I made up my mind to visit Puerto Escondido, a beach town on Oaxaca’s coast, only a few days before I left for a month to Mexico. I was yearning for some warm weather and a destination where I could truly unwind. Not even 24 hours after booking my flight and Airbnb, the New York Times released its annual list of 52 places to visit in 2017 with Puerto Escondido coming in at 32. Was this validation of my decision? Or had I made a mistake in picking a place now on people’s radar?

I caught a cab before the sun was up outside my Airbnb in San Cristobal de las Casas, took a fog-shrouded journey down a mountain in a bus to Tuxtla Gutiérrez airport, flew to Mexico City where I had a lengthy layover, and then hopped on a Viva Aerobus flight to Puerto Escondido. The hour-long flight was pretty uneventful until we came out of the clouds and circled the town over the ocean at sunset. The epic arrival reassured me that I had made the right choice in adding Puerto Escondido to my itinerary, which would be continuously affirmed in the days to come.

Puerto Escondido Travel Guide

Puerto Escondido Travel Guide

Puerto Escondido is one of a handful of popular beach-y towns on the Oaxacan Coast, including resort heavy Huatulco and laid back hippie enclaves of Mazunte and Zipolite. Once a sleepy fishing village, Puerto Escondido began attracting surfers to its gigantic waves in the 70s and word spread.

Puerto Escondido is perched on a hill overlooking the Pacific Ocean, though most of the city’s activity is on its many beaches. Surfers congregate in the east section of town near Zicatela beach, a ten kilometre stretch of sand with the best conditions. La Punta, ‘the point’ at the far eastern end, offers a more laid back setting with a few eateries and hostels, and where people walk barefoot in the sandy streets.

It’s not a surprise that Puerto Escondido is an enclave for expats and backpackers as it has the perfect conditions: chill, eco-friendly, great food, cheap drinks. It’s the type of place that people plan to visit for a week and stay for a month. Everyone here just seem to enjoy a slower pace. Like the town’s unofficial motto states: no pasa nada – or no worries.

Puerto Escondido Travel Guide
Puerto Escondido Travel Guide
Puerto Escondido Travel Guide
Puerto Escondido Travel Guide

What to Do in Puerto Escondido

Surf

Every morning you can catch the surfers walking with their boards to the beach at Zicatela or La Punta. The waves here are so epic that it’s known as the Mexican Pipeline when waves can reach 30+ feet during the summer months. Though the best conditions are between April and October, that doesn’t stop surfers from going out all year round, taking any wave they can get during the off season. There are countless surf shops offering board rentals and lessons on both the Zicatela and La Punta strips but most notable are Oasis Surf School, Puerto Surf Lessons, and Zicazteca Surf School. If you’re a beginner, best to start out with a few lessons instead of renting a board and going for it – the surfers here take it seriously and aren’t too happy when novices get in the way.

Explore the Beaches

Puerto Escondido is blessed with some truly exceptional beaches. La Punta is more rugged and a mellow beach, Zicatela has several loungers and palapas for rent, Carrizalillo is a bit of a descent but absolutely gorgeous, Bacocho is more secluded and has a nightly ‘turtle liberation’ (where hatchlings are guided into the ocean), Coral can feel like your own private beach as it’s often very quiet and has no vendors, Manzanillo and Puerto Angelito right across the cove are ideal for swimming and snorkeling. Many of the smaller beaches offer snorkel gear and stand up paddle board rentals. Be sure to be on a beach when the sun goes down because oh my god – the sunsets here are incredible, it doesn’t really matter which beach you choose!

Boat Trips

The ocean just off the coast is home to sea turtles, dolphins and humpback whales, the latter during the winter months. A number of larger tour operators offer scheduled tours as well as independent guides who may approach you on the beach or in town. Deep sea fishing is also a popular pastime here if you’re interested. Whichever type of tour you take, make sure you choose an ethical operator who follows sustainability practices.

Benito Juarez Market

This market in town offers a glimpse of local life in Puerto Escondido. A variety of vendors sell everything you might need such as meats, spices, vegetables, sauces, fruits, flowers, clothing and crafts, and several food stalls are perfect for a tasty Oaxacan meal or snack. It’s a bit of a trek away from the beach but it’s worth it – plus it gives you an opportunity to see more of Puerto Escondido away from other tourists.

Turtle Release

From July to January, Olive Ridley Sea Turtles ascend the beaches to lay their eggs en masse. Within the proceeding weeks, the hatchlings will grow and hatch at the same time. Their instinct to head for the water is strong, but factors such as light pollution from town and predators can make it difficult to reach their final destination. For a small fee you can support the ‘liberaction de tortugas’ at Playa Bacocho, where you transport a tiny hatchling close to the water and allow it a greater chance of entering the water successfully. It’s not only a benefit to the turtle population, it’s downright adorable.

Puerto Escondido Travel Guide
Puerto Escondido Travel Guide
Puerto Escondido Travel Guide
Puerto Escondido Travel Guide

Where to Eat in Puerto Escondido

The food scene in Puerto Escondido offers a range of dining options from inventive chefs to beachside grills, and from local dishes to international cuisine.

Amoki

This small family run restaurant near La Punta serves up delicious Oaxacan food in a casual outdoor setting. Fill up on tlayudas, fish tacos and burritos, and wash it down with a refreshing agua fresca.

Lychee

Also in La Punta, Lychee is an outdoor oasis, particularly after sunset when its many lights are twinkling. Serving up Thai food and cocktails, it’s a relaxing spot with a friendly vibe.

Cafe Ole

Attached to Hostal Frutas y Verduras, Cafe Ole is a bustling spot in the mornings. Grab a table out front and peruse the large selection of fresh pressed juices, omelettes, smoothie bowls, toasts, and salads.

Sativa

Located on the Zicatela strip, Sativa is on the second floor overlooking the action on the street. The menu incorporates local ingredients with an international twist, and the drinks range from inventive cocktails to local craft beer.

El Cafecito

This coffee shop and eatery on the Zicatela strip is busy morning to night. The huge menu offers an array of juices, pastries, espresso drinks, and breakfast, lunch and dinner options. It’s a no-brainer when needing a quick bite or a coffee to go.

Kuhl

When the midday heat starts to take its toll, head to Kuhl for a frozen yogurt cool down. Located on Zicatela, this well-designed shop serves up vanilla only but offers an array of sauces and toppings to jazz it up.

Smoked Fish Taco

Just north of Playa Manzanillo is this delightful spot that serves up super fresh fish – mainly ceviche and tacos, accompanied by homemade salsas. It’s an unassuming place with just a few tables but often those are the best spots.

Espadin

For an incredible sunset view overlooking Carazilillo, head to Espadin restaurant. It’s attached to a high-end hotel and on the pricier end, but the food is good. You can also just go for a drink at sunset and go on your way after.

Costenito Cevicheria

Located right on Playa Zicatela, Costenito serves up fresh fish dishes in an unbeatable setting. The specialty is ceviche, which is a sizeable portion of delicious fish that changes often, as well as whole fish that’s grilled in converted VW van.

Puerto Escondido Travel Guide
Puerto Escondido Travel Guide
Puerto Escondido Travel Guide
Puerto Escondido Travel Guide

Where to Drink in Puerto Escondido

There are a ton of beachfront bars and restaurants in Puerto Escondido for a cold cerveza or tropical cocktail. Along Zicatela you can rent a beach chair or palapa often owned by the closest restaurant for $5 to $10 USD for the day, though typically any food and drinks that you order go toward that amount.

Palapita Bar

It’s difficult to miss this beach bar on Playa Zicatela under a huge thatched roof palapa and a large pineapple sign. Tourists and expats fill the bar stools and lounge like seating on the beach, often coming for the nightly happy hour when refills of piña coladas served in a hallowed out pineapples go for 20 pesos or $1 USD.

Casa Babylon

This quirky spot across the street from Palapita offers visitors strong drinks and a fun time. It’s known around town for its mojitos and mezcal cocktails, and for its live music on weekends. The patio outback is a lovely backdrop.

BarFly

BarFly is where you’ll find the most club-like atmosphere in Zicatela. A fun crowd packs the bar nightly, dancing and drinking until 3am. Best not leave alone when you’re ready to go – muggings are known to occur on Zicatela beach after dark.

Alaburger

This laid back restaurant in La Punta is great for dinner or drinks afterward. Beautifully crafted wooden tables and a few swings for seats create the perfect ambiance for sipping a beer or cocktails. Live music is a regular occurrence.

Amar y Mar

This Zicatela restaurant hosts a party on the beach every Monday night. The throngs of partygoers at the Manic Monday Party dance to deep house music well into the night. It’s always a fun time.

Puerto Escondido Travel Guide
Puerto Escondido Travel Guide
Puerto Escondido Travel Guide

Day Trips from Puerto Escondido

Laguna de Manialtepec

A nature reserve less than 20 kilometres from Puerto Escondido, Laguna de Manialtepec is a wonderful place to view wildlife within the trees and mangroves. It’s a particularly popular place nightly between May and November when the luminous plankton is visible, making the lagoon sparkle. Several tour agencies can arrange an outing.

Mazunte

Just over an hour drive to the east is Mazunte, a beach village that’s quieter and less developed than Puerto Escondido. The beach is gorgeous, the people are friendly, and the vibes are good. Stay for a night or two in a beach front cabanita or visit for the day.

Zipolite

About five kilometres further east of Mazunte is Zipolite – another renowned beach town on the Oaxacan coast. A well known spot for clothing optional travelers, Zipolite is the epitome of relaxed with an anything goes type of attitude. The best, and most cost effective, way to get to Mazunte or Zipolite is to take a collectivo, a small, shared bus, from Puerto Escondido for about 10 pesos.

Puerto Escondido Travel Guide
Puerto Escondido Travel Guide
Puerto Escondido Travel Guide
Puerto Escondido Travel Guide

Where to Stay in Puerto Escondido

During my time in town I stayed at Casa Kei near La Punta, which I highly recommend. Pepe, the incredibly welcoming owner, offers six rooms on the property including a couple of quaint cabañas and a three story treehouse-like structure, the top of which is the most enviable room at Casa Kei for the spectacular nightly sunsets. The grounds at Casa Kei are lovely, with an outdoor kitchen, large communal table, hammocks, and plenty of artistic details throughout.

Puerto Escondido Travel Guide
Puerto Escondido Travel Guide
Puerto Escondido Travel Guide
Puerto Escondido Travel Guide

Puerto Escondido Travel Guide photos by Lauren Barth