Though it has grown in recent years, the tiny village of MAZUNTE remains a languid, laidback place with a dazzling beach. It’s more peaceful than Zipolite, and lacking the party vibe, though still very much with an alternative feel. The surf is less powerful here and at the western end of the beach, beyond the rocky outcrop, there’s a smaller bay where the waves are even gentler and it’s safer to swim. The village’s name is derived from the Náhuatl word “maxonteita”, which means “please come and spawn”, a reference to the Golfina turtles that come here to breed. Mazunte was the site of a turtle industry and abattoir that, at its most gruesome, supposedly slaughtered three thousand of the creatures a day. In 1990, the Mexican government bowed to international pressure and effectively banned the industry overnight, removing in one fell swoop the livelihood of the villagers, who then turned to slash-and-burn agriculture. Since then, Mazunte has been declared a reserve, and more sustainable, long-term ecotourism programmes have been encouraged.
The government-funded Centro Mexicano de la Tortuga is one of the programmes set up to create a new economy for Mazunte. It features an aquarium with some particularly large turtles and a turtle research centre; well worth the visit, especially as proceeds go towards the conservation of this majestic species.
Don’t leave Mazunte without following the trail next to the Balamjuyuc, which runs past the remains of some unmarked ruins to Punta Cometa, a thirty-minute walk. This entrancing park on top of the rocky headland next to Mazunte beach is the southernmost point in Oaxaca, and has mesmerizing views at sunset. The “jacuzzi”, a rocky pool that fills with foamy surf as the waves rush in, can be accessed by scrambling down the rocks at the south end of the headland – it makes a good photo but it’s not safe to go in.
The lagoon at Playa Ventanilla, some 2km west of Mazunte, is home to around four hundred crocodiles, as well as a rich profusion of birdlife. You can test your heart rate by going out on the water in a shallow boat to navigate among the scaly inhabitants.