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The Hotel Binniguenda, in Santa Cruz, Mexico, is nearly empty during our stay. Everybody is at the big beachfront resorts, shrieking and splashing in the pools, playing Hacky Sack on the beach, lining up for breakfast buffets, throwingback brightly colored tropical drinks. How nice not to be there. How much better to be at the Binniguenda, lounging by a quiet, beautifully landscaped swimming pool. Most of the time, we have it to ourselves.

True, no waiters ply us with refreshments, but the lobby bar is just a short stroll away. And there is a poolside bar and restaurant, though we never see it in full swing. It's kind of slow at the Binniguenda. Delightfully slow.

The four-star Hotel Binniguenda opened in 1987 and was the first hotel in the Bahía de Huatulco (Bay of Huatulco), a region the Mexican government hopes to turn into its next vacation paradise. The adobe building is low-key and lovely, graced with burbling fountains, tropical flowers, tile floors, and Oaxacan handicrafts. Our room is comfortable and air conditioned. The hotel restaurant, which attracts business types from the area, serves delicious, local specialties.

Unlike many of the newer hotels in the area, the Hotel Binniguenda is not on the beach. A shuttle bus is available to ferry guests to a beach club at Playa Chahue; you can also take a seven-minute walk to the nearby Playa Santa Cruz and from there hire a boat that, within minutes, will carry you to sparkling, sapphire bays. The Sierra Madre del Sur are the backdrop, scores of birds flutter against the blue skies above, and you are all alone.

The town of Santa Cruz, site of the area's original, Zapotec fishing village, is being reborn as a new adobe development. But happily, progress is slow in this part of Mexico; one morning we share the sidewalk with a donkey and no one else. And the town maintains its traditional mercado, where Oaxacan handicrafts are sold. In sharp contrast is the Bahía de Tangolunda, the "hotel zone," where all the action is.

We explore the region each morning, but afternoons are reserved for relaxing by the Binniguenda's swimming pool. No need to be in the middle of everything, and at the Binniguenda you won't be.--Sophia Dembling

Hotel Binniguenda; 800-262-2656; 100 rooms; $104, including breakfast.

Reprinted with permission from Travel Holiday magazine, March 1995.

(Copyright) Sophia Dembling.

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