Updated: Oct 18
Maybe you like to surf, dance, party, OR…just sit quietly on a gorgeous beach? Yes to one or all? Then, head to Puerto Escondido…
How Do You Get There?
A collectivo taxi from Zipolite to Pochutla (a nearby city and location of the bus terminal) was 20 pesos. WHAT??!! Yes, well, the 100 pesos you paid on the way down was the tourist price, Señora. Sorry ‘bout that! Not. GRRR...
There’s a bus to Puerto Escondido for 60 pesos, someone told us. Maybe so, but it wasn’t at the terminal. “160 pesos,” the ticket seller said.
Isn't there a 60-peso bus? I asked.
Uptown, he said with a vague wave above the terminal. Crap. Should we go find it? Or just take this one? A bus drove up as we conferred. A moment later, the driver walked to the desk where we stood. "Playa Escondido?," he asked.
Upon seeing us hesitate, he pushed. “Es muy comodo,” (very comfortable), the driver said, pointing at the clean bus. He mimicked the seats going back. “Y baños,” he added. Aaron smiled, happy to recognize the word 'baños.' Bathroom. (If you're keen to learn some helpful Spanish phrases, click here: . Key Spanish phrases.
I hesitated, looking at Aaron. “Ciento viente,” he said after a moment. 120 pesos. WHAT? You can negotiate bus tickets?
“Do you want to take this one for $8.50 or look for the $4 one? I asked Aaron.
“This one,” he said firmly. Well, okay then. I guess we’re going in comfort.
Is Comfort Important? (I’m still trying to figure that out).
I’d never considered comfort as a factor in my travelling decisions. From the age of 23, after being inspired by a book called 'Vagabonding in Europe and North Africa,' I’d backpacked for 2 years, spending only what was necessary, staying in nasty places if I could save a dollar. And for the next 30 years, I continued to travel like that. Over the last few years, though, I’d begun wondering if I was too old to be a vagabond. Did I need to take 12-hour night buses to save on a bed? Did I need to walk two hours at 7 am after it, refusing hotel after hotel because they were more than $15?
No, I didn’t need to. But. It was hard to change. And hard to convince myself that I even wanted to change. I love backpacking, taking chicken buses, making my own meals in cheap hostels. But. I’m not loving threadbare sheets and smelly towels. And, to my shame, I’ve developed a new affection for rental cars. My vagabond self is battling my luxury-loving self and I’m confused.
In fact, I’m writing a book to help me figure it out, haha. Yes, I know, I've been talking about this book I'm writing for six years! One day though, you'll see Evolution of a Vagabond on bookstore shelves. That's my dream!
But I digress…apologies.
It was a great decision by Aaron - a fan-frickin’-tastic comfortable bus ride.
Where To Stay in Puerto Escondido?
If you like a huge beach and surf, good restaurants, and a crazy night scene, try Zicatela
Below the city of Puerto Escondido is a gorgeous coastline of beach after beach. We'd booked a hotel in Zicatela. A nice one. The cement horror we’d stayed in in Zipolite had ruined us from $40 hotels. We were big spenders now. Up to $60 a night.
We got to Zicatela by collectivo. The little covered trucks are a great way to get around the city; for 10 pesos, you can get anywhere you want. “Buenos tardes,” passengers said as we climbed aboard one whose sign said ‘Zicatela.’ Smiling, I sat, feeling connected, welcomed. I added my own ‘Hola’ as each new passenger was greeted. It's a lovely, connected world here in Mexico. Even at restaurants, the locals say “Buen provecho,” as they enter a restaurant. Have a good meal. Communication. Connection. We need more of that in this world of ours.
On our way to our hotel, we passed The Pipeline Hostel where dorms were $15 and a private room was $30. What a fun, colourful place! I would have stayed here for sure if I were thirty years younger.
I settled for wandering up its rainbow-coloured stairs and nosing around its artsy innards until a young man asked hesitantly, “Are you looking for some information?” I looked at him askance. Have I become so old that it would outside the realm of possibilities that I might want a room? Hmmph. Getting old sucks.
My annoyance disappeared when I saw Hotel Acuario - our beachside hotel.
I walked past its big pool and comfy-looking loungers (I’ll be back, I called as they shouted my name), down a path through a lush garden and up to a little thatch-roofed cabaña. Wow, I could get used to this luxury stuff. WHAT? said my internal vagabond. That’s not me. But…crap, I think it might be. NO, I don’t want to change, I cried as I caressed the crisp, thick sheets on our cabaña’s soft bed.
I didn’t love the place anymore when, at 11 pm, our cabaña shuddered with eardrum-splitting noise (I can’t even call it music) from the bar across the street.
Neither earplugs nor my pillow crushed tightly to my head helped. Horrible!
Should we move? we asked ourselves the next morning, looking at each other with bleary, sleepy eyes. So frustrating – we didn’t want to leave what was our nicest place yet. Maybe it would be quieter tonight? We’d stay the two days and find another place after that, we decided.
Where To Eat in Zicatela?
We munched on corncobs slathered with mayo, grated cheese and chili powder from a cart down the alley, and cheap, spicy chorizo tacos at Taco Brown’s. And after slurping back creamy, garlicky Pasta Carbonara at the very popular El Cafecito, we dived into fresh, fruity, frozen yogurt covered with candy and chocolate at the Rockaway.
What To Do in Zicatela?
Playa Zicatela (the beach) is massive; almost as wide as it is long.
We stepped on to the sand after breakfast and were hungry for lunch by the time we got to the water. Once we got there, though, there was a lot going on. Huge, rolling waves with surfers atop them and parachutists soaring through the air. Down the beach at Punta Zicatela, we found more surfers. Practicing for Puerto Escondido’s international competition (Surf Open Escondido), I assumed having read something about the upcoming event.
A walk the opposite led us to a gorgeous rock path carved into the rocky coast, a path that looked like it would take us to the ancient underwater city of Atlantis.
Although there’s one part that you need to be a bit of a monkey to do (a short drop from a rock), it’s an easy walk.
On the way, we met a man looking out to sea. “This place was just a beach when I was small,” he said.
“Are you sad that it’s so developed now?” I asked.
“Sad that there’s no fish here where I used to catch them all the time, but no, the tourists are good. There’s a lot of work now.”
I hadn’t expected to hear such positivity. It eased the guilt that floods me when I travel and see locals camped out on sidewalks. Knowing they can't afford to live in places where they'd always lived, no longer able to rent or buy in what have become high-priced tourist hangouts. I was happy to hear that, at least for him, there were some pluses to tourism.
At the end of the rock path, with a query to a local or two, you will find Playa Manzanillo. Here, you can lay back on palm-shaded loungers and take in the gorgeous dark blue bay while slurping back a cold cervesa and eating delectable shrimp tacos.
Or watch local mamas and papas with their giggling toddlers cavort in the shallow waves on the busier beach next door, then buy some fresh prawns in a cup for 50 cents worth of pesos or a fish from one of the colourful boats.
We loved much about Playa Zicatela but recommend a hotel at either end of the beach if you relish a good sleep.
Would you rather enjoy a quiet, gorgeous beach with a view, and a small but vibrant neighbourhood? Then, head for...
Rinconado and Playa Coral
If you’re a bit of a vagabond like me, you will love the Casa de Huespedes, a guesthouse above beautiful Playa Coral. It was $62 a night and no, there’s not a lot of hot water (maybe none, actually), nor are there thick, luxurious sheets on the spartan bed, but…every room has huuuge, windows that open to the sea and a most spectacular view of the coastline and the gorgeous palm-lined beach below.
That $62 view was worth every penny.
Resembling a hostel more than a hotel, with a common area on the rooftop (which had an even more incredible view) and a kitchen that all guests were welcome to use, it was an easy place to meet other travellers.
And do you see the pool down by the beach? Not a great one, and you have to purchase a burger and fries from the open-aired ‘restaurant’ at the foot of the beach to be able to use it, but it was a calmer option than swimming in the tumultuous waves that will pummel you then suck you back into the sea. And...an added bonus - the burgers and fries are fantastic!
Five minutes away was the heart of Rinconada, a small upscale neighbourhood where you can find restaurants to suit any palate, cafes, bars and little shops selling spices and health food, small grocers and even a pharmacy.
It was at the last that we met six-year-old Derek, full of spit and vinegar, and anxious to show us how good his English was.
I had met his mama earlier when I'd asked her for ‘algo por dolor de gargantua y tosa.’ Something for a sore throat and cough. Aaron was sick as a dog, at home trying to shake off what had hit him a few weeks ago.
Now Aaron was feeling better and we'd returned to get some additional lozenges.
“Speak English,” Derek said when I asked his pharmacist mama for the lozenges. “I speak English best in my class,” he said. “And I speak Chinese too.” “Mama gives me coins for my piggy bank when I help her with English people,” he told us, showing us the big plastic dinosaur at the end of the counter. His grin grew huge when Aaron dropped a 10-peso coin through its slot.
We left them a few minutes later, smiles still stretching our faces, and then realized, five minutes down the road, that we’d left our change there. We walked back quickly and found mama getting in her car to chase us down. I love Mexican people. They are so genuine and kind.
Where To Eat in Rinconada?
We contemplated the restaurants along the strip then chose (and LOVED!) the little family-run Italian place - great pasta, smiling staff and a proprietress who watched over everything with a kind eye and firm hand.
After stuffing ourselves silly, we peeked into a small and classy bar and listened to the band for a few minutes. “That’s what music’s supposed to sound like,” I said to Aaron, remembering Zicatela.
We ended our lovely day by pausing at the Dulce Tierra café to buy a decadently delicious ice cream and then heading to Playa Carrizalillo to join the reams of people gathered to watch the sun go down.
Hope you enjoyed this blog.
Stay tuned for Part 3 of 'Deciding Which Mexican Beaches To Visit This Winter!