Anyone who spends half their time in a wetsuit and shreds 10-foot waves has probably heard of Puerto Escondido, which is widely considered one of the top surf spots in the world. But if you’re more of a kook than Kelly Slater (psst, that’s slang for newbie), the home of the Mexican Pipeline is likely unchartered territory. This beach escape on Oaxaca’s Pacific coast has remained somewhat of a secret to mainstream travelers, which means fewer crowds and lower prices than you’d find in other oceanside Mexican destinations, such as Cabo, Cancun, or Puerto Vallarta.
A former fishing village and coffee port, Puerto Escondido (which literally translates to “hidden port”), maintains its off-the-beaten-path charm. You’ll still find coffee here, as well as fresh seafood, local markets filled with the region’s traditional textiles and black pottery, and, of course, stretches of unspoiled sand as far as the eye can see. Whether you plan to ride the waves or prefer to hang ten in a hammock with a good book, here’s how to experience Puerto Escondido.
Where to Stay
For direct access to 12 miles of remote beach, there’s Vivo Resorts – an all-suites luxury property with rates so affordable you can bring the whole family (rooms from $83 per night, depending on the season). The resort is the brainchild of a former professional athlete, which is fitting for a destination famed for an adrenaline-pumping sport. But Cary Mullen, founder of Vivo Resorts and a two-time Canadian Olympian, made a name for himself as a skier, not a surfer. Perhaps it was all that slope time in alpine temps that fueled his vision for a sun-soaked paradise. Here, expect to catch tons of sun at either the beach or one of the three pools. Also, be sure to grab a drink at the swim-up bar (where the staff mixes cocktails in coconuts), and unwind at the open-air spa. When you’re not swimming, sipping, or spa-ing, take part in a one-of-a-kind turtle release. The hotel has teamed up with the local Palmarito Turtle Camp to release recent hatchlings right in front of the property. Their joint effort, along with the help of enthusiastic guests who cheer on the baby turtles as they make their way into the waves, has helped save some 300,000 turtles to date.
If you're looking for a more bohemian experience, consider booking a stay at Villas Carrizalillo. Built on a cliff top, this unique property overlooks a swim-friendly cove that can be reached by a series of staircases. However, if you're looking for a quick dip, just head to the hotel pool. Plus, be sure to stop by the onsite restaurant and bar for easy access to delicious tostadas and refreshing cocktails. The property’s 12 villas range in size from one to three bedrooms, and all but a few units have kitchens (steer clear of Mitla, Colorada, and Escondido if you want to do some cooking of your own). Additionally, by far the biggest event of the day here is (ironically) the sunset, when it’s practically mandatory to have a margarita in hand as you gawk at the spellbinding spectacle in the sky from the hotel’s terrace (villas from $165 per night, depending on the season).
What to See and Do
If you’re well seasoned at chasing the swell, paddle out at Zicatela Beach, which attracts big-wave surfers from all over the world. Beginners, however, should stick to Carrizalillo Beach (where you'll find the swimmable cove mentioned above). Here, the waves are better suited for newbies — plus, you can also take part in some scenic snorkeling here. On dry land, sample the region’s organic coffee from tiny clay mugs at Bi Nisa Café in central Puerto Escondido. There, you can also try mango, pineapple, and peach marmalade – all made in house – as you study portraits of Mexican icons that hang on the walls.
For even more tasting and shopping, head to Mercado Benito Juárez, which is just one block from the city’s main square. Here, take your time browsing the hundreds of stalls that sell traditional black pottery, Oaxacan dresses, woven handbags, pastries, fresh fruit, flowers, and tropical juices. If textiles are your jam, visit Mantelería Santo Domingo, where you can see two wooden looms at work on the roof and then shop tops, table linens, blankets, and bedspreads below. Late-night souvenir seekers will appreciate El Adoquín, a lively strip with bars, restaurants, and handicraft vendors that are all open past 10 p.m.
Where to Eat and Drink
Though all the cheeses, tamales, and tortillas at the market are impossible to resist, save room for a meal at Vivio Resort's signature restaurant, Ernesto’s, where you can sample authentic Oaxacan cuisine. Here, be sure to order the catch of the day prepared with fresh herbs and mezcal, which will forever elevate your seafood standards (lunch entrées start around $6). After your meal, head next door to Mezcalina’s, (the resort’s sports lounge) to kick back, catch a game, and sip tequila.
At Zicatela Beach, Fresh Restaurant & Lounge has a name that perfectly describes the scenic surroundings as well as the menu. Here, score a beachfront table and watch those monster waves crash as you dine on fresh seafood like grilled red snapper (entrées from $8). However, if you're looking for even more killer views, book a table at Espadín, the restaurant at Villas Carrizalillo. Here, order the pineapple guacamole and fish tacos smothered in chipotle aioli — and be sure to snap at least one photo of the water below (entrées from $6). Finally, Almoraduz is a must-visit if you're dying to dive into house-made local cuisine. Chef Quetzalcoatl Zurita sources many of his ingredients straight from Mercado Benito Juárez. Plus, the furniture, ceramics, and cutlery are all created by neighborhood artisans (entrées from $6; tasting menu around $42).
How to Get There
Most international flights will pass through Mexico City (MEX). From there, you can fly either Aeromar, Viva Aerobus, or Interjet to Puerto Escondido (PXM). Flights from Mexico City take about 70 minutes and cost around $80 each way. However, it's a little trickier to fly from Oaxaca City (OAX), as there’s only one flight per day through Aerotucán. Also, it's important to note that you can’t book this flight online. Instead, call the airline directly or send a message to reserve your seat. If you are lucky enough to score the flight, it'll take about 30 minutes and will cost around $130 each way. If you love road trips, consider driving to Puerto Escondido from Oaxaca. The journey lasts around six hours, but if you take Highway 175, you’ll pass scenic agave fields, wild orchids, small villages with handicrafts for sale, and a few waterfalls along the way.