Whenever we think back on the amazing beaches we’ve been to during our travels, two words come to mind: Puerto Escondido. This magical place, which literally means “hidden port,” is somewhere we dream of returning to often.
A tiny town of 45,000 on the Pacific Coast of the state of Oaxaca, Puerto Escondido has long been popular among Mexicans looking for a beach vacation getaway. It first came to the attention of outsiders for its world-class surfing waves, but you don’t have to be a surf fanatic to enjoy this little piece of paradise.
This article will help you figure out what to know before you visit Puerto Escondido (or “P.E.” for short). We also made a handy visual map showing you a lot of the places mentioned in this series:
This article is part of our Puerto Escondido series. For more information, check out our other related articles:
- Daily Life in Puerto Escondido, Mexico as an Expat or Nomad
- Best Places to Eat in Puerto Escondido, Mexico
- The Beaches of Puerto Escondido, Mexico
Why Stay in Puerto Escondido?
There are many excellent reasons to visit P.E., and unlike some other places we’ve written about, it would make a fine short-term or long-term destination. We liked it so much that we stayed here twice; first during the winter of 2015-2016 and second during the winter of 2016-2017. Combined, our stays totaled about four months.
If you’re a surfer or interested in learning, P.E. is a no-brainer. Zicatela Beach boasts such great waves that it makes the top 10 best surfing locations on the planet! Although we don’t surf, the waves were simply stunning (some would say terrifying) to watch. We never got tired of staring entranced as these 1.5 – 2.5 meter monsters crested and crashed to shore. There are many surfing schools here catering to all skill levels. And there are plenty of calmer areas to start with before tackling the giants.
Even if you’re not into surfing, you might enjoy the laid-back and relaxing vibe P.E. offers. The beaches themselves have beautiful golden sand, and Zicatela Beach in particular stretches over 3 kilometers. There’s plenty of space to find a quiet spot to relax. You can catch jaw-dropping sunsets from this west-facing beach.
While hot, the temperature didn’t often feel overbearing. It definitely makes a welcome respite from the winter cold. Access to modern conveniences is adequate, and best of all the cost of living is incredibly low!
Getting to Puerto Escondido is not necessarily easy; there’s a reason it was “hidden” for so long! In fact, until the 1960s, the only way to get to the tiny fishing settlement was by boat.
Nowadays you realistically have two choices: air or bus. To get to P.E. by air, you’ll need to arrive via either Guadalajara, Mexico City, or Oaxaca City. These are the only three cities offering direct, regular flights there. Flying in is preferable if it lines up with your overall travel plans because the roads leading to P.E. traverse windy mountain ranges and the nearest large towns are many hours away.
If you must travel by bus (we had to our first time!), be prepared for a long, uncomfortable journey. The nearest connecting towns are Oaxaca City to the north, Tuxtla Gutiérrez to the east, and Acapulco to the west. We took an overnight bus in from Tuxtla Gutiérrez and barely got any sleep due to the crazy driving through the mountains, too-cold A.C., and overly loud onboard movies. Pay for the most “luxury” bus option you can find – trust us, it’s still affordable and you’ll keep (more of) your sanity.
Puerto Escondido’s climate is tropical and humid, with a relatively flat temperature profile year-round. Highs average 29°C (83°F) in winter and 30°C (86° F) in summer. Lows average 22°C (72°F) in winter and 24°C (76°F). The hottest temperatures actually occur during the springtime rainy season, when lows don’t get below 26°C (78°F) on average.
A key skill for livability here is managing the heat. Certain areas felt “breezier”/”shadier” than others. The best was Zicatela Beach (Zicatela proper or La Punta), which had some pleasant breezes due to being right along the ocean. In contrast, the city center and Rinconada areas were a little more sheltered and therefore felt hotter.
Air conditioning isn’t common in P.E., so try to find a shaded beach bungalow if possible to avoid the worst of the heat. Also, be aware that mosquitoes are present in certain areas. So if your accommodation isn’t air sealed (unlikely unless you have A.C.), make sure it includes a mosquito net. Overall, the mosquitoes weren’t really that bad, but you don’t want to get bit up at night if you can help it.
Best Time to Visit
The best time to visit is during the winter months of December – March, when the temperature is slightly cooler and there’s hardly any rainfall. During this period, each day is consistently beautiful, warm, and sunny!
If you can avoid it, we’d also recommend avoiding the high season of Christmas and Easter. After all, P.E. is a popular tourism destination for local Mexicans as well as foreigners. For Christmas, the last two weeks of December are all considered “high season,” and hotel owners raise their prices significantly. For Easter, you’ll want to avoid Semana Santa, the week leading up to and including Easter Sunday.
However, if you can arrange to be there long enough before these holiday periods and arrange a long-term stay, you can probably avoid the worst of these price increases.
As always, our experience with safety in a city is personal, subjective, and anecdotal. That said, we generally felt safe in Puerto Escondido overall. Like Mérida, there is a visible police presence here. Every so often you’ll see military-style trucks with armed and shielded troopers patrolling the main street or along Zicatela beach.
Cartel violence and extortion are sadly a fact of life in Mexico right now, but generally speaking the gangsters and bad actors avoid targeting tourists. Corrupt local governments sometimes have infighting that can spill out onto the streets as well. The military/police presence here mainly exists to protect tourists and make them feel safe.
In terms of petty theft, we never had any problems in the town itself. Only on our final flight out of the P.E. airport did we have an issue. Airport personnel broke open a TSA lock on my checked luggage and swiped some small items worth about $100 USD. So be extra careful to keep all your most important valuables in your carry-on luggage and secure your checked luggage as best as you can when flying into/out of P.E.
Finally, stray dogs seemed to be a problem in Puerto Escondido as well. To be fair, this was concentrated in the La Punta (south beach) area to a much higher degree. But there were so many stray dogs roving around La Punta (often in packs!) that we wouldn’t want to live there. It was particularly scary in this area at night with poor lighting and gangs of roving (starving? desperate?) dogs howling.
Neighborhoods (Where to Stay)
There are four main “neighborhoods” (beaches, really) to consider living in Puerto Escondido: Rinconada, Bahía Principal, Zicatela, and La Punta. Let’s explore these areas from north to south.
This little enclave in the north/west section of P.E. is a popular choice to hang out among young backpackers as well as retired expats. The main drag along Benito Juárez street is a flat bluff relatively high up above sea level. It’s set back a bit so you probably won’t get the same majestic ocean views you can find in the other areas. However, we like the secluded vibe and cute little shops and restaurants in the area. It almost feels like its own little village since it takes a bit of an uphill walk to even get to Rinconada from the town center.
The biggest draw to living in Riconada is easy access to Playa Carizalillio, the most stunning beach in P.E. and perhaps all of Oaxaca. There are also some Surf + Spanish schools in this area, which is convenient since Playa Carizalillio is a protected cove with much gentler waves than Zicatela.
Our sense is that the Airbnb and rental prices are somewhat higher in Rinconada, perhaps due to a relative lack of supply. We never ended up staying in Rinconada, but visited there often when we lived in P.E.
Another name for this area could be simply “the city center.” It has two of its own beaches: Puerto Angelito and Bahía Principal. We didn’t spend much time in Puerto Angelito as it seemed too busy/overcrowded for our tastes. It seemed to be the beach of choice for families with kids since it is quite sheltered with gentle waves.
The beach of Bahía Principal curves into Zicatela beach and has intermediate-height waves that are good for body boarding if you prefer that to full-on surfing. It’s also the beach where local fishermen park their humble wooden boats after going out for their morning catch.
This is the area where the bulk of the local population lives and consequently has the most conveniences including the one and only supermarket, Chedraui. The accommodation options here are a bit more modest, but were the most affordable in our research. Another advantage to living in Bahía Principal is the easy access to both Rinconada to the west and Zicatela to the south.
We lived in Bahía Principal for about 3 months straight during our second trip to P.E. We loved the affordability, ease of getting around, and relatively faster internet. The biggest downside was the tendency for the heat to “settle” into the bay, making it the hottest-seeming area in this list. It also is the least “picturesque” area in terms of how you’d imagine a pristine beach to look.
By far the longest beachfront in Puerto Escondido, Playa Zicatela is the most iconic area of P.E. in our minds. If you want that picture-perfect oceanfront view, Zicatela is the place for you. We stayed here for a month the first time we were in P.E., and could literally walk barefoot from our bungalow to the beautiful golden sand of Zicatela beach in 20 seconds.
Accommodation here isn’t the cheapest, but there is a good supply of lodging options since the beach is so vast (about 3 km) from north to south. You can find good deals here, especially if you look for a place during the off-season when supply vastly outstrips demand. Be aware that a lot of these options (hotels, BnBs) are geared towards shorter-term tourists and so they might be lacking in amenities like kitchens and laptop-friendly desks for working.
On that note, internet speed was not great along Zicatela Beach the last time we were there (2016). We got the impression that it just wasn’t a priority since the property owners expected their guests to be surfing or sunbathing all day long.
The main street running along Zicatela Beach is Avenida Del Morro. It seemed to us that 90% of the businesses along this drag were either hotels or restaurants, so there’s plenty of options for either. Grocery options along Zicatela were extremely sparse. In fact, you could easily skip cooking altogether and just gorge yourself on cheap delicious Mexican food if you wanted to.
All things considered, Zicatela was our favorite area for living in Puerto Escondido.
The full name for this area is actually “Punta Zicatela” or “Playa Punta Zicatela.” To avoid confusion with the other Zicatela beach, we and others just refer to it as “La Punta” (the point). Technically it’s the same beach, just the far south end of it. But it deserves its own section because it truly has its own unique vibe.
La Punta is the premier surfing area in all of Puerto Escondido. Consequently, it has the highest proportion of hardcore surf heads and hippie-type people, mostly foreigners. It would not be uncommon to see 30+ people drifting in the surf in the afternoon, hoping to catch the next big wave.
It has a picturesque beachfront similar to Playa Zicatela, but is a lot less developed, for better or worse. The infrastructure here is very simple and there are fewer restaurants, fancy hotels, and overall conveniences. If you like things a little wilder and want to “disconnect” a bit, this may be perfect for you. Accommodation prices here are probably the second cheapest after Bahía Principal.
This was the first area we stayed when we first arrived in P.E., and it was nice for the three nights we booked, but we were ready to find a different spot for our extended stay. We just found it too difficult to get groceries, the restaurant options were limited, and the internet speed was poor. Realistically, you have to take a taxi to get to town every once in a while, which is annoying and more logistically challenging than it may seem.
Finally, be aware that La Punta is the area with poor street lighting and roving packs of stray dogs, which made walking around at night feel a bit sketchy.