A guide to surfing Puerto Escondido
Thinking of surfing Puerto Escondido? Here is our full guide on how to get there, where to stay, where to surf, what to eat
Puerto Escondido is famous for expert level surfing. Best known for massive barrels, the waves can reach heights of 40+ feet on the faces. But Puerto (as it is referred to by locals), has a lot of secrets that most people don’t know. Here is your comprehensive guide to surfing Puerto Escondido.
Best time to surf Puerto Escondido?
The season starts from late April to the beginning of May and goes until early September. Mexico’s version of Pipeline comes alive during the peak season of May to August, seeing swells that would be too big for most. It will be most crowded during June, July, and August. To beat the crowds, come during September, October and early November.
How to get there
Puerto Escondido is in the state of Oaxaca, on the Pacific Coast of Mexico. There is a small airport with daily flights arriving and departing to Mexico City and Oaxaca City. If you are flying you will most likely grab a flight connection through Mexico City and arriving directly at PXM (Puerto Escondido Airport).
If you are lucky enough to live in Southern California, tickets are very inexpensive if you are willing to walk across the Mexican-American border to take a flight departing from Tijuana. There is a convenient sky bridge connecting the TJ airport directly to the American side of the border.
General Travel in Mexico Advice:
The currency is in Pesos and you will get the best rate if you exchange cash before you come. You can use a foreign ATM card to withdraw Pesos plus a bank fee.
Requirements on visas are not well enforced. Officially, if you’re visiting Mexico for 180 days or less, you generally won’t need a visa. But you’ll need to complete a Multiple Immigration Form (FMM) and make sure your passport is stamped by Mexican immigration officials on arrival (more info on this website). It is best to ask at your arrival airport (Mexico City) to get a six-month visa. Costs range from free to about $35 USD.
Mexico can be a dangerous place, like many Central American countries. Protests, demonstrations and strikes are common in Mexico and they can cause major traffic congestion and restrict movement around affected areas. Mexico also has high levels of violent crime, carjacking, extortion and robbery, often being committed by individuals presenting themselves as police officers. Risks increase at night so exercise caution and always go with your gut feeling. Use common sense. Lock your valuables, don’t walk alone after dark especially if you’ve been drinking, don’t go looking for drugs.
- Get travel insurance. Seriously. Don’t forget (use code STOKED5 for 5% off World Nomads when using this link, sadly not available to US or Canadian residents, or with any other offer).
- Don’t travel the roads at night (drive or walk)
- Do some research into the ‘problem‘ areas and avoid
- Tell someone where you are going & check-in (share location etc)
Traveling solo as a female:
Mexico is incredibly hospitable for women. People will go out of their way to be sure you have what you need. That being said the culture is also very forward. Men appreciate all body types and won’t hesitate to tell you they think you are attractive. If this makes you uncomfortable it is completely appropriate to firmly demand to be left alone. Weak throated “no’s” will be ignored. You will need to be strong. Along with this forward culture will come plenty of opportunities to surf secret spots or go out dancing with the local boys. Use your best judgment and never do something that makes you uncomfortable.
Mexican SIM cards are easy to find for your phone. The best place to locate a SIM card is downtown, or in Spanish, “El Centro”. Your taxi driver will be able to get you there for a couple dollars and a five or ten-minute drive. Look for the “TelCEL” stores, they are everywhere.
Here are some typical prices:
- Litter of water: $12 Pesos ($0.65 USD)
- Beer: $20 Pesos ($1 USD – more in a club or bar)
- Banana: $3 Pesos ($0.15 USD)
- Taxi: $30-$60 Pesos ($1.50-$3 USD)
- A plate of tacos: $60 Pesos ($3 USD)
What local dishes to eat:
Oaxaca is known for its mole sauces. This is a rich sauce made of chocolate, chicken stock, and spices. It is incredible! Seafood is everywhere. Any restaurant on the sand is guaranteed to have delicious “Pescado Entero” which is whole fish served with the head and tail in tacked. If you are feeling adventurous the eyeballs are considered a delicacy. Food is not generally referred to as “good” (bueno) but rather “Rico”. To complement the chef you would exclaim, “Que Rico!”
What to pack:
We have developed a comprehensive surf packing list to help you double check you have got everything. In the list, we break down things to make sure you carry in your first aid kit.
Getting around Mexico:
Public transit is alive and well in Mexico! The easiest thing to do is to grab a taxi when you need to go somewhere. A one-way taxi fare is typically under $2 USD. You will see several cabs drive by every minute on the main roads. Taxi drivers are accustomed to surfers with boards in tow and they are experts at sticking them half in the cab, half out the window. You can always bring your own straps if you prefer, just be sure to tip the driver for the extra time involved.
Renting a car is an option as well. Just keep in mind that online reservations are rare in general in Oaxaca. You can certainly make a reservation online but you will always get a better price if you rent the car when you arrive. Just hop in a taxi and ask him to bring you to the rental car company. There are a few in different locations around the city. Rates are around $20/per day. Don’t expect much, cars don’t always have AC and occasionally have mechanical problems.
A guide to surfing Puerto Escondido
Where to stay might depend on the type of surfing you are looking for. There is three main surfing locations in Puerto Escondido.
For beginners or longboarders
Puerto Escondido offers Cardisarillo. There is a super mellow left-hand point perfect for learning to surf or nose riding. There is also a more fickle (and localized) right-hander in the same bay with a bit more punch but it takes a big swell for it to work. The beach itself is perfect for a chill afternoon. It is tiny, a horseshoe shape of no more than 200 meters. There are several restaurants that offer excellent seafood, lounge chairs, and umbrellas. This is a good beach for swimming too. The beach is accessed by descending a steep set of about 100 stairs. If you want to stay in the area there are several beautiful homes in the neighborhood above the beach called Bocacho. This is probably the nicest and quietest neighborhood in Puerto. There are no big hotels.
The best option for accommodation on a budget is the Hostel Shalom. Otherwise, Airbnb.com is the way to go (sign up to AirBNB with this link and get €34 off a home booking and €13 to use toward an experience worth €45 or more). You can find gorgeous 5 bedroom houses on the cliff overlooking the water for $100-$200 USD/night. If you are staying in this area you will likely want your own car as the neighborhood is not as walkable as the next two on the list.
For intermediate surfers
You will want to check out La Punta. This is also a left-hand point break. On a small swell, you will see lots of surf lessons on the inside most section. On a big swell, you will see heavy barrels and carvable walls from the outside session all the way in. When it connects all the way through, the rides can be over 300 meters. Just watch out for rocks – there are a lot of them on the outside. This is really a great wave for just about any skill level – sit outside if you are advanced and sit inside if not.
Staying in La Punta is a blast! La Punta is an international backpackers’ destination. There are a ton of hostels, super cute little restaurants, health food stores and surf shops. If you are on a budget I recommend camping at the beachfront hostel “Buena Onda.” For about $4 USD per night you can use one of their sleeping pads under a palapa on the beach and wake up with a great view to check the surf. Again, online reservations are not offered. Just tell your cab driver where you want to go and reserve your “bed” when you show up.
If you prefer sleeping indoors you can certainly get a private cabana rental at Buena Onda or any of the other 10+ hostels in the area. If you want to stay a while you can easily rent a private house for around $200 USD/month. But you will need to be creative. You have to walk the streets and look for signs that indicate rooms or houses for rent. You may also need to speak a little Spanish to negotiate the best price.
La Punta also offers great yoga classes at Hostel One Love and the best fish tacos of your life. Ask any local for Pepé’s fish tacos and you will be pointed in the right direction.
For expert surfers
Zicatela Beach is what most people think of when they think of surfing Puerto. Zicatela is for expert surfers, or surf viewing enthusiasts. It is a beach break with three main peaks with a sand bottom. It is deceptively heavy. If you plan to surf Zicatela you will want to bring bigger boards. When Zicatela is over 3-4 feet, even your step-up is going to feel small. A lot of people actually buy boards specifically for Puerto and leave them here. Storage prices start at $10/month. Zicatela will both humble you and thrill you. Treat it with respect and you might just get the barrel of your life.
The town surrounding Zicatela beach is the happening place to be! There is only one main street that runs the length of the beach. It is filled with surf shops, amazing restaurants, and beautiful hotels. If you need to find a decent board or a new leash you will want to ask for Miguel’s surf shop, located near Bungalow Zicatela. If you are looking for a reliable meal at a good price you can’t go wrong with Cafecito.
Where to stay in Puerto Escondido / Zicatela
Have a search of the many options available on Booking.com. You can reserve your accommodation online and many do not take payment until the day you arrive, with free cancellation options available.
For accommodations, I highly recommend staying with Jim at Hotel Aqua Azul if you are going to be staying a while. Prices vary depending on the month. Expect to pay about $300-$400 per month for a studio apartment with an ocean view. This six bedroom boutique hotel is owned by a local surf family with three professional surfer sons. Each room has a kitchen and is perfect for longer stays.
If you are looking to splurge you can rent a gorgeous oceanfront room at Bungalows Zicatela or Hotel Ines for less than $80/night. Bungalows Zicatela also offers online reservations for those plan-ahead types.
There are a few hostels on the main strip offering rooms for around $13 USD per night. If you are willing to ask around and negotiate a deal in Spanish you can find rooms with a small kitchen for as little as $100 USD per month.
There are no major resorts in Puerto Escondido. The fanciest hotel is Hotel Rockaway where you can expect to pay around $80 USD per night
Surfboard repairs in Zicatela
For cheap and fast ding repair you should ask the locals to point you toward Ding Repair Och. He is located near the restaurant Spirulina in Zicatela. Minor ding repair will run you $5-$15 USD. Also, you can get your old yellowed boards a fancy new paint job with Och for under $20 USD. For a broken board you should ask for Carmelo. Carmelo uses American materials. Although it might take 2-4 days he does very good work. The cost for a broken board repair is about $40-$90 USD.
Where to party in Zicatela
The nightlife is also wonderful. For excellent dancing head to Kabbalah nightclub around midnight and then move to Bar Fly around 2am. There are several other beach bars that offer live music almost every night of the week if you prefer a more mellow evening. La Piña is a chill beach bar with an excellent happy hour specials daily. They specialize in serving made from scratch piñacoladas in a hollowed out pineapple cup. During happy hour buy one and get your second refill free.
Where to eat in Zicatela
Cafecito– Order the Enmoladas
Spirulina – The best Acai Bowl on the planet
Mana – All the desserts are amazing
The secret restaurant behind OXXO has the best tacos in the world!
***Note: Be careful with street food, raw fruits and veggies and undercooked meats. Food poisoning is very common. You should see a doctor at the first sign of diarrhea and fever. A simple treatment will have you back in the water within 24 hours. But left untreated you risk severe complications. The fever can become life-threatening. There is a very nice clinic on the main street in Zicatela where they speak English. A visit will run you about $20-$45 USD and it is well worth it.
Other surf spots around Puerto Escondido (get a guide)
There are also dozens of surf sports within a couple hours drive in either direction of Puerto Escondido, all of them less crowded. If you are looking to explore then the best thing to do it to rent a car and hire a surf guide to go with you to other locations. Guides are easy to find.
I recommend going to chat with the Ramirez family at their storefront Puerto Bizar in Zicatela. This is a family of Puerto surf royalty and down to earth trustworthy and good people. They run surf schools and they can set you up with the right guide for an amazing off the grid adventure surfing some of the world’s last uncrowded waves. Of course, you can always explore on your own but for the best and safest experience, a guide is always recommended, especially if your Spanish is limited.
Generally, you will pay a daily fee for your guide plus the cost of their meals and possibly their accommodations. Don’t worry, it doesn’t cost much at all, between $15-$40 USD. It is well worth it once you pop out of a barrel and hack the lip for the fourth time and your arms are so tired from catching so many waves you actually have to force yourself to rest. You’ll consider your guide the best buy of the trip.
Puerto Escondido is a magical place, a landlocked in time. If you have an adventuresome spirit and a willingness to go with the flow you just might have the time of your life!
Looking for travel insurance & want a discount?
I highly recommend World Nomads for a number of reasons: they cover many activities such as surfing, diving, skydiving etc. You can book after you have department from your home country. They cover trips over 30 days, and they donate a portion of their profits to good causes. I’ve got Still Stoked readers 5% off with code STOKED5 but only when you use this link – Sadly this discount is not available for North America & Canada residents.
Have you been surfing Puerto Escondido?
Let us know if we should add anything to this article or if you found it helpful, please tell us in the comments below. Have a great, safe trip!