Those looking to move their lives somewhere else without all the hustle and bustle and severe temperatures of Canadian or Northern U.S. winters, Panama may be one of the best destinations to relocate.
With its warm climate, welcoming culture, and low costs of living, this Central American nation is quickly becoming one of the most popular expat destinations in the world.
Another big benefit of Panama is its location. Situated at the crossroads of Central America and South America, Panama is an excellent base for exploring both regions. You can easily travel to Costa Rica, Mexico, Colombia, and other nearby countries. And with its highly developed infrastructure, getting around Panama is a breeze.
Panama is a great place for entrepreneurs and business owners. The country has a strong economy and a friendly business environment. English is widely spoken, and there are plenty of co-working spaces and other resources for digital nomads.
Every year a growing number of so-called snowbirds embark on their journey southward towards Panama in search of adventure and a different lifestyle. From applying for the dizzying array of different visas available, and physical relocation of your possessions, the process can be daunting; however there are many services available that take the stress off would-be expats looking to start a new chapter in Panama.
Several key benefits make relocating to Panama an attractive option for more and more expats. The country's vibrant culture, stunning scenery, and abundance of opportunities make it an ideal destination for anyone looking to live their best life! So if you're ready for more sun and sand in your future, read on!
Enjoy a lower cost of living in Panama!
In Panama, you can enjoy beautiful beaches, rich culture, and delicious food—without breaking the bank. In Panama, you can get more bang for your buck!
There are many reasons why retirees might choose to move to Panama. Perhaps the most obvious benefit is the country's warm weather, which makes it a pleasant place to spend one's golden years. In addition, Panama is a very affordable place to live, with a cost of living that is much lower than in most other developed countries. This includes both living expenses and healthcare costs, which are often a major concern for retirees.
Panama has a much lower cost of living without sacrificing on quality or standard of living. Prices for housing, groceries, transportation and other amenities are significantly cheaper in Panama compared to the United States, Canada, and most of Europe.
Panama also offers a wealth of activities and amenities that expats can enjoy. The country is home to beautiful beaches and rain forests, providing plenty of opportunities for outdoor recreation.
If you prefer city life, Panama City is a vibrant and cosmopolitan city with plenty of restaurants, theaters, and other cultural attractions. And thanks to Panama's strong economy, expats (especially retirees) can feel confident that their money will go far in this country.
Initial Entry into Panama
There are a few requirements for entry into Panama. You must have a valid passport, visa (if required), and proof of onward travel. You must also have a return or onward ticket. Canadians and Americans can enter the country without a visa and stay up to 180 days. Citizens of the European Union and many other countries can enter without a visa and stay for up to 90 days.
If you're not a citizen of a visa-exempt country, you'll need to get a visa before you arrive in Panama. The best way to find out what you need is to contact the embassy or consulate of Panama in your country.
Consider a Panamanian retiree visa if you qualify
A retiree visa in Panama has many benefits. This is also called the "Pensionado Visa." The retiree Visa only requires that applicant demonstrates an income or pension of only $1,000.00 USD per month and $250.00 USD for each dependent.
For one, it gives you permanent residency in the country, which means you can live there indefinitely. You don't have to worry about renewing your visa every year or so. Additionally, it gives you access to all of the social services that the country has to offer. This could include healthcare, education, and other benefits.
Panama is a very safe country with a stable government, making it a great place to call home. If you're thinking of retiring abroad, Panama should definitely be at the top of your list. With its many benefits and appealing lifestyle options, it's hard to go wrong choosing this Central American country as your new home.
Ecuador has launched a digital Nomad Visa (called the “Rentista” Visa) with one of the lowest barriers to entry in the world. This Visa is a two-year temporary residence visa for digital Nomads that have income from outside the country. It is available to Nationals of 182 countries and territories as determined by the Ecuadorian Ministry of Tourism.
See the list of the 182 nations that qualify for the new Ecuadorian Digital Nomad Visa.
The Ecuadorian government is hoping that by inviting digital Nomads and remote workers, it will encourage more travel and foreign dollars to flow into the country. Remote-worker visa holders cannot perform local work in Ecuador.
This Visa is designed for people who want to operate remotely and live and work in Ecuador. It has one of the lowest income requirements and barriers to entry of any digital Nomad Visa program. you only have to earn $1,275 a month from outside sources in order to qualify. That's only $15,300 USD per year (this requirement used to be lower! But was recently increased in 2022).
Most remote workers who work for U.S. or Canadian employers will qualify, as well as many self-employed workers. You must also have a clean police record and then documents that confirm you are the owner of a company or a remote worker for a foreign firm.
If you are currently self-employed but do not have proof, a home-based business license, LLC, or even a corporation can be to obtained. For example, in a state like Nevada, which has no state income tax and is a great place to transfer residency if you plan to leave the United States for an extended period. If you want advice on how to transfer residency to another state, consult your financial advisor.
Ecuador in general has a lenient Visa policy, and one of the world's quickest citizenship programs. You don’t have to apply right away–most foreigners can enter Ecuador and stay for up to 90 days. So you can go, visit the country, enjoy the beautiful coastal areas end cool mountain cities, and then easily apply for residency if you like it well enough to stay.
General requirements and links for the Ecuadorian digital Nomad Visa:
According to official government sources it takes about a week the process the paperwork. family members can also apply after the principal applicant of teams their digital Nomad Visa the principal Visa holder must demonstrate an additional monthly income of at least $250 USD per dependent. so for example, a married couple with two kids would have to demonstrate income of $1,275 + ($250 + $250 +$250) = $2,025.
You can check more requirements on the official Ecuadorian Visa government website.
More resources and a well-known Visa facilitator for Ecuador: Joseph Guznay-Expats Ecuador
Everyone has been talking about digital nomad visas! These are also commonly called "remote worker visas" and more and more countries are starting to offer them. These are visas that are designed to encourage remote workers to bring their laptops (and their money!) to a new, exciting country. Digital nomads understand that there are plenty of opportunities to grow professionally while experiencing a different way of life in a foreign nation.
#1: Costa Rica Digital Nomad Visa
Announced in October of 2021, the Costa Rica Digital Nomad Visa invites international residents to work remotely. A visa with huge tax benefits, as Digital Nomads will not be considered "residents" for tax purposes, and the income they receive from abroad will not be considered taxable in Costa Rica. You can use your country of origin driver's license in Costa Rica, and you can open a bank account, as well, two huge benefits.
Costa Rica also has a high degree of internet access, allowing digital nomads to keep in touch with their companies anywhere in the world. Costa Rica has long been a favorite for international expats to live. With its great weather and relaxed lifestyle, it is a perfect choice for nomads to settle and work remotely. Anyone that works as a freelancer doing remote work in Costa Rica could potentially apply for this visa, as long as you have proof of income.
The financial requirements are a little steep compared to other similar programs in Columbia and Brazil. To qualify for the Costa Rican digital nomad visa, you must earn at least $3,000 USD a month if you are single, or $4,000 USD a month for a family. And you cannot work within Costa Rica, although the income could come from multiple outside sources.
The Costa Rica Digital Nomad Visa allows digital nomads to stay in Costa Rica for up to 1 year, and the visa can be extended for an additional year (so, 2 years total). Before applying for the additional year, you must prove that you have stayed in Costa Rica for at least 80 days.
#2 Ecuador Digital Nomad Visa
Ecuador is one of the easiest countries to obtain a long-term visa. The Ecuador Digital Nomad Visa is relatively new, but immediately popular. With the Ecuador digital nomad visa, remote workers can live in the country for up to 2 years. This 2-year temporary residence visa allows foreigners to work remotely. Applicants must have the following documents:
It takes about three months to process Ecuador’s digital nomad visa. Digital nomads are not taxed on their foreign income sources.
# 3 Panama Digital Nomad Visa
Panama is one of the most developed and financially stable nations in Central America. Residents have a relatively high standard of living. The climate is warm and you can choose to live in a cooler mountain region, or a balmy beach.
Also known as the Short Term Remote Worker visa, this visa was introduced by the Panamanian government in 2021. This visa allows digital nomads to live in Panama for 9 months. It has an option to extend the visa for an additional 9 months (so a total of 18 months). To be eligible for this digital nomad visa, you must earn an income remotely and cannot work for a Panamanian company.
Panama has literally dozens of visa options. Navigating these generally takes the help of an attorney, and the short term worker visa is no exception. You must have assistance from an immigration lawyer to file your application. The fees for application are affordable (compared to, for example, the Cayman Islands digital nomad visa). There is a $250 application fee and a $50 visa card issuance fee.
#4 Colombia Digital Nomad Visa
In 2022, Colombia joined Argentina and Brazil in offering a short term temporary visa for digital nomads. This is a brand new digital nomad visa for Colombia and only took effect on October 22, 2022, so there is little information yet. The digital nomad visa will be issued for a period of up to 2 years.
But we know that Colombia's new digital nomad visa has one of the lowest income requirements of any nomad visa currently available. Eligible applicants only have to earn approximately $700 USD in income monthly. No other South American visa's requirements even come close to being this affordable and easy to fulfil.
Colombia has a low cost of living compared to other destinations in South America, and up to 80% less cost of living than the United States. Columbia has a large expat population in coastal areas as well as Medellín. These expats know that in Columbia, their foreign dollars will go much farther.
Since this visa is so new, everyone is waiting on the government for guidance on how to apply. But this one is one to watch!
#5 Brazil Digital Nomad Visa
Brazil's digital nomad visa is another new visa program, just implemented by the Brazilian government in January 2022. The Brazilian digital nomad visa is for remote employees as well as self employed digital nomads. Applicants cannot work for a company inside of Brazil. The visa allows one year of residence, with the option to renew for another year.
In order to qualify, applicants must earn more than 1,500 USD per month or prove they have at least 18,000 USD in savings, which can be proved with a bank statement.
You must have the following to apply:
#6 Belize Digital Nomad Visa
Belize is a small but lovely Central American Nation that boasts English as its national language, making your transition easy as pie if you are a native English speaker. The Belize digital nomad visa was launched as part of Work Where You Vacation Program, which aims to attract more visitors into the country, which suffered a great deal during the pandemic when tourism screeched to a halt.
Unlike some other visa programs, if you have children, this program also lets them learn in Belize. All kids under 18 are eligible to enroll in Belize’s outstanding school system. The cost to apply is $500 BZD per adult and $200 BZD per child under 18 years of age (this translates into abut $250 USD for adults and $100 per child).
To be eligible for this visa, you must:
#7 Mexico Temporary Residence Visa
While technically not a "digital nomad" visa, Mexico's Temporary Resident Visa is an easy choice for digital nomads who love the beauty of Mexico but aren't sure if they want to apply for permanent residency. This visa is designed for foreign visitors who intend to remain in Mexico as temporary residents for a period greater than 180 days and less than 4 years.
You need proof of economic solvency, showing an average monthly balance of $55,655 Canadian dollars during the past twelve months; or employment or a pension with a monthly tax-free income of over $3,339.00 Canadian dollars during the past six months.
The Temporary Resident visa is a renewable, long-term visa. After four years, you may apply for a Permanent Residence Visa if you wish to stay in Mexico. Applicants should generally consult an attorney if they wish to apply, as navigating the application process can be rather difficult. We used EDUARDO CHAVEZ FREGOSO as our attorney for this process and were very pleased with how easy it went.
#8 Dominican Republic Temporary Residence Visa
While technically in the Caribbean, the Dominican Republic is only a a short 2.5 hour flight from Miami.
Like Mexico, there is technically no digital nomad visa in the Dominican Republic, however, the country does offer a Temporary Residence Visa which allows you to stay for up to one year. You can renew and this for up to five years and then you can apply for permanent residency. Applications for renewal must be made within thirty days before the expiration date.
The Dominican Republic is one of the best countries in the Caribbean for digital nomads The country is friendly, Spanish speaking, and has good infrastructure and affordable prices for rent, food, and utilities.
#9 Antigua and Barbuda Nomad Digital Residence Program
The Antigua and Barbuda Digital nomad visa (officially called the "Nomad Digital Residence Visa") is for any digital nomad that wants to move to the country for up to 2 years. The application process is very easy as long as you meet the income requirements.
How to Apply
Before starting your application, please ensure that you have the following:
#10 Argentina Digital Nomad Visa
The Argentinian government launched a visa for digital nomads in May 2022. This visa allows foreigners who are employed outside of Argentina to work remotely. This visa will supposedly be available for a one-year term, but there are few details yet, and the government has not yet started accepting applications. But stay tuned!
Reader email: I'm a 55 year old Canadian and I've spent two winters in Mexico. One in Merida and one in Holbox. I liked Merida more, it has a lot of culture and beauty. Plus its a very safe, modern city. I want to move to Mexico permanently, and leave Canada. The vaccine mandates, the increase in the prices for everything, from groceries to rents, and the terrible "universal healthcare" which guarantees that I can't get a doctor's visit until I am nearly dead. In fact, the last two years I've done all my catch-up dental work in Mexico for a bargain price. And I get prescriptions filled in advance at a much cheaper price and take them into Canada. After a lot of research I am going to try to apply for permanent residency. I have some passive income coming in that will make it financially comfortable for me (although I am not wealthy by any means). Do you think this is possible to get this done in just a few months? Do you think I can manage the application process myself?
Thanks in advance for your advice
Answer: Welcome to our blog, William! First of all, Merida is a great choice for adult expats of all ages who want a modern, beautiful city. We spent a full month in the Yucatan this year and it was beautiful. We wish we could have extended our stay so we could see more of what Merida had to offer.
US citizens, EU citizens, and Canadians relocating to Mexico may easily apply for a Temporary Resident Visa or Permanent Resident Visa, depending on their financial status. We suggest the Permanent Resident Visa, if you qualify. Canadians can stay in Mexico for up to 180 days per year as visitors, but you won't be able to work or open a bank account. And you won't have the legal rights that a legal resident or Mexican citizen would have.
A couple can live comfortably in Mexico with an average income of about $2,500 a month, or $30,000 a year. If you live frugally, and away from the beach zones, it is possible to live on much, much less. Remember that the average Mexican family lives on less than $20,000 USD a year, and salary ranges for lower paid workers can be as low as $500 USD per month. The average cost of living in Canada is 150% more expensive than in Mexico. That includes rents, food, everything, except perhaps electronics, which happen to be more expensive in Mexico. So our suggestion is that if you want modern electronics, like a laptop, tablet, etc. use your luggage and carry-on weight to bring those with you. Things like clothing and shoes can be purchased in Mexico cheaply. So don't bother stuffing your suitcases with useless tchotchkes!
As for navigating the application process, we do not recommend doing this yourself. We TRIED to do it ourselves, and ended up having multiple problems with Mexican immigration. We hired a lawyer, Eduardo Fregoso, Esq. who did a great job for us, and saved us any future headaches. It was reasonable, too, only costing a few thousand dollars.
Dzibilchaltún is smaller than the neighboring archaeological site, Chichén Itzá, but still worth visiting. Dzibilchaltun is among the oldest sites on the Yucatan Peninsula dating back to as 500 BC.The distance between central Mérida and Dzibilchaltún is about 15 km, via the freeway.
After a hearty breakfast, we hopped into our rental car and headed to the site. It took us about 20 minutes to get there from Merida with some moderate traffic. Entrance to Dzibilchaltun is about $10 USD (about 200 pesos) for non-Mexican residents. There's a small fee for parking of about $2 USD. Dzibilchaltún is currently open from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., although the cenote was closed when we visited in 2022.
The most famous structure at this site is the Temple of the Seven Dolls (Templo de las Siete Muñecas). The temple was given that name because archeologists discovered seven clay dolls within the temple. On the spring equinox, the sun can be seen shining through the temple’s main door, creating a light effect. Dzibilchaltún also has its own cenote, but we were not allowed to enter the cenote in 2022.
There were fewer visitors at this site (compared to Chichén Itzá, where we saw hundreds of people) but there were still several dozen tourists visiting the temple and the site when we arrived.
We booked a guide at the entrance to site, an older gentleman who spoke fluent English and Spanish, and he took us through the ruins. The fee was 500 pesos (about 25 USD) for a 2-hour tour. It was worth it, and we do suggest hiring a guide. Unlike Chichén Itzá, we were permitted to scale the smaller pyramids. We went up to the top with our guide and took some great pictures of the site.
This is our second post on our series: Exploring the Yucatan. We couldn’t visit the Yucatan without visiting the archaeological site of Chichen Itza. So today, I'm going to give you some tips on visiting Chichén Itzá with your kids.
Visiting Chichen Itza is one of the most entertaining things you can do on your Yucatan trip, and it’s a fun excursion for people of any age. The busiest times of the year for this site are December and January, because of the pleasant weather, but it is busy all year round. We visited in August, during what is considered the “low season” and were surprised by the crowds.
Basically, the #1 tip I can give you (whether you visit Chichén Itzá with kids or without them) is to get to the park as soon as it opens. There is cheap parking inside the park, but it fills up quick. By noon, when we finally left, the whole park was a madhouse! There were literally dozens of tour buses lined up disgorging visitors. If you only take one tip away from this article, avoid the crush and get there early!
You can bring a bag/purse into the park. We brought in wet wipes as well as some other essentials, but all our bags were searched. I had brought my camera bag with my nice Canon digital SLR. They allowed me to keep my camera but they took away my flash and forced me to rent a locker to stow it. They will not let you bring in tripods, either, so be forewarned.
Once you get past the turnstiles, you will see a restaurant, lockers for rent, and bathrooms in the main entry area. There are also more tour guides in this area.
Top 7 Tips for Visiting Chichen Itza with Kids:
This is the first post in our “Exploring the Yucatan” series, where we talk about visiting the vibrant Yucatan!
This was our first time exploring this wonderful Mexican state. Our family had wanted to visit for a very long time but we never quite got around to it. There are so many beautiful places to see in Mexico, so unfortunately our trip to the Yucatan got put on the backburner.
As soon as we reached the city of Merida and I looked outside the plane window, I knew we had stumbled onto a magical place. Everywhere was green, green green! Lovely trees and flowers in bloom on every corner and every street. Even Quintana Roo didn’t have as much beautiful foliage. The Yucatan is a nature lover’s paradise.
The state's capital, Merida, is the largest city in Mexico's Yucatan Peninsula and is known as the safest city in Mexico as well as one of the most beautiful cities in the world. It's not an exaggeration! in almost every direction, just minutes from the city, there are beautiful Mayan ruins, ancient temples, lovely colonial-era churches and other buildings, and cenotes–so much to explore, we didn’t even know where to start! And we do plan to tell you all about our trip, but first, we're going to talk about one of the few negative experiences that we had in the Yucatan.
Like many others, we have had issues renting cars in Mexico. After a terrible experience in Cancun with Hertz Mexico (which we blogged about), we have been very careful about checking reviews and also finding reputable car rental companies in any place that we visit.
We had good luck renting with National when we visited Chetumal, Quintana Roo, so I decided to make my reservation online with National in order to pick up a car at the Merida Airport.
The problem started as soon as we got to the counter. There are several car companies with kiosks inside the airport. I suggest avoiding ALL of them. First of all, we went to the National counter holding a printed copy of our reservation. As soon as the customer service person at the counter saw it, he looked at it like it was a poisonous snake.
He said it would be “very difficult” to fulfill the reservation, because it was made online, unless we made a $2,500 deposit in US dollars! I assume this was because he was losing some kind of a commission by not Contracting with us directly. I have never had any rental car company ask for a deposit this large, ever. I told him I wouldn't be paying a $2,500 deposit on a car rental was ridiculous, and he just shrugged. I guess if he wasn’t getting his commission, he didn’t care if we rented with National or not.
The representative for Europcar Car Rental Had a kiosk just a few steps away, and she was trying to get our attention the whole time, so we went over to her. She gave us one price inside the airport, but she wouldn't tell us how much the deposit would be. We decided to give them a try even though I had never rented from Europcar before. Against my better judgment oh, and a sinking feeling in my stomach, we allowed them to load our luggage into our shuttle and we went to the Europcar rental office, which was across the street from the airport.
I should have checked the online reviews for Europcar in Merida, because they are terrible, and they are absolutely deserved. When we got to the Europcar rental office, the price magically increased to double what was quoted to us in the airport, plus they also wanted a ridiculous deposit amount, over a thousand US dollars.
And while we were there, another customer was returning a car and there were several employees around the car taking photographs, and they were arguing with the customer about a small amount of sand inside the car. I listened in, and they threatened to charge the customer several thousand pesos for “excess sand” in the car. The car looked perfectly fine to me, and since we were planning to visit the beach in Progresso while we were in the Yucatan (doesn’t everybody visit the beach when they come here?), I had a sinking feeling that they would do the same to us when we returned our car.
My wife had the same bad feeling and she had been searching Google desperately to find an alternative. She found a small rental car company named “Leon Car Rental” just a few blocks away, with over 100+ 5 star reviews. We decided to take a chance and leave Europcar’s offices with our luggage, rolling away from the scummy airport-kiosk rental company.
We immediately saw a difference. Leon Car Rental is a small, family-owned, business. The lot was small, but there was a good selection of economy cars and a few SUVs and minivans for rent. The owners were all working hard to clean the cars and get them ready for customers. Everyone was working hard and there didn’t seem to be any scammy salesmen in suits whose main purpose was to trick you into buying insurance or scam you into paying extra.
We rented a 5-seater car with a roomy trunk that fit all our luggage. The price was fair and included insurance, we also paid with our Amex card for the additional insurance that Amex offers. The quoted deposit was only $500 and they actually never charged it to our card. When we brought back the car, there was sand in it, (from our kid’s shoes) and they did not charge us extra. Drop off was an absolute breeze, and they also took us to the airport and shook my hand. It was one of the easiest and unstressful car rental experiences that we have ever had in Mexico.
So I highly recommend Leon Car Rental (nobody is paying me to say this!) if you are in Merida and need to rent a car.
Contact information for Leon Car Rental:
Phone: 999 356 1542 (+52 Mexico)
Address: Calle 28 # 316, X 21 Y 23, Manuel Crescencio Rejón, 97255 Mérida Yucatán (across the street from the airport)
Playa Las Gatas is a family-friendly, completely swimmable beach in the Bahia de Zihuatanejo, located in the Mexican state of Guerrero. The international airport, Aeropuerto Internacional de Ixtapa-Zihuatanejo, is only 15 minutes away, so its easy to access and visit this famous little gem of a beach. Most people access the beach by taking a boat (which is what we did), using a semi-private ferry service from Roberto, who took us on his bright green boat directly to the beach's dock. The regular price per person is around 80 pesos per person (about $4) round trip, and includes the use of life jackets for everyone on the boat.
You will go through a short security area on the dock "El Muelle" where they will check your bags for alcohol and weapons, but its just a perfunctory check. They don't want you to bring glass to the beach, either, although you can purchase glass bottles of beer when you get there (go figure!).
We were able to pass with multiple bags filled with toys, snorkel gear, towels, and bottled water. You will have to wear a mask (as of April 2022) but you can take it off immediately wen you get on the boat if you wish. Hardly anyone was wearing them except for the security workers themselves.
Playa Las Gatas is lined up and down the shore with great restaurants where you can dine under palapas or beach umbrellas literally steps from the ocean. It's a protected beach and safe for swimming for all ages. When we went it was a busy day and lots of locals were in the water as well as tourists because it was close to the Eater holiday, but there was still plenty of space on the beach as well as available chairs and beach umbrellas.
Most visitors wear water shoes because the coral on the beach is somewhat uncomfortable to walk through (I don't like water shoes and typically don't wear them, but our kids did). I like feeling the sand in between my toes but the coral is a bit pokey in some places.
If you did forget to bring water shoes (or something else), anything you may have forgotten to bring is easily purchased from one of the dozens of vendors on the beach, however. For example we forgot to bring a lycra-type underpant for our 8-year old, it helps a lot to reduce chafing from the sand underneath their swimming trunks) and I bought one right on the beach for 140 pesos (about 7 dollars). He went and put it on in the bathrooms and enjoyed the day without sand rash between his legs.
Our oldest son is a teen and so, of course, he wanted to go on all the water rides. The operators typically charge between 100 and 150 pesos per ride. There are several water rides to choose from, in the picture above, he's at the front of the "red banana ride" where the object of the ride seems to be to make sure all the riders bounce off into the water, at some point. He loved it.
We enjoyed great food and drinks all day at "La Cabana" an excellent seafood joint recommended by our guide Roberto. We ordered ice cold beer in buckets ("una cubeta") and plates of seafood to snack on. There are fish fingers and fries for the kids and we ordered some fantastic fresh Tilapia for the adults. All the food was genuinely great.
All in all it was a fantastic way to spend our day and the kids absolutely loved it. When we were done, at around 5:30 PM (most of the restaurants stop serving food around 5PM) we called Roberto via WhatsApp and he came right back up to the docks in his little green boat and picked us up. We gave him a tip of 50 pesos and went back to our holiday rental from the docks. It was such a great, low-stress day with plenty of fun and activities for kids of all ages. Highly recommended!
Bacalar is one of the most tourist-friendly towns on Mexico's Caribbean coast. Our first visit to Bacalar, Quintana Roo, ended up being one of the most enjoyable trips we have ever taken as a family. Read on, and I’ll tell you all about it!
Bacalar Lagoon is a gorgeous freshwater lake and the largest body of water in Quintana Roo, Mexico, only 35 miles from Chetumal, the capital of the state. It’s sometimes called the “Lake of Seven Colors” due to its intense colors, which vary depending on the time of day and how it reflects sunlight. The lake is surrounded by a large natural jungle and is the perfect getaway for anyone vacationing in this region. Lake Bacalar is an excellent place for swimming, snorkeling, and boating, especially when adding stunning scenery and fresh water.
We flew into Chetumal on AeroMexico. We’ve had problems with this airline before, but unfortunately, there were only two choices of airlines that flew direct into Chetumal from our origination city, so we picked AeroMexico over Volaris, mainly because we could use our airline miles that we had accrued on our Amex card. After applying our points, the flight was almost free, and we only paid about $150 plus luggage fees for all 5 of us.
As we flew over Chetumal Bay, we saw numerous little islands. The whole area of southern Quintana Roo is lush with greenery and blue water.
The Chetumal airport is smaller than the airport in Cancun, but it seemed clean and well-organized. After landing at the small airport, we picked up our luggage, which only took about 10 minutes. Once on the ground, you can either rent a car in Bacalar or use the local bus system or a taxi to get around. You can hire a taxi for 300 MXN (about $15-20 USD) each way from the airport to Bacalar. We could have taken public transportation, but with all of our luggage, and the kids, we decided to rent a car.
We chose Enterprise/National Car Rentals, which was suggested to us by our American Express travel rep (thanks again, Amex card!). We’d had bad luck with car rentals through Hertz in Cancun, so we decided to try National this time. The customer service representative was pleasant and gave us a good price. We ended up choosing an economy car and the full insurance just in case. This ended up being a good idea because the roads had potholes because of a recent heavy rain (apparently it had rained for seven days straight the week before we arrived).
The customer service rep at the National car rental kiosk was very polite and helpful (not pushy at all, unlike the Hertz counter reps in Cancun). He discussed the different types of insurance with us, answering all our questions, but did not use any “hard sell” tactics. The car issued to us was a small Kia sedan, a little cramped for all five of us, but it did the job, and the trunk was large enough for our luggage.
Tip: When travelling with kids, try to avoid taking large pieces of luggage. We only took 2 medium-size, soft-sided luggage and two medium duffel bags. Everything fit into the trunk of our rental car easily. Each of our children carried their own backpack, which included a complete change of clothes, their Kindles, and a jacket or heavy sweater. The kids ended up needing their jackets on the plane, both for our incoming and outgoing flights, because the temperature inside the airplane cabin was uncomfortably cold.
When we landed, it was a balmy 78 degrees outside. Now, originally didn’t even plan to go to Bacalar. Our original plan was to visit Mahahual. Mahahual is a small fishing village on Mexico's Caribbean Coast. Well, Mahahual was a bust! Remember I mentioned that there had been several days of rain?
Mahahual, Being Eaten Alive by Mosquitos
Mahahual is surrounded by large tracts of swampland. After the recent rain, a lot of mud and plant vegetation had been run off into the sea. Although the sand was white and powdery, the water was dark brown with sargasso and mud run off from the heavy rains. All of the puddles surrounding the city were filled with mosquitoes. Mosquitoes flew everywhere, swarms of them trying to bite us as soon as we left the car. We had never seen this many mosquitoes in Quintana Roo, in any of the cities that we had visited before.
Unfortunately, we’d already made our reservation for two days at a beachfront Airbnb. it was too late to cancel, so we headed down to our rental house. We spent 45 minutes trying to find the place, because many of the streets in Mahahual are not named. At the rental house, the host gave us a tour, all while we were being constantly attacked by mosquitos. The house was hacienda-style, so the kitchen and the bedrooms were separated and open to the air.
That night, the bugs got even worse. All the windows had screens, but the bugs found nooks and crannies in the roof and the walls and still managed to get in, somehow. We spent the evening killing mosquitoes, biting ants, and other bugs. I counted at least 20 lizards on the walls of our bedroom. Although harmless, even the lizards got to be annoying. I even squashed a few cockroaches hiding under our luggage. Every time we stepped out on the balcony; we were instantly attacked by mosquitoes. At one point, I remember killing 4 at the same time on my son’s calf. It was impossible to be outside even for a few minutes.
We were all miserable, and the water was too dirty to swim in, so the following morning, we left Mahahual. My wife and I agreed that Mahahual wasn't worth visiting again and we wouldn't go back again. We discussed driving all the way to Tulum, but we had visited Tulum before, and the whole point of our trip was to explore the southern part of Quintana Roo, which was all new territory to us.
My wife started hunting for things to do on her cellphone and discovered the cenotes. The cenotes are star attractions in Bacalar. These natural sinkholes are spectacularly beautiful and fill with water from underground rivers. The most famous cenotes in the Bacalar region are Cenote Azul (Blue Cenote), Cenote Cocalitos, Cenote Esmeralda, and Cenote de La Bruja, ‘the Witch’s Cenote’; but there are many more worth seeing.
“Why don’t we go see what they’re like, and try to find an early brunch?” she asked.
Restaurante Cenote Azul in Bacalar
I agreed, gladly. We drove about 30 minutes and saw a sign on the side of the freeway for the Cenote Azul. We exited the freeway and turned almost immediately into a parking lot (there was plenty of free parking, and an attendant watching the cars, which is always nice). We tipped the attendant a few pesos and he directed us to the cenote’s entrance. There is a small charge to get in, even to the restaurant and shops that were right there on the water, which seemed kind of odd, but the worker told us that the fee goes to the upkeep of the cenote.
We were seated by a hostess at a booth overlooking the water in the Restaurante Cenote Azul, which is the main restaurant overlooking the cenote. The restaurant was undergoing some renovations when we visited, but the kitchen and dining areas were mostly open. They had live music with a traditional Mexican banda.
The cenote itself is gorgeous, a dark blue sinkhole with a small swimming area. There were about 20 people swimming in the cenote when we arrived, most of them looked like European tourists. Although I couldn’t understand the language they were speaking, it sounded like Romanian and/or French, and perhaps another Eastern European language.
Note: The reviews on TripAdvisor for Restaurante Cenote Azul are somewhat negative. I’m glad we didn’t check TripAdvisor before visiting this place, because it may have dissuaded us from visiting. We personally had a good experience here. My wife and I ordered several dishes to try, mostly seafood, but we also had some great guacamole as an appetizer. My main course was an octopus dish which was superb. The beers and drinks were reasonable prices. Our kids ordered burgers and pasta, which they all seemed to enjoy. I don’t think that you should miss this cenote, and if you do visit the restaurant, I suggest ordering the seafood, which I thought was great.
We finished our meal, which ended up being about 600 pesos ($30 USD) and left the cenote. Although we had our gear with us, we were anxious to drop off our luggage and see our new Airbnb in Bacalar, which we had booked just a few hours earlier. My wife made the reservation, asking the host pertinent questions before we booked. This time, we confirmed that the rental was a modern townhome (not hacienda-style) just in case Bacalar had a similar problem with bugs.
As soon as we arrived at our townhome, we were pleasantly surprised. It was clean, private with many amenities, and it had a small, modern kitchen. The house had 3 bathrooms, 3 bedrooms, a washer/dryer on the roof, a clothesline, and wi-fi. The price was also less than half of our disastrous bug-infested rental in Mahahual. There were several small grocery stores within walking distance to pick up milk, coffee, and snacks. Our Airbnb was a superhost, very attentive. And the price was right—about USD 90 per night. We were delighted. Our advice if you are booking a short-term rental in this region:
By the time we dropped off our bags and explored the rental, it was around 2PM. Our rental was only two blocks from the Bacalar lagoon, so we decided to swim.
Cenote Cocalitos in Bacalar
We flipped a coin and ended up at Cenote Cocalitos, a nice swimming area with swings and hammocks in the water.
There is a free dirt parking lot across the street, but not attendant, so don’t bring any valuables and leave them in your car. There’s a small entrance fee to get in, about 30 pesos ($1.50 USD) per person. There are plenty of tables and chairs for guests, as well as free private bathrooms for men and women.
The small restaurant onsite offered a good limited menu, including surprisingly good French fries, excellent ceviche, plus sodas and beer. The food and drinks are reasonably priced, and they let us bring in a small fabric cooler to keep our bottled waters cold. It wasn’t that crowded, although there were about 10 other families there, as well as larger group of young German tourists.
We spent a relaxed afternoon swimming and enjoying cheap food and drinks. The water was warm and the landscape around us was beautiful. There are some stromatolites, a type of reef-like rock formations that can only be found in certain climates. There are signs posted asking tourists not to touch them, but you can take pictures.
After sunset, we went back to our rental and relaxed for a few hours before going back out to explore the main town. Bacalar is a small city, but it has a beautiful downtown area with great shopping, fantastic street food, nice restaurants, and even a little museum. The downtown is on a grid so it was easy to get around. We walked and checked out the shops. We were offered several types of lake tours, as well as options for kayaking, fishing and more. There were lots of families with kids around and we felt safe downtown.
Downtown Bacalar is a foodie’s paradise. There were so many different restaurants to choose from, but we ended up at a small place called La Pozoleria, whose featured dish was—you guessed it—pozole. They offered two different types, red and white, and we ordered both to try. We also had fantastic tacos! After dinner, which cost less than 500 pesos (about $25 USD) for all five of us for food and drinks, we went walking.
My wife wanted something sweet for desert and quickly discovered several street vendors selling “marquesitas” from carts. We chose one of the more popular carts, Marquesitas y Crepas Bacalar, which had a long line.
Marquesitas are a local specialty, a pastry-type dessert—it tastes like a waffle cone that’s cooked flat and filled with delectable fillings. There were all different kinds of filling available, including savory and sweet. We ordered two with Nutella and fresh strawberries and they were delicious! Pick one up for a tasty snack that you can eat on the go. You'll be able to eat it with your fingers. You won't be disappointed and neither will your taste buds. We ended up ordering three more that first night because the kids each wanted one of their own.
Balneario Ejidal Mágico Bacalar Waterpark
We spent the next four days exploring the lagoon and visiting different cenotes. We strongly recommend visiting the Balneario Ejidal Mágico Bacalar: This is a family water park that includes waterslides and mini-raft rides for exploring the lagoon.
The entrance fee is very affordable (less than 50 pesos per person). It is a favorite for locals to bring their families, and we ended up taking our kids here twice, and we paid the entrance fee and fed them all a simple lunch for less than $30 for the entire day. There are lots of palapas and an affordable restaurant that offers a full menu. The ceviche and tacos were great.
The water is shallow until very far out, and swimming is safe for children, except for small toddlers. Our 6-year-old wore floaties (she can doggie-paddle well enough, but we felt safer with her wearing floaties). Our 8-year-old's head and shoulders were well above the water level.
We even booked a 4-hour morning tour on the lake, which the kids loved. Here are five great activities to do in Bacalar that the whole family can enjoy!
The entire trip was entertaining for the whole family, and we are already looking forward to our next visit to Bacalar!
After enjoying a good night's sleep in our rented condominium, it was time to explore. We asked one of the security guards at the Mayan Island if there was a nearby grocery store, and was told that there was none within walking distance. This is one thing that I DIDN'T like about the Zona Diamante. We felt very safe the whole time we were there, but there is nothing within reasonable walking distance that resembled a grocery store or even a small convenience store, like OXXO. This was one of the big differences between Acapulco's tourist zone and Zihuatanejo's, which we visited earlier in 2021. Zihuatanejo (also in the Mexican state of Guerrero) was decidedly "walkable" with lots of street vendors, shops, and stores scattered throughout the city. We were never more than a few blocks away from anything we needed, whether it be tacos, fruit, a pharmacy, whatever.
Acapulco's Zona Diamante is decidedly not like that. Although considered very safe and secure, we had to take a taxi from the Diamante Zone to get to anything. Although the taxi service was prompt and readily available any time we wanted to use it, it was still annoying. The repeated trips ended up being rather costly at 125-150 pesos per trip (one-way, so those costs added up and increased our overall costs for this exploratory trip).
I took a taxi went to the local Chedraui, which was the closest grocery store. For those of you who are unfamiliar, the Chedraui is similar to Wal-mart in the United States. The store carries fresh and packaged foods, as well as a selection of clothing, housewares, etc.
The pool is ENORMOUS, and not very deep. The water temperature was as very pleasant, so after slathering on some waterproof sunscreen, the kids hopped right in and started splashing around and playing water games.
I did go down to the beach to explore, as well. The sand was so hot that you couldn't walk across it without sandals or flip-flops (chanclas, as the locals call them). The little cabanas were first-come, first serve, and I plopped down in one to watch the waves and enjoy the sun for a bit.
I checked older photos of the beach on Travelocity and these canvas pop-up tents replaced palapa-style ones several years ago, probably because of hurricanes. This is what happened when we visited Baja California, as well.
The waves were rough throughout the day and into the afternoon. I saw a few surfers and boogie boarders as well as a snorkeler or two. Four-wheel ATVs sped up and down the beach at very fast speeds. They can be rented as well.
There was a lifeguard posted in the tower all day (as you can see from the photo below). I went into the surf up to my waist but not further than that. The water temperature was pleasant but the waves were rough and the undertow was strong, even for me. I didn't feel comfortable having my kids at the water's edge for that reason, although my younger two came down to play in the sand for a while and enjoy some lime ice cream from one of the many vendors that trolled the beach.
I admittedly enjoyed a few beers on the beach, then made my way to the bathroom near the pool in order to relieve my bladder. The marble floor had been recently mopped and I was barefoot, so I slipped backwards and cracked my head pretty badly. My vision went grey for a minute, but I didn't pass out. I picked myself up slowly and touched the back of my head, and was dismayed to see my fingers come away covered with blood.
I sat down in a shady area outside the bathroom and was immediately approached by one of the security guards who called for a first aid kid. I was only wearing my swim trucks. Blood was streaming down my neck and chest now, and workers started to gather around me. Once called out to my wife, who came running, slightly panicked. The security guard handed me a clean towel, which I pressed to the back of my head. My wife had arrived by my side, and gingerly pulled back the towel and gasped.
"Does it look really bad?" I asked her.
She nodded, "You're going to need stitches."
My stomach sank. So here we are, just three days into our trip, in a foreign city that we've never been to, and I need to go to a hospital. I'm feeling awful and my wife was on the verge of tears. Then one of the security guards mentioned that the neighboring hotel, the Mayan Palace Acapulco, also called the "Hotel Vidanta Mayan Acapulco" had a 24 hour medical clinic called the Centro Medico Diamante, (link is to the main hospital's Facebook page) which is basically a small satellite office of a larger hospital in Acapulco.
We took the kids back to the condo and left our 15 year old in charge, telling him to keep his cellphone on, just in case. Then we walked quickly to the neighboring Mayan Palace, whose front desk directed us to the clinic, which was on one of the upper floors in the main tower.
The main hospital seems to have poor reviews on Facebook, but we were given excellent service at the Mayan Palace clinic. Suffice it to say, the female doctor who attended to me was professional and gentle, and I was seen and treated within 10 minutes of our arrival (which would put any American big-city emergency room to shame).
The doctor used a few shots of local anesthetic to numb the area, which I honestly did not feel at all, probably because of the adrenaline and the residual beer still in my system. Putting in the stitches took about 15-20 minutes.
My wife had calmed down by the end of it. She asked the doctor for a towel so her damp bathing suit wouldn't leave a water stain on the fabric couches.
I felt okay to sit up after the doctor was finished stitching me up, although I did feel a bit dizzy. The doctor wrapped my head with a bandage and gave me a prescription for antibiotics and a box of generic NSAID painkillers. My wife and I trudged back to our condo. Our kids were all worried but calmed down as soon as they saw me.
The remainder of the evening was a bust. We ordered take-out pizza from a local Dominos and called it a night. Hopefully the rest of the week in Acapulco will be less eventful (post continued here...)
Well, after receiving emails from fans around the world asking about some of the more "touristy" cities in Mexico, we decided this year to explore Acapulco, Guerrero with our family. Acapulco is a major city in the Mexican state of Guerrero on the Pacific coast. The city has been a major tourist hub for decades, but it seems to have lost some of its former luster.
Acapulco's beauty was celebrated on the big screen in films like Elvis Presley's "Fun in Acapulco" and the more-recent "Destination Wedding" which was released in 2017. However, Acapulco's tourist industry has struggled for various reasons for the last several years, mostly because of issues with public safety (more on this topic later).
It was a short flight from Mexico City to Acapulco. When we arrived at the Acapulco airport (OMA), it was late afternoon, (around 4:20 PM local time). The weather was humid and warm, but not unpleasantly so. We found out when we landed that Uber or any other rideshare is not allowed in Acapulco. Apparently the taxi unions staged a huge protest and threatened to "burn Uber units in Acapulco." Yikes.
This seems to me quite shortsighted, especially for a city that has serious reputation issues, especially with regards to tourist safety (at the time of this post, the US state department has banned U.S. government employees from travelling to Acapulco because of safety concerns). Tourists LIKE Uber and Lyft (and similar rideshare services) because you can pay with a credit card, the payment as well as the ride destination and pick-up location is easily traced. These services also help tourists avoid the "gringo tax" which sadly occurred to us at least twice when we were exploring the city.
We arrived at the Mayan Island Playa Condominiums, which is in the Zona Diamante. Translated literally, this means "Diamond Zone" which is an affluent area between the airport and Acapulco Bay, which is mostly composed of luxury hotels and large condo complexes that are owed by wealthy residents. We noticed as we were being driven through the area that most of the complexes were gated communities with (seemingly) heavy security. When we arrived at the Mayan Island, we were directed to the front desk and forced to go through a rather lengthy check-in process.
We were forced to leave a security deposit of 2,000 pesos, which the owner failed to mention until a few hours before we checked in. We were also forced to put on bracelets identifying ourselves as guests, not owners, which actually led to a slight confrontation at one point, with one of the owners in the building. And yes, the bracelets were required for everyone, even our kids. Which was annoying, especially since our 8-year old has nervous habits and wouldn't stop picking at it the whole time we were there.
When we got up to our rented condo on the 7th floor, we got an eyeful of the beautiful view, the great pool area below, and the choppy waves of the Pacific. My wife immediately sat down and made herself a cup of coffee (the owners of the Airbnb had left 4 coffee pods, which didn't last a day for my coffee-addicted wife). Sorry honey!
The ocean looked rough that first day, and we found that it was not safe to swim because of the powerful undertow. My wife decided to be brave and go down to the surf.
She got hit by a rather large wave and immediately lost her expensive sunglasses, which she had just recently purchased at Costco. They were torn right out of her hand! She returned to the condo with shaky legs and a dejected expression. I couldn't resist saying "I told you so" which earned me a prompt pout.
The image of the rough surf you can in the photos, it doesn't look as bad as it feels. I can understand why Acapulco is a hot spot for surfers, some of the waves were easily above 1.5 meters in the evenings. I did brave the waves a few times myself, but only on the calmer mornings while we were there.
I saw local teens surfing that first evening, there was at least a dozen surfers in the water around sunset. After taking a quick walk on the beach to watch the sunset, we bought some street food and then hit the pillows and went straight to bed, all of us very tired from travel. I continue this post here (Day Two in Acapulco).
(Continued from Part Two, here...)
Author's Note: No website or company has paid a fee to be mentioned in this blog. Any suggestions you see are based solely on our own experiences and personal preferences. All prices have been converted to USD using a rate of 20:1. All the information is for educational purposes only and should not be considered legal advice. Please help support our travel blog by purchasing this guide, which is only $1.99 and available everywhere, including Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and Kobo.
Living in Puerto Escondido
We’ve already covered a lot of aspects of Puerto Escondido that will come in handy whether you’re just visiting or planning on making it your permanent home. Now, it’s time to discuss the ins and outs of everyday life. While this section is aimed chiefly at those planning longer stays, many of the topics we’ll cover, such as the stuff about safety, shopping and transportation, will come in handy no matter how long you’re planning on being in town.
It’s fair to say that Puerto Escondido is not far away from being a genuine paradise, but there are some things you need to learn to live with. Anyone who has resided in multiple countries, cities and towns will tell you that there isn’t a place on earth that has it all. Want to escape the rat race? Done, but then don’t expect the same standard of amenities and services you get in a big, technologically advanced city. Want to reduce your cost of living by moving to the developing world? Understandable, but remember that you’re not always going to have access to the same variety of stuff. Sick of the cold? It’s always warm in the tropics but that also means mosquitos and sweating like a pig when you’re out in the middle of the day.
Knowing your priorities and being willing to make some tradeoffs are the keys to finding the right place to live. In this section, we’ll provide you with the honest truth about the pros and cons of life in Puerto Escondido so that you can make an informed decision about whether or not it might be the place for you.
Housing in Puerto Escondido
If you’re looking to relocate to Puerto Escondido permanently, you’ll almost certainly be looking to buy or build a house. A fully furnished 2 bedroom, 2 bathroom house in an area like Bacocho or Zicatela would typically cost between $120 000 - $300 000 but can go as high as $2-3 million when it comes to the most luxurious properties. Naturally, you can shave quite a few bucks off by building and furnishing everything yourself. Another advantage of doing it this way is that you can really build your own dream home. Of course, there’s also the small matter of months of build time and all the drama and setbacks that can come with it.
The most well-known real estate agents in the city are Blue Horizon and Puerto Escondido Real Estate & Vacation Rentals; however, there are many other options. We highly suggest only buying through registered and reputable agents as scams have been known to take place.
In terms of renting, the same typical 2 bed, 2 bath house generally costs between $1000 - $3000 a month. There are apartments and even small houses available for less, with a typical 1 bedroom place going for between $500 - $1000 a month. In terms of both renting and buying, if you’re willing (or prefer) to live a bit further from the beach or even outside of the city itself, you can find options between 20-50% cheaper. You can easily for rental properties on Facebook, or Airbnb, then negotiate with the owners.
Personally, we often rent through Airbnb using our American Express card (which protects every purchase we make and also earns us points for travel). If we like the place, we reach out to the owner and negotiate a longer stay. If we don't like the location for whatever reason, we simply leave the Airbnb and choose a new one. This has worked for us several times all over Mexico.
Note: Locals generally don’t advertise their rental properties through traditional channels. If you are looking for a long-term rental in Puerto Escondido you can walk around the neighborhood and ask about rentals. It is commonplace for locals to advertise their rentals by merely putting a hand-written sign in a window facing the street.
There is also a fast-growing market for pieces of land in the areas just outside the city such as Valdeflores, Palmarito, El Tomatal and others as people start to anticipate that this area is becoming a true tourist hotspot. The prices are rising fast but from an extremely low baseline, meaning they should remain a great bargain for the next couple of years at least. In 2021, a 2,000-3,000 sq. foot plot of land still only costs around $1,500 - $3,000 USD.
Shopping in Puerto Escondido
We’ve already discussed the Benito Juarez Market, which is a great place to shop for food, some basic goods and local specialties. So where else do people go for day-to-day shopping in Puerto Escondido? The city has a couple of large department stores, one by Mexican retail giant Chedraui and the more budget-friendly Bodega Aurrera. Both contain all the basics, but Chedraui has more categories and a greater selection of choices within each of these. Think Walmart with a Mexican flavor but also a lot of the same brands you’re accustomed to if you live in the USA or Canada.
Besides the main market and department stores, there is also the Zicatela market that services that side of town as well as a host of small shops selling fruits and vegetables, clothing, and other basic goods scattered throughout the city. There are also options for the more conscious consumer, with several shops that sell organic food and locally produced goods in both Bacocho (Señor Salud and Punto Verde) and Zicatela/La Punta (Kankedami, Verde Puerto and Canela).
As with every other town or city in Mexico, you don’t have to go far to find a pharmacy. Also just like the rest of the country, all of the pharmacies sell antibiotics and other medications that normally require a prescription right over the counter. You also don’t have to look far to find hardware, stationery and second-hand stores.
Where things become a little trickier is with specialized goods such as technology, sporting equipment and all of those other random yet useful miscellaneous items you find in more developed places. Fortunately, it’s the 21st century and courier services reach far more remote locations than Puerto Escondido. All it takes is a few clicks on Mercado Libre, Amazon or eBay and whatever you need will be delivered to your door.
Cost of Living in Puerto Escondido
The relatively lower cost of living in Mexico is one of the main things that attracts foreigners from wealthier nations. No matter what part of the world you’re talking about, where the gringos go the prices go up.
That’s certainly true of places like the Riviera Maya and Baja California Sur, where the cost of living has been slowly increasing for years and has now reached the point that most Mexicans are shocked when they arrive in these places and see how much a meal or an activity sets you back. Sure, these places are still extremely affordable if you’re converting back from dollars, euros or pounds, but there are places in Mexico where you still get a much better bang for your buck.
Puerto Escondido is certainly one of these, and Oaxaca in general is known as one of the cheapest places to live in all of Mexico. Of course, the above rule of thumb still applies, and prices here are definitely creeping up as more and more foreigners buy up property and inject their disposable income into the local economy. The price of renting and buying property in Bacocho or near the beachfront in Zicatela would undoubtedly shock most Oaxacans. Right now, it’s still around 20-30% cheaper than places such as Los Cabos, Playa Del Carmen and Tulum, but we don’t expect this state of affairs to last much longer.
In terms of daily costs, groceries and basic goods are around 10% cheaper than in the above-mentioned places, while gasoline costs the same or even slightly more than in most other parts of Mexico (a little over $1/liter, or around $4/gallon). One aspect of life in Puerto Escondido where you can really find great value is eating out. The “fancy” restaurants are cheap in comparison with what you find in swanky parts of Mexico City or other coastal hotspots, while the prices at “normal” restaurants and for street food as mouthwatering as the food itself. It’s not difficult to find a delicious meal in a clean, well-maintained restaurant for under $5.
Taking everything into consideration, you can easily meet all your basic needs for between $500 - 1,000 USD a month (excluding housing), while anything in the region of $2-3K a month will allow you to live a very comfortable lifestyle.
Healthcare and Hospitals in Puerto Escondido
The quality and availability of healthcare are some of the most critical considerations many of us make when deciding where to live. This is especially true for those with pre-existing conditions, are advancing in years, and families with young children or those planning on having them soon. Fortunately, Mexico is known for having high-quality medical services available at far more reasonable costs than in the USA or Canada. On the downside, the system can sometimes be complicated and confusing to navigate, with prices sometimes varying drastically between states and institutions. Free healthcare options are available to Mexican citizens and in some cases to foreign residents, but having some form of health insurance is highly recommended. There are public and private health insurance schemes available to residents, so we suggest further reading on this subject.
Puerto Escondido has both public and private hospitals, several clinics, ample dentists, general practitioners, and even a few specialists. The primary public hospital is Hospital General, while Hospital Angel Del Mar is the primary private healthcare facility.
Hospital Angel Del Mar/Contact
Tel: 954 104 2270, Emergency: ext.103
Sexta Norte, Sector Reforma, Puerto Escondido
Both are equipped with functioning trauma units, with the Hospital Angel Del Mar being highly regarded in this sense. It’s also possible to receive a wide range of other treatments at both facilities, however, cases that require advanced treatments or the use of highly specialized equipment are normally transferred to larger hospitals in Oaxaca City, Salina Cruz and, in extreme cases, other parts of Mexico.
In most cases, foreigners and expats in Mexico stick to private healthcare options as they provide greater flexibility and, generally speaking, a better level of care (with the exceptions being things such as free vaccinations at government clinics, certain really good government hospitals, etc.) Private insurance costs are also not exorbitant compared to many other countries with fully or partially privatized healthcare systems. Overall, the healthcare options in Puerto Escondido are more than enough for most people’s needs, with the possible exception of those that live with complicated chronic conditions that sometimes require advanced care. As long as you have insurance, you can rest assured that good first-line medical care will be available (and not bankrupt you and your family) should you have an accident or unexpected health problem.
Schools in Puerto Escondido
If you’ve read any of our other books or blog posts you’ll know that we’re big fans of the education opportunities available in Mexico. That’s not to say we compare the public school system favorably with that of other countries, but unlike the USA and many other more developed places, private schooling is far more affordable in Mexico. You’re also highly likely to find good, dual language private schools anyplace that has an expat population, and Puerto Escondido is no different. There are several options, especially for younger age groups.
One of the most well renowned of these is , which has both a pre-school (3-5 years) and a primary school (6-12 years). The school has been around for 30 years already, which makes it one of the oldest in Puerto Escondido, and is known for both its solid “traditional” education (incl. being registered in the national education system known as SEP), and excellent programs/electives that teach the children more about nature, entrepreneurship, technology, etc. The curriculum also includes learning in the organic garden, physical education, arts and computer skills. While the curriculum is taught in Spanish, there is an hour-long English lesson every day.
Another excellent option for younger kids is Papalotes, a Waldorf Education System school where children aged 3-12 can develop their intellectual, artistic, and practical skills in an integrated and holistic environment. School administration is done entirely by a volunteer committee of parents, which both brings down costs and allows those with the time and motivation to play an active role in the school. There is also a fantastic three-week-long summer school program called Camino Verde (Green Path) where the kids learn about art and movement in the first week, scientific experiments/STEM in week two and modeling/design/construction in the final week.
There are also two private high schools, the Escuela Libertadores De America and the Colegio Internacional Del Pacifico, while Papalotes has plans to open a middle school and high school in the next few years as well.
Transportation in Puerto Escondido
Taxis are also easy to find and, as long as you’re using one that’s registered to a local association, perfectly safe to use. These taxis are painted white and green and will have a card with the driver’s name and association number clearly visible somewhere in the front seat area (taxis with other colors from nearby towns sometimes pass through, these are fine to use also). It’s very uncommon to have someone unregistered offer you a ride as the taxi associations “control” the streets to ensure they don’t lose out on fares. A short ride costs around $2 while a longer one across town costs just $3.
The colectivos are even cheaper, costing a standard price of usually under $1 per trip no matter where on the route you hop on and off. They’re also safe to use, but we’d suggest sticking to daytime travel and avoiding wearing flashy, expensive-looking accessories just to be on the safe side. Talking of which...
Safety: Puerto Escondido is considered an extremely safe city by Mexican standards. In fact, even when compared with more developed places, it doesn’t stack up badly. Violent crimes and burglaries are almost unheard of. On the other hand, crimes of opportunity do happen if you’re careless with bags and valuables. People here are proud of the city’s reputation as a safe place and almost everyone you meet is friendly and helpful.
Like other parts of Mexico that attract tourists, it is spared from the open violence between gangs that afflicts many other parts of the country. Ultimately, the harsh reality is that harm to tourists and foreigners is bad for business and attracts far more attention than when innocent (and often poorer) Mexicans are affected. In other words, you’re highly unlikely to run into trouble with gangs in Mexico unless you meddle in “their business”.
Our ultimate advice to expats and travelers is that no matter where you are, simply using your common sense and trusting your intuition are the most important aspects of staying safe. Of course, making some local friends that can share the lay of the land with you never hurts either.
Other Notes About Living in Puerto Escondido
Other important things to note about living in Puerto Escondido: While we’ve already covered most of the core aspects of life in Puerto Escondido, there are a few other important things we would like to mention. We’ve already told you that Puerto Escondido is popular among so-called “digital nomads”, however that does come with a small caveat.
The internet connection in Puerto Escondido can be spotty, especially during busy periods. Even when it’s operating normally, the download and upload speeds average about 3-5 MB p/s and 0.5-2 MB p/s, respectively. There is the option to get faster satellite internet, but that starts at around $125 a month while a standard Telmex line costs between $20-45 (if you’re renting, internet is often included at no additional cost).
Another thing that can be a little inconsistent at times is the water supply, although this is rarely an issue as multiple companies operating trucks that bring potable water to refill cisterns and tanks if the municipal supply doesn’t arrive on time or you finish yours early. If you’re careful with your water you shouldn’t have to worry about this and once again, if you’re renting, these water refills are normally paid for by the landlord.
Like many parts of Mexico, the tap water is not preferable for consumption but is fine for showering, washing clothes and dishes, etc. Drinking water is typically sold in garrafons (5 gallon/20 liter plastic bottles) which can be purchased for a one-time price of around $5 and then refilled for $1. Several companies drive around the city all day honking their horns, shouting “agua” and exchanging empty bottles for full ones.
In terms of language, you can get by on English alone when you’re in the touristy areas of town. However, if you’re planning on spending any substantial amount of time in Mexico, learning some Spanish is vital and the more you know, the easier and more pleasant your life here will be. There are many language schools and private teachers that offer Spanish lessons in Puerto Escondido and online. Alternatively, download an app like Duolingo to practice for free and do your best to learn from everyday encounters. At the end of the day, the more you immerse yourself in the local culture, the richer your experience of this place or any other will be.
Puerto Escondido is undoubtedly an up-and-coming city with plenty of opportunities to invest in businesses and property. For better or worse (probably a bit of both), the new federal highway from Oaxaca City due to open by 2022 is set to accelerate the region’s growth. Prices are steadily rising, but for now, it’s still a good deal cheaper than some of the other most popular spots in Mexico for expats. In terms of lifestyle, it’s a laid-back place with plenty of culture to soak in and a thriving community of people exploring alternative lifestyles and healthier ways to live. If you’re looking to expand your horizons and like the sound of living in Mexico’s most diverse state, this might well be the place for you.
That’s equally true for nature lovers and those who want to spend substantial amounts of time on some of the most beautiful beaches in the country. Aside from the ocean vibes, there is a lot to get excited about inland as well, with beautiful tropical landscapes morphing into high-altitude temperate forests within just a couple of hour’s drive inland. The smorgasbord of activities on offer will keep you busy throughout the year and the culinary culture of Oaxaca is quite simply a foodie’s dream. Yes, there are some compromises to be made, but where is that not the case? When everything is said and done (which it now is), you could do far worse than ending up in Puerto Escondido.
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(Continued from Part One, here...)
Author's Note: No website or company has paid a fee to be mentioned in this blog. Any suggestions you see are based solely on our own experiences and personal preferences. All prices have been converted to USD using a rate of 20:1. All the information is for educational purposes only and should not be considered legal advice. Please help support our travel blog by purchasing this guide, which is only $1.99 and available everywhere, including Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and Kobo.
Things to do in Puerto Escondido
Relaxing by the pool, beach hopping and exploring the region’s unique culinary delights may be the staples of living in Puerto Escondido.
Still, they’re far from the only things to keep you occupied. In fact, it wouldn’t be a stretch to say that this part of Mexico stands up to just about anywhere in the world when it comes to the variety of activities on offer and the number of interesting places to explore.
Some things, especially the natural attractions, are seasonal, while others can be done year-round. There’s also a thriving community of expats and locals that are constantly organizing small-scale events and running courses or workshops, most of which can be found on public Facebook and WhatsApp groups. We’ll also discuss some of the best things to do in the surrounding areas, which are a nature lover’s delight, and leave you with some handy insider tips that will help you to beat the crowds and plan according to any budget.
Lagoons and bioluminescence
The climate and geography of the region ensure that it is dotted with both fresh and saltwater lagoons. These places are hotspots for biodiversity. Their mangrove ecosystems play host to a wide array of species, including crocodiles and many other reptiles, a stunning variety of birds, and all manner of fish and different marine life. However, an even smaller creature makes these lagoons famous - plankton, the tiny creatures that are the foundation of marine ecosystems. What makes these ones so special is the fact that they create bioluminescence.
While it’s true that many species of plankton can do this, the lagoons in this area are filled with high concentrations of these little critters, making them one of the best places in the world to experience this incredible phenomenon firsthand.
The closest lagoon to Puerto Escondido where you can do this is Manialtepec, just a short 15 minutes drive away. There are many tour companies in the city that offer bioluminescence trips, which take place exclusively at night as this is when you can actually see the plankton glowing. Most also offer daytime tours for kayaking, paddleboarding, birdwatching and nature excursions.
Surfing in Puerto Escondido
As we’ve already mentioned, Puerto Escondido is considered the "surf capital" of Mexico. Whether you’re a seasoned rider of waves or would just like to stand up on a board at least once in your life, you’ll find plenty of opportunities here.
There are also many freelance instructors advertising their services online and hanging around the beaches. You can also rent boards by the hour or for the entire day once you’re comfortable going out on your own.
Sea turtle release in Puerto Escondido
Who doesn’t love sea turtles? I think we all know the answer to that question is NOBODY. Yet not everybody is comfortable in the water or with the idea of going snorkeling or scuba diving to seek them out. Fortunately, anyone can experience the magic of turtles in this part of the world. There are several beaches where you can go to release baby turtles, whose nests need to be protected from poachers, into the wild. It’s a truly incredible experience and a vital counterbalancing act that increases these threatened creatures’ chances of survival. It’s also a family-friendly activity that requires no physical exertion and is fun for people of all ages.
There are a couple of tour operators that offer turtle releases on beaches outside of Puerto Escondido, but the simplest (and cheapest) option is just to head to Playa Bacocho where releases take place most days at 5 PM (depending on whether a new batch of baby turtles is hatching that day or not) at the Vive Mar Turtle Camp. It only costs $5 per person, all of which goes towards keeping the operation running. There is a short talk in Spanish and English before the actual release takes place to teach you how to handle the turtles properly and explain a bit about them, the threats they face and what is being done to protect them.
There are seven species of sea turtles in existence and four of them nest on the Oaxacan coastline. The most prominent by far, however, is the Olive Ridley turtle. In fact, this area is the single most important nesting site in the world for this species, with the annual nesting season seeing over 4.6 million females dragging themselves out of the water to lay their eggs at the two largest nesting sites alone.
One of these is a long stretch of beach just under an hour’s drive from Puerto Escondido called Playa Escobilla. The prime nesting season is July - January, where on a day of high activity it’s possible to see tens of thousands of turtles on the beach at any given moment. The cost to enter the sanctuary is $15, which all goes towards maintaining the sanctuary. You’re led by a guide who both gives you interesting information and ensures that you observe the event without disturbing the turtles as you walk among them and watch them lay their eggs from just inches away.
Dolphin swimming and whale watching
The amazing experiences with marine life don’t have to stop there either! If there is one group of marine animals that is even more beloved than turtles it’s that of the cetaceans, which consists of whales, dolphins and porpoises. Puerto Escondido offers year-round opportunities to see and, when possible, swim with dolphins. The most prominent species in the area are Spinner and Bottlenose dolphins, while it’s also common to swim with turtles and even see them mating in certain seasons. On a lucky day, you might even get to see Orcas/Killer Whales or any number of other less commonly occurring species.
The Oaxacan coastline is also the southernmost point on the annual migration of Humpback whales that spend their summers feeding in Alaska and Northern Canada and their winters mating and calving in warmer Mexican waters. While there aren’t quite as many whales as you find around the Baja California Peninsula and the season is shorter due to the extra distance they have to travel to get here (January - March as opposed to December - April), the experience of seeing them breaching, slapping their tails and performing other acrobatic maneuvers is just as breathtaking.
Horseback riding and hot springs
While ocean-based activities may be the main attraction in this part of the world, ignoring the glorious tropical landscape and rural delights that surround Puerto Escondido would be a crying shame.
While horseback riding and hot springs are not really two things you would instinctively lump together, in this case, they combine perfectly to create a unique and memorable experience that provides a real taste of natural surroundings.
After being picked up in town and transported to a start point where some friendly, tame horses are already waiting, you’ll be guided by expert riders up the Manialtepec river to the hot springs that share the same name.
The ride is a couple of hours long and takes you through rural farmland and areas full of indigenous tropical vegetation that cars cannot access. You’ll cross the calmly flowing Manialtepec river multiple times along the way until you eventually arrive at the beautiful hidden spot where the hot springs are located.
After you’re satisfied with your time in the springs (a few minutes is usually enough as it’s just as warm outside the water as in it) and have refueled with some snacks, you’ll head back down to the ranch and be back in town in time for lunch, with the entire excursion lasting around 5-6 hours. This activity is perfectly suitable for those with little or no experience riding horses. You can book it with Eco Adventures Puerto Escondido or through a smaller company like Experiencias Nativas, who combine the trip with a visit to see how the locals use traditional methods to make tortillas and cheese.
La Reforma Waterfall
We have some guiding principles we like to follow when we travel and one of them is to never pass on the opportunity to visit a good waterfall! Besides the always awe-inspiring sight of tons of water cascading down a sheer rockface, they normally offer great swimming opportunities in lovey freshwater pools and are often found in the most scenic locations.
La Reforma is no exception. Although it’s only around 25 mi (40km) away from Puerto Escondido, the drive takes a little under two hours from Puerto Escondido due to the windy and often gravely nature of the roads, and a not too difficult 10-15 minute walk once you arrive to reach the waterfall itself. You can also get there by taking a colectivo to San Pedro Mixtepec (ask to be let off at the turnoff for La Reforma) and then hopping on a taxi from there.
Once you arrive at the over 150ft high falls and paying your around 50 cents (10 pesos) entrance fee, you can enjoy swimming in the rock pools below, relaxing by the water’s edge while taking in the whole majestic setting. For $1.50 you can do this from a comfortable lounger or deckchair. There is a small convenience store close to the entrance but we’d suggest taking your own snacks or packing a picnic basket and making a day of it.
If you really want to slow down and take it all in, spend the night at one of the cozy cabanas at La Cascada Encantada (The Enchanted Waterfall), situated right at the entrance, where you can lounge in the pool once you’re done with the falls and enjoy a quiet evening close to nature.
Help support our blog by purchasing the Definitive Guide to Puerto Escondido for only $1.99
By Brendon Cammell and M. Serrato
Author's Note: No website or company has paid a fee to be mentioned in this blog. Any suggestions you see are based solely on our own experiences and personal preferences. All prices have been converted to USD using a rate of 20:1. All the information is for educational purposes only and should not be considered legal advice. Please help support our travel blog by purchasing this guide, which is only $1.99 and available everywhere, including Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and Kobo.
Mexico is one of the most popular travel destinations in the world and a magnet for expats, especially from North American neighbors the USA and Canada. Yet only a small fraction of those who visit or relocate to Mexico ever venture beyond the popular hubs of the Riviera Maya in the east, Baja California Sur in the west, and the capital, Mexico City. While there is plenty to see and do in all three of these regions, Mexico is a vast and stunningly diverse country with so much to offer. There are hidden gems in every one of its 32 states, but few shine more brightly than Puerto Escondido.
Puerto Escondido means “hidden port” in Spanish, which fits neatly into the narrative about it flying under the radar. However, it’s far from a backwater. In fact, it’s considered the surfing capital of Mexico and attracts surfers from all over the world. There are multiple surf shops where you can buy or rent surfboards if you’d like to try surfing one of the many popular beaches.
This city of around 30,000 inhabitants is located in the state of Oaxaca. It’s a region famous for its diverse and enduring indigenous cultures, fantastic culinary traditions and for being the birthplace of the famous Mexican drink Mezcal.
Fun fact: Did you know that Mezcal is called the “elixir of the gods”? There are several popular distilleries in Puerto Escondido where you can visit and learn about traditional and ancestral distillation processes and taste dozens of different types of Mezcal.
Getting to Puerto Escondido, Oaxaca
Flying to Puerto Escondido: We selected this option because we were a little short on time for this trip and wanted to maximize our exploration days. However, we usually love exploring Mexico by car when time permits as there are so many wonderful small towns and little-known sights that you’d never see any other way. Luckily, our co-author Brendon has traveled to and from Puerto Escondido using just about every mode of transport available and filled us in on the best overland travel options. For now, back to the flights...
Like many tourist towns in Mexico, Puerto Escondido boasts its own small ‘international’ airport. In reality, the vast majority of flights arrive from Mexico City, the central hub that connects most regional airports in Mexico to other states and countries. This makes it a simple enough journey from any place that flies to Mexico’s capital, and that list is long. This means you usually only need to make one layover when flying from most major cities in North America and Europe.
There are usually upwards of eight flights arriving from Mexico City daily, with four different carriers - namely VivaAerobus, Aeromexico, and Volaris. Flight prices are quite reasonable, with the average ‘light’ fare starting at around $60-80 USD for a return ticket, although this can vary drastically depending on how far in advance you book, the dates you wish to fly, and whether you have any checked baggage or special equipment such as a surfboard or golf clubs.
The flight from Mexico City’s Benito Juarez International Airport to Puerto Escondido takes a shade over an hour, meaning you barely have time to reach cruising altitude before beginning your descent. The only other destination with direct flights to Puerto Escondido International Airport is Guadalajara, however, there are usually no more than a couple each week.
Overland Travel Options
While flying to Puerto Escondido is cheap and straightforward, many travelers prefer to take the overland option so that they can take in some of Mexico’s other unique sites and places along the way (and save a few bucks). Some expats even make the epic road trip from the United States or Canada to bring their cars with them when they relocate. It’s a long drive from the US border to the coast of Oaxaca, but one that allows you to truly see the ‘real’ Mexico. However, that’s another long post all on its own. For now, we’ll be concentrating on getting to Puerto Escondido overland from Mexico City and the also not particularly creatively named state capital of Oaxaca, Oaxaca City.
Traveling by bus: If you’re arriving in Mexico by plane and want to travel overland to Puerto Escondido or just about any other destination, you’ll likely end up traveling primarily on ‘luxury’ intercity busses that zig-zag the country and can get you to most cities and even many towns. For starters, most of these intercity busses are quite comfortable, in many cases more so than their North American and European counterparts.
You can usually expect air conditioning, a comfortable reclining seat, and a clean onboard restroom at a minimum (after a couple of hours winding through the mountains the restroom may not be quite as ship-shape anymore, but someone will get on to clean it at most stops). Bus tickets are also cheap, with a trip from Mexico City to Oaxaca City costing between $25-50 and Oaxaca city to Puerto Escondido around $30. While this may not sound much cheaper than taking a flight, these prices include virtually unlimited luggage, making them a far more affordable option for those who are traveling with multiple bags.
In total, you’re looking at around 18-19 hours of travel time if you take the bus option, with the Mexico City to Oaxaca City trip taking 6.5-8 hours and the Oaxaca City to Puerto Escondido route around 10-11 hours (this bus takes you on a roundabout route that also passes through the city of Salina Cruz). There are many intercity bus companies in Mexico, but by far the largest and most well-known is ADO.
Almost all the bus lines running on the above-mentioned routes are part of the ADO group. These include ADO Platino (the “fanciest” option), ADO GL (another higher quality option) and the standard but still comfortable ADO and OCC lines.
These minibuses are generally well maintained, clean, and perfectly safe to use. Just keep in mind that you’ll need to wait for the halfway stop to use a restroom. This route also takes you along an extremely windy mountain road whose near 180° bends will test your sea legs as much as any boat ride.
Traveling by car: If you’re coming to Mexico in your own car or picking up a rental once you arrive, the drive to Puerto Escondido from Oaxaca City will take you along the same windy mountain road that the colectivos use. The drive itself is only 162 mi (260 km) but takes a little over six hours due to the never-ending twists and turns of Highway 131. It might be heavy on the stomach but it’s also extremely easy on the eye. On the way, you’ll pass through the stunningly beautiful mountains and valleys of the fertile Madre Sierra region, taking in everything from high altitude forests to tropical vegetation along the way. Despite the windiness of the road, it is generally well maintained and is considered safe to travel on.
If you’re planning on doing this drive on or after 2022, you’ll be able to take advantage of the new Oaxaca - Puerto Escondido federal highway that has been under construction for several years, with the completion date continually being pushed back. However, the current Mexican administration has promised the people of Oaxaca that it will be completed next year. Its official name is the Barranca Larga-Ventanilla Highway and it will more than halve the travel time from the state capital to the coastline, with the journey expected to take around 2.5 hours in total.
Once You Get There: Housing in Puerto Escondido
If you’ve read any of our other guides or blogs, you’ll know that we are big fans of Airbnb and self-catering accommodation in general. Not only do you get more bang for your buck than you would from a hotel, but you also get to stay in places that feel more like a home than a sterile receptacle for tourists. Whether you’re searching for a place to live, doing research about relocating or just visiting, self-catering accommodations in houses or apartments can help you to get a real feel for the place you’re visiting.
Like most coastal areas in Mexico frequented by tourists, there are certainly some nice hotels and resorts in Puerto Escondido, however, the self-catering vibe is definitely dominant.
We stayed in a place called Suites Casitas and were very happy with our choice. It was within walking distance of several beautiful beaches (more on those later) and had everything we needed for a comfortable stay - including a pool, a beautiful outside area with sitting space, and most importantly a clean and comfortable living area that was suitable for a family. The location was also fantastic. It’s right on the “Rinconada”, the main strip in the area we stayed in, called Bacocho.
Please note: for a “main strip” it was by no means loud, overly busy, and thronging with drunken tourists. There are plenty of good restaurant options, a couple of bars and multiple laundromats, which we found a little strange as almost everyone seemed to be wearing nothing but swimsuits.
When choosing a place to stay in Puerto Escondido, you need to take into account not just the kind of accommodation you want to stay in, but which area you’d like to be in as well. While location is important no matter where you are, Puerto Escondido is virtually split in two.
Zicatela is a lively area that is popular with tourists and locals alike. It takes its name from the awesome 2.2 mi (3.5 km) long Zicatela beach, its defining feature. The word Zicatela means “place of the long thorns” in the indigenous Náhuatl language. There are more food and drink options here than in any other area of Puerto Escondido. It’s also the area with the most B&Bs, hostels and hotels. The prices and quality of accommodation range from backpacker friendly to boutique chic, meaning you’ll encounter an eclectic mix of people as well.
Head south to the bottom of the beach and you’ll arrive at Punta Zicatela or “La Punta” (the point). With its unpaved streets, vegan restaurants and yoga studios, it’s undoubtedly the “hippy heartland” of Puerto Escondido. If you’re the kind of person who likes to wake up surrounded by tropical vegetation and roll out of bed onto the beach, you’ll find several BnBs and hotels in La Punta that offer exactly that. Just keep in mind that the beaches in this part of town are best for surfing, not swimming.
Both La Punta and Zicatela play host to a vibrant nightlife scene that includes plenty of live music, DJs and beach parties. This means that nights can be quite noisy if you stay near the main strip. Add to this the fact that it’s not uncommon to be woken up at the crack of dawn to the sound of roosters and you can see why these two areas are most suited to those getting up early to surf or do yoga and staying up late to enjoy the nightlife.
As we already mentioned, Bacocho is the area we decided to stay in when we visited Puerto Escondido. In contrast to Zicatela and La Punta, it’s known for having a quiet and laid-back atmosphere. It’s primarily a residential neighborhood where the streets are lined with fruit trees and gorgeous flowers. The main attractions in the area are the Rinconada, where you’ll find restaurants, coffee shops, bars and shops, and the multiple beaches that are within walking distance from any part of the neighborhood. We’ll discuss these in further detail in our dedicated ‘Puerto Escondido Beaches’ section. For now, let’s continue to focus on Bacocho itself.
While it is possible to find budget accommodation in the area, in general, this neighborhood is best for those looking to rent a house or apartment or stay in a boutique hotel. A quick search on Airbnb or Google maps (zoom the map in so that it only covers the area you’re interested in) will bring up plenty of options suitable for single travelers, couples or families and groups. Many of the properties in Bacocho have a pool and a large rooftop terrace. Both of these features are really helpful when it comes to staying fresh during the day, especially during the slightly warmer and more humid months from May to October.
In general, you can find all the basic household necessities and food you may need at one of the small tienditas (little shops) that are scattered throughout the area. However, neither Bacocho nor Zicatela have a full-sized supermarket or market. For those, you’ll need to head into the center of town, which is right between the two neighborhoods and takes just 5 minutes to reach by taxi or around 25 minutes walking. There are also plenty of options for accommodation in the central parts of the city like Reforma and Hidalgo, with the latter close to the Playa Principal (main beach) and a couple of other beaches that are frequented mainly by locals. The prices are a little lower in these areas as they cater more to the local market.
Puerto Escondido: A Foodie’s Paradise!
Oaxaca state is widely considered the culinary heart of Mexico. Each year, chefs and food lovers from all over the world come to explore its myriad flavors and unique traditions. Oaxaca produces high volumes of coffee, cacao and vanilla. The markets are filled with wide varieties of fruits and vegetables, including quite a few you’ve likely never heard of or tasted - most of which are totally delicious.
You’ll also encounter even stranger fare such as fried chapulines (crickets), gusanos rojos (red worms) and the seasonal delicacy of chicatanas (a type of leaf-cutter ant). There’s also mole (a complex sauce that comes in near-infinite varieties), huitlacoche (an edible fungus that grows on corn) and of course, the agave-based drink Mezcal.
Oaxaca City is the undoubted center of all of this deliciousness and a melting pot for the diverse culinary traditions found throughout the state. If food is your thing, we highly suggest you plan some time there when creating your itinerary or make the trip up from the coast once you’re settled in if you’re relocating to the area. That said, you can also find all of the above-mentioned goodies and much more, even in humble Puerto Escondido. In the rest of this section, we’ll fill you in on some of the best restaurants in the city, coffee shops, shopping at the open-air market and finding street food.
Restaurants in Puerto Escondido
The restaurant scene in Puerto Escondido draws much from Oaxaca’s rich ingredients and culinary traditions while also mirroring the diverse mix of people that can be found here. Those looking for vegan, vegetarian, gluten-free or healthy choices won’t be disappointed either. In general, there is a good mixture of high-end establishments and everyday options that offer excellent quality at affordable prices. Here are our top suggestions for eating out in Puerto Escondido:
They offer breakfast, lunch and dinner service, which is rare in Mexico where many places only open for either the first or second half of the day. The food is homey, hearty and tasty - with the Mexican dishes cooked in an authentic “abuelita” (grandmother) style. Prices are good and the portions are extremely generous. The only real downside to eating here is that there can be queues to get a table during busy periods, although you normally don’t have to wait very long as their turnaround time is quite fast.
Cafe Azul ($) - Cheap, wholesome and delicious Mexican food and breakfasts cooked in a homey style. This hidden gem is almost always packed with locals, a great sign no matter where you are in the world. Located in Bacocho. (address: CALLE LAMBYETECO ESQ, GUELATAO, FRACC. BACOCHO 71983 Puerto Escondido, Oaxaca, Mexico).
We’d love to review all our favorite eateries in Puerto Escondido individually, but there just isn’t enough space for that in this blog post. We cover several more locations, including several coffee shops in our Puerto Escondido guide (which is a much more expanded version of this blog post, and available here).
Puerto Escondido Beaches: A Surfer's Paradise
Of all the amazing attractions Puerto Escondido has to offer, its beaches are the sandy, sunswept jewels in the crown. In total, you have seven to choose from, ranging in size from the small protected bays of Playa Coral and Carrizalillo to the long, wide stretches of Playa Zicatela and Bacocho.
Whether you’re an expert surfer, wouldn’t mind learning to ride a wave, fancy a spot of snorkeling, prefer a relaxing dip and some sunbathing or simply want to stroll down a quiet strip of sand while enjoying the waves and a gorgeous sunset, Puerto Escondido has you covered. Here is some info about each beach, including which activities they’re best for and how busy they get:
Playa Zicatela (Surfer’s Paradise): The most well-known beach in Puerto Escondido plays host to the country’s most famous wave, the Mexican Pipeline. It’s this wave that makes the city Mexico’s surf Mecca and attracts thousands of surfers a year, especially in the big wave season during the Northern Hemisphere summer when the southern swells kick into full force.
There are a couple of surf and bodyboarding contests held on the beach during this period. However, the power of the waves and strength of the undertow on Ziactela also means it’s unsuitable for swimming. Many unprepared tourists need to be rescued by lifeguards each year.
The biggest breaks are found at the north of the beach. Those looking for something a bit less advanced can head south to La Punta, where the waves range from small enough for beginners during winter months to an intermediate level during the big wave season. Non-surfers should stick to long walks, enjoying a few drinks with friends or strangers (yes, drinking is allowed on most beaches in Mexico) and taking in the sunsets or sunrises while watching the surfers get smashed.
To reach Playa Carrizalillo you’ll need to walk down (and back up) a relatively long and steep set of stairs. This can be a bit tough in the middle of the day, especially if you’re a little out of shape or not accustomed to the heat. That said, anyone can do it, and we’d highly advise that you do. The view from the top of the stairs is one of the best photo ops in town, with the beautiful beach, palm trees and blue waters below framed perfectly by the bay.
Due to its insane natural beauty, suitability for swimming and relatively modest size, Carrizalillo can get a little crowded, especially in the afternoons. We suggest going in the morning while it’s still quiet, but even later in the day it’s never so full that it becomes unpleasant.
Let’s just get this out of the way- Yes, Puerto Escondido is the kind of place that has so many great beaches that they warrant an entire section in a travel guide. We cover a few more beaches in our guide, including Playa Bacocho, Playa Coral, Playa Principal and Playa Manzanillo. (Part 2 of this post is continued here).
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Reader Question: Hi, my wife and I currently live in Central California, which seems to get worse every year in terms of taxes, crime, and even gangs. There was never any graffiti or violent crime in my town growing up, and now it seems to be constantly on the rise.
We have visited Mexico several times and enjoyed the culture and basically everything about it. I work online and can basically move anywhere. I am looking to relocate to San Miguel de Allende, or possibly Playa Del Carmen (haven't decided yet!).
My wife and I have a 10 year old son and another baby on the way, I guess our main concern is about schools. Right now our oldest is in a public school but online-only because of COVID, so we can continue doing this after we move, but we want to eventually make a "clean break" and put our kids in a good private school. Can you give us any advice on taking the plunge? It seems that this is the only thing that's really stopping us. We are so ready to get out of California for good! Any advice would be appreciated!
~Michael and Jeanie
Answer: We were in the same boat when we moved from Northern California in 2016. Tons of crime and gangs, and we were SO DONE!
We visited Mexico several times before we "took the plunge". It ended up being a great decision for us. We put all our kids in a bilingual private school and they are thriving now. Even our oldest, who had so many issues in his U.S. school, is now getting good grades and is testing well in all his courses, he's also made tons of friends. It took about 2 years for him to be comfortable here, we did pay for a tutor the first two years to help him along at first, but now he speaks Spanish and English equally well and he is on track to graduate with all the "normal" kids in his class. It was the best decision we ever made for our kids. My advice is just to do it, give it a try.
~Be free! Expatriate!
No website or company has paid a fee to be mentioned in this blog. Any suggestions you see are based solely on our own experiences and personal preferences.
Just a middle-class family with three young kids, looking to escape the rat race. This is our journey!
If you have a question for us, please contact us directly using our email here.