Mexico // Oaxaca //

Puerto Escondido and around

Though no longer the tranquil hangout it was thirty years ago, PUERTO ESCONDIDO (“Hidden Port”) remains an irresistible draw. With direct flights from the capital, kilometres of sandy beaches and an international surf reputation as home of the “Mexican Pipeline”, Escondido has firmly established itself as a destination. For all the crowds, though, the place has managed to retain a languid, laidback air; small-scale, casual and uninhibited, there is still the hint of the village it once was, and it’s a world away from resorts such as Cancún. This is most evident in the early morning, when fishermen return to Playa Principal, their boats laden with marlin and red snapper. While there are a tremendous number of hotels to choose from, the majority tend to be small and basic, catering to long-stay travellers. Most of the visitors are young, with surfing high on their agendas.

Broadly speaking, Escondido can be divided into four areas. Puerto Escondido itself sprawls across a hill behind the bay, divided by Hwy-200 into a busy Mexican town inland, where few visitors venture except to catch a bus or visit the bank, and the tourist zone behind Playa Principal. Here the central section of the main thoroughfare, Avenida Pérez Gasga, is known as El Adoquín – Spanish for “paving stone”. Closed to traffic at night, it’s packed with shops, bars and restaurants. Most surfers, however, hang out not in Escondido itself but in Zicatela, barely a kilometre to the east, behind the chief surf beach, Playa Zicatela. Where once stood just a few weather-beaten huts, there’s now a thriving community with dozens of hotels and increasingly sophisticated restaurants and bars. Non-surfers and surf groupies have also latched on, and Zicatela is arguably now a bigger destination than Escondido town.

For those seeking the alternative vibe that Zicatela once had, the action has moved down to La Punta, 3km away at the far end of Playa Zicatela. Here the sand streets, wooden shacks, camping and cabañas (though not necessarily the prices) recall a simpler era. In the other direction, west of the centre, the rapidly developing neighbourhood of Rinconada, with access to the calmer beaches at Puerto Ángelito and Carrizalillo, is quieter and more family oriented, with a number of lovely boutique hotels.

Zicatela hosts a huge surf tournament in November, and lesser ones throughout the year. The sea is warm pretty much year round, and the summer rainy season can leave the town oppressively humid, with a vacant, lacklustre air, that doesn’t deter the hard-core surfers.