Oaxaca’s beautiful, little-developed Pacific coast is home to several varied, relaxed beach destinations, and a near-empty shoreline strung with long golden beaches and lagoons full of wildlife. Offshore are turtles (this is a major global sea-turtle nesting area), dolphins and whales, plus diving, snorkeling, sportfishing and some of North America's best surfing swells. In this tropical climate, the pace is never too hectic, the atmosphere is relaxed and the people are welcoming. Everywhere the scenery is spectacular and you're in direct touch with the elements wherever you go, from the half-hidden sandy beaches to the crashing surf to the forest-clad, river-threaded mountains rising just inland. No need to pack too many clothes!
The area spins on three mains hubs: the restrained resort zone of Huatulco, the loose federation of beach villages south of Pochutla (including nude-friendly Zipolite and yoga-practicing Mazunte) and the carefree surf town of Puerto Escondido.
Mexico's best off-the-grid-beaches
5 min read — Published Oct 15, 2020
Finding a beach in Mexico is easy, but getting away from the crowds is a little more challenging. Here are the best off-the-grid beaches to get away.
These are our favorite local haunts, touristy spots, and hidden gems throughout Oaxaca Coast.
Legendary 3.5km-long Zicatela is the best-known surfing spot in Mexico courtesy of the tempestuous surfing waves of the Mexican Pipeline. The heart of the action, including the Pipeline, is at Zicatela’s northern end. Nonsurfers beware: the waters here have a lethal undertow and are not safe for the boardless, or beginner surfers either. Lifeguards rescue several careless people most months. Surfing aside, the beach is a beauty: wide, golden and gloriously laid-back – man! The main beach area is backed by Calle del Morro, a kind of gringo-ville meets Mexican beach town where locals, along with visitors from colder climes, mix seamlessly. The Punta Zicatela area at Zicatela's far southern end has mellower surf and a mellower vibe to go with it. With its unpaved roads overlooked by vegan cafes and yoga retreats, it's favored chiefly by backpackers and beginner surfers.
Zipolite's beach is huge, running for a good 1.5km and dispatching massive waves. It's famous for its nudity; you'll see people randomly swimming, sunbathing or happily walking across the wet sand minus their clothes at any time of day, although it is more common in a couple of coves at the western end of the beach and in the small bay called Playa del Amor at the east end, which is a favorite spot for gay men. The eastern end of Zipolite (nearest Puerto Ángel) is called Colonia Playa del Amor, the middle part is Centro, and the western end, where most of the traveler scene is centered, is Colonia Roca Blanca, where you'll find what amounts to the main street, Av Roca Blanca (also called El Adoquín), a block back from the beach. Surfing is better toward the west. For more seclusion and the best boutique hotels, retreat to the far western end of the beach behind several rocky knolls.
Halfway between the western edge of Parque Nacional Huatulco and Puerto Ángel awaits some of the most precious coastline in Oaxaca. The water can be somewhat rough on the main beach but there are several swimmable beaches nearby that you can easily walk to along jungly dirt roads. Ask for directions at Manta Raya Hotel, where you can stop for lunch or spend the night in spacious oceanfront rooms with private balcony. The Swiss owner Reto will gladly point you in the right direction. To get here, take Hwy 200 west to the Cuatunalco turnoff and follow the Manta Raya signs along a dirt road for about 7km.
Small is beautiful at Carrizalillo, set in a sheltered cove west of the center that's reached by a stairway of 157 steps. It’s popular for swimming and bodyboarding, and is the place for beginner surfers. Book a lesson and you'll probably end up here making a splash or three 50m offshore. There's a mellow line of palapa (thatch-roofed) beach bars when you finish.
This rocky cape, jutting out from the west end of Mazunte beach, is the southernmost point in the state of Oaxaca and a fabulous place to hike at sunset amid crashing waves and dreamy Pacific vistas. To walk to the cape, take the lane toward Playa Mermejita off Calle Rinconcito, and go left up the track immediately after the cemetery to reach the community nature reserve entrance after 250m. Here you have two choices. Take the path leading down to the right (Sendero Corral de Piedra Poniente) and you'll join a winding sometimes rough trail that ultimately gets you to the Punta in 20 to 30 minutes (the last part crosses a small beach). Take the central path and you'll be led more directly through trees and then across a grassy headland to the Punta. Ideally you can combine both paths for a round-trip that takes around one hour without stops.
This long, sandy beach, 14km west of Santa Cruz Huatulco, is backed by a fishing village, and in contrast to Huatulco's other settlements, there's absolutely no resort-type development – just a line of rustic comedores stretching along the beach, serving seafood and fish dishes and simple antojitos (Mexican snacks). Usually the waters are calm, and there is coral with very good snorkeling around the rocks in the bay and at Playa Riscalillo around the corner to the east. San Agustín is popular with Mexicans on weekends and vacations, but quiet at other times. Some restaurants rent out snorkel gear, and most of them can arrange boats to Riscalillo or Playa La India. El Capi, on the northeast end, sits on quiet sands and has an on-site restaurant, rustic cabañas and tents for rent. A 13km dirt road heads south to San Agustín from a crossroads on Hwy 200, 1.7km west of the airport. Buses between Huatulco and Pochutla will drop you at the turnoff, where taxis wait to carry people to San Agustín (M$130, or M$30 per person by colectivo).
The 6km-long Manialtepec Lagoon, beginning 14km west of Puerto Escondido along Hwy 200, is an essential spot for bird enthusiasts and a fascinating place for anyone interested in nature. Ibises, roseate spoonbills, parrots, pelicans, falcons, ospreys, herons, kingfishers and several types of hawk and iguana call Manialtepec home for at least part of the year. The best bird-watching months are December to March, and the best time of day is soon after dawn. The lagoon is mainly surrounded by mangroves, but tropical flowers and palms accent the ocean side, and the channel at the west end winds through to a pristine sandbar beach. Several operators run three-hour bird-watching trips in motorized lanchas (outboard boats), with English-speaking guides, binoculars and round-trip transportation from your accommodations in Puerto Escondido. Manialtepec is also a bioluminescent bay where phosphorescent plankton appear for a few nights several times a year. At these times nocturnal boat trips are offered, and you can swim or trail your hand in the water to activate the strange phosphorescent glow. July, August, November and December are often good months for this. Don't bother going when there's a full moon or after heavy rain. From Puerto Escondido, take a taxi colectivo (shared taxi) bound for San José Manialtepec from Av 4 Poniente (M$20 to La Puesta del Sol, 15 minutes), running from about 6am to 8pm, or a Río Grande–bound minibus (M$25) from Av Hidalgo 5, leaving about every 30 minutes from 4am to 9pm.
One of Huatulco’s loveliest and most interesting day trips, this ‘agro-ecotourism’ operation includes a large organic fruit orchard and a gorgeous 500m riverside trail with 60 kinds of tropical flowering plants that attract colorful birds and butterflies. You can have a refreshing dip beneath a waterfall while you’re there. It's 9km northwest of Santa María Huatulco and about 30km from La Crucecita (a 45-minute drive). You can visit any day, but reserve the day before in person or by phoning the office in Santa Cruz Huatulco: tours are given in English or Spanish and most people stay about four hours.
The coast east of Puerto Ángel is dotted with small hidden beaches, none of them very busy on weekdays. Playa La Boquilla, on a gentle bay about 7.5km from town by road, is the site of the Bahía de la Luna hotel and restaurant, and is good for snorkeling and swimming. It’s fun to go by boat (M$600 one-way): ask at Puerto Ángel pier or Playa del Panteón. You can also get here by a rough 3.5km unpaved road from a turnoff 4km out of Puerto Ángel on the Pochutla road. A taxi from Puerto Ángel costs around M$150, or from Pochutla about M$200. Some taxis won't tackle the road in the rainy season.