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Puerto Escondido, Oaxaca Travel Guide

Puerto Escondido Summary

Pros

  • Quaint fishing town turned beachy surf destination full of local charm
  • Attracts a chilled-out mix of backpackers, surfers, nature fans, and beach lovers 
  • Main Zicatela beachfront strip has plenty of dining and drinking options
  • Diverse mezcal and Mexican beer-fueled nightlife right on the beach
  • Home to the legendary Mexican Pipeline -- a major surf destination
  • Variety of beautiful beaches and villages to explore 
  • Beach club pools and bars on Bacocho Beach are open to public (for a fee)
  • Dolphin watching, an iguana sanctuary, sea turtle releases, and fishing
  • Night kayaking and boat tours of an amazing bioluminescent lagoon
  • Artisan shopping at Benito Juarez and El Adoquin Night Markets
  • Much calmer and easier on the wallet than other Mexico hotspots

Cons

  • Some beaches -- including Playa Zicatela -- are too dangerous for swimming
  • While relatively inexpensive, prices are higher than less-touristy parts of Oaxaca
  • Watch out for scorpions and take anti-mosquito measures

What It's Like

Tucked along the Pacific Ocean on Oaxaca’s southern coast, Puerto Escondido evolved from a 19th-century coffee port into a modest fishing town, though today it's taken on a different shape. That altogether more laid-back vibe vibe comes courtesy of surfers, who arrive here in droves to tackle the Mexican Pipeline -- one of the world's biggest breaks. Since the 1950s, the area has continued to develop a chilled-out surf scene, drawing a mix of sunseekers, wave chasers, and beachgoers seeking a low-key alternative to hyper-touristy Cancun and Los Cabos. 

Puerto Escondido’s coastline unfolds across a series of beaches and village pockets. While each has its own atmosphere, they're all consistently unpretentious. However, it's the ocean that's the big draw here. The legendary Mexican Pipeline, where giant waves cocoon along Playa Zicatela, is considered one of the world's best surf destinations and has been drawing surfers for decades. This has helped Zicatela become the area’s main tourist hub, with an array of bars and restaurants unfolding on the main drag and the beach. Plenty of surf shops, hotels, boutiques, and tourist outlets have joined the Zicatela fray, which stretches about two miles from Bahia Principal to La Punta -- where hippies love to hang. 

The bustling town center rises up a hill above Bahia Principal -- a smallish bay inhabited by the Puerto Escondido’s fishing fleet. At night, the El Adoquin Market takes over the main strip, making a fine way to end to the day, especially as the market is flanked by popular local seafood spots. In fact, there’s plenty on offer in Puerto Escondido for non-surfers too, and activities include diving, fishing, kayak tours, and all sorts of nature-related pursuits. Travelers can visit the bioluminescent lagoon, which is about 30 minutes from town by car and lights up magically at night. Turtle and dolphin watching are also great memory makers, as is the area's sea turtle release program. There, visitors pay a small fee to watch hatchlings head for the ocean. 

Separated by a rocky outcrop, Playa Manzanillo and Playa Angelito are popular spots for swimming and snorkeling. The beachfronts here are lined with humble restaurant shacks and deck chairs for hire. There's also Playa Punta (The Point), at Zicatela’s southern end, which has plenty of off-the-beaten-track charm. There, dirt roads are lined with palm-shaded restaurants, bars, and surf shops. Travelers who'd like something a bit more polished can opt for the pool and bar at Cocos Beach Club at Posada Real Puerto Escondido, which is open to the public for a small fee and sits on a long, wide pristine stretch that’s great for walking but too rough for swimming. Those who don’t mind the hike down steep cliffside stairs, will be rewarded with Playa Carrizalillo's sheltered cove, which makes for a gorgeous swimming beach. It also has soft learn-to-surf waves, plus a cute bar and dining shacks with deck chairs and umbrellas for rent.

While Puerto Escondido is no longer a coffee port, Oaxaca is still known for its exceptional coffee, which is grown in the cloud forests above town. It's served in local cafes, where sipping on a perfect brew is all part of the chilled-out Puerto Escondido experience. It's also worth noting that, dangerous surf aside, the main areas of Puerto Escondido are quite safe for tourists -- though of course, you should exercise general street smarts. Also, be prepared: ATMs aren't exactly numerous in this part of Oaxaca. 

Where to Stay

Most hotels require a 10- to-15-minute cab ride from the tiny airport. Travelers can take a private taxi for a fixed rate, or share one for a fraction of the cost. All manner of hotels are scattered throughout Puerto Escondido’s pockets -- ranging from hostels on the beach to large-scale resorts with private beach clubs to swanky hilltop villas with private pools. 

Most hotels are concentrated in Zicatela, unfolding alongside the bars, restaurants, cafes, and shops lining the colorful main drag. Check out Hotel Santa Fe for its charming colonial style and top-notch vegan restaurant. However, there are plenty of less-touristy spots to stay, located a five-minute drive from Zicatela. Villa Mozart y Macondo's two artsy bungalows offer intimate digs (and the best breakfast in town) in the calm Carrizalillo area. A handful of larger, more traditional resorts can be found around Bacocho Beach, and while none are truly beachfront, Hotel Suites Villasol has a fun beach club, as does the region’s only all-inclusive, Posada Real Puerto Escondido.

The best luxury hotel, Hotel Escondido, is oddly located on a private middle-of-nowhere property some 45 minutes from town, but the upscale bungalows with private plunge pools, and 50-meter beachfront infinity pool, make the trip well worth it. 

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