By Linda Heslegrave
Looking for hidden coves and quiet spots at a seaside resort to watch the sunset? Maybe you’re hungry for fresh Mexican cuisine with the daily fish catch on the menu. What about whale watching, surfing or simply sunning on a beach? You might be a shopper who likes to scour local markets. Puerto Escondido has all of this and more.
On the Pacific Coast of Mexico’s Oaxaca state, Puerto Escondido is 56 miles north of the busy resort town of Huatulco. Unlike Huatulco with its high rise hotels and cruise ship port, Puerto Escondido retains the charm of a small Mexican town. Originally named Puerto Escondida (“hidden port”), under its newer name the area is largely unknown to American tourists. Fishing, and coffee and chocolate production, are the principal activities in the area and offer visitors culinary delights. Tourism is growing, but the town is easily able to absorb vistors.
Beaches, beaches, everywhere
Beaches dot dozens of coves along the coast for sunning and playing in the surf. Puerto Escondido is also a surfer’s paradise; known as the ‘Mexican Pipeline,’ it hosts an annual surfing competition on Zicatela Beach, among the top surfing sites in the world. Not for the faint of heart, surf is high and the rip tides are strong – just the way surfers like it.
Principal Beach, in a protected cove with turquoise blue water, is where locals gather and the less active can snorkel in the mild surf. Arrive after sunrise and watch the fishermen unload their nightly catches – much of it makes its way to restaurant tables for your lunch or dinner.
Bacocho Beach, in the resort area of town, is an ideal getaway area for sandy walks or scrambling over rocks to get to the next beach.
Que Comemos! Puerto Escondido is steadily upgrading its beachside cafes and bars. Foodies are discovering its culinary delights and critics are writing about its restaurants. Along the Zicatela Beach, cafes and bars offer a time out from lazing around on the sand. Along Baja Zicatela< , gourmet restaurants are popping up, offering nouvelle Oaxacan cuisine from different regions of the state. Try garnaches, a popular grilled meat dish, or grilled fish served with sour cabbage salad. Diners with a taste for something different should definitely try chapulines (crickets), a Oaxacan delicacy.
Restaurants along Principal Beach offer diners the opportunity to sit on beach patios for a quick lunch, an afternoon quaff or dinner under the stars with the music of the surf in the background.
Vamos de Compras! Near Principal Beach on Alfonso Perez Gazga Avenue, known locally as ‘el adoquinado’, shoppers can buy wood, ceramics and clothing with distinctive Oaxacan designs, or mescal and fruit liqueurs made locally.
Along Zicatela, it’s all about shopping for the beach, whether its string bikinis, sunhats, sunscreen, new surfboards, colourful flip flops or beach cover-ups with eye-popping designs.
The daily Mercado, the roof covered town market, is where the locals shop. Wandering through the crowded aisles, shoppers will find everything from clothing to food to jewellery and local crafts. Mexico is renowned for its high quality chocolate and that’s what was in my suitcase when I flew home. Freshly cut from the cacao plant, it’s sold in packets that are pure chocolate or flavoured with almond or cinnamon. Perfect for whipping up some hot chocolate or adding to other dishes. Mole is the classic Oaxacan chocolate-based sauce, and market shops sell it ready-made (to add to your dinner).
If you have a shoe obsession, the shops on the side streets of the Mercado offer an astounding variety of casual and dressy shoes and even boots. The styles are distinctive, the quality of the leather is good and the prices can’t be beat. Look for the Made in Mexico label and you’ll head home with some unique footwear.
The Mexican National Turtle Centre, located in Mazunte, brings together multi-disciplinary specialists working to protect the olive ridley marine turtle (commonly called the Ridley). The females scurry out of the surf onto the beach during the annual ‘arribada’ (arrival) to lay their eggs in the same spot where mama turtle hatched. This happens between July and December. At the Centre, watch turtle eggs hatch, learn about different species of turtles and the efforts to protect these sea creatures.
Puerto Escondido is on the whale migration path and they spend winters in the area where they give birth to the next generation. Local fishermen will take you out to sea where you’ll catch glimpses of these magnificent creatures or organized tours can be arranged through your hotel or the local tourist office.
Chacahua, one of the only bird sanctuaries in Mexico, offers the visitor a chance to sail among mangrove-laden islands to see where water birds and song birds make their homes. If you travel to Puerto Escondido in winter, you just might see hummingbirds that migrate here from cold northern climes. They sip nectar from beachside flowers to fuel up for the long flight north. They’ll be back up north soon, so fill up the hummingbird feeders and say ‘buenos dias’ when they arrive.
Where to stay: Puerto Escondido has accommodations to suit every traveller’s budget from low cost hostels to five star hotels. Most of the budget places are on or around Zicatela, a short walk to restaurants and markets. Resort hotels are generally located in the Bacocho district, a 20 minute walk or short taxi ride to town. They cater to visitors who want to lounge around a pool (when they aren’t busy playing in the surf), watch the pelicans offshore or scramble over rock cliffs to get to the next beach. Most have all-inclusive rates (all meals and drinks) but also offer daily room rates.
Getting there: Flights from the U.S. and Canada arrive at Huatulco International Airport with hotel bus/van connections to Puerto Escondido. The highway is being upgraded and the time to travel between the two towns is being reduced each year.
There are two daily flights from Mexico City directly to the Puerto Escondido airport, a 10 minute drive into town.