Playa Carrizalillo, Puerto Escondido, Oaxaca
Unbeatable sunsets and endless mezcal add to the appeal. | Leonardo Em/Shutterstock
Playa Carrizalillo in Puerto Escondido | by Marc Guitard/Moment/Getty Images

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

Feel free to lose your shoes upon arrival.

As far as Mexican beach destinations go, the port town of Puerto Escondido, in the state of Oaxaca, hits a sweet spot: It’s moderately developed, laid-back, and caters enough to tourists but is still 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.

By day, you’ve got it all: waves people cross the world to surf, 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.

You won’t want to leave—it’s one of those Neverland places where people “accidentally” miss their return flight and stick around for a while. But you can likely enjoy your fill of PE in about four days. Here’s everything to see and do when you make the trip.

When to go

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’s. 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.

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 rainy season (and I mean pouring tropical storms), and that’s when Puerto Escondido becomes a ghost town. There’s one time that you’ll actually want to visit though: the end of May, when the annual Surf Open Puerto Escondido draws top surfers from around the world (exact dates tend to shift with the surf swell).

Palapita Bar in Puerto Escondido, Mexico
Post up with a beer on the beach at Palapita Bar. | Photo courtesy of Palapita Bar

Day 1: Party and people-watch at Zicatela

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 $50-60 MXN, or around $2.50-3)— or take a taxi for anywhere from $200-500 MXN, or about $10-25.

Start off with a bang (so like, a drink or five) at Zicatela, the main tourist drag with the 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 Terraza, 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.

Come nightfall, check out lively beach spots like Palapita Bar or Playa Kabbalah. 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.

surfers in the ocean
You don’t need to look long to find a surf instructor here. | Oasis Surf & Language School

Day 2: Go surfing (or just chill) in 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.

For surfing, your best place to start is at the crook of La Punta, where you’ll find new surfers practicing and experienced surfers teaching. You’ll often secure a good instructor simply by waiting around long enough for one to approach you and offer their services. If you need some direction, Oasis Surf is a reputable surf school.

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). 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.

fisherman holding fish
Can’t get much fresher catch of the day than this. | Julio Ortega/Shutterstock

Day 3: Eat seafood in Adoquín

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 cheap 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.

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 $1,800-2,500 MXN, or $90-125, 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.

Swing by Restaurante el Dorado and they’ll happily connect you with a fisherman, and they’ll cook whatever you happen to catch. Costa Hermosa is another great place to watch the sunset over a fresh seafood platter, while Restaurante Alicia has beach service, a solid menu, and a balcony view.

From Rinconada, you’ll be able to reach some of the best coves, like Carrizalillo. | CLaimer/Shutterstock

Day 4: Explore el Centro and go swimming in Rinconada

While I don’t recommend staying in el Centro (there are no beaches there), 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.

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 (meaning they can be a bit crowded). Here, you can also rent everything you need to paddleboard, snorkel, or surf.

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.

Mazunte coast
If even PE isn’t chill enough, head to lesser developed Mazunte down the coast. | Emiliano Barbieri/Shutterstock

Keep it going: Explore the Oaxacan coast

If extra time and a sense of adventure spur you toward further exploration, a little over an hour down the Oaxacan coast is Mazunte and its nearby nude beach of Zipolite, which can be reached by bus ($200-500 MXN, depending on which service you use) or car.

In the past, the only car rental service in Puerto Escondido was dubious to the point of scam, but a newer company called Los Tres Reyes has established a positive reputation. There are also a few scooter rental companies, if that’s more your vibe.

Mazunte is considerably smaller and less developed than Puerto Escondido, and it’s a good choice if you’re looking for total peace and quiet. If you’re more interested in city life, you can head inland to Oaxaca City. Located in the mountains, Oaxaca City is known for its stunning architecture and historic churches, delicious food, and, of course, its abundance of mezcal.

But it’s not the easiest place to reach from Puerto Escondido. Without a car, you’re forced to take a notoriously terrible bus ride that careens around nausea-inducing mountain curves for more than 10 hours. It’s an endeavor best undertaken by those with strong stomachs.

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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.