(Continued from Part One, here...)
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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.
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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 dad and mom with three young kids, looking to escape the rat race. This is our journey!
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