Located on the Pacific coast of Mexico in the state of Oaxaca, Puerto Escondido has recently exploded with popularity among tourists. Surfers, backpackers, and ex-pats have flocked here for its exclusivity, beaches, and nightlife.
Though recently it has gained popularity amongst travelers it hasn’t been completely overrun by tourism which is evident by the numerous unsealed roads and the fact that the locals don’t speak a lot of English. This makes for an even more authentic and exciting Mexico experience.
The translation for Puerto Escondido is “hidden port” and for many years that is exactly what this destination was. Prior to the 1930s, there wasn’t even a town here and it was a port used to ship coffee, cotton, and coconuts. Only recently has tourism well and truly boomed in this destination and for that reason, it is one of our favorite places in Mexico to date.
The copious amount of stunning locations to explore are endless and to truly explore here would take months. It’s for this reason that we have compiled a list narrowing down what we see are the 12 best things to do in Puerto Escondido. So brush up on your Spanish, pack your bags, and strap in.
Where is Puerto Escondido?
Puerto Escondido is a small up-and-coming beach town on the southern Pacific coast of Mexico in the state of Oaxaca. Prior to the 1930s, there was nothing here and now it’s one of the most popular tourist destinations in Oaxaca. Attracting mostly surfers, backpackers, and families of Mexicans on vacation.
When to travel to Puerto Escondido?
The best time to visit Puerto Escondido is when there aren’t as many tourists around and the weather is great. In our opinion, the winter months from December to April is the best time frame to visit Puerto Escondido. The climate doesn’t vary much year-round, being mostly humid and hot on average. The busiest months are from January to March, as well as June so if you want fewer crowds it’s best to avoid these months.
How to get to Puerto Escondido?
The best way to get to Puerto Escondido is via plane and depending on where you’re flying from you can pick up a flight for as cheap as $40 USD. The airport is very small and currently, the only destinations which you can fly to Puerto Escondido from are Mexico City and Guadalajara.
The other option is to get here via bus from Oaxaca City, which has many more flight connections than Puerto Escondido, however, it takes around six and a half hours to drive.
Getting Around in Puerto Escondido
While there is no Uber in Puerto Escondido, taxis can be found in most places. Didi does have service here but we were never able to locate a driver during our stay. Hopping on a scooter to explore the town is the most efficient and cheapest way to travel, at only around $20 USD per day.
If you’re really on a budget, the colectivo hop-on and hop-off trucks drive all around the city for only 10 Pesos per trip. Puerto Escondido is very spread out, Centro to La Punta is around a 50-minute walk on foot, so we definitely don’t recommend walking.
Things to do in Puerto Escondido
1. Experience Dolphin & Whale Watching
Whale watching is one of the most popular things to do in Puerto Escondido. During the months of December to March, a variety of whales converge off the shores of this port town to give birth to their calves. The optimal time to witness the whales in their natural habitat is in February.
It is never guaranteed to see whales on a tour as nothing in the wild is certain however we were lucky enough to witness them in the beginning of March. Initially, we thought we weren’t going to be lucky enough to see them but right as we were heading in we witnessed two humpbacks traveling along the coastline.
There are many tour operators offering excursions and boat trips to enjoy this spectacle up close. While a tour is the best way to witness these magnificent beasts, you can also spot them from the shore, especially Zicatela and Bacocho beaches.
Another great marine and wildlife activity is being able to spot or even go swimming with dolphins. Unlike whale watching, dolphins can be spotted year-round, as well as jumping stingrays splashing in the distance and sea turtles floating towards the shore.
Although 100% guarantees don’t exist with any tour operator it’s almost certain that you’ll at least see a dolphin or two when going with a top-rated trip. The travel desk at Vivo Resorts was able to help us organize our trip and it was well worth it.
2. Go Surfing
As one of the most popular surfing destinations in the world and part of the reason why this destination is booming then it may come as no surprise why this is on our list of top things to do in Puerto Escondido.
Regardless if you’ve never surfed in your life or if you’re a seasoned professional, Puerto Escondido offers something for every experience level.
The best and most popular spot to surf is Zicatela Beach, known for its massive waves and the “Mexican Pipeline”, a wave break only attempted by the very best surfers in the world during the summer months.
Beginning in May and carrying on until the end of September these waves can reach incredible heights of up to 40 feet. The beach is considered one of the best-surfing destinations on the planet with professionals traveling from all over the world to experience the waves.
If you’re a beginner we’d recommend starting somewhere else like Rinconada beach or in the beautiful bay of Carrizalillo. There are many rental shacks located along the beach fronts offering shortboards, bodyboards and longboards. It will cost you approximately 150 Pesos per hour for a rental.
3. Visit Playa Palmarito
There are many awesome beaches to explore in Puerto Escondido and Playa Palmarito definitely does not disappoint. Located approximately 30 minutes north of Zicatela, Palmarito Beach is definitely a must-see while in Puerto Escondido. It is an up-and-coming area and its beaches are almost void of tourism leading to sunsets being exclusively enjoyed – a rare beauty in the hustle and bustle of the world today.
From the shore, stingrays can be spotted jumping out of the water, supposedly to escape chasing predators or shake off attached parasites. If you’re lucky you can see dolphins and whales in the distance however it’s recommended to do a day trip to see them up close and personal.
Due to its remote location and stunning surroundings, we chose to stay at Vivo Resorts for the duration of our stay and it has to be one of the best places we’ve stayed in Mexico by far. Nestled between Palmarito beach and Laguna Manialtepec this stand-alone resort is worthy of its own section within this blog due to the exceptional experience we had.
From studios for couples to villas capable of comfortably accommodating up to 12 guests, Vivo can cater to groups and families of all sizes. Some of the great amenities worthy of mention include three pools (one of which caters to children with a waterslide), two full-sized tennis courts, a spa, and an indoor gym.
Due to its remote location, it is an ideal location for families and couples looking to be a little further away from the noise of Zicatela and La Punta.
If you stay at Vivo and still want to get among the Puerto Escondido nightlife as we did, the staff at reception are more than happy to help organize transport into town which will cost you around 500 Pesos.
Apart from getting out and exploring the nearby area we still spent a good amount of time relaxing by the pool at Coco bar enjoying the incredible views that the resort has to offer.
We at the Travel Bible feel quite strong about sustainability so another thing we really liked about Vivo was that 80 percent of the excess waste from garbage used at the resort is recycled.
The resort has its own well and water treatment to ensure the provision of clean drinking water. Vivo resorts maximize its recycling to reduce its carbon footprint and have a strong focus on ‘being a good neighbor’ by being a town of its own and running the Vivo foundation.
The foundation focuses on giving back to the community by providing a sanctuary for sea turtles, helping a local children’s orphanage, funding medical equipment for the Mexican Red Cross, and helping fund the education of children in schools in the area as well as much more.
4. Plunge into the Cascada La Reforma
Around an hour and a half drive from Puerto Escondido is a remote waterfall in the middle of the Oaxacan jungle. The best way to get to the waterfall is by renting a car or scooter, you can also go with a tour company but we recommend the former as you can go at your own pace.
5. Release Baby Sea Turtles
The Oaxacan coast is one of the best places in the world to witness Olive Ridley Sea Turtles nesting on the shores. The best time to witness this magical event is during the months of July-December.
Playa Bacocho and Playa Palmarito is the ideal spot to release turtles, with Vivo Resorts and Hotel Villa Sol both offering turtle releasing experiences. This is by far one of the best things to do in Puerto Escondido.
Depending on where you choose to indulge in this experience it will cost you anywhere from 50 to 100 Pesos per turtle that you release. Most of the money goes back to funding the foundations that protect the baby turtles.
Is turtle releasing ethical?
At first, we were a little skeptical as to how ethical the turtle releasing experience was but after our own research and further education by the local experts, it made more sense.
In a normal world, no, turtles don’t need our help getting from their nest to the water, they’ve been doing that on their own since dinosaurs roamed the earth more than 100 million years ago.
Among all the other factors that baby turtles have to face and the fact that as little as 3% make it to adulthood, there has been a poaching problem for turtle eggs. It is for this reason that foundations are set up with 24-hour security to ensure that poachers can’t further add to the reduction in their numbers.
Palmarito turtle camp has ensured the safe release of over 500,000 baby turtles having helped many species such as Green sea turtles, Black sea turtles, Olive Ridley turtles, and even occasionally Leatherback turtles.
The baby turtles are never directly handled by participants, but instead are placed in small coconut shell bowls which are used to carry them until they are released.
6. Explore San Pedro Tututepec
A lesser-known destination and thing to do located an hour northwest of Puerto Escondido is the archeological site and town of San Pedro Tututepec. It was the capital of the ancient Mixtecs, an empire that ruled most of Oaxaca around 1100–1522 AD.
Be sure to check out the Museo Comunitario Yuca Saa, a fantastic museum that houses ancient pottery, jewelry, clothing, and other artifacts, signifying that this city was once an important center of trade and commerce over a thousand years ago.
You can reach this ancient site via a colectivo van with “Rio Grande” written on it and transfer to “Tutu” via taxi afterward. Again, we recommend renting a car for the easiest access to the site.
7. Horseback Riding Into The Sunset
Horseback riding in Puerto Escondido is gorgeous due to being able to enjoy exclusive sunsets away from the normal Puerto Escondido crowd. Tours can cost anywhere from $50 to $80 and last for up to 4 hours. We would highly recommend horse riding in Puerto Suelo.
8. Rent A Scooter and drive to Mazunte
Mazunte is a small beach town an hour’s drive from Puerto Escondido by taxi. If you’re on a budget you can take public transportation, but we recommend renting a scooter for the best experience, that way you can go at your own pace and stop at interesting places on the way.
In order to get to Mazunte from Puerto Escondido first head to the main road (Carrera Costera) and wait for the bus going to Pochutla. The price should be around $40 Mexican pesos and just tell the driver you’re going to Mazunte. The bus will stop in San Antonio and from there either take a taxi or colectivo to Mazunte, which is around 10km away.
9. Mercado Benito Juarez
One of the best things to do in Mexico is to visit the local markets to get a sense of the culture and traditions of the locals. There are a few markets in Puerto Escondido but our favorite is Mercado Benito Juarez.
Located right in the center of the city, Mercado Benito Juarez offers a host of different traditional dishes, fresh meats, vegetables, and traditional clothing. We tried an Oaxacan favorite: salted & roasted crickets and surprisingly they were actually The smaller ones are similar to a salted crisp and are definitely worth trying for the experience.
Regardless of the things you’re looking to do and see, Mercado Benito Juarez has something to offer everyone and is definitely worth checking out while you’re in town. Whether it’s for the food or to purchase handmade gifts, make sure you put it on your list.
10. Stroll Along the Night Market
Every night after sunset the avenue Alfonso Pérez Gasga closes off to become a walking street full of vendors selling unique items. The stalls begin setting up at around 6 pm but the optimal time is anywhere from 7.30 pm onwards.
You’ll find Michelada bars, Mexican restaurants, souvenirs, and local artisan crafts. Next to the street, you’ll find Playa Principal, more of a family-oriented beach close to the marina.
11. Manialtepec Lagoon
One of the most popular activities to do in Puerto Escondido is a trip to Manialtepec Lagoon, a wildlife refuge, roughly a 20-minute drive from the city. It’s a popular spot to go birdwatching, with over 270 species of birds to be spotted.
Oaxaca is home to 60% of bird species in all of Mexico, despite the fact that it only accounts for 5% of the total area of Mexico. If you’re a bird fanatic the best months to visit are from December to March and the optimal time to see them is just after dawn.
From parrots to falcons, ospreys, herons, kingfishers, and many more, the chirps and songs can be heard ringing across the lagoon creating an incredible ambiance.
Getting up close and personal to some of these species was a very rewarding and relaxing experience which we would highly recommend. We were lucky enough to spot groups of nesting storks laying eggs just feet above the surface of the water
Manialtepec is also renowned for the popular bioluminescence tour where you’ll see dinoflagellate plankton light up the lagoon when you go at night time.
This stunning phenomenon only happens at certain times each year, when the ocean and the water of the lagoon mix to create the perfect temperature for the plankton.
We weren’t brave enough to get in the water to swim as we went late in the afternoon and the lagoon is home to crocodiles. According to the locals the crocodiles (cocodrilo) in the area used to be hunted so for that reason they stay well clear of people.
The good news for the sake of the ecosystem is that in recent years they have been made a protected species so their numbers are back on the incline.
At night you can spot them with a torch by looking for red eyes glowing over the top of the water. We were lucky enough to spot at least three of them which made us very thankful for our decision not to get in the water.
12. Zicatela Beach
The busiest beach in Puerto Escondido, Playa Zicatela is famous for its long stretch of beach, world-renown surfing competitions, and spectacular sunsets. Parallel to the beach is Avenida Del Morro where you find row after row of restaurants and bars and beach clubs.
The beach itself was one of our favorite places to grab a beer and kick back and relax while watching the sunset. You can use the daybeds for around 200 Pesos each but we’d highly recommend finding beds that are linked to a bar or restaurant.
Ensure you check before using them but usually with the restaurant beds you can use them for free when you make a food or drink purchase.
The other thing that is interesting on this beach that we’ve not witnessed anywhere else in the world is that once the sun dips below the horizon everyone on the beach claps. It is definitely a different experience but it is a great indication of the positive energy that the beach has so make sure to get involved.
Alejandro Cardenas Peralto is where all the action is at with a lot of new bars and restaurants lining the dirt road. The place has experienced exponential growth in the past couple of years, thanks to most tourists flocking to Mexico to escape Covid restrictions in other countries.
This is a great place to go after sunset to grab a drink and some food. Usually, everyone has the same idea so finding a seat in some places can be a little difficult however most places have communal seating which is a great way to meet new people.
A lot of the restaurants and bars close by around 12 am so if you’re looking to carry on the night you may want to look into going to Cactus bar.