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 Puerto Escondido guide including where to stay, where to eat, and things to do during your stay.
Restaurants along Playa Zicatela
Living my best life
One of the many vibrant bougainvilleas along Calle del Morro
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 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).
The colorful Calle del Morro, the main drag along Playa Zicatela
Relaxing in a cabana at Hotel Rockaway
Punta Zicatela, a beautiful, secluded area on the far northern end of Playa Zicatela
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. But be warned, the service can be extremely slow.
- 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.
So many delicious dishes at Almoraduz!
Hotel Santa Fe, worth visiting for the decor as well as the food
Surfing in Puerto
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-seasons 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.
Dad paddling out in a big set
Little brother getting tubed (he’s only slightly better than me 😉 )
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.
The beautiful cove of Playa Carrizalillo
Heading out to catch some waves! You can rent a board at Playa Carrizalillo for only 100 pesos an hour
Got the wave to myself!
What to Do (Besides Surfing)
If you don’t surf, don’t worry, there are many other things to do during your time in Puerto Escondido.
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.
Hot Springs of Tututepec
About an hour and 45 minutes outside of Puerto Escondido is a tiny town called Tututepec. 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 hot springs of Tututepec are off of the beaten path and you’ll likely have them all to yourselves.
On our way to the hot springs
Getting a hot spring massage
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.
Can you spot my brother?
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.
Making a mad dash for the sea!
There are many beaches up and down the coastline where you can participate in a turtle release. Just inquire at your hotel or at a local tour agency and they will set you up. We went to Barra de Colotepec, a beautiful virgin beach just behind La Punta, to participate in the release of recently hatched turtles.
Barra de Colotepec beach
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.
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