Located on Mexico’s southern Pacific coast in the state of Oaxaca, Puerto Escondido is a beach bum’s dream. With warm waters, good surfing for both beginners and pros, and glorious golden beaches, we simply could not resist sampling these laid-back, hippy-esque vibes after the chaos of Mexico City.
Getting to Puerto Escondido
Flights from Mexico City to Puerto Escondido via Viva Aerobus were around $120 USD for two people, which really isn’t bad considering the only other alternative for getting there was 13 hours of hell on a bus through the bumpy, hilly, hole-infested, speed-bump infused backwaters of rural Mexico.
Stepping off the plane in Puerto Escondido, we were instantly smacked in the face by a wall of sizzling humidity, which was to be our arch-nemesis for the rest of our stay here. Scuttling under cover, we found ourselves in a laughably tiny terminal, with a single conveyor belt which was only around 20 metres long and so required a fair amount of shoving and cursing to retrieve our bags before they were claimed by some opportunistic Mexican.
Bags saddled and ready to check out the town, we strolled outside and, as usual, were bombarded with a barrage of taxi buffoons. Eventually, we opted for the “collectivo” option, essentially just a van taxi which offered slightly cheaper rates (around 70 pesos for two people) due to the fact that you are crammed in there with around 20 other people. A word of advice to those thinking about visiting Puerto – walk 100 metres to get outside of the airport grounds and you’ll see a few slightly haphazard-looking taxis lined up along the road – these guys will be your friends during your stay here, and they cost about one quarter of the price of the airport taxis, with most rides to anywhere in town costing between 20 and 35 pesos.
Accommodation/short term rentals in Puerto
Our plan in Puerto Escondido was simple: arrive, check out the area and get a feel for the place, then find a place to stay for a few weeks in order to relax, unwind, and take some time to work on our online business ventures. Thus our first port of call was Hostel Vivo Escondido, which offered reasonable rates for a private room, had a pool, was close to the beach, and most importantly was well-stocked with travelling individuals like ourselves with whom we could exchange banter regarding the hilarious state of daily Mexican life and glean some useful info on the town and where we should stay longer-term (over a few alcoholic beverages, of course).
After staying in Vivo Escondido for 5 days, we decided it was probably time to make the next move and find a short-term rental. Luckily, Liivi busted out her international connections and we were able to sit down with a local lady who put us in touch with a friend that had some places available which fit the bill nicely. Thus in short order we were happily moved in to Casa Azul, which had reasonable rates for long-term stay (2 weeks or more), had a kitchen and a moderately-functioning laundry, and was festooned with pets (a bonus for us). We were paying around $20 CAD/night, which was very cheap considering the facilities available, but it wasn’t the fanciest accommodation. The big plus for us was that it was a 10 minute walk to Playa Carazilillo, hands-down the best beach in Puerto, and 5 minutes to a host of excellent restaurants.
My advice – go and see Nadja at Oasis Surf School on Benito Juarez (above Playa Carizalillo) who manages Casa Azul, and see for yourself whether this is a good spot for you. Failing that, there are plenty of private places around that area which have signs proclaiming “se renta” – it’s just a case of making contact and asking to see the room/apartment. Otherwise, there’s a little rental agency just down from Oasis which can help with finding a rental apartment or room.
Attractions and Activities in Puerto Escondido
There are plenty of things to do in Puerto, however the intense heat and humidity can make doing anything even remotely strenuous a bit of a drag. We were there in November (technically almost “winter”) and daytime temperatures ranged from 30-35 degrees Celsius (around 85-95 degrees Fahrenheit), and 40-45 with the humidity factor. As such, make sure you get up early (a difficult task for us, unfortunately) or head out later in the afternoon to avoid sweating uncontrollably/getting heat stroke.
This was easily our favourite place in Puerto, and the one at which we spent by far the most time. Playa Carizalillo is accessed via a slightly torturous staircase set into the side of a seaside cliff, but at the bottom you’re greeted with glorious golden sands, relatively quaint beachside bars, and crystal clear waters. The water is super warm, so you can spend as long as you want wallowing in the bay, and there didn’t seem to be too much in the way of hazardous sea-life hanging around – it’s always a pleasant bonus when you don’t leave the beach at the end of the day complete with jellyfish stings, sea urchin barbs or stingray stab-wounds.
The other major drawcard of Carizalillo is the surfing – the waves at the point are perfect for beginners and people like myself who have only surfed a few times before, and because the water is so warm you can stay out on your board as long as you want. The best thing is the views – even if the waves aren’t great, you can sit out there on your board and soak in some impressive ocean vistas, and chat with the large sea turtles who regularly pop up for air just metres from your board. At one point, I actually had to abort a wave I had caught because I was heading straight for one such turtle, which seemed to be under the impression that it would come out on top in a turtle-surf board collision.
I rented my board from Oasis Surf School which is a 5 minute walk from the beach – the upside being that the boards are a lot higher quality than those down on the beach, the downside being that you have to carry your board down the steps. I generally paid for 24 hours (150 pesos – pretty cheap) which allowed me to go for a surf later on in the afternoon (generally the best time as you don’t get fried to a crisp by the sun and the waves generally get bigger around that time) and then again the next morning. Down on the beach, I think it was 80 pesos for an hour, which really isn’t long enough if you want to enjoy yourself.
Zicatella is Puerto’s main beach, however the surf is pretty epic so no-one swims there and only the best surfers can tackle the waves. The main attractions here are the bars and beach clubs which line the beach, and the best time to visit here is in the evening when you can sip a brew on the beach or party it up at many of the small bars and clubs in the area. Another option would be to grab a couple of bevvies from an Oxxo (Mexico’s favourite convenience store) and just go and sit on the beach – it’s cheaper, and you get the same views!
Unfortunately, we only discovered this little gem towards the end of our stay in Puerto. Playa Bacocho is the next beach over from Carizalillo, accessed by walking away from town on Benito Juarez and taking the road down to the beach just past the Posada Real hotel. The beach is huge and stretches on forever, and is the most wild of all the beaches in the area – for this reason, a lot of people don’t swim here due to the sizeable waves, but I went for the dip and it was pretty fun, aside from getting tossed around like a rag-doll.
Most people mosy over to Bacocho for the sunsets, which are epic, and Coco’s beach club which is located down below Posada Real. We didn’t spend time there, but the beach club looked like a nice spot to spend the day, with a sizeable pool, bar, restaurant, beach loungers, and direct access to the beach. The main reason we went there was for the turtles – we had heard via word of mouth that if you arrived at the right time, you could find a man who had a mysterious bucket filled with newly-hatched baby turtles, which you can then release at sunset and watch them waddle down to the water for the first time. It sounds a little sketchy, but apparently these guys are legit and are sanctioned by the turtle conservationists in this area.
Anyways, we asked at the beach club where this mysterious turtle man was and they pointed us about 200 metres down the beach. Once Turtle Man had been located we each paid 50 pesos, were handed a couple of empty coconut shells, and he unveiled a large bucket filled with sand and hundreds of ridiculously-cute baby turtles. We then spent 30 glorious minutes saying hello to the newbies and then setting them down on the beach and watching them race to the water, with an epic sunset in the background. Definitely worth 50 pesos, we just hope that the money actually goes back into turtle conservation measures and not directly into the pocket of some enterprising yet un-environmental local Mexican.
Bio-Luminescence at Laguna de Manialtepec
Some of the people at our hostel had been on a bioluminescence tour and highly recommended it, so we made arrangements through Ecoadventures to check it out. After sunset, we got picked up at our lodgings and driven around 30 minutes to the lagoon, an area of brackish water where a type of phytoplankton can be found at certain times of the year. We were taken out on a small boat with our guide and the “capitan” (a large, jovial Mexican lady), and soon noticed that the wake of the boat had begun to glow. Sure enough, when we stopped the boat and stuck our hands in, the water glowed a glorious blue-green colour. We were then urged by our guide to jump in and swim around in the glowing stuff, however I had read that crocodiles were known to inhabit these areas and said as much. Our guide assured us that the crocs were not around “right now”, and as a show of faith he sent the poor capitan into the water to exemplify the lack of man-eating creatures. Somewhat mollified, I jumped in and swam around, however Liivi wimped out.
The water was uncomfortably warm and it was pitch black, but these discomforts were soon forgotten amidst the glowing wondrousness all around me. Every slight movement would emit a stream of sparkly stuff, so I spent a good amount of time stupidly thrashing around and probably sorely tempting any crocs which happened to be passing by. The best part came at the end, when we turned the boat around to head back. The movement startled a school of large fish, which swam away in all directions and left glowing jetstreams behind them. Rather magical, I must say.
Sorry, no photos for this particular adventure – it was pitch black and the cameras couldn’t handle capturing the luminescence in the water for some reason.
Eating establishments in Puerto are plentiful and wondrously cheap, so needless to say we ate quite well during our stay. We particularly enjoyed the strip of restaurants on Benito Juarez above Playa Zicatella, and spent long hours munching tacos (sounds a bit inappropriate) and sipping jugos frescos from such establishments as El Cafecito (a local legend, with good fresh juices and fairly stock standard meals for fair prices), El Sultan (tasty combo shawarma!), and Almoraduz (delicious gourmet food with a modern Oaxacan twist – I just made that up, but perhaps that should be their tagline?).
That being said, if you’re of a more health-conscious inclination, you’ll be a little limited with your choices. It’s probably not advisable to eat salads ALL the time from restaurants, as the tap water is non-potable and I suspect they usually wash vegetables with it, and your only other “healthy” options from there are non-fried tacos or soups. The supermarkets are all fairly atrocious and horribly managed (you’ll see what I mean when you get there – the supermarket managers must be either batshit crazy or raging alcoholics), but we paid a few visits to the large Chedraui in town and managed to eek a living from the produce they had available there. Probably a better option, if you have the energy, is to visit the markets a few blocks from the Chedraui and buy fresh seafood – the supermarket meat is all either partially rotted or dyed a questionable colour.
Is Puerto Escondido worth a visit?
So far, Puerto has been my favourite place in Mexico, with the best beaches (we’ve spent a lot of time in the Yucatan and Mayan Riviera and the Puerto beaches poo all over those), best food, cheapest taxis and most laid back lifestyle. The heat is a big downside, however, so I’d probably only recommend visiting from December through till February.