Pluma Hidalgo

An area of incredible diversity, the trip to Pluma Hidalgo passes from the lowlands of Santa Maria Huatulco up a steep winding highway into lush cloud forest and some pines, along with the famous shade-grown organic coffee plantations of Pluma. The best thing about this region is that it is far more easily accessible by comfortable highway driving than anywhere else in the local mountains. While Pluma coffee is well known in Huatulco as the coffee of choice, it remains somewhat mysteriously disconnected as a tourist destination.

More than just coffee, Pluma Hidalgo offers stunning views across verdant valleys and all the way out to the Pacific. Precariously perched at around 4400' on a knife edge ridge, the town commands impressive vistas in every direction. While geographically isolated, it is a vibrant town of 5000 people and the paved highway connecting it to Santa Maria Huatulco makes all the difference in the world to the quality of life here. The shops are well stocked, and a number of the buildings have elegant touches in the way of quality local-made doors and windows that speak of a strong native pride. If you follow a street downhill from the main square toward the ocean, attracted by bright flowers along the sides of buildings, you will come visitors in wonder at the orchid garden of Doņa Elia to a small unassuming house on your left covered in planters. It is the house of Sra. Elia Martinez Silva, known to all as Doņa Elia, an orchid collector who has a stunning collection of 154 species of orchids all around her house. While she has been collecting for over 20 years, she had to start over at collecting after Hurricane Paulene in 1997 when it destroyed her collection. She gladly offers tours of the collection, and it is not to be missed. Her husband makes furniture from local hardwoods at his workshop across the street, and the quality of his tables is exquisite, the finest work I've seen in Mexico. Above town in the hamlet of Pasionaria there is a ridge top hiking trail that offers unbeatable views in every direction of the mountains and valleys.

The great thing about organic shade-grown coffee producers is that they are fierce supporters of conservation. Healthy forests are their lifeblood, allowing their coffee plants to flourish and grow the highest quality beans. This makes shade-grown coffee the perfect base economy for a place that wants to develop eco-tourism. I had the honor a few years back of getting to know the young and dynamic former municipal president Pablo Perez Ramos, who did much during his tenure to put Pluma more on the map. One of his creations was the yearly Pluma Hidalgo coffee fair, usually in late March or late April. Artisans come in from deep in the mountains to sell their wares, and every type of coffee product is available from every finca in the region.

The one thing that was missing from Pluma until recently was a nice tourist-friendly destination to stop and soak things up, a good restaurant or place to stay. In 2012, though, a wealthy young business owner named Gabriel Pimentel, built an extraordinary facility called Finca Don Gabriel. Pimentel has many business interests in Huatulco including the chain of taco stands Tacos Al Pastor as well as the tow truck company, and a prime piece of property in Pluma on a spine overlooking the valley toward Santa Maria. Pimentel spared little expense making a gorgeous restaurant on the hillside with four luxury cabaņas above it, a coffee museum, communal facilities including a swimming pool and playground, and small terracotta huts called covachas for budget travelers. The most truly remarkable aspect of the place is how affordable it is for the quality. The luxury cabaņas with king beds and stunning views are only 450 pesos a night and the tiny covachas with perhaps even better views are shockingly only 100 pesos per person. The former manager of the place, Arturo, explained to me that Don Gabriel had backpacked a lot throughout the world and never wanted anything more than some shelter to pitch his tent, which gave him the idea for the covachas. The restaurant is eminently affordable, and has some of the best homemade tortillas you'll eat anywhere. Without fail, nearly every visitor I have taken has had their jaw drop at the magnificence of the entire place with all its attention to detail.