Esconced on the lower Pacific ¨Emerald Coast¨ in the state of Oaxaca, the town of Puerto Escondido (which means ¨hidden port¨) was up until the 1960s barely a pinprick on the map, with dirt streets and just a handful of residents mostly devoted to fishing. Then in 1960 a coastal road reached the village, making it accessible to the outside world, and a village hall was built. Most consequentially for tourism, it was during that decade that surfers (pioneered by a group of Venezuelans, according to a local historian) discovered the gnarly waves here, putting it on the world surfing map and leading non-surfers to discover it as well. Today the state´s number-one coastal town boasts a permanent population of around 30,000, but has still hung on to its authenticity, with a very off-the-beaten-track feel where casual and laid back are the order of the day, with none of the mass tourism and big resorts that are all too common elsewhere on this coast. Come to kick back, unwind, and soak up the beaches and the barefoot vibe. And here are five of the top things to do in Puerto:
Wicked Surf´s up at Playa Zicatela
Located a 15-minute drive east of the center of town, in the surfing world this coconut-palm-lined, three-kilometer (just under two-mile) stretch of sand is considered the third best on earth, and hosts a number of top-level international competitions, in August and November, although the month for the wildest waves is June. The "Mexican Pipeline" is this country´s largest wave, sometimes reaching ten feet in height - and after Hawaii´s Banzai Pipeline considered one of the world´s most powerful. If you´re not up to tackling these gnarly behemoths (and they´re really not for the inexperienced), just kick back and one of the many beach bars and eateries and watch the surfer boys (and girls) have at it. (There are also small hotels and guesthouses for overnighting.)
More Beautiful Beaches
It´s not all about hanging ten around here. A number of other great strands offer sunning, swimming, snorkeling, and water sports amid calmer waters. Top examples include Playa Carrizalillo , down a 160-step stairway to a secluded, cove just under a thousand feet long, with plenty of lively beach bars and medium surf; La Punta, with a laid-back, boho atmosphere and also good surfing suitable for intermediate skill; Playa Manzanillo, close to the east of Puerto Angelito; and Playa Bacocho, lined by beach bars, eateries, and clubs. is another another stunning beach in the area that features gentle surf and fewer crowds.
Soaking Up the Local Scene
The tourist strip is Calle Pérez Gasga, better known as the Adoquín (¨cobblestone,¨ after what it´s paved with), and it´s definitely the place to be, lined with bars, restaurants, and artisans´ stalls. Plus after 5 pm, no cars are allowed and the street really comes to life, with nightlife carrying on till the wee hours, if that´s your thing.
The Giant Sea Turtles of Santuario Playa Escobilla
Yet another type of nearby beach is a 75-acre eco-sanctuary halfway between Puerto and the resort town of Huatulco. Between July and January thousands of Olive Ridley sea turtles make their way here in order to build nests, lay their eggs, and then make their way back out to sea. Then in September and October their hatchlings emerge and scramble to the sea. Local conservation groups run supervised tours of both, and witnessing this miracle of nature can be a life-changing experience.
Wildlife Spotting at Manialtepec Lagoon
Set between the foothills of the Sierra Madre del Sur and the coast a 20-minute drive west of Puerto, this 15km-long body of brackish water is encircled by mangroves (which can reach heights of up to 15m), and with the village of San José Manialtepec alongside it. During the rainy season (June through October), the water levels rise as the lagoon connects with the ocean, and this is a great time to experience the area´s rich wildlife, which include a multitude of bird species as well as iguanas and possibly even a crocodile or two. You can take it all in from the village docks and restaurants along the water, but most folks rent a kayak or take a boat tour to get a closer look. And the rainy season is also a good time to come at night to witness the bioluminescent algae, which lights up when it comes in contact with fish, people, or paddles - a very cool sight indeed!