aerial view of turquoise waters of playa carrizalillo
Unbeatable sunsets and endless mezcal add to the appeal. | by Marc Guitard/Moment/Getty Images
Playa Carrizalillo in Puerto Escondido | by Marc Guitard/Moment/Getty Images

What to Do in Puerto Escondido, Mexico’s Chillest Surf Town

Kick off your shoes and kiss the winter blues goodbye.

As far as Mexican beach destinations go, the Oaxacan port town of Puerto Escondido hits all the sweet spots: It’s moderately developed, laid back, and caters well to tourists while remaining blissfully free of mega resorts and hordes of spring breakers that are staples of places like Cancún. What you’ll find instead is a mix of affable locals, surfboard-wielding Aussies, backpackers, and wellness types, all commingling in a laid-back state sans shoes or shirts on the southern Pacific Coast.

It’s one of those Neverland places where people “accidentally” miss their return flight and stick around for a while. Whether you’re here for four days, or your four days transform into a full season, here’s everything to see and do when you make the trip.

swings on the beach with sign that reads "zicatela"
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Best places for first timers to visit in Puerto Escondido

By day, you’ve got it all: waves that draw a global surfer set, yoga minus the crowds of Tulum, and some of the best shores in Mexico. By night, there’s everything else you’d expect from a surf town: fantastic sunsets, impromptu dance parties on the beach, and plenty of mezcal—this is Oaxaca, after all.

After decades of flying under the radar, Puerto Escondido has transitioned from a humble fishing port into something of a global surfing hub. Playa Zicatela's Pipeline boasts some truly gnarly waves, and that's where you'll find the most experienced wave sharks. Other must-do activities include baby turtle chaperoning, boat charters, lazing on the beach, and eating and drinking your way through picturesque beach towns where you’ll find the breeze calm, the vibes utterly chill, and the people endlessly friendly.

close up of hands pouring salsa over taco
Almoraduz

Where to eat and drink like a local in Puerto Escondido

Not surprisingly, fresh seafood is one of the highlights of Puerto Escondido’s culinary scene, but an influx of international expats in recent years means you can find just about any cuisine you crave. Head to the huge Mercado Zicatela, and on its beach-side you’ll find a string of tasty restaurants offering traditional Mexican dishes. For a stellar catch of the day, head to La Principal Cantina La Mar or Marisquería Los Erizos. For dinner, splurge at Almoraduz, a seasonally driven Oaxacan restaurant with a lengthy wine list.

Come nightfall, check out lively beach spots like Palapita Bar or Playa Kabbalah in Zicatela. On the other side of the street, you’ll find live music and a heavy vagabond vibe at Casa Babylon. And, if you’re looking to cut loose, dance, take shots, etc., there’s the infamous Bar Fly.

man holding tropical cocktail
Bikini Puerto Escondido

For healthier food, juices, and cocktails, head to Piyoli. Thai-Mexican spot Lychee, meanwhile, offers one of the best atmospheres in town (it’s always dim and romantic). And for the freshest seafood imaginable, swing by Restaurante el Dorado in Adoquín and they’ll happily connect you with a fisherman, then cook up whatever you happen to catch. Elsewhere, Restaurante Alicia has beach service, a solid menu, and a balcony view. After dinner, wander the streets to find some action: You can’t go wrong with the swing seats at cocktail bar Bikini or the bar games at SOS.

colorful beach shacks on zicatela beach with mexican flag
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Puerto Escondido neighborhoods you can’t miss

El Centro

While I don’t recommend staying in El Centro (there are no beaches after all), there is delicious food to be had. One of the best spots is La Parrilla Mixteca, a traditional Mexican cafeteria where you’ll find more authentic cuisine. Be sure to check the Benito Juarez Market, where your senses will be inundated with color, scent, sound, and, of course, flavor.

Zicatela

Start off with a bang (so like, a drink or five) at Zicatela, the main tourist drag and, thus, home to the town’s wildest parties. This is a great place to stay if you want to be in the center of the action. Grab fancy tacos at La Olita, go beachside at Sativa, or snag a mess of shrimp on the beach at a place that seems to have no name—on Google Maps it is labeled simply as Restaurante.

big surfer waves hitting puerto escondido beach
Arkadij Schell/iStock/Getty Images

Playa Principal

At the heart of Puerto Escondido is the main beach of Playa Principal, which runs alongside the Adoquín neighborhood. This area leans more Mexican than tourist (despite the trinket shops), offering a slew of inexpensive restaurants, a night market, and a few of the town’s loudest clubs. The beach is the main hangout for locals, and it’s where you’ll find fishermen working while their families watch and play.

Rinconada

After the market, wander into Rinconada, a quiet residential area that offers access to the stunning beach coves of playas Coral, Carrizalillo, and Puerto Angelito. Thanks to their protection from big waves, these coves offer some of the best swimming in town if you don’t mind a crowd. Here, you can also rent everything you need to paddleboard, snorkel, or surf.

La Punta

Soothe your hangover and mingle with the wellness crowd in La Punta, a laid-back area with cheap hostels, camping, mostly good restaurants, and pleasant sandy streets. The beach here is one of the best in town for swimming and sunsets, and no one wears shoes.

wave crashing on an olive ridley sea turtle
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Nature and outdoor experiences in Puerto Escondido

Swimmers and surfers who are still getting their feet wet should head to Playa Carrizalillo, a beautiful horseshoe cove rimmed by lush greenery and a few bars, or to La Punta, the Bohemian neighborhood at the far end of Zicatela where the surf is protected by the curved beach point. Surf schools like Oasis Surf offer lessons on a daily basis.

For fishing and wildlife boat tours, head over to the marina at the north end of the Adoquín and ask around until you find a good price (somewhere between $1,800 to $2,500 MXN, or about $90 to $125, for five hours or so). There are charters offered by small businesses all over town, but you can get the best rate by going directly to the fishermen themselves. Depending on the season, time of day, and how lucky you happen to be, you’ll often spot sea turtles, stingrays, dolphins, and even humpback whales.

Speaking of wildlife, the Baby Turtle Release Centre (the name says it all) can also arrange a time for you to van out to one of the remote beaches, where you’ll watch the tiny turtles making their way to the sea.

beach view from balcony of casa kuaa hotel room
Casa Kuaa

Puerto Escondido hotels and other great places to stay

Puerto Escondido’s laid-back reputation among travelers means it tailors well to most types, whether you prefer a cheap hostel, a rental home, a campsite, or a luxury hotel. Grab a bungalow at Villa Mozart y Macondo, or have a luxury experience at La Punta’s new Casa Kuaa if you’re looking to lap up a little luxury while in town.

For a wholly unique hotel experience, drop some coin on the Hotel Terrestre. This stunner is actually 100% completely off the grid. Hotel Terrestre uses solar power, and guests are encouraged to unplug while there. The property has 14 villas, each of which feature furniture custom-designed by renowned Mexican architect and designer Oscar Hagerman.

people swimming and sunbathing on playa manzanillo
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What to know before you go to Puerto Escondido

Best times of the year to visit

If you’re in it for the waves, the largest are mid- to late-summer, but the surf is great year-round. Late spring is the rainy season (and I mean pouring tropical storms), and that’s when Puerto Escondido becomes a ghost town. However, the end of May marks the annual Surf Open Puerto Escondido, which draws top surfers from around the world (exact dates tend to shift with the surf swell).

The high-and-dry season spans December to April, when the weather is pretty perfect. This is also peak party season—especially around Christmas and New Year. The beachside bars of Zicatela are full, and after-hours dance parties often erupt on the beach. Said parties attain peak revelry when they correspond with the full moon.

Puerto Escondido time zone

Puerto Escondido falls under Central Standard Time (CST)). This translates to one hour behind New York’s Eastern Standard Time and two hours ahead of California’s Pacific Standard Time.

The weather and climate

Puerto Escondido is classified as having a tropical climate, with year-round heat broken up by a drier season from December to April and a humid, rainy spell from June to October. Thanks to its low latitude and mountain protection, most days are sunny with few winds. While Puerto Escondido maintains consistently warm temperatures throughout the year, May is the hottest month with an average high of 86 degrees Fahrenheit and a low of 78 degrees Fahrenheit and January is the coldest month with a high 83 degrees Fahrenheit and a low of 72 degrees Fahrenheit.

people walking along shoreline of puerto escondido beach
LMspencer/Shutterstock

Languages

Mexican Spanish is the local language, although the influx of travelers here means much of the population speaks at least some English. If you’re struggling with your Spanish, you should be able to get by.

How to get around

First, you need to actually get to Puerto Escondido. Part of what kept PE off the radar so long is its remote location. To reach its tiny, barely existent airport, you’ll almost certainly be flying in via Mexico City. Once you’ve disembarked, you can either hop on the shuttle—which grabs up as many passengers as possible, then splits the cost accordingly (about $50 to $60 MXN, or around $2.50)— or take a taxi for anywhere from $200 to $500 MXN, or about $10 to $25.

Puerto Escondido is scenic and best explored at a comfortable stroll, and cabs are plentiful if you need to give your feet a break (Uber is not operating here at present). There are also a few scooter rental companies, if that’s more your vibe.

The currency

Puerto Escondido uses the Mexican peso (MXN) and each peso is worth 100 centavos. As of January 2024, $1 USD exchanges for $17.18 MXN.

International adapters you’ll need

Puerto Escondido uses the same plugs as the US (type A and B). Standard voltage is 127V and the frequency is 60Hz.

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Nick Hilden is a travel, fitness, arts, and fiction writer whose work has appeared in the Los Angeles Times, Men’s Health,The Daily Beast, Vice, Greatist, and more. You can follow his weird adventures via Instagram or Twitter.