The sea looks deceptively calm from the concrete roof of my little hotel on the beach in Puerto Escondido. It’s hot, and the wind kicks up some dust from the street of sand below. I’m at the far end of Zicatela beach, a spot called La Punta (the point).
From this angle the straight blue line of ocean towers over the beach, where good waves come crashing in day and night. I see small concrete houses, including a pink castle, but no high-rise exclusive condos. I hear the ceaseless crash of the waves, but no beachside street traffic. The Oaxaca coast is a little far from everything, and the roads to get here are a little too curvy, but there is plenty of return for making the extra effort.
Puerto Escondido is right about in the middle of Mexico’s southern coast. Its main beach Zicatela is a surf beach. La Punta is the spot on the far end of the beach from Puerto Escondido. Called La Punta for its rocky point break, it’s full of surfers all day. The beach is wide and clean. Small houses and hotels are visible between lots of palms, all set back from the beach. As of now there is no hotel larger than a story or two, no pumping beach music, no hustlers. Only every third building in La Punta is made for tourists: small hotels/hostels, good restaurants, and at least one Spanish school. The rest is all for the locals: grocery stores, laundromats, private homes, a church.
I ruin my bodyboard in the heavy breakers my first day out. I keep thinking to rent a surfboard, but I’m not so good and am happy just swimming all afternoon. Plus, my legs are already sore from the several hour runs I do on the beach each morning. If you go around the rocks and cliffs past La Punta, you will find a near-virgin beach on the other side. There is only just a little development on the hills above, none on the wild beach.
8 Venado, my hotel/hostel, is family-run, clean, and convenient. I get a sizable room with balcony and private bath for 100 pesos, or about $8 US. They also have dorm rooms. The best feature for me is a sizable open-air kitchen. I can pay a little more for a hotel (you can go cheaper than 100 pesos in Oaxaca) and will more than make up for it by brewing my own coffee and making simple meals, like Mexican buns (teleras) with mango jam.
A sand-road block up from my hotel is a great four-way. On one corner is a falafel place, the other a burger place, and then next to the burgers is a pizza place. It’s all first rate: all-beef grilled burgers, thin crust pizza, and the first falafel I’ve found in Mexico. All have outdoor seating, and if they don’t serve beer then they don’t mind if you bring your own. Prices are low at less than $5 a meal.
I venture into Puerto Escondido proper for Mexican food in the market. First we go to a juice bar – I have an alfalfa mixture and my friend gets straight-up orange juice, each for about $1.50. Then at one of the little market restaurants I have mole negro and my friend gets a big seafood soup of fish, shrimp, clams, and octopus. Each meal is about $3 US, drink included. If you ever want authentic eats, go to the little restaurants in the market, and always choose the busiest one.
Then I go around to buy some essentials: a big bag of finely ground, rich local coffee, some almonds, some raisins, and a big 3-day papaya. This all costs me around $12 US. The larger, more enclosed part of Puerto Escondido’s market has the stuff for tourists: t-shirts, handicrafts, beach gear.
The walk along the beach from central Puerto Escondido back to La Punta takes about an hour. You pass through the more developed part of Zicatela with its little tourist strip of restaurants and souvenir shops. It’s set back from the beach and not too gaudy. Here I see some even cheaper hotel deals – as low as $4 US a night advertized. At night it’s a place to stroll with a big, sweating Michelada in hand.
Farther along are more hippy-like establishments. My friend and I stop at a bar/coffeeshop full of books and cool carved masks.
Puerto Escondido is a about half a day from Oaxaca City on a very twisty road. Be warned if you get carsick. Second class buses and combis are cheapest at about $5 for the trip. The place to go is the second class bus terminal by the Centro de Abastos, a big market in Oaxaca. On the way to Puerto Escondido you will pass San Jose del Pacifico, a mushroom town in the mountains; Pochutla, a good hub for all points on the Oaxaca coast; and low key beaches Zipolite and Mazunte. You can also get direct buses from Mexico City. Check out this post for tips on bus travel in Mexico.