Top Things to do in Baja California

balandra Things to do in Baja California

If you want to see a wild and virtually untouched part of Mexico, explore the Sea of Cortez in Baja California. The Sea of Cortez is one of the richest and most extraordinary marine environments on earth. It is a dazzling sea in the midst of the desert, surrounded by staggering mountains covered with enormous cacti. As you sail from one cove to another, the sea changes from shades of crystal clear blue, to aquamarine, turquoise, and emerald green. I’ve now visited Baja three times and each time I have fallen more in love with this magical part of Mexico. Below you will find my favorite things to do in Baja California:

map Things to do in Baja California

Also known as the Gulf of California, the Sea of Cortez separates the Baja California peninsula from the Mexican mainland.

Things to do in Baja California

Swim with Whale Sharks

From early winter until late spring whale sharks can be found feeding in the Sea of Cortez. Whale sharks are as big as some species of whale and, like whales, are filter feeders. They are the largest species of fish, growing up to 40 feet (12 meters) and weighing as much as 47,000 pounds (21.5 tons). In Baja, you can swim alongside these gentle giants in the presence of an authorized tour operator. It is a humbling and truly unforgettable experience. 

Things to do in Baja California whale shark

Photo courtesy of The Telegraph

*P.S. This experience reinforced my belief that sharks are misunderstood creatures who often get an undeserved bad rep. If you’re still skeptical, check out the Misunderstood Predators episode of the Netflix show “Tales by Light.” I guarantee you it will change the way you think about sharks.

Go Whale Watching

Baja California is one of the best places in the world to see whales. Grey whales travel more than 10,000 miles from their summer feeding grounds in the Arctic to the southern Baja peninsula. They spend the months of December to April mating in the warm waters, giving birth and feeding their calves. If you’re in Baja during these months, book a marine safari. If you’re lucky, you might see mothers with their young spouting and splashing right next to your boat.

Things to do in Baja California whale tail

Interact with Sea Lions

25 miles from the shores of La Paz is a cluster of small isles home to hundreds of sea lions. Arrange an expedition to Los Islotes to interact with these playful creatures in their natural environment. Above the sea you can watch them engage in their favorite activities–defending their personal rock, playing in the water with their friends, and sunbathing their hefty bodies. But below the surface it’s a whole other world. With snorkeling or diving equipment you can spend a few hours playing with the curious pups and living as the sea lions do.

Things to do in Baja California sea lions

They swam in circles around us and our instructor even put his hand out for them to playfully nibble on; they’re just like puppies!

Dive

If you are scuba-dive certified, don’t skip the chance to explore the depths of the Sea of Cortez. Depending on the time of year, you could encounter groups of giant manta rays, humpback and sperm whales, hammerheads, sea lions, or whale sharks, not to mention colorful starfish, corals, and fish. Near the beautiful Isla Espiritu Santo is the Fang Ming Wreck, a ship sunk to create an artificial reef. Today it is a flourishing underwater ecosystem and a diver’s dream.

Things to do in Baja California diving

Excited to explore the Fang Ming Wreck

Hike Isla San Francisco

The hike up Isla San Francisco is not too strenuous and the view from the top is unbeatable. On one side, you have the calm aquamarine waters of the inlet and on the other, the rough waves of the open sea. The terrain looks almost extraterrestrial with its red, jagged rocks, hundreds of different species of cactus, and arid soil. After your hike, cool off in the refreshing sea.

Things to do in Baja California Sur isla san francisco

baja california sur isla san francisco

Kayak or Stand-Up Paddle Board

Rent a kayak or stand-up paddle board and get up close and personal with the creatures who call the Sea of Cortez home. You may encounter a pod of dolphins with their young, manta rays jumping through the air, playful sea lions, or even a grey whale. It is also a great workout and a wonderful way to explore the coves throughout Baja California.

Things to do in Baja California kayaking

Things to do in Baja California manta ray

Explore Isla San Jose

Out of all of the starkly beautiful islands in Baja California Sur, San Jose may be my favorite. Isla San Jose is a nature-lover’s paradise swarming with life. It is an incredibly diverse island with everything from giant cactus covered beaches to mangroves and salt flats. At one point in the cove, there is a salt-water river accessible by kayak or small boat. After a short ride, the canal opens to a large bay with a narrow strip of beach. Walking the shell-strewn beach you’ll feel as though you’ve stumbled upon an untouched utopia.

san jose Things to do in Baja California Sur

Things to do in Baja California Sur saguaro cactus

Things to do in Baja California Sur san jose

Visit Coyote Island

Not far from Isla San Jose is a tiny fishing village called Isla Coyote. This island is home to a grand total of 15 inhabitants and they are literally in the middle of nowhere. They make weekly trips to La Paz, over 2 hours away by boat, for fresh water, food and other necessities. I was blown away by the friendly fishermen’s decision to live in a nearly inhospitable environment disconnected from the rest of the world. It served as an important reminder that many live with far, far less, and without the modern conveniences we take for granted, and yet are happy with what they have.

coyote island Things to do in Baja California Sur

coyote island Things to do in Baja California Sur

For more helpful information for your trip to Baja, visit:

Baja California in Photos:

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Things to do in Baja California Sur isla san francisco

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Things to do in Baja California Sur isla espiritu santo

Things to do in Baja California Sur jet ski

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Things to do in Baja California Sur seashells  Things to do in Baja California Sur sunset


For more of my favorite places in Mexico click here.

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What are your favorite things to do in Baja California? Let me know in the comments below!

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Top Things to Do in Mexico City

top things to do in mexico city chapultepec castle

After over a year of living in Mexico City, I am more obsessed with this city than ever before. CDMX is a city with unparalleled cultural attractions, a world-renowned gastronomy scene, and expansive parks. I have never once felt unsafe in Mexico City and I’m so glad I didn’t let my preconceived notions, or the misconceptions of others, prevent me from living in this enchanting city. Even now, I still feel as though I’ve barely scratched the surface of this enormous city. There’s a never-ending (and constantly expanding!) list of things to see and do. But if I had to narrow it down to my top things to do, the following would make the cut…

Top Things to Do in Mexico City:

1. Palacio de Bellas Artes

top things to do in mexico city bellas artes

This lavish palace of fine arts is one of the jewels of Mexico City. I’ve been dying to see a concert, ballet, or opera here. But even if you don’t catch a performance, Bellas Artes is definitely worth a visit. It boasts impressive marble interiors and murals by practically every major national muralist, including the famed Diego Rivera. After touring it, walk to the nearby Palacio de Correos, by far the most opulent post office I have ever seen. Fun fact: It was designed by the same Italian architect who designed Bellas Artes.

DwD Tip: Make a day of touring downtown, the historic center of the city. First visit Bellas Artes and Palacio de Correos. Then walk down pedestrian-only Madero Street toward the Zócalo and visit the Cathedral and Palacio Nacional (see #2). Warning: this area is always swarming with people. If you’d prefer a more relaxed outing, explore downtown on a Sunday when the main avenue is closed to cars. Don’t miss the Angel of Independence on your way!

2. Zócalo / Historic Downtown

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Even before the Spanish arrived, the Zócalo was Mexico City’s center square. Hundreds of years later it is still buzzing with activity and is full of history. Plan on spending some time here because there’s a lot to see! First stop by the Cathedral. If you’re lucky, you’ll stumble upon a mass and get to hear the impressive organ.

When the Spanish conquistadors arrived in Mexico, they destroyed the “pagan” temples of the Aztecs and used the stones to construct a Cathedral. In the 70s, the ruins of the Aztec’s central temple (Templo Mayor) were unearthed just to the right of the Cathedral. Today, you can visit the open-air archeological site and learn more about its history at the museum.

Next, visit Palacio Nacional (pictured above). Built on the site of the last Aztec emperor’s home, this enormous palace was originally the home of the Spanish conquistador Hernan Cortes. Since gaining independence from Spain, it has served as the seat of the Mexican government. Head up the stairs and you’ll find Diego Rivera’s massive mural representing the entire history of the Mexican people.

DwD Tip: Once you’ve worked up an appetite, go to El Mayor for an amazing view of the Aztec temple ruins or to the magical Azul Histórico for lunch. Dining in the courtyard of a 17th century estate is only fitting after a day of touring palaces!

3. Chapultepec Castle and Park

top things to do in mexico city chapultepec castle

The first time I visited Mexico City, I toured this opulent imperial castle overlooking the city and was absolutely blown away. Did you know Mexico was an empire not once but twice?? The story behind this castle and the emperor who lived there is a fascinating and important part of Mexican history. Perched on a hill in the middle of a forest, the view of the city is also unbeatable.

After touring the castle (or before), stroll the grounds of Chapultepec Park. It is one of the world’s great urban parks and is over twice the size of Central Park! It would take ages to cover it all so I’d suggest wandering through it on your way to the famous Anthropology Museum (see #10) or to contemporary art museum Museo Tamayo.

4. El Bazar del Sábado (Saturday Bazaar)

top things to do in mexico city bazaar saturday

If you find yourself in Mexico City on a Saturday, make sure you stop by this colorful bazaar. Housed in a grand colonial plaza in the historic neighborhood of San Angel, Bazar del Sábado will give you a real sense of Mexican culture. It also presents an excellent opportunity to pick up some of the country’s best handcrafted jewelry, woodwork, ceramics and textiles. Across the street, you’ll find a market of traditional indigenous products. Along the way you’re bound to discover the perfect regalito, or little gift, for your friends and family back home.

After shopping, you have several dining options: 1) The plaza’s courtyard where you can eat fresh-off-the-pan quesadillas while watching traditional Mexican dancers. 2) A food market full of delicious options just a couple of blocks down from the bazaar. 3) San Angel Inn, a beautiful old hacienda converted into a restaurant serving traditional Mexican cuisine.

5. Floating Gardens of Xochimilco

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Although this is a classic tourist activity, it’s still a lot of fun and the perfect activity for a nice afternoon. Xochimilco (meaning “garden of flowers” in Nahuatl, the language of the Aztec’s) is also rooted in history. Fun fact: Mexico City was originally built on a lake. Xochimilco is the last remnant of the vast system of causeways, canals, manmade islands and floating gardens that existed during the time of the Aztecs. Select a colorful trajinera and spend your day cruising these ancient canals. It’s crazy to think that these floating gardens once fed the largest city on Earth (the ancient Aztec capital of Tenochtitlan, present-day Mexico City).

DwD Tip: For a fee, a mariachi trio will float along beside you and play songs at your request. And if you forget to pack a picnic, don’t worry, you can easily hail beer and snacks from your boat.

6. Teotihuacan Pyramids 

top things to do in mexico city teotihuacan pyramids

Although it takes about 1.5 hours to get to Teotihuacan from downtown Mexico City, it’s definitely worth the trip. Teotihuacan is the site of many of the largest pyramids built in pre-Columbian America and they are all well-preserved and climbable. The Pyramid of the Sun is one of the most imposing in the world and, if you’re like me, you’ll be panting by the time you’ve reached the top. The view, however, is vale la pena (worth the pain).

DwD Tip: For a more meaningful experience, visit the Teotihuacan exhibit at the Anthropology Museum (see #10) before you go.

*For tips on navigating Teotihuacan click here

7. Wander around La Roma & La Condesa

top things to do in mexico city la condesa

If you’re over touristy activities and want a little peace and quiet, head to the trendy neighborhoods of La Roma and La Condesa. Roma and Condesa are adjacent neighborhoods full of colorful old buildings, leafy trees, art galleries, an impressive food scene, and hipster vibes. Start by walking through the beautiful Parque Mexico. Then stroll the streets around the park, stopping at cute boutiques and cafes along the way. The best streets to wander are Amsterdam, Colima, and Orizaba. While you’re there, take advantage of some of the city’s best restaurants. Contramar, Maximo Bistro, Rosetta, Lardo, Blanco Colima, and my new favorite, Meroma, are just a few great possibilities.

8. Indulge in the city’s food scene

top things to do in mexico city pujol taco

Taco al pastor from famed Pujol

If you haven’t heard, Mexico City has an incredible food scene that’s currently taking the culinary world by storm. You can get any kind of food you’re looking for, from mouth-watering street tacos to amazing fine dining experiences. Word of advice: go with an open mind (or, rather, stomach). Authentic Mexican food doesn’t taste like your favorite burrito place back home–it tastes much, much better.

Don’t leave Mexico without trying tacos al pastor (tacos with pork fresh off the spit), gringas (quesadilla with meat), chicharrón de queso (grilled, crispy cheese), tostadas (the tuna tostadas at Contramar are the best in the city), sopes (fried tortilla dough with refried beans, cream, lettuce, salsa and cheese), and fresh fruits like mamey, mango, and papaya. For late-night greasy, authentic goodness, go to famous late-night taqueria El Farolito. If you want to eat at one of the best restaurants in the world, go to the renowned Pujol (often described as “elevated street food”). And yes, it’s worth the hype.

9. Frida Kahlo House and Museum

top things to do in mexico city frida kahlo museum house

A visit to Mexico City isn’t complete without visiting the home of Mexico’s most famous icon–Frida Kahlo. Located in the charming colonial neighborhood of Coyoacan, la Casa Azul is the home Frida grew up and ultimately died in. A tribute to her life and work, the blue house showcases some of her most famous paintings. Today, it remains almost exactly as she left it and gives you an intimate look into Frida’s life.

DwD Tip: Buy tickets online in advance here in order to skip the long line. If you haven’t already, I’d also recommend watching Frida, the movie starring Salma Hayek, before you go.

10. Anthropology Museum

top things to do in mexico city anthropology museum

Mexico’s National Museum of Anthropology is an excellent introduction to the country’s pre-Hispanic history and culture. Visiting this museum on my first trip to Mexico City really opened my eyes to the fact that, contrary to the media’s depiction, Mexico is not a homogenous country. It is a country made up of many ancient civilizations, each with its own language and traditions. 

The Anthropology Museum houses thousands of pre-Hispanic treasures and many of the most important findings from archaeological digs across the country. Highlights include the original Aztec calendar unearthed in Mexico City, giant stone heads of the Olmec civilization from Veracruz, a jade mask found in a Mayan ruler’s tomb, and my personal favorite—an Aztec ruler’s exquisite headdress made from vibrant blue and green quetzal feathers.  


*Side note: In the months to come, I’ll be writing blog posts answering all your burning questions about life in Mexico / recommendations for visiting CDMX. But in the mean time, if you have any questions, please don’t hesitate to contact me. I love hearing from you! Also, explore more Mexico posts here!

Have you been to Mexico City yet? If so, what was your favorite thing you did? If not, would you like to go? Comment below!

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Weekend in Querétaro

Recently, Julian, a few friends and I took a weekend trip to the nearby state of Querétaro. I’m always looking for an opportunity to visit the many beautiful cities and towns within driving distance from Mexico City. So when a family friend invited us to tour his vineyard in Querétaro, we decided to make a weekend out of it.

Historic Center, Querétaro City

Querétaro is a small state about three hours from Mexico City. Its capital, Querétaro City, is a charming colonial city filled with history. In fact, its historic center is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. We left Mexico City early Saturday morning and spent the day in downtown Querétaro City walking through its cobblestone streets and admiring its many beautiful churches and grand colonial houses. It was a lovely way to spend the day as Querétaro City is very pedestrian friendly, clean, and safe.

I love the grand colonial architecture, just look at this door!

We had a wonderful lunch at Alioli and would highly recommend it

How adorable is this pink elementary school??

Querétaro City is full of beautiful old churches and cathedrals, there seems to be one on every corner!

 

I can never resist a Mexican market!

Templo y Convento de la Santa Cruz- Mexican Emperor Maximilian was jailed here before his execution

Inner courtyard of the Templo y Convento de la Santa Cruz

Bernal

Once the sun went down, we headed for the nearby town of Bernal. Bernal is a designated pueblo magico (“magic town”) and is known for La Peña, the world’s third tallest free-standing rock. We stayed the night at Casa Mateo, a boutique hotel with impressive views of La Peña.

Casa Mateo

La Peña de Bernal

The next morning we rose early to climb the famous monolith. The climb to the top of Bernal is not too strenuous but it is very steep in parts and requires a decent level of physical fitness. On our way up, we saw many Mexicans climbing with their small children and this made me so nervous!! By foot, it takes about 30 minutes to get halfway up. After that point, you can’t go any further without serious rappelling equipment. Tip: Make sure to get there early in order to avoid noon-day sun, bring lots of water, and wear shoes with good traction.

Fun fact: Residents in the tiny town of Bernal insist that la Peña has mystical healing powers. Some say it exudes a magnetic force, others say its energy comes from giant Amethyst crystals buried deep within its core. Interestingly enough, the town is reputed to be home to more centenarians than any other town in Mexico.

Julian showing some curious kids the bird’s-eye perspective of his drone flying over la Pena

Downtown Bernal

After a quick change and shower, we explored the quaint town of Bernal. Unfortunately, we had very little time to see Bernal before we had to leave for a tobacco factory tour. 

Real Fábrica de Tabaco

In 1779, the original Real Fábrica de Tabaco was built and it became the second most important tobacco plant in New Spain. In recent years, entrepreneurs from Querétaro decided to revive this tradition, creating a modern Real Fábrica de Tabaco but maintaining time-honored cigar-making methods. At the factory, visitors are able to see expert cigar-makers in action and learn about the cigar-making process.

At Real Fabrica, they make a cigar called “Black Chazaro” from the best black tobacco of Veracrúz

There’s a beautiful courtyard in the center of the factory where you can enjoy your cigars

De Cote Vineyard

Finally, we made our way to De Cote Vineyard for a delicious lunch, tour of the facilities, and, of course, wine tasting!

Along with its history and colonial architecture, Querétaro is known for its wines and cheese. There is a long wine-making tradition in Querétaro with the Spanish planting the first vines in the 16th century. De Cote opened its doors in 2014 and since then has won many awards for its wines.

Spend an afternoon touring the sprawling vineyard on foot, bike, or on train. Afterwards, grab a bite to eat in the more casual bistro or dine on the terrace for a more sophisticated menu and unbeatable view.

Getting a tour of the very modern facilities from the owner himself

Querétaro was the perfect weekend escape from the hustle and bustle of Mexico City. If you’re looking for somewhere off the beaten path in Mexico, go to Querétaro. I promise you won’t regret it!


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Back to Baja

balandra baja california

I recently returned from my third trip to Baja California Sur more in love than ever with this magical part of Mexico. Last year, we spent over a week sailing the Sea of Cortez (read all about it here). We had such an amazing time that we decided to return again this spring and do it all again. Read on for our magical week spent whale watching, diving with sea lions,  swimming with whale sharks, hiking, and exploring the beaches of Baja California Sur…

A Little Bit of Geography

The Sea of Cortez, also known as the Gulf of California, separates the Baja California peninsula from the Mexican mainland. The Mexican state of Baja California is located directly under the US state of California (Baja in Spanish means “lower”). Baja California Sur is, naturally, the southern half of the peninsula. So to reiterate, Baja California is not part of the US state of California. 

baja california sur map

The Sea of Cortez

The Sea of Cortez is a dazzling sea in the midst of the desert, surrounded by staggering mountains covered with enormous cacti. As you sail from one cove to another, the sea changes from shades of crystal clear blue, to aquamarine, turquoise, and emerald green. In Baja, you can’t help but be in awe of the beauty and wildness surrounding you. Though this was my third trip to the peninsula, it was like I was experiencing it with fresh eyes. From sunrise to sunset I just couldn’t get enough of my surroundings.

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Our Route

Due to weather conditions, we were unable to go to some of our favorite spots from last year, including Coronado Island, Monserrate, and Agua Verde. While we were a bit disappointed, such is Mother Nature and we didn’t let it ruin our trip. Instead, we spent more time enjoying the white-sand beaches of Espiritu Santo and exploring the wild islands of San Francisco and San Jose. The map below details our ship’s route. 

Trip Highlights

The Sea of Cortez was dubbed the world’s aquarium because it is one of the richest and most extraordinary marine environments on earth. During our weeklong trip, we got up close and personal with the stunning creatures that call the Sea of Cortez home. We also got a glimpse into life in the remote parts of Baja and explored the islands by foot, boat, jet ski, and kayak. Some of the highlights included…

Whale Watching

I still remember the first time I saw a whale in the open sea, it took my breath away. Now I’ve been lucky enough to see whales on multiple occasions but they never cease to amaze me. Grey whales travel more than 10,000 miles from their summer feeding grounds in the Arctic to the southern Baja peninsula. There they spend the months of December to April mating, giving birth and feeding their young calves. Both last trip and on this occasion we were lucky enough to see the famous grey whales. We even saw one breach (aka jump out of the water) and a mother with her young. Getting close to such massive, magnificent creatures is truly awe inspiring and something I hope everyone gets to experience one day.

baja california sur whale tail

Swimming with Whale Sharks

Last year we had planned to swim with whale sharks but weather conditions prevented us from doing so. But this year we were in luck! Whale sharks get their name because they are as large as some species of whale and, like whales, are filter feeders. In other words, they feed on plankton and have absolutely no interest in eating humans. The whale sharks we swam with were juveniles and measured about 25 feet long. Although they looked absolutely massive, they were actually on the small size for whale sharks with adults measuring up to 40 feet! Swimming with these gentle giants was a surreal experience and it reinforced my belief that sharks are misunderstood creatures who get an (often) undeserved bad rep.

whale shark diver

Our GoPro whale shark photos didn’t turn out so great so here’s a photo courtesy of The Telegraph

*PS check out theMisunderstood Predators episode of the Netflix show “Tales by Light” about human-friendly tiger sharks. I guarantee you it will change the way you think about sharks.

Playing with Sea Lions

Sea lions are one of my all time favorite creatures. They’re so much fun to watch and interact with! Last year we snorkeled with the famous sea lions of Espiritu Santo and this year we dove with them. Scuba diving allowed us to get even closer to them and some young ones came to play with us. They swam in circles around us and our instructor even put his hand out for them to playfully nibble on; they’re just like puppies!

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Later in the trip, we took jet skis to explore the islands surrounding San Jose and came across a small rock isle inhabited entirely by sea lions. We had the best time watching them engage in their favorite activities–defending their personal rock, playing in the water with their friends, and sunbathing their hefty bodies. Watch a drone video of them below! Some day I’ll learn how to edit videos but for now this will have to do 🙂

Visiting Coyote Island

Right next to the sea lion’s abode is a tiny fishing village called Isla Coyote. This island is home to a grand total of 15 inhabitants and they are literally in the middle of nowhere. They make weekly trips to La Paz, over 2 hours away by boat and 3 hours away by land, for fresh water, food and other necessities. A fisherman named Manuel greeted us and insisted I wear his flip flops to tour the island. He told us he’d lived on the island since he was born and wouldn’t live anywhere else. I was blown away by their decision to live in a nearly inhospitable environment disconnected from the rest of the world. It served as an important reminder that many live with far, far less, and without the modern conveniences we take for granted, and yet are happy with what they have.

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Hiking Isla San Francisco

Another highlight was hiking to the top of the hill on Isla San Francisco. It’s not a very strenuous hike and the view from the top is unbeatable. On one side, you have the calm aquamarine waters of the inlet and on the Pacific side, the rough waves of the open sea. The terrain almost looks extraterrestrial with its red, jagged rocks, hundreds of different species of cactus, and arid soil.

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Exploring Isla San Jose

Out of all of the starkly beautiful islands we visited in Baja, San Jose may be my favorite. It’s an incredibly diverse island with everything from giant cactus covered beaches to mangroves and salt flats. I’ve always had a thing for succulents so I went crazy for these towering Saguaro cacti. As a point of reference, I’m almost 6 feet tall (1.83 meters) so you can imagine how tall these cactus are! ⠀⠀

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baja california sur saguaro cactus

Not too far from the cacti are enormous salt flats. We discovered them last year when Julian flew his drone on the beach and realized they were right behind the sand dunes. I had never seen anything like that before with the red algae, mud, and wide expanse of salt.

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At one point in the cove, there’s a salt-water river that can be accessed with a kayak or small boat. The scenery is incredible with arid cacti covered hills behind verdant mangroves. After a short ride, the canal opens up to a large bay with a narrow strip of beach between the bay and wider sea. I was so glad Julian brought his drone along as the bird’s-eye view gives you a spectacular perspective of this diverse ecosystem.

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Until next time Baja! I’ll be counting down the days to our return…

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Fun Things to Do in Puerto Escondido

things to do in puerto escondido playa zicatela

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…

Playa Zicatela things to do in puerto escondido

Restaurants along Playa Zicatela

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Living my best life

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One of the many vibrant bougainvilleas along Calle del Morro

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.

things to do in puerto escondido map

Playa Zicatela

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.

playa zicatela things to do in puerto escondido

playa zicatela things to do in puerto escondido

playa zicatela things to do in puerto escondido

playa zicatela things to do in puerto escondido

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

Apartments, hotels and other places to stay in Puerto Escondido

playa zicatela Calle del Morro things to do in puerto escondido

The colorful Calle del Morro, the main drag along Playa Zicatela

hotel rockaway things to do in puerto escondido

Relaxing in a cabana at Hotel Rockaway

playa zicatela things to do in puerto escondido

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. 
  • 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 sativa cafe

Sativa Cafe

things to do in puerto escondido Almoraduz

So many delicious dishes at Almoraduz!

Hotel Santa Fe things to do in puerto escondido

Hotel Santa Fe, worth visiting for the decor as well as the food

Things to Do in Puerto Escondido

Surf

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.

surf things to do in puerto escondido

Dad paddling out in a big set

surf things to do in puerto escondido

Little brother getting tubed (he’s only slightly better than me 😉 )

Playa Carrizalillo

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 in puerto escondido Playa Carrizalillo

The beautiful cove of Playa Carrizalillo

things to do in puerto escondido playa carrizalillo

things to do in puerto escondido playa carrizalillo surf

Heading out to catch some waves! You can rent a board at Playa Carrizalillo for only 100 pesos an hour

things to do in puerto escondido playa carrizalillo surf

Got the wave to myself!

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.

Manialtepec Lagoon things to do in puerto escondido

Manialtepec Lagoon mangroves things to do in puerto escondido

things to do in puerto escondido sunset beach

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.

Tututepec horseback riding things to do in puerto escondido

On our way to the hot springs

Tututepec hot springs things to do in puerto escondido

Getting a hot spring massage

Tututepec hot springs things to do in puerto escondido

La Cascada de la Reforma

A 90 minute drive from Puerto is a staggering waterfall called Cascada de la ReformaI 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. 

Cascada de la Reforma things to do in puerto escondido

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.

sea turtle release things to do in puerto escondido

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, 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. 

Barra de Colotepec beach things to do in puerto escondido

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.

sea turtle release things to do in puerto escondido

things to do in puerto escondido sunset

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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