Puerto Escondido in southern Mexico’s Oaxaca state, is exactly the kind of low-key, beach town that our family loves. It is small (about half the population of Zihuatanejo), fairly walkable, has several good restaurants, has beautiful beaches, and most importantly, it is devoid of 20-something drunken tourists weaving around with yard long plastic margarita-filled cups. The town population is made up of a mix of locals, expats, backpackers, yogis, mezcal aficionados, sun seekers and surfers, all seemingly existing quite nicely together (a fact I noted as I watched a man returning from work on his burro chatting with a local restaurant owner).
Possibly the biggest draw to Puerto Escondido are the giant waves of Playa Zicatela’s Mexican Pipeline, where a number of world class surf events are held annually. For the purpose of this post, I want to be clear that I did not surf at Zicatela (although I did take a beginner surf lesson at nearby Playa Carrizalillo). If you are looking for big wave surf travel advice for Puerto Escondido, do not look here. If you are looking for some other fantastic adventures to have in and around Puerto Escondido, (including boutique hotel recommendations), you are in the right place. Take a 2 minute peek at our video or just read on.
Things To Do in Puerto Escondido
1. Best Beaches in Puerto Escondido
Carrizalillo Beach – Playa Carrizalillo
Possibly the nicest all-around beach in Puerto Escondido is Playa Carrizalillo. This beautiful bay is the perfect place to rent a stand up paddle board, boogie board or take a surf lesson (200 – 300 pesos for a 1 hour private). While you do see a lot of families at this beach, you still need to keep a close eye on little ones because the waves can get rather exciting. At 8 and 11 years, my kids were the perfect age and spent most of their time running in and out of the water or riding on boogie boards. You can find just about everything you need at this beach, from chair and umbrella rentals (starting at 100 pesos/day), to surf lessons, to fairly decent food. It should be mentioned that it is a bit of a steep walk down to the beach (not stroller friendly and not fantastic if you have mobility issues).
Zicatela Beach – Playa Zicatela
The most famous beach in Puerto is Playa Zicatela. It is the beach of choice for big wave surfers, but at 4km long, it is also a nice place for a stroll, a margarita or two, or a bite to eat. Due to the massive waves and rip tow, this is not a swimming beach.
Playa Principal is right next to Zicatela, but it is more protected and thus, more swimmable. It often gets quite busy as it is popular with locals, and fishing boats alike (selling fresh caught fish in the early morning hours).
Puerto Angelito has a very protected beach area with small waves. Popular with locals, it has a number of little beach front shops and restaurants. It is also a pick up and drop off point for many boat tours. While pleasant on weekdays, it can be very busy on weekends and holidays.
A half hour drive southeast of Puerto Escondido (towards Huatulco), Agua Blanca is a great spot for families because it has some rocky outcroppings that create protected pools for kids to play and swim in. Outside of these pools, however, the waves are more suitable for surfing than swimming. There are several restaurants along the beach from which to eat your fill of local fresh fish.
Bacocho Beach – Playa Bacocho
West of town is the beautiful Bacocho Beach. While too rough for swimming, it is perfect for a sunset walk. If you really would like to swim, you can enjoy the pool, beach bar and other facilities at the Villasol Beach Club (60 pesos – adults and 40 pesos – children). From November to March the club also shows movies on the beach. Tie your visit in with a chance to release turtles into the ocean at 5pm with nearby Liberation des Tortugas (see below).
2. Dolphin Watching Tours and Wildlife Excursions in Puerto Escondido
From visiting an iguana sanctuary to spending hours watching frolicking dolphins, there is plenty of wildlife to enjoy in Puerto.
Dolphin and Whale Watching Tours
Upon a recommendation, we booked a two hour morning dolphin excursion with Omar’s. Quite honestly, it ranks as one of the top ten wildlife experiences of my life (right up there with swimming with whale sharks in Cancun). While I expected to go out on the ocean and see a few dolphins, for two hours we were completely surrounded by hundreds of spinner dolphins. We also saw a half dozen turtles and even a humpback whale. The whole experience cost us about 1000 pesos for our family of four. Check out this one minute video:
Turtle Release Program
There are tours that you can take to release turtles, but alternatively you can simply take a short taxi to nearby Playa Bacocho at 5pm and release turtles with local conservation group Liberation de Tortugas (50 pesos – 2 turtles). This is not a tour, but rather a conservation program. If you speak Spanish, there are knowledgable people available that can answer all your turtle related questions. If you don’t, it is simply a feel good experience on a gorgeous beach at sunset. As the location is a little remote, I recommend arranging for a cab to pick you up right after sunset.
The Iguana Sanctuary
About half an hour drive southeast of Puerto, towards Huatulco, you will find the El Santuario de Los Iguanas. While not really a tour, for a small donation you can observe the protected iguanas and even hold some of the baby ones. This is a short stop, so you may want to combine a visit here with something else, such as visiting Agua Blanca or a day trip to Huatulco.
Note: Mosquito repellent is recommended at the iguana refuge.
3. Laguna de Manialtepec Bioluminescent Kayaking
If you are in Puerto Escondido around the new moon, you may be interested in a night kayaking tour at Laguna de Manialtepec.The bioluminescent plankton lights up as you paddle through it, and you can even swim in the lagoon if you so choose.
4. Surf Lessons in Puerto Escondido
There are no shortage of options for surf lessons in Puerto Escondido. If you are beginner, you can just head down to Carrizalillo Beach and you will be approached by several people offering to take you out. Early in the morning (7-9am) is the nicest time to get out there when the waves are gentle and it is not particularly crowded. It cost me 200 pesos for a one private hour lesson plus board rental. The instructor promised that I need not pay him if I didn’t stand up – which I did manage to do on about my 5th try.
Confession: Right after this shot was taken by my husband, I swam directly to the beach. I am not going to be a great surfer. I just needed to know that I could stand up once or twice.
If you are looking for a more formal surf lesson experience (surf camp etc.), I would recommend Puerto Escondido Surf Lessons. Owner Celestino is a trained lifeguard who knows the Puerto surf inside out, and receives rave reviews from students. His outfit offers surf lessons to children who are old enough to swim comfortably, with the instructor riding on the back of the board to keep them safe while they get a feel for it.
5. Mercado Benito Juarez – Puerto Escondido’s Fresh Food Market
A saturday morning visit to this lively building was one of the highlights of our trip to Puerto Escondido. Farmers from all of the state of Oaxaca arrive in the early morning hours with their bounty. We were lucky enough to have a personal tour from chef Patricio Sandoval of Villas Carrizalillo who had my children munching on seasoned crickets in no time. Don’t be shy, dig into the tamales and the fresh fruit water (which we were assured was made from filtered water). We ate, we drank, we were fine. We also brought home some crickets that my kids have been impressing their friends with at school, as well as the most delicious mole paste. The paste will keep for months in the fridge. See this video to see how to turn mole paste into mole sauce.
Puerto Escondido Hotels and Resorts – Family Friendly
Perched on the hillside with spectacular views of Playa Carrizalillo below, is the family friendly all suites hotel of Villa Carrizalillo. The suites are spacious, have fully equipped kitchens and have the option of multiple bedrooms. The property has a small pool, a lounge area with books and games, as well as beach toys and surf boards available for loan. The hotel is also home to the wonderful El Espandin restaurant, overseen by chef Patricio Sandoval. I have to admit that we fell so in love with his restaurant that it became difficult to leave our hotel for any meals (which is why this post does not include a section on Where (Else) to Eat in Puerto Escondido).
Villas Carrizalillo (website)
Price Range: $$$
Hotel Class: 3.5 star
Family Friendly Room Options: 1,2 and 3 bedroom suites (a crib and a high chair can be added).
Reviews: 96% of family reviewers rate as Very Good or Excellent on Tripadvisor.
Best Rooms: Recommended family suites include Londres, Suiza and Florencia (best view).
Get a Deal: Rooms are 15% cheaper in low season (May-Nov).
Important to Note: Villas Carrizalillo has an amazing view of Playa Carrizalillo. That view comes at a small price, however, as it is 140 steps to the beach.
I really feel like the Villa Carrizalillo website does not do the place justice so I took this little video should you want to get a better look:
If we were to try something different on our next trip to Puerto Escondido, we would look at the very highly rated Villas Lili. They are located about 350 meters from Playa Carrizalillo and their suites are well set up for families (including a pool just for kids).
Alternatively, if you would like to rent a house, there are many great options on Airbnb and VRBO. For a very reasonable price you could also add a housecleaner and chef to the mix to make it a truly relaxing holiday for the whole family.
Where is Puerto Escondido?
Puerto Escondido is in the state of Oaxaca on the southern coast of Mexico (about 90 minutes by car northeast of the resort town of Huatulco).
How to Get to Puerto Escondido
Puerto has a domestic airport (PXM) with daily flights from Mexico City. This is the route we took as we wanted to tie in a few days in Mexico City before hitting the beach. The closest international airport is Bahias de Huatulco International (HXM). This could potentially be a more direct an possibly cheaper route to Puerto, even after factoring in a 2 hour cab ride from Huatulco to Escondido. We returned from Puerto via Huatulco and our cab ride cost us about 1000 pesos (including an impromptu tour from our pleasant english-speaking driver*).
If you are coming via Oaxaca City, there is much hubbub about the new highway that appears to be near completion (Take this with a grain of salt as this is Mexico after all.) This highway is supposed to decrease the drive time from Oaxaca City from 7 hours to about 2 hours. This will most certainly be welcomed as the drive is said to by quite harrowing.
Filipe Robles was our cab driver in Puerto. He was fantastic and had several nice air conditioned cars with seat belts. In additional to basic cab service he also runs tours in the area. You can email him at firstname.lastname@example.org .
Is Puerto Escondido Safe?
Quite frequently, I am asked this question about a city or town we have visited. Prior to any trip to Mexico, I like to make sure that we are aware of any specific safety issues by checking several government websites. Personally, I like to check the U.S. Department of State website (under Traveler Alerts and Warnings) as well as Foreign Travel Advice on GOV.UK . I also sometimes use TripAdvisor and Lonely Planet (Thorn Tree) forums to connect with locals and frequent visitors if I have any specific concerns.
We took reasonable precautions during our time in Puerto Escondido. We felt very safe walking around in the daytime, but took cabs at night. Cabs are easy to find and very inexpensive. We had been told by a local that there had been some night time muggings in the past year. We also kept any valuables locked up in our hotel safe.
Several other things to be aware of include scorpions (check your shoes before putting them on), and mosquito-borne illnesses. As in most tropical places in the world, you need to be concerned about mosquitoes that can transmit diseases such as Zika Virus and Dengue. See the links at the bottom of this page if you are interested in learning more about how to decrease your chances of infection. In short (and it may be overkill) we hang mosquito nets over our beds and use very good mosquito repellent.
When to Visit Puerto Escondido
Puerto Escondido has a tropical climate. The nicest time to visit is during the dry season (November – April), but the cheapest time to visit is during the rainy season (May – October).
Disclosure: I was not compensated by any parties for this post. We simply enjoyed a lovely family holiday to Puerto Escondido. As always on this website, however, I encourage you to also thoroughly read current reviews from other travelers (TripAdvisor, Google, etc.) before booking.
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