The Legal Nomads Guide to Puerto Escondido, Oaxaca

I took a short weekday trip to the coastal town of Puerto Escondido, in Oaxaca state, surrounded by sandy beaches and pipeline waves. My skin was happy to get some respite from the dry desert heat of the city of Oaxaca, and the seafood was a fun change from a steady diet of tacos and tlayudas. This piece is my Puerto Escondido guide, sharing where I ate, where I stayed, and the best beaches to surf and swim.

The name Puerto Escondido means “the hidden port”. While I assumed it derived from the camouflaged bays around the town, there is a more interesting story. According to Marc of Mexican Corrido,

Legend has it that a pirate named Andrés Drake kidnapped a young Mixtec woman from the village of Santa María Huatulco. While the pirates were camped out in the bay of what is now Puerto Escondido, she escaped and hid from her evil kidnappers. The pirates referred to her as “La Escondida” and every time they returned to the bay they looked for her. Afterwards the bay became known as Bahía de la Escondida.

The port was established in the early 1900s to ship coffee, but a town (and potable water) was only established in the 1930s and onward. The first airport, on what is now Zicatela beach, was completed in 1939. In the 1960s, Highway 200 (the Coastal Highway) was built, connecting Acapulco with the towns on the Oaxaca coast. Today, Puerto Escondido belongs to two municipalities, Santa María Colotepec and San Pedro Mixtepec — and they don’t see eye to eye on about which of them should govern the town.

Compared to nearby Huatulco, full of high-end resorts, Puerto Escondido is still relatively quiet and low key — though the New York Times did include it on their 2017 “where to go” list. It is popular with travellers from Oaxaca and tourist from elsewhere in Mexico, but there are also charter flights directly from North America. I met more French Canadians during four days on Zicatela than I did in my many months of living in Oaxaca de Juarez.

For my purposes, Puerto Escondido was lovely few days away from Oaxaca City, with some great food along the way.

NOTE: During the COVID-19 pandemic, Mexico is using a traffic light semiforo system for restrictions to mitigate spread. Please see this government website prior to travelling to see what level of alert the region is prior to traveling. As of May 20, 2021, Oaxaca state is in a “green” level, meaning schools are open and activities have resumed. Please check back prior to travelling to confirm what level the state is at prior to arrival.

If you are heading there during the pandemic, please remember that many people in Mexico do not have good access to care or are isolated from medical care. These days, responsible tourism means not infecting those around you whose livelihoods depend on your tourism dollars.

puerto escondido oaxaca mexico
Plus, bonus SHARK HOTEL.

Puerto Escondido: Where to Swim, Where to Eat, and Where to Stay

Location of Puerto Escondido, Oaxaca
(c) Explorando Mexico 2017

Overview of Puerto Escondido, Oaxaca, and When to Visit

Some brief information to know before you go.

Fast Facts about Puerto Escondido

  • State in Mexico: Oaxaca State
  • Municipality: San Pedro Mixtepec
  • Elevation 60 m (200 ft), a big change from Oaxaca City!
  • Local dialing code: 954
  • Postal code: 71980
  • Population: 29,903 (updated as of the 2020 census)
  • Time zone: UTC-6 (CST)

When to Visit Puerto Escondido

As you can see from the map above, Puerto Escondido is right on the coast and not far from the popular resort town of Huatulco. See the “Getting there” section below for access to the region. From Oaxaca, it’s not as straightforward as it seems.

If you don’t mind crowds, visit anytime from January through May or October through December — those are the drier months, ones where you will not be prey for a cloud of angry, hungry mosquitos. Or, a little less mosquitos at the very least!

If you want to avoid the crowds, I’d also carve out the weeks of spring break in Mexico (for this year it’s April 6-17th 2020) and the Christmas holidays, when the beaches are packed with tourists from Mexico and elsewhere.

Layout of Puerto Escondido

There are three main beaches in Puerto Escondido town: Playa Marinero, Playa Principal, and Zicatela. In addition, you can visit the smaller coves mentioned below, better for swimming. As its name would suggest, Playa Principal is the most central. Parallel to that beach is Avenida Perez Gasga, a walking street known locally as the Adoquín. The Andador, a long scenic boardwalk, also begins at Playa Principal and loops west along the rocky cliffs.

West of Playa Principal are the smaller beaches that make for great swimming: Puerto Angelito, Manzanillo, and Carrizalillo. East of Playa Principal is Playa Marinero, and then the beach where I stayed, Playa Zicatela, followed by La Punta. The strongest waves are at Zicatela, which is why surfers knew about this town long before the snowbirds and tourists settled in.

Note: several friends have been robbed at gunpoint and knifepoint in Puerto Escondido, some off Playa Principal and some in La Punta. I recommend that you stay off the beach at night time, or very early in the morning. I had no trouble myself, but I only wandered around when there were quite a few people around.
how to get to puerto escondido
On the descent into Puerto Escondido

Where to Swim and Surf near Puerto Escondido

If beach time is what you seek, you have a few beaches to choose from.

Playa Manzanillo and Puerto Angelito

The same bay houses these two beaches, which are separated by rocks. Both beaches are calm, without the strong undertow of Zicatela. That said, they do get a bit crowded as the bay isn’t that big. Lots of palapas to rest under, beers to drink, and places to stake out with a comfortable mat or towel. Good spot for snorkeling. You can rent a lounge chair with plastic pillows and the shade of a big umbrella. Be warned, though, boats motor right up to shore during high season to pick up and drop off tourists for a boat tour of the area.

Playa Zicatela

Zicatela for the surfers, with far too strong an undertow for swimming in safety. The beach is famous for its giant Pacific waves that crash to shore. Surfing events like the World Surfing League’s Puerto Escondido Challenge are held in Puerto, and waves come in at 6-15 feet during peak season.

The Encyclopedia of Surfing describes it better than I can:

“[A] savage Mexican beachbreak tube located on the northern tip of the Gulf of Tehuantepec, in the state of Oaxaca; often called the “Mexican Pipeline,” and universally agreed to be the world’s gnarliest sand-bottom wave. “Some people love it,” local ace Coco Nogales said of Puerto in 2011. “Some people get pounded, turn around, head for home and never come back.”

Also in Zicatela, you’ll find heaps of food, beachside bars, fish tacos and beer joints, and late night parties on the weekend.

puerto escondido beaches
Beautiful sunset along one of Puerto Escondido’s many beaches.

La Punta de Zicatela

Walk east at the water’s edge past Playa Zicatela and you will eventually hit La Punta, the main backpacker area and with a lot younger crowd than Zicatela on a given day. Also far less Mexican tourists, and more hostels. With thatched roofs and dirt roads, I forgot I was not on the Perhentian islands for a minute or two.

With costs in Zicatela rising, La Punta is still more budget in both accommodation and food. You can swim there, but it’s also known for surfing and features both bigger waves and smaller ones, ideal for learning if you’re looking to take a lesson or two.

While I’ve focused on swimming, I would also recommend a trip to the bioluminescent lagoon at the Laguna de Manialtepec, not far from Puerto Escondido. Many tour operators offer this as an evening trip, and having been elsewhere in the region, it’s a magical thing to see. If you have your own transport, you can do the trip without a tour by heading west about 20 kilometers on the Carretera Puerto Escondido — Acapulco 200. Without traffic, it ought to be about a 20-25 minute drive. Take the exit for La Puesta del Sol, and from there you can book a 1.5-2 hour bioluminescence tour for approximately 250-300 pesos per person ($11-13.50 USD in 2020).

Some tour operators will allow you to swim in the bioluminescence, which is trippy is it sounds, but caveat emptor: there are crocodiles in the lagoon. So you might want to make sure you really want to go for that swim.

Playa Carrizalillo

With 167 steps from the cliff down to the sea, you’ll need to work to get to and from this tiny beach — but the effort is worth it. Carrizalillo is located about 5km (3.1 miles) north of Zicatela. I should have recorded a supercut of the taxi driver making me repeat the name Carrizalillo until I got it right (it took 6 times). Soft waves, beautiful inlet, palapas with margaritas and more. And a sunset drink overlooking the shore if you so desire.

Umbrellas and lounge chairs are free of charge if you order a drink or food from one of the vendors that manage them, though tourists have reported a ‘minimum spend’ during high season.

playa carrizalillo in puerto escondido
Playa Carrizalillo

Other Nearby Beaches like Mazunte, Zipolite, and more.

In addition to Puerto’s beaches, there is plenty of swimming and exploring to be had in Mazunte, Agua Blanca, Tierra Blanca, Zipolite, La Ventanilla, Puerto Angel, and San Agustinillo. I didn’t have the time — but I plan to return and explore a little more.

Restaurants in Puerto Escondido: Where I Ate

This was a short trip by my standards, but I tried to eat in as many Puerto Escondido places as I could. As you all know, I travel for food! So here is a round up of where I ate.

For a Seafood Medley: Fresh Restaurant and Lounge

The seafood cazuela appetizer at Fresh Restaurant and Lounge was so good I returned a second time. Their other offerings are also delicious, although the crowd skewed 100% expat/tourist. Good wine options, and main courses were generous. Their guacamole also very tasty.

puerto escondido restaurants
GET IN MY BELLY

For Great Grilled Fish: Costeñito Cevichería

While the name suggests ceviche, it was the fish that I loved most at newcomer Costeñito Cevichería. The restaurant does have delicious ceviches on offer, but the 400 peso grilled fish, which came with potatoes, salad, and other sides, was one of the best things I ate in town. We were two, but the meal was easily enough to fill four people.

You can choose between oregano and butter, or parsley, garlic and lime. Or do as we did and go half and half.

This was a nighttime shot with my phone, but it shows just how big a fish you get. Fish is whatever catch of the day was hauled in, super fresh.

Best restaurants puerto escondido
Butterflied fish, two ways, grilled on an open fire.

For the Best Cheap Breakfast or Brunch: El Cafecito

I loved eating my first meal of the day at El Cafecito, both for the people watching and the food. Their half portions were so generous I often couldn’t finish the plate, and of all the options I stand by the huevos Oaxaqueños, eggs cooked in a spicy tomato sauce and topped with quesillo. They are served with refried beans, some totopo chips, and a side of tortillas. For those who eat bread, the restaurant has an on-site bakery that friends swear is worth the trip. The cafe has two locations, one in town and one on Zicatela beach, but both are very popular – for good reason.

For a Seafood Fry Up: Coco Fish

My friend Ian recommended the fiery octopus and shrimp at Coco Fish Zicatela, a bit further down the beach. The meal comes cooked in a spicy ‘diablo’ sauce, with rice, salad, and fruit. For 200 pesos, it’s more costly than the usual meal in Oaxaca or on Playa Principal but it was extremely tasty.

where to eat in puerto escondido oaxaca
Spicy fish and octopus stir-fry with rice, at Coco Fish

For the Best Sunset Margaritas: Espadin

Highly, highly recommended to grab a sunset drink at Espadin Restaurant on Playa Carrizalillo after your swimming is done. Wonderful views, delicious guacamole and a really beautiful space. If you’re hungry still and fancy a splurge, get the grilled octopus. Note: they are only accepting reservations due to COVID-19 restrictions, no walk ins.

carrizalillo beach puerto escondido
Sunset at Carrizalillo beach

For Seafood Paella: Bungalows Zicatela

I really enjoyed the paella at Bungalows Zicatela, with a huge portion of rice, octopus, fish, mussels, and more. And chicken, lots and lots of chicken.

Bonus: daily 2×1 margaritas between 6pm and 11pm.

where to eat puerto escondido
Seafood paella, with chicken. Tastier than expected!

For a Seared Tuna Salad: Lychee Thai

If you go to La Punta for a sunset — which you should — stop in for a seared tuna salad at Lychee Thai Restaurant. There’s often live music in the evenings. To get there from Zicatela you can grab a taxi. If a daytime visit, you can walk back along the beach but I would not recommend it.   during the evening.

For Middle Eastern Food

El Sultan on Boulevard Benito Juarez, next to the Minisuper 69. The restaurant is cheap, offers falafal, hummous, salads, and for those who can eat bread lots of pan arabe (pita) for sopping up any leftovers on your plate. Good value for great food.

Best Place to Stay in Puerto Escondido

I stayed at Bungalows Zicatela, which I booked via an online site. They’re available on quite a few of them. The place has two pools, a restaurant, and really lovely staff with a dog named Pancho.

The price was very reasonable, the staff accommodating, and the pools were great. Wonderful views from the top floor over the water, too.

where to stay in puerto escondido
Pancho, the loveable mascot of Bungalows Zicatela

If you are sensitive to noise, don’t book the sea view rooms during the weekend, as the bars boom music from the beach until fairly late.

For other options, check out Casa Dakiri (dorms and 2 or 3-bed suites), Casa Losodeli (3 different room options) for private rooms or dorms near Zicatela beach. For a laid back barefoot vibe, Hostal Frutas y Verduras was recommended by readers.

How to Get to Puerto Escondido from Mexico or Abroad

While it looks like an easy trip from from Oaxaca City, the drive requires a small bus (6-8 hours) over the mountains. The road is not so easy.

Another option is to take a short flight on Aerotucán.

The mountainous stretch from the city to the coast includes the continental divide, meaning that rivers flow both toward the Gulf of Mexico and the Pacific. Though the drive is fairly short, the road’s path includes a lot of nauseous curves. If you get carsick, you might want to fly.

I opened for the flight for that reason. The flights take place at dawn and offer an incredible scenic view of the rolling mountains in Oaxaca State, as well as that smile-inducing time when the plane curves back over the ocean to gain height for the return. What is a 6-8 drive is a 26 minute scenic flight.

how to get to puerto escondido
Your chariot.

Cost was 180$ USD return from Oaxaca.

From Mexico CityAeromar and the budget airline VivaAerobus fly to and from Mexico City frequently.

From elsewhere in North America, you can fly to Huatulco, 1.5 hours from Puerto Escondido. Aeromexico, WestJet, Air Canada, and United all fly from points in the USA and Canada to Huatulco, including Vancouver, Toronto, Edmonton, Calgary, and Montreal in Canada, and Houston, LA, San Francisco, New York, and Boston in the United States.

Thus concludes my short Puerto Escondido guide! I’m still working on the guide to Oaxaca City, but that will be a bit longer yet.

Specialty Guides about Puerto Escondido

  • If surfing is your jam, Surfer Today’s Puerto Escondido guide is here, with the gear you’ll need, where the most advanced waves are, and where to catch other ones. (2019)
  • Curbed’s guide to Puerto Escondido focuses on architecture and design, here. (2019)
  • Mapping Along on the sea turtle conservation programme Vive Mar, here. (2019)

Further Reading about Oaxaca and Mexico

Oaxaca Journal, by Oliver Sacks. Oliver Sacks’ fern obsession brought him to Oaxaca and Southern Mexico, fellow ethnobotanists in tow. This book is his journal from the trip, about the culture he comes into contact with, about chocolate and history and Zapotec ruins. In his characteristic, entertaining style, he combines natural curiosity with fascinating exploration. Really loved this book.

The Essential Cuisines of Mexico, by Dianne Kennedy. Dianne’s Oaxaca cookbook is one of my favourites, but also comes in at 10 pounds (!) and is a very difficult read to carry around! Instead, start with her Essential Cuisines, covering the different foods of this culinarily complex country, recipes and history built into one book.

The People’s Guide to Mexico: by Carl Franz & Lorena Havens (Author). Instead of a classic guidebook, opt for this thorough cultural guide to Mexico, now in its 14th edition. From planning trips, bargaining, cultural fiestas and taboos, and a lot more, this book is a thorough resource for even the more experiences wanderers.

-Jodi

40 thoughts on “The Legal Nomads Guide to Puerto Escondido, Oaxaca”

  1. All that seafood…omg! Looks amazing! Oaxaca is still super high on my travel wish list, hoping I can make it happen in the next year.

  2. Great post. Funny enough, I just found a copy of The People’s Guide to Mexico at a bookshop here in NYC last week. I picked it up as a funny 1970s hippie view of the country, I had no idea it was still being published and updated!

    My wife and I went to Puerto Escondido to visit friends a few years ago. We highly recommend taking a sightseeing boat tour, the variety of sea life we saw was amazing: a half-dozen sea turtles copulating, dozens of dolphins, a whale, even a manta ray. Playa Carrillazo was great for me, since the shaded beach and water protects me from my very rational fear of sunburn. There’s a place next to El Cafecito that has local Mexican craft beers, I highly recommend it because those can be hard to find.

    The bus from Mexico City is one of those plush overnight buses you find in Mexico with drawn shades and bed-like seats and even includes a small meal. The tiny bus from Puerto to Oaxaca brought me the closest to puking I’ve been on a bus ride since childhood. In retrospect, I would have totally taken a plane had I known it was an option.

  3. Hi! are there any other options to get to puerto escondito avoiding both the tiny bus from oaxaca and the tiny plane (I know I would be too scared to take this plane!)? thanks!

    1. Hi Virginia, you can take a bigger bus from Oaxaca to the coast and then transfer to Puerto Escondido. This takes longer as the bus goes around the mountains. The bus goes from Oaxaca via Pochutla & Salina Cruz (10-1/2 hours), and I believe it’s got 3 departures per day.

  4. I have never been more carsick than the minibus ride from Oaxaca City to Puerto Escondido–I would have paid obscene amounts of money to be flown there by halfway through the ride. You definitely made the right choice by taking the plane!

    1. Ack, sorry to hear that! Reminded me of the description of the drive from Chiang Mai to Pai, which I was basically throwing up during the entire trip… so I happily chose the flight ;)

  5. Awesome guide! I live in Puebla and have been wanting to make a trip to Puerto Escondido for over a year now. The explanation of the beaches was especially helpful in deciding where I want to stay, as I had read other conflicting reviews (where you can swim, where you can’t, etc)… and a guesthouse with a dog ALWAYS comes out on top (super cute photo).

    1. Yay! Glad it was helpful. Agreed that a lot of the info is in conflict….I wasn’t actually planning to write anything but when I researched the trip I found the most accurate info came from Oaxaca-based friends, so I just figured “I’ll do a wrap up after!”. Hope you enjoy if you do visit!

  6. Beautiful article! I went to Puerto Escondido last year and I fell in love instantly. I’m not a big fan of surfing so, I took a boat trip into the ocean to catch a glimpse of the wildlife; in particular, the turtles and dolphins. It was an exhilarating experience and well worth the money. I like Carizalillo, it is small, gorgeous, and not too crowded. I would love to visit it again.

  7. Vincent Noiseux

    Great article and pictures. I can see why you love the place. Interested to know approximate prices for meals, rents, groceries and overall costs to stay.

  8. Great photos and even a better write-up. Thanks for including the safety note – I find a lot of writers often forget to add these (which is important for foreign visitors) when writing about slightly dodgy travel attraction areas back here at home in South Africa!

  9. We’re two weeks into our Puerto Escondido trip and enjoyed your article and agree on all your great choices (especially cheap and cheerful El Cafecito and the drop dead views and great food of Espadin Restaurant, our favourite.) Swimmable beaches are a challenge and you have mentioned the small handful available but I would add one more: Playa Bacocho. We stayed at the Posada Real hotel which has a beach club there, but it’s a public beach, right after Playa Carizalillo for anyone and was our favourite as it was very swimmable and far more deserted than Playa Carizalillo which can get quite crowded.

  10. Brita Sigourney

    Do you think a rental car is necessary while staying in Puerto Escondido? How did you get around to and from the different beaches?

  11. I’m headed to Puerto Escondido for the first time this summer. Thanks for the great post! Wondering how safe the local taxis felt? And I think you mentioned other local transportation? Just wondering in general how easy it was to get around. I am not planning on renting a car.

    1. Hi Kris, I took local taxis in the day time and I felt safe. I walked around otherwise. I didn’t wander around alone past 9pm or very early (dawn), which is the same precaution I usually take when traveling in a place I don’t know that well.

  12. Nice report! When was your trip? The post is dated July 13, 2018, but many comments are from March 2017. I’m curious if there are still direct flights between Oaxaca and Puerto Escondido because it seems like it may have changed since last year…, most flights connect in Mexico City, which is an 8-hour ordeal as opposed to 30 minutes. Any advice or knowledge? Traveling in Sept. 2018.

    1. Sorry for the confusion – I recently changed my site to reflect when the posts were last modified, because I consistently go back and update the guides on it, so information was usually a lot more current than the date of publication. Date of the trip was in 2017, and updates have happened since to reflect changes to restaurants, etc.

      No, nothing has changed. AeroTucan still flies direct between Oaxaca and Puerto Escondido. I’ve had friends use it recently, and just re-tested it now before I replied.

  13. Hi, I trust your health/medical emergency is now resolved. Bummed you’re no longer in Oaxaca as I’ll be there for the Day of the Dead this year. Any other food tours you recommend. I’m now changing my itinerary to go to Puerto Escondido instead of to Puebla. Then on to CDMX before I come back to USA. Great tips especially for us lone women travelers

  14. uuuuh, great article, cant wait to be back. In 2 months gonna open/take over a little hostel in Puerto, but havent been back/there for 1.5years! but can’t wait. thanks for sharing.

  15. I just loved this post of yours !! I am in the research phase. Reading this text fell like a glove! Hahaha… I’m more and more in love with traveling.

  16. You covered a lot in your 4 days in Puerto Escondido. If you go again, I highly recommend also visiting Huatulco National Park and the Hagia Sofia Eco-Garden.

  17. Hola, just a correction for you. El Sultan is not on Zicatela, it’s in the Rinconada on Benito Juarez Blvd. It is very good food for a very reasonable price.

    1. Hi Bay, the post is from a few years ago and it was recently updated. Presently Mexico is dealing with COVID at very high levels, and is using a stoplight system (Semáforo) to illustrate risk of transmission/spread. Red is the highest level, and as of late June the state of Oaxaca is still at red (and has been for three months), with only essential services / closed businesses. Friends in the area say that as of early July some businesses will reopen with restrictions (and masks), but the state is not open for business presently.

  18. I can highly recommend Villa Mango Hostel, it’s a more or less new hostel in a non-touristy are with super cheap local food options around.

  19. Thanks so much for writing this article. I’ve been meaning to try surfing in Puerto Escondido but I was concerned with the safety of the area. Seems to be alright, plus all that seafood is all very tempting.

  20. Great article! I first discovered Puerto Escondido back in 1984 before there was an actual building for an airport,there was just a palapa there when you arrived. I went back a couple of times after that but it has been quite a long stretch since my last visit. I would like to visit again once this horrible pandemic is under some type of control. I am a Wildlife Biologist and I’m curious to see how all the changes have affected the local scene.

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