Three years ago, I visited Puerto Escondido, Oaxaca for the first time and fell in love with its endless beaches, rich biodiversity, and laid back vibes. Recently, I returned to Puerto and had more time to explore this legendary surf town. From swimming with bioluminescent plankton to releasing newly hatched sea turtles, this hippie beach town has much to offer surfers and non-surfers alike. Read on for a complete guide including where to stay, where to eat, and fun things to do in Puerto Escondido…
Puerto Escondido Location
Puerto Escondido is located in the state of Oaxaca (pronounced wah-HA-kah), on the West Coast of Mexico. By plane, it’s a little over an hour from Mexico City. It is much farther south than many popular Pacific Coast beaches like Acapulco and Puerto Vallarta and is therefore very hot year round.
Most of the action in Puerto Escondido takes place along Playa Zicatela, a beach famous for its golden sand and powerful waves. Among surfers, Zicatela is known as the Mexican Pipeline. It’s home to the biggest surf in Mexico and is considered one of the top surfing destinations in the world. In the late 70s, my Dad spent a lot of time chasing waves in Mexico and Puerto Escondido was his favorite big wave spot. It was so fun to return to Puerto with him over thirty years later and to hear his wild memories of the place and how it had changed.
Where to Stay
On my most recent trip to Puerto, my family and I stayed in the heart of Zicatela at Hotel Rockaway. This boutique hotel is at the center of the action, surrounded by surf shops, bars, restaurants, and hotels. For my family, this location was ideal as we could walk almost everywhere and the Mexican Pipeline was just steps from our door. But if you’re looking for somewhere more quiet and secluded, I would recommend staying closer to La Punta (the point of Zicatela).
*For current rates at Hotel Rockaway, click here
Where to Eat
We were happy to discover that Puerto Escondido has a lively food scene with something for everyone. Here were our favorite Puerto Escondido restaurants:
- Sativa– Cafe serving healthy options such as juices, smoothies, and egg dishes. Cool vibes and one of the few places in town with decent wifi.
- El Cafecito– A local favorite and a great breakfast option for Mexican and American dishes. Affordable, always busy, and relatively quick.
- Spirulina– Go here for a healthy lunch and order their tasty sandwiches.
- La Olita– Best tacos in town.
- Hotel Santa Fe– It’s an older crowd but the view of the sea, cool breeze, and fresh fish make for a very pleasant evening.
- Lychee Thai– Hippie Thai joint with flavorful curries and fresh fish. If you like having your feet in the sand while dining and listening to live music, this place is for you.
- Almoraduz– By far our favorite meal in Puerto. The Oaxacan chef serves up authentic Oaxaqueño dishes with a gourmet twist. Go for inspired, delicious dishes in a relaxed environment.
Things to Do in Puerto Escondido
Puerto Escondido is a surfer’s paradise. That being said, if you’re a beginner surfer or just a swimmer, you need to be very careful in the surf. The current at the northern end of Playa Zicatela is very strong and it can whisk you down the beach or pull you under with little warning. Summer is the prime season for big waves but even in the off-season huge waves can appear out of nowhere. During my time in Puerto I learned that even seemingly small waves can have a deceptively strong force.
If you want to enjoy the surf without the risk, head down to Punta Zicatela where the waves are gentler. Or go to the nearby Playa Carrizalillo, a beautiful cove ideal for swimming and beginner surfers. Although I grew up surfing, I’m not a big wave surfer like my Dad and brother and so the gentler, long waves of Playa Carrizalillo were perfect for me. If you’re interested in giving it a try, stop by a local surf shop and schedule a lesson.
Things to Do Besides Surf
If you don’t surf, don’t worry, there are many other fun things to do during your time in Puerto Escondido. Take a boat tour of the Manialtepec Lagoon, ride horses to the hot springs of Tututepec, hike the staggering Cascada de la Reforma, and release newly-hatched baby sea turtles.
Boat Tour of the Manialtepec Lagoon
On my first trip to Puerto, I went on an evening boat tour of the Manialtepec Lagoon to see one of nature’s most amazing phenomena: bioluminescence. Before the sun went down, we admired the intricate mangroves and the lagoon’s abundant wildlife. At one point, the lagoon runs into the beach and we disembarked to watch a spectacular sunset. Once the sun set, we dipped our hands in the water to reveal the glowing blue bioluminescence. A few people in our party even jumped in to swim with the microscopic neon creatures.
Atotonilco Hot Springs
About thirty minutes outside of Puerto Escondido is a tiny town called San José Manialtepec. The river that runs through this town is the same river that feeds into the Manialtepec Lagoon. You can rent horses there and, with a guide, ride through streams and trails until you reach natural hot springs. These springs range from warm to boiling and have therapeutic qualities. Soaking in them is extremely relaxing and you’ll leave feeling revitalized with skin as soft as a baby. The Atotonilco hot springs are off of the beaten path and you’ll likely have them all to yourselves.
DwD Tip: Although it’s possible to do this tour independently, it’s better to book in advance with a tour operator such as Dimar Travel Agency or LaloEcotours so you know the horses and guide are available.
La Cascada de la Reforma
A 90 minute drive from Puerto is a staggering waterfall called Cascada de la Reforma. I was looking forward to visiting it during my latest trip but was prevented from doing so due to protestors blocking the roads. (Political protests are very common in Oaxaca and disruptions such as these are not unusual). However, my family managed to visit the famous cascada after I’d left. The journey involves bumpy dirt roads followed by a short hike but they said the 147 ft (45 m) waterfall was well worth the trip.
Sea Turtle Release
Did you know that the Oaxacan coast is one of the world’s top five turtle nesting areas? From July to December mama turtles come ashore to lay their eggs in mass nestings. Then from January to about May, the baby turtles start hatching.
For decades, poachers would hunt the beaches for buried eggs, either for food or to sell them as aphrodisiacs. This had a devastating impact on the sea turtle population and virtually decimated four turtle species. Finally, the Mexican federal government stepped in and outlawed turtle hunting in 1990. Since then conservation efforts have tried to rejuvenate the endangered turtle population. Today, as soon as turtle nesting season begins, local volunteers and conservationists comb the long beaches to collect the eggs. The vulnerable eggs are then moved to protected areas for their incubation period.
There are many beaches up and down the coastline where you can participate in a turtle release. Just inquire at your hotel, at a local tour agency, or book here. We went to Barra de Colotepec, a beautiful virgin beach just behind La Punta, to participate in the release of recently hatched turtles.
The release takes place right before sunset, when they have the best chance for survival. Tragically, of the hundreds of thousands of turtle eggs laid every year, only about 2% survive due to attacks by predators, dangerous surf conditions and pollution. So these guys need all the help they can get! While some babies make a beeline for the ocean, others get disoriented and head in the wrong direction. That’s where you come in, helping to gently guide them towards their new home. It’s truly an unforgettable experience and one you won’t want to miss.
So whether you come to Puerto Escondido to shred its legendary waves, relax on its beautiful beaches, or experience its natural wonders and abundant wildlife, I guarantee you’ll leave wanting more.
If you found this Puerto Escondido guide useful, please let me know below!
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