned the next day, after attending a seminar in the state capital. The scheme was the same: a climb from the sun of the Valleys to the fog and mountain rain, and then a descent to Puerto Escondido on a strange day, with clouds and even drizzle, more typical of the rainy season than the month of February. The second day I traveled even more calmly, photographing landscapes and taking videos, without worrying in the least about the stopwatch. The trip took me more than three hours, but it allowed me to see the sunset on Zicatela beach. Could you ask for more?

There were moments when I felt the journey somewhat unreal. It was as if the superhighway had uncovered a veil that covered all those places now in plain sight. As if the door to the wardrobe leading to Narnia had been opened. Only in this case, Narnia had always been here.

It seems to me that the inauguration of the highway is a wonderful occasion for you, who are reading me, to discover some of the worlds contained in the state of Oaxaca. Not only the beach and the Coast, or of course the state capital, a city included in the UNESCO World Heritage List, but also the Southern Sierra, brimming with biocultural diversity. Enjoy this opportunity!

By José María Filgueiras Nodar

Source: Entorno Turistico