Mexico's surfing paradise: Puerto Escondido & Playa Zicatela

Julia Holland | Live the World

November 23, 2022

When we think of the Pacific Ocean, we think big tumultuous waves and a heavy undertow, in other words, a surfer’s paradise. While Pacific beaches do have some of the best wave sets, there are plenty of calm, clear Pacific beaches out there to enjoy. Luckily, you will encounter the Pacific in all of its forms along the coast of* Oaxaca in Mexico. An hour or so north of the calm, relaxing bays of Baihas de Huatulco lies one of the most famous surfing beach towns in the world - Puerto Escondido. Although surfers from around the world flock to Playa Zicatela** for tournaments and training, the town and surrounding beaches have more to offer than just surfing. Here, I explore some of my favorite activities for surfers and non-surfers alike*.

© istock/UlrikeStein

Puerto Escondido & Playa Zicatela

The town of Puerto Escondido has two main beaches, Playa Zicatela and Playa Marinero, separated by a large outcropping of stones known as “El Morro”.  This outcropping is a great photo-op spot, just make sure you have a waterproof camera. Playa Marinero is a fairly tranquil beach for swimming and learning how to surf.

©istock/ViewApart

Playa Zicatela is the famous surfing beach that also has a beachfront boardwalk with shops, restaurants, and many different diving and surf stands to explore. Playa Zicatela has the third biggest wave sets in the world with pipeline style formation, similar to the waves in Hawaii (these are the biggest wave sets in the world). Fall and late summer seasons at Zicatela are prime surfing times, bringing in tournaments and big-name surfers from around the world. Suffice it to say, this is not a beach for swimming. However, I highly recommend watching the surfers and boogie boarders ride these gargantuan waves. It will leave you both mesmerized and terrified, and I bet you will end up spending an entire afternoon marveling at these superhuman athletes. There also happen to be daily pick-up volleyball tournaments at sunset. There is no experience more quintessential than a sunset volleyball game on a Pacific beach.

©istock/L. Daley

One of my favorite activities in the Puerto Escondido area is whale and dolphin watching tours. There are plenty of locals with their own motorized boats selling day tours along the port in Puerto. There are so many schools of whales and dolphins to admire, and many of them are well accustomed to humans. Many times, you can even jump into the water and swim alongside them with fins and a snorkel mask. If you are there during peak season, do not miss out on the opportunity to see these majestic animals. It is a life-changing experience and an unforgettable memory to cherish long after you have returned from your trip.

©istock/Delbars

Playa Bacocho

Playa Bacocho is a beach a little further northwest of Puerto Escondido with a number of luxury resorts. It is a calm beach, great for swimming and known for another one of my favorite activities - releasing baby turtles. Between June and November, you can visit Playa Bacocho where local and volunteer marine biologists have gathered protected baby turtle populations. They will inform you of turtle ecology and the proper way to release the babies into the ocean. Every participant is given a bowl to carry each baby turtle to the shore where the tide will sweep them into the sea; a very endearing and hopeful experience indeed.

©istock/MariaKorneeva

Playa Carrizalillo

The most picturesque beach around Puerto Escondido is Playa Carrizalillo. The beach is nestled into a bay and thus is semicircular, so you have a wonderful view of the coastline from afar and while you are on the beach. The water is turquoise and clear and is perfect for swimming. This will surely be your go-to beach for sunbathing, swimming, and picture-taking

©istock/PieroZanetti

Puerto Escondido has plenty to offer to travelers of all tastes and activity levels. Beaches range from surfer’s paradise (Playa Zicatela)* to relaxation havens *(Playa Carrizalillo), and there are amazing opportunities to interact with majestic marine mammals in a safe, ecologically friendly way (Playa Bacocho). A trip to Mexico's surfing paradise is unforgettable and well worth repeating.

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