It’s been exactly four months since we left our home-for-seven-weeks in Puerto Escondido (PE), so I just went back and read my last PE post to recall what I have and haven’t said yet. We really loved our time in PE, although I mentioned in my last post, we definitely got bored being in such a small town by the end.
According to Wikipedia, the population of PE is about 45,000 people. I’ll quote this next bit from Wikipedia, because I think it is true: “Puerto Escondido is one of the most important tourist attractions on the Oaxacan coast. It caters to a more downscale and eclectic clientele than neighboring Huatulco, mostly surfers, backpackers and Mexican families.”
Downscale and eclectic are apt terms and two of the things we loved most about the town itself, which, despite having very little desire to go back anytime soon (or potentially ever), we really did fall in love with. We walked virtually everywhere, though when going across town, a taxi helped and was generally only 35-40 pesos (under $2). By the end, we felt we’d done most of what PE has to offer (except surf, but we may be too old for that), and it truly felt like home in the time we were there. Here are some of the highlights of our time there.
PE’s greatest attraction is its seven distinct playas (beaches). Our Airbnb was perfectly positioned to be a relatively easy walk to the best snorkeling beach, Playa Manzanilla (and the adjacent Playa Puerto Angelito, which we didn’t like as much), and to the wonderful secluded beach, Playa Coral. We went to the beach nearly every day for about an hour or so, usually snorkeling. We generally alternated between the two beaches I just mentioned, and I think it is safe to call Playa Coral our favorite, as it is situated down a steep path with no businesses to speak of, other than an abandoned resort that adds to the overall feeling of remoteness. We purchased our snorkeling gear in PE at the Super Che, but will be carrying it with us when we’re planning beachside stays throughout the rest of our travels.
The Saturday before we left PE, we played homage to the beaches by hiking from end to end, starting at the Playa Bacocho on the northwest end of town and heading southeast through Playas Coral, Carazilillo, Puerto Angelito, Manzanilla, Principal, and then the whole of Zicatela (by far the longest beach and also the surf beach, known for enormous waves). The beaches aren’t entirely connected, so we had to, for example, walk up the hill from Playa Bacocho and through a bit of town then down to Playa Coral, but we walked all 7 beaches consecutively that morning and had a lot of fun doing it. After a bit of rest on Punta Zicatela (and a couple of beers) we took a taxi back to our apartment feeling very accomplished from our beach hike. Here are the photos we took at each beach that morning.
One of the most popular touristic activities in PE is releasing baby sea turtles into the ocean. We took part in this one early evening (starts about 5 p.m. each night) on Playa Bacocho. It was an incredible experience and I highly recommend it. We walked down at the appropriate time and paid our 100 pesos each (about $5) to Viva Mar, which helps them continue to pay for the program. We and the two dozen other tourists present were divided into two groups, Spanish-speakers and English-speakers, and told about the program. Then we each got an adorable newborn sea turtle to release in the sand about 10 feet from the water. It was incredible. Reaching the water dramatically releases the turtles’ survival rate, so we felt great about the experience and got amazing photos.
In researching a little more about this experience, Chad discovered that our time in PE would overlap with la arribada (the arrival), the time when thousands of pregnant sea turtles return to their home beach to lay their eggs. One top beach for this event is Playa Escobilla, about halfway between PE and Huatulco. Chad reached out to the “ecoresort” there and asked about staying overnight for the arrival (the mother turtles come in the evening). An arribada is not fully predictable, but they promised to reach out to Chad via Whatsapp when the next one started, which they thought would be within a couple of weeks.
As promised, we heard back from the organizers around December 1 and we booked a cabin for two nights so we could wrap up some work stuff. We figured out bus tickets (which, we’d read we should buy tickets to Huatulco and ask to be let out at Escobilla, but the woman at the ticket counter communicated that the Huatulco bus wouldn’t stop and we should book specific to Playa Escobilla on the Sur busline. It was a cheap ticket – $2.75 for both of us. Friendly locals on the bus helped us get off at the right stop and we were a bit taken aback by the Ecoturistico Escobilla “Resort.” It was rustic and nearly abandoned. The people there didn’t speak any English, but the lessons I’d been taking in PE helped out and we communicated that we wanted a cabin for the night ($12.50!). After the woman showed us our cabin and let us drop off our stuff and then we followed her back to the main building to buy a late lunch. Honestly, if we’d known there’d be so little to do in Escobilla, we’d have taken a later bus. But, after lunch we gamely walked up to a beach and the walk was quite pleasant (though hot, and very rural!). We were able to cool off with a beer and get some water and snacks from a stand a bit up the road, because we weren’t sure where we’d find dinner, and then rested for a bit.
We walked up to the main building around 6 p.m. to catch on to a baby turtle release tour that would also coincide with seeing the moms arrive on the beach. It cost more than the one on Playa Bacocho (around $15, I think), but we basically had a private tour guide for the experience. Of course, he didn’t speak English, and also didn’t read, limiting Chad’s communication with Google translate, but with my rudimentary Spanish (I took 15 hours of private lessons from the Spanish School run by our Airbnb host) I got about 40% of his explanations.
He was very knowledgeable about the tours and sweet. We released a bunch of babies onto the beach and a highlight was how our guide protected them by throwing sand at the circling birds. Then, as dusk was falling, the mothers began arriving. It wasn’t quite thousands (he mentioned there’d been many more the evenings before and the arrival was pretty much over), but it was still really neat to see the dozens of turtles we did. We watched them dig their nests and then with one of them, our guide cleared away the sand and shone in his flashlight so we could see the eggs being dropped. It was very cool and an unforgettable experience. I highly recommend it. We tipped him well upon return and then enjoyed our snacks before an early night to bed. Bright and early the next morning we caught the bus back to PE by standing on the side of the road about where we’d been dropped off. It worked, and we were back in time to have a late breakfast in our apartment.
Late fall is a great time to base in Puerto Escondido, as they have their “fiestas de Noviembre,” a series of events throughout the month. Our apartment was right by the Agencia Municipal square, where much of the action took place (and a mini-carnival lived throughout the month). The highlight fiestas were the fishing competition on Playa Principal and the surf competition on Playa Zicatela. It was a really fun time to be in PE, and gave us more to do than there otherwise would have been.
We were in PE for the holidays as well, and they do a big celebration with fireworks for the festival of the Virgen de la Soledad, who is the patron saint of Oaxaca and fishermen. With the holidays we also created a couple of our own celebrations. For Thanksgiving, we enjoyed a huge breakfast from La Cafecita (achieving that classic Thanksgiving ate-too-much feeling) and then went to Playa Coral and built a “sandman” to use for our Christmas card photo. It was a lot of fun. That night, we picked up roast chicken from one of the several local rosterias. Honestly, it was hard being away from our families, but we made Thanksgiving work in Mexico.
For Christmas, we created a new gift exchange tradition that fits our travel life. We each gave each other three experiences for the coming year: one a freebie, one a splurge, and one food related. We gave each other virtually the same freebie – amazing parks in Japan (including Nara Park with its tame deer). My splurge for Chad was a trip to Rio Claro Ecoresort during our time in Medellin, and his to me will be a trip to the Kumano Kodo trail in Japan. My food gift to him will be a dessert tour of Brasov, Romania (including his favorite, marzipan) and mine from him is visiting Michelin-star food carts in Asia (we hit a couple in Singapore).
Speaking of food, we ate incredibly well in PE. After seeing how many restaurants there are for a town that size, we decided to stick with our three-nights-a-week eating out that we established in Turkey. However, we’d already found that Mexican food in general is pretty healthy, so we replaced healthy night out with international night out so we could try the other cuisines – French, pizza, Lebanese, burgers, Asian, pretty much any food you’d want. Our cheap nights out were really cheap and our nice nights out were really nice (our favorite restaurant was Espadin for its amazing food and sunset view). Our kitchen proved quite functional for cooking and we got into the habit of buying our produce from Benito Juarez market, which was basically a daily farmer’s market. The Super Che provided everything else we needed. Chad made guacamole nearly everyday because avocados were practically free – he really perfected it. We also enjoyed homemade margaritas with fresh-squeezed lime juice, as limes were also virtually free.
We had a really high quality of life in Puerto Escondido and it turned out to be a wonderful destination for November and December. We reaffirmed what we realized in Budapest that staying somewhere over a month is a little long. We’re not sure we’ll ever be back, but Puerto Escondido will always hold a place in our hearts.
Review of Our Airbnb stay at Mango Surf House #4
Wonderful apartment with so much space and you can’t beat the location. The ceiling fans keep it nice and cool all day. The wifi worked as well as you can get in PE – there were a couple of outages, but these were throughout the whole town. We loved the outdoor kitchen, which was very functional. We found it easy to cook our own meals, but the location is also great for accessing all the great restaurants on the Rinconada and is not a bad walk to the Adoquin. The closest beach, Manzanillo, was our favorite to visit at about a 10-minute walk, but it is also easy to walk to Carazilillo and Playa Coral. We even walked to Bacocho and Zicatela (long walks, but pleasant). There were lots of activities in the square for the November fiestas and the Festival de la Virgen de la Soledad if your stay is in November/December like ours. The owners and all the people in the complex the apartment is in were very kind, especially the housekeepers. We highly recommend for a short or long stay!