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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