When planning a beach vacation to Mexico, people often overlook Oaxaca beaches and Oaxaca’s Pacific Coast in favor of the usual suspects. This is a mistake. Especially if you consider yourself more of an “off-the-beaten-path” style traveler.
The small towns that line Oaxaca’s Pacific Coast offer a world-class beach experience without the crowds and high price tags of Tulum, Playa del Carmen, and Cancun (gag). Picturesque blue waters? Check. A thriving surf culture? Check. Chilled coconuts and cocktails on the beach? Check. Naked hippies? Check, check, check ✅
We spent a very pleasant week here working, hopping from beach town to beach town, and eating all the seafood. In this post, we share our favorite Oaxaca beaches and the top things to do in each to help you make the most of your trip.
Swim, eat seafood, and release baby sea turtles in Oaxaca’s largest beach town.
Puerto Escondido, population 45,000, is the largest beach town along Oaxaca’s Pacific Coast and a global surfing destination. Despite growing in popularity in recent years, it still feels very low-key and time moves just a bit more slowly.
Days here are best spent lounging on the beach, swimming, and catching sunsets. We loved Playa Carrizalillo, a beautiful beach cove framed by lush green cliffs, accessible via a climb down 167 stone steps. Bring your own beach towels if you don’t feel like paying the 200-300 peso fee for lounge chairs, but do indulge in a coco loco, a fresh coconut with rum and other ingredients.
La Punta is the up-and-coming neighborhood in Puerto Escondido where trendy boutiques, nightclubs, and hipster food halls line the still-undeveloped dirt roads. International backpackers and vacationers gather here to lounge on the beach, swim, surf, and party.
Playa Zicatela, one of the main beaches in town, is known for its powerful waves, dangerous to anyone but the most experienced surfers. Numerous bars and clubs line both the beach and Av. Del Morro, the adjacent street, and it’s in these venues that you’ll find reggaeton music and dancing (a harder task than you would think in Mexico). We loved eating fresh octopus at Costenito Cevicheria and hanging out with other travelers at Selina Hostel across the street.
Release baby sea turtles at sunset on Escobilla Sanctuary Beach. Located 45 minutes away from Puerto Escondido, Escobilla is technically in Mazunte but well worth the hike. For something close by, you can try Playa Bacocho in town.
Do yourself a favor and catch sunsets all over Puerto Escondido. The shot below was taken at Mirador Las Tortugas, cliffs where locals and visitors alike gather to end the day together.
Though we didn’t do this, our friend Kellie highly recommends going on a dolphin watching tour. She considers it one of the most incredible wildlife encounters she’s ever had, and she’s been a few places! I’d do a search on Google to check for the best options in town. A quick search yielded this tour on Expedia. You can also book locally with operators located in Zicatela or La Punta.
A tip if you plan to work remotely in Puerto Escondido. The WiFi here is no bueno. You can still make it work, and there are co-working spaces like Selina that are dependable, albeit expensive. Still, if you have an important work week I’d suggest you go elsewhere where the internet is more reliable.
A low-key nudist beach where happy hour lasts all day and night.
Zipolite is a picturesque stretch of beach with white sand, crashing waves, and dramatic rock formations characteristic of the Pacific. It is a nudist hub y’all, so expect to see more than a few folk wandering around naked as their name day. Good thing that living in San Francisco has prepared us more than enough for this.
There’s not a ton to do in Zipolite except for relax on the beach and sip cocktails, and that’s kind of the point. The waterfront is lined with hotels, bars, and restaurants, so just pick your favorite and camp out there for the day.
At night, there are a few bars right on the beach where everyone gathers. The hippie vibe Zipolite is known for comes alive at these hours. You’ll start to hear reggae music and Burning Man-style electro, then the white people with dreadlocks emerge twirling their fire batons.
To find the party, simply walk on the beach past 11 PM. It won’t be hard to find, I promise!
For a more secluded beach in the area, check out Playa del Amor. It is located in a small cove and known by locals as a gay beach. The manager of our hotel told us not to go there at night because of this reputation, though I’m sure it’s fine.
Zipolite and Mazunte (more on Mazunte below) in general seem to be very gay-friendly destinations, and you’ll see same-sex couples holding hands and being affectionate with each other in public. I wasn’t expecting this because of Mexico’s reputation as a conservative, Catholic country, so it was a pleasant surprise!
A word of warning — swim in Zipolite at your own risk. The waves here are powerful and the current is strong. Someone has to be rescued by a lifeguard at least once a day, and a person died at the far end of the beach during our visit. A dip in the shallows is absolutely fine though — just be careful!
A hippie beach paradise on Oaxaca’s Pacific Coast.
Mazunte provides a very similar experience to Zipolite, though on a slightly, slightly larger scale. Like Zipolite, unpretentious restaurants and bars line the main waterfront, and the area’s main activities include sitting on your ass and enjoying yourself at one of them.
Though we only spent an afternoon here, many recommend watching the sunset at Punta Cometa. The view there is famed, though make sure to factor in 15-20 additional minutes for hiking to the main vista.
You can also go release turtles at the nearby National Mexican Turtle Center or scout out a dolphin and whale watching excursion.
Bahías de Huatulco
A famed beach town known for its nine bays and 30 white-sand beaches.
While backpackers and surfers flock to Puerto Escondido, Mexican tourists head to Huatulco, a beach town famed for its nine pristine bays and 30 white-sand beaches. Only 20% of Huatulco’s current visitors are international, and you bet that will change rapidly once the secret gets out.
Though Huatulco is known as being a luxury resort destination, there are areas where buildup is modest and you can easily experience the local side of life.
We spent the majority of our time in San Agustín Bay, home to the largest coral reef in the Pacific, by recommendation of a friend who grew up in the area. You have to drive off-road for a stretch to get there, and despite having some tourist infrastructure, it feels very local and we were definitely the only gringos. While there, we ate at an unassuming seafood restaurant owned by our friend’s family and played with a very cute puppy.
If we return to Huatulco, here’s what else we’d do:
- Spend the day on a boat touring and swimming in the nine bays of Huatulco.
- Snorkel and explore Huatulco’s coral reefs and spectacular marine life.
- Visit a coffee plantation.
For a detailed guide of things to do in Huatulco, check out this post by Rock a Little Travel.
How to Get to Oaxaca Beaches & Beach Towns
To fly to Oaxaca’s beach towns, you have a few options:
- You can take a short flight on Aerotucan from Oaxaca City
- Puerto Escondido has an airport but it only offers connections from Mexico City.
- Huatulco Airport has direct flights to the US and Canada
We rented a car from Oaxaca City and drove to Puerto Escondido, stopping at San Jose Del Pacifico (magic mushroom mountain town!) along the way. The whole ride takes about 6.5 hours, though San Jose Del Pacifico splits the time in half. If you can, I recommend driving yourself 100%. The roads are incredibly windy — just curves, curves, curves for hour after hour — and it’s a much better experience if you have control of the wheel.
If driving yourself isn’t an option, you can hire a private car or take a minibus from Oaxaca City. A private car will run you about $450 but is by far the more comfortable option. Service Express Arista or Villa del Pacifico Bus provide minibus service for about $10 and bring you to the bus station in Puerto Escondido.
Where to Go After Oaxaca’s Pacific Coast
Oaxaca is an incredibly diverse state. In our two weeks there, we went from cool, high-altitude mountain air to the humid tropical heat of Pacific coast beach towns. There is so much to see!
- If you haven’t already, definitely make a stop in Oaxaca City and be charmed by the cobblestone streets, bustling markets, majestic cathedrals, and world-class food.
- Halfway between Oaxaca City and Puerto Escondido, San Jose Del Pacifico, a peaceful town in the mountains, offers stunning views and a respite from urban hustle-and-bustle.